|The finished fireplace mantle|
A few months ago, my son asked if I would help him build a stone mantle for the fireplace in his living room. The mantle was to be a birthday surprise for his wife so we would have to plan to do it when she was out of town on business. Some 30 plus years ago I installed a fireplace in our first home and trimmed it out with stone. When I finished it, I swore I would never, EVER, build anything involving stone, mortar, and/or grout, but how could I possibly say no to helping the male offspring unit surprise our daughter-in-law? So, this is the story of this past week's father-son labor of love as memorialized by intermittent iPhone photos taken during the project.
|The fireplace - before the project|
Last week, while spending Easter weekend with the family in Central Florida, Mikey (Mike to his friends, but Mikey to me & the family) mentioned that Danielle would be out of town Wednesday through Saturday this week. He asked if I could come back down to Central Florida to build the mantle with him and luckily the timing was good for me work wise. On the Saturday before Easter, we told Danielle that we were going to visit some camera stores, using that as an excuse to sneak out of the house and head to local stone suppliers and Lowes. It was a fruitful excursion - we found stone that matched the existing fireplace wall (image above); settled on a basic design using cinder blocks, mortar, and two 6-foot pieces of 2" heavy duty angle iron for the "frame"; and figured out what tools/supplies/material we would need.
|Pre-construction test fit with the blocks & angle iron|
|Building the frame|
On Wednesday morning, I left Tallahassee for the 4 1/2 hour drive south. As I drove down, Mikey bought the cinder clocks, mortar, angle iron and grout that we would be using and had it ready to be unloaded and taken into the house as soon as I arrived. No sooner than I pulled up into his driveway we unloaded and did a quick test fit of the cinder blocks/angle iron to visualize how the mantle would look. We mixed up a batch of mortar and it wasn't long before we were building the two column supports for the mantle with the cinder blocks.
|The finished frame|
Mikey worked the left column as I worked the right one and after six 8" cinder blocks were mortared in on each side, we placed the angle iron from one column to the other and mortared in the mantle support blocks. That was the last thing that went smoothly as from then on, just about everything we did was a challenge. Those YouTube videos we watched to familiarize ourselves with the work to be done made it look easy to slap stone, mortar and grout onto vertical surfaces but real life was a whole different experience for two guys with more ambition than skill or experience.
|Applying mortar to the vertical surfaces for the scratch coat - not fun|
In order for the stones to properly adhere to the vertical wall surfaces, a coat of mortar had to be applied to the cinder block surfaces, after which it had to be raked. No matter how we tried to come up with different consistencies of mortar, getting it to adhere to the cinder block surfaces was a chore. More often than not, it would start to go on and then globs would fall off. We spent a lot of time re-applying and re-re-applying mortar than applying it but we were determined not to let it stop us.
|The finished scratch coat, raked and ready for stone|
By 8:00 pm, the scratch coat was finished and we had the living room cleaned up. It was time for a late dinner and some sleep.
The next morning, we went to the stone supplier and spent a couple of hours sorting through two pallets of stone, picking the right shapes and color, and placing them on an empty pallet to be loaded into the bed of Mikey's truck. 400 pounds of stone later, we headed to Lowes for some advice as to how to adhere the stone to the underside of the cinder blocks that would form the mantle. After a couple of hours of talking to every employee in the building materials section, the tile section, and the adhesives section, we decided to use mega strength construction adhesive, bought a couple of tubes, and headed home.
We offloaded the stone pieces and carried them inside, and being the impatient sort that I am, I was ready to start mortaring the stone to the scratch coat right away. However, Mikey thought we should follow the instructions on the mortar bags to the letter, i.e. wait 24 hours for the mortar to fully cure. That meant starting to apply stone no earlier than 8:00 pm. I knew that meant we were in for a long night and sure enough midnight came and went and we were still working on the stone surface. Part of the reason why it took so long was my having difficulty getting the !$^&@#! stone to stay stuck on the scratch coat. Several pieces of the stone I tried to apply went on, appeared to adhere, and then would fall off as I moved on to the next stone. Mikey didn't have this problem as none of his stones came off after he placed them but the Stone Gods were not with me that night.
|The stone after being applied to the cinder blocks|
At 2:30 am we used up the last bit of mixed mortar but the right inside column, the top, and the underside of the mantle was still unfinished. We were so wasted we decided to call it a night and cleaned up, leaving the rest of the stone to be applied the next day.
|Two more stones to go before finishing the inside of the right column|
Even though my head didn't hit the pillow until 3:00 am, I was up at 7:00 am on Friday and began waiting for Mikey to get up. At 8:00 am, I decided to mix some mortar and finished applying the stone to the top of the mantle. As I was finishing, Sleeping Beauty came out and tackled the inside of the right column.
Next came the underside, which we figured was going to be the biggest challenge of the project. Applying gobs of adhesive to the stone, Mikey placed each stone under the mantle cinder blocks and held them in place as I wedged 4-foot 1x2's into place to support each stone. The stones appeared to stay in place and it was now lunchtime, a good place to stop as we got ready for the last step - applying the white grout to match the existing fireplace wall.
|Happy Birthday, Danielle|
I left Saturday morning with the mantle in place, a great three days of quality time spent with the male offspring unit, and aches/pains/soreness in places I forgot I had. Every time I visit Mikey & Danielle, I will have a great reminder of those three days staring me in the face. I only wish I had been there when Danielle came in the house and saw her surprise. Happy Birthday, D.