We moved into our mid-90s home about 3 years ago and, while it had a lot of charm, it needed updating. We’ve crossed off projects here and there, but the fireplace has been on my to-do list from day one. I assumed it was going to be a big project, so I kept putting it off. If I would have known how easy and inexpensive it was to do a German Smear, I would’ve done it years ago! Since I already owned most of the tools from other projects, all I needed to purchase was the white mortar, which was under $20! Find out how I went from an outdated, 90s fireplace to a modern-farmhouse hearth.
tile brush/wire brush
flat margin trowel
mixing stick/concrete mixer
Wipe down the brick with a damp cloth. You need to remove any dirt and dust from the brick so the mortar will stick.
Tape off the surrounding areas that touch the brick. Mortar is quite messy and once it dries it’s difficult to remove.
Mix the mortar. Follow the mixing instructions for your specific mortar. Mortar is quite hard to mix. If you have a concrete mixer I would highly recommend using that. If not, use a heavy-duty painters stick and you will get a nice arm workout. Once it’s completely mixed and all lumps are gone, you are ready to apply. The consistency should be thick enough that it falls off slowly when you pull out the stick . Let your schedule determine how much you will mix at one time. This is the kind of project where it’s important to work carefully and slowly. If you have all day, I would mix a decent amount. I often only have a few hours at a time, usually between the kids’ nap-time, to work on projects. I mixed a little bit at a time and worked on it piece-by-piece.
With your no-notch trowel, apply the mortar to the brick. I started from the top and worked my way down so that if I dropped any or made messes it wouldn’t mess up my finished brick. Start with a small section. I started with about a 12″ x 12″ section. Focus on pushing the mortar into the grout line and not so much covering the bricks.
Dampen your grout sponge by soaking it in water and squeezing it out so it is just damp. Excuse the curious baby hand!
Smooth out the grout lines with the damp sponge. You will want to go at a slow, consistent pace and apply a little pressure. Smooth all the way across to where you stopped applying the mortar. This will take some practice and you may have to repeat until your line is completely smooth. Rinse off the sponge and repeat. The amount of pressure you apply will determine the depth of your grout line. If you want a deep grout line, apply a decent amount of pressure when smoothing out the lines. If you want a shallow grout line, apply light pressure when smoothing out the lines. Be sure to empty out your water bucket frequently. If you have too much mortar in your water bucket your bricks will be left with a white haze when they dry.
Scrape the mortar off the bricks. This step is very important for the overall look of your German Smear. If you want more brick to show through, scrape a little more off. I personally wanted the fireplace to be more white, so I left more mortar on my bricks. I will say it is better to scrape off more than not enough. Once mortar dries it is very hard to remove. You can always apply more mortar if the bricks are showing through too much for you liking. I used a margin trowel and a grout brush for different looks. if you are only scraping off a little, be sure to mix it up, you don’t want all the bricks to look exactly alike. Have fun with it!
After you have scraped off the desired amount of mortar from your bricks, wipe the bricks down with your damp sponge. If your grout lines have not yet dried, be careful not to touch them with sponge. Once you have finished wiping and smoothing out bricks, you have finished all the steps. Reward yourself with a cup of coffee! If you were working in sections, repeat Steps 3-8 until your fireplace is a beautiful German Smear masterpiece!
Once your mortar is completely dry you may have some small hairline cracks. If you do, just fill those in with with a little bit of mortar. Wipe with damp sponge to smooth out. I would highly recommend using your gloves, as I put a small hole in my finger by rubbing in the mortar without them.
We hope this was helpful for your next project and inspired you to try it yourself! Please comment below with any questions or feedback. Soon we’ll share how to create the Faux Wood Beam Mantle pictured above and how we refinished the brass fireplace fixtures. Follow along at @driftanddwellblog for more inspiration.