Cape Ann granite Artistic fireplace

I was asked by a client to build a fireplace which would be the focal point of their livingroom.

The customer requested that it should be rustic, with an antique feel, like something out of a ancient castle but also have an artistic and unique appeal.

After a few scketches and submission of stone samples, the style and layout was defined.

The material of choice was Cape Ann granite.

Through the years I have worked with many types of stone but I must say, Cape Ann Granite is one of my favorite material.

It is one of the hardest granites in the country, with large crystals developed as it slowly cooled deep underground where it formed about 50,000,000 years ago, (and one of the better looking in my opinion).

The quarries in the Glouchester/Rockport area were active early on before the rail as their convenient locations near the shore allowed for ocean transport, and it was shipped all over the eastern shore. I have read that the streets of Cuba are paved with Cape Ann granite cobblestones! 

When the rail came along this local industry slowly died out as other inland quarries became more viable for transport thanks to the rapidly expanding rail network.

Here Is Johnson Quarry, one of the largest "holes" in the area. You can see one of the original tower rigs still standing. There were two the last time I was here. These towers and wires are what remains of the rigging utilized to lift the huge blocks out of the "hole". Currently you can purchase stone from the remaining 1,000,000. tons of "waste" scattered around the surrounding lot. 

Well, I select a few tons of granite and head for the job site!

First I set up a workshop an make sure all the tools I need are in working order.

Back at the quarry I selected two pieces for the hearth. These are very similar but mirrored in shape. 

These stones will support the middle piece of the hearth and form a "horse shoe" where you will be able to seat comfortably away from the intense heat of the fire. They weigh about a ton each and I planned on carving out the bottom in a three legged shape allowing for light flowing through, as if they were growing out of the floor or as if the building was built around them.

And now the fun begins! First I split the pieces to the right thickness (about 18")...

….then carve out the legs and smooth the edges.

The bench piece is next.  I selected a piece of granite with a natural smooth surface and split it to the desired shape...

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…then to the right thickness.

I set two timbers to a level plane and assembled the base pieces outdoor before taking them into the house. The center hearth piece will be supported by the two side pieces. 


The two columns and lintel need to be shaped and cut to 4" thickness to house the inner fire box assembly.

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Nice! now all I have to do is bring them inside the house....                      ….without the help of the bobcat!. 

We rig up a temporary bridge.  The stone is placed ona a "stretcher" and with the help of some rollers the first stone slowly makes it's way into the house. 

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The rig worked out nicely. A few adjustments to the hearth stones and the hearth pieces are assembled in place.

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Now we build up the base for the fire box, the fire box floor and the walls are going up next.

The supporting rig for the fire brik is cut and assembled and is going to be kept in place with a couple of buckets filled with sand, the 3/4" slats in the back make up the difference between the rig and the brick work. The double wall of fire brick is overdoing it but it makes me feel more comfortable with all the pipes and wires behind the fireplace. An insulating blanket was also slipped in between the fire wall and the plumbing/electrical. I was overly concerned that a prolonged intense fire may get hot enough to melt the pipes or the wire casings.

We mark and cut the fire box side walls. 

The box is complete to the header's height, a quick cleanup and grouting then the supporting rig goes back in for a few days until the morat has time to set.

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The side walls are going up, I am getting creative with depths. Niches, shelves and protrusions. 

The header is ready to go in but first I need to secure the two posts so they will not thrust outwards.

I drill a hole and a chase to house this rebar which I bent to an "L" shape and secured to the framing by the back wall

I do this on both sides, and I'm ready for the header.

 I set up the staging with a beefy timber post and a chain fall. Up she goes nice and easy, I "row" the timber post over, side to side a little at a time and the header fits in very nicely! don't shake that staging!!

Great! Just like I knew what I was doing....  I am now glad I have worked out all the "fine tuning" outdoors and it all fit together beautifully on the first try.

I do the same steel bar pinning on top of the header, the pitched stonework above will create some outward thrust and I don't want anything to move at this height. I have another 23' in height of stone work to go...

I build the side walls to the height of the mantle keeping the joints really tight. I don't wont any mortar to show through. I really like how this niche and shelve turned out, the header is made out of a granite piece which surface was exposed to the glacier's "retreat". The surface is "bleached" by the ice, and it is scarred with parallel streaks carved across the surface created by the retreating glacier as it travelled over the stone.

The "keystone" pattern (showed below) An ancient method used to break up the joint lines and add stability.

I like the small-and-large stone conrtast and pleasing geometric design this pattern imparts to the stone work.

We selected a reclaimed oak beam to use as the mantle piece. I scribed and carvde out the bottom where it sits onto the stone header to a 1/2" depth. This will create an overhang and a tight fit avoiding a horizontal joint line between the header and the granite mantle. 

We temporarily prop it up with two boards. The stonework above it will lock it in place along with some anchors. The corner stones are shaped and I rig up some temporary supports to hold them in place for fine tuning. The yellow string lines are secured all the way to the top and will guide me through the construction. They are set 1/2" away from the finish work so they will stay out of the way. 

I selected a nice center stone but I think it needs something....

I think a "sun" carving would be nice so I experiment on some scrap stone. A circle and some rays.

This is the finish product, I used the "tryouts pieces" on the sides of the chimney, might as well...

The style I chose for this stone work was to overhang all the white color stones and corners. For the recessed body area I utilized stones with iron deposits to create a sense of depth and additional contrast . up we go....

It's a tall chimney and I add other details along the way up.

In this photo you can see the staging setup. I bolted 16' plank against the walls on either side of the fireplace and fastened some "shelf boards" at the same height as the staging "lifts" to hold and secure two planks on either side of the staging. The staging planks are 12' long  protruding 2' on either side and hold the two planks on either side of the staging.

I am on the fifth "lift" at this point. A lot of room is necessary for the many stones I need at hand and a "comfortable and safe" (as possible) place to work on them. It seems that there are stones EVERYWHERE! 

The top! I thought I would never get there...  The last two corner stones were quite tricky to fit in, and it took several trips up and down the staging to get them to fit just right.


 The small shelf at the topof the chimney holds a light fixture pointing down  This light will provide for a nice light/shade cast effect. There are two more pairs of lights also incorporated on stone shelves. One pair is about half way up the chimney, and a pair on either side of the mantel stones, both pointing upwards. 

 Now we clean the stone work as we take down the staging.

The fireplace is DONE!!! 

© Fabio Bardini 2012|| (978) 825-9922