This Instructable (Instructanovel) details the process I went through to demolish an existing fireplace surround made of flagstone and replace it with a much more attractive (at least to my eye) custom built one.
When I moved into my house, one of the things I definitely wanted to change was the fireplace. Every time I looked at it - massive.... brooding.... flag-stoney - I couldn't help but hear the theme to the "Brady Bunch" start up in my head. Sure as death and taxes, every time I'd walk into the room, I'd hear "Here's the story ..... of a lovely lady..... etc, etc" - aaaaand I had to make it stop.
So after several months of looking at it (and hearing that insipid song) I decided to tear the fireplace out. After all, what better way to incentivise yourself to start a project than to make it look about a hundred times worse than it already does, right?
I'm going to cover the demolition only to give a few pointers and maybe give some insight into what you may find should you have a similarly constructed fireplace. I'll then cover the construction of a new fireplace that's a lot more to my liking - and a lot less dominant in the room.
Realize that much of what I'm doing here can be adapted to fireplaces of different construction. Even all-brick fireplaces can be given a face-lift - just maybe not as extensive as this one. Sometimes all it takes to get your own "vision" is to see how someone else did it (hence, Instructables!).
Total Cost on this project is roughly $600 - but that's solely based on what I had on hand (leftover quarter-sawn White Oak from another project), what I found (the granite) and the materials I chose to use (spendy countertop concrete). Your costs could be more or less depending on how big your installation is, what materials you want to use, etc.
While nothing in this instructable is terribly complex, it does require some construction and woodworking skills to pull off. Tools (or a well-equipped relative) are always a big plus as well.
As with all home renovations involving sledgehammers, you should ask someone smarter than you if you're not sure it's OK to wail on a particular wall. Make sure to use appropriate safety gear and also make sure you're not violating some obscure building code. Either that, or just don't tell anyone what you're doing and hope you don't do something you can't recover from. I choose option #2.
OK, OK - for all the Hall Monitors out there - I'm KIDDING. Be responsible, smart, safe, and considerate - contrary to popular belief, the world was not made by Fisher Price.
Step 1: Tear Down the Wall - er - Fireplace
So, first things first: get rid of the old fireplace. Sounds pretty easy, doesn't it? To be honest I wasn't 100% sure what I'd find behind the stone, but given that I was familiar with the construction behind the fireplace wall and knew I was dealing with a gas fireplace (free-floating metal insert), I figured that it was basically just a veneer of stone about 2" thick (I also climbed into the attic to look at the surrounding structural and confirm that I wasn't going to do something I REALLY regretted).
I pussyfooted around with a 2lb sledge for a little while and finally realized I needed a much bigger hammer, and that I'd also need to find a different way of transmitting the blow of the hammer to the stone (other than metal-on-stone) if I didn't want to haul 1000 lbs of crushed flagstone out of the house and end up finding random stone chips scattered around the place for the next 6 months.
I switched to a 10-lb sledge hammer and an 18" length of scrap 2x4 occasionally augmented by a pry bar and masonry chisel. I used the 2x4 mostly like a chisel by placing the end against the edge of a stone, and striking the other end with the sledge - so the blows / impact forces were generally parallel to the wall, not perpendicular, which may have been harder on the underlying structural. It usually took a few blows to get the stone loose, at which time I'd either just work it completely loose with my hands or with the help of a pry bar. The 2x4 does a fine job of transmitting the force without shattering the stones. I think I used two boards in total (they will eventually split and fall apart). By being a little careful removing the stones, I was able to re-use them in my yard.
Be systematic and careful in your demolition - use only as much force as you need, and don't get in a rush - in a few years, is anyone going to care if it took you a few additional days to finish? Probably not. I remind myself of this often. I used plenty of sheet plastic to control dust and chips, and cleaned up after each major phase of removal which makes working in the area a lot safer and more pleasant. Doing your cleanup as you go also prevents you from having to monkey 1500 lbs of stone and mortar out of your living room at one time, and reduces the bits of stone, grit, and dirt you'll track into other parts of the house - possibly damaging floors, feet, relationships,etc.
Once the demolition is complete and the area is cleaned out, this would be a *perfect* time to replace your 1970's era gas fireplace with something more efficient - if that was something you wanted to do. I was OK with the one that was in place because: 1) I don't use a fireplace but maybe a half-dozen times a year, and 2) even though the house was built in 1978, my particular fireplace had apparently *never* been used. After 30+ years, the flue and firebox still had their original paper stickers inside. No kidding. The only "fire-like" marking I could find looked as though the previous owner's juvenile delinquents had burned a Barbie Doll in effigy, but that's just a guess.