Fireplace Terms 101: The Ultimate Guide to Commonly Used Fireplace Terms

Fireplace Parts & Terms

Fire has been an integral part of humanity since prehistoric times and by extension, fireplace. There may even be evidence of fireplaces as long ago as 300,000 years ago. The modern fireplace came into fashion about a thousand years ago as the fire pit began to be integrated into the living dwelling. With such a long existence in the human language, terminology has been borrowed from many sources and developed over time – often leading to confusion.

When it comes to the anatomy of a fireplace, you can imagine there are several fireplace terms used to describe all of the different components. As you’re shopping for a fireplace, or mantel shelf, or hearth – you may need to know what many of these terms are actually referring to. This can all seem overwhelming when picking out the fireplace of your dreams. Luckily, we have the ultimate guide to help you learn the most commonly used fireplace terms.

Firebox

The firebox is the part of your fireplace that is typically inside of the wall. You usually can’t see much of it – maybe the back wall. This part is part of architecture of the home and actually comes in direct contact with the fire.

Mantel

The mantel is the top horizontal  protruding shelf/ledge over a firebox. A fireplace mantel spans the top of a firebox and is often supported by legs; generally the deepest and heaviest section of the fireplace. It can also be floating, supported by corbels, and can appear well above the firebox opening or right in line with the opening.

Image featuring a fireplace mantel

Mantel Shelf

The mantel may or may not have the depth or design to function as a shelf. This is a must have for many homeowners and a very popular place to decorate. A mantel shelf (like the one pictured above) may be floating or incorporated into a full fireplace surround.

Surround

Commonly confused for one another, the fireplace surround is an informal name given to the entire assembly of elements: mantel, legs, returns, etc. Ultimately, the surround is what makes up all parts of a fireplace in its entirety. The only exception to this would be the firebox itself.

Hearth

The hearth refers to the horizontal floor area of stone directly in front of the firebox opening. A hearth is usually as wide as the firebox and the legs combined. Its depth is strictly circumscribed anywhere from 18 inches to 24 inches. The depth and acceptable materials for the hearth may be governed by local building codes.

Corbel

The bracket or block that projects from the face of a wall, is referred to as the corbel. While physically and visually supporting the elements placed above it, the corbel is a very popular design element for fireplaces.

Plinth

The lowest part of the leg on a fireplace or often times referred to as the “foot” is called the plinth. This decorative transition piece between the leg and the hearth is often times also referred to as the base of the fireplace.

images of fireplace terms

Design Elements

Now let’s take a look at some other common fireplace terms typically used to refer to design elements.

Cladding

Distinct from the architectural or carved stone of the fireplace, cladding is the flatwork that is used to fill the center of an overmantel, hearth, or any other areas where matching flat stone is combined with carved architectural stone. Cladding may also be used to cover the chimney in some situations. 

Cornice

Cornice is the ornamental moulding typically found along the very top of a wall. This type of moulding is usually along the top exterior of the fireplace mantel.

Bevel

A bevel or sometimes called a “beveled edge” refers to an angled transition on the corner of a fireplace. You can find a beveled edge typically where the horizontal and vertical surface of the fireplace meet.

Bolection Moulding

Bolection moulding is a term used to describe the raised architecture on a fireplace, wall, or door.

diagram of fireplace design terms
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