The Beginning Of A Fireplace Makeover: Removing A Woodstove Insert

As of today we’ve lived in our house for six whole months. How crazy is that? Can you believe this little adventure was half a year ago?

And in all that time we’ve never formally introduced you to Bart. How rude of us.

Bart, aka Black Bart the woodstove insert, is hard to miss in our kitchen. We know the previous owners got a lot of use out of him (although they did warn us that he made the house pretty smoky and coated a lot of nearby surfaces with fine black dust). We’d always planned to replace him down the road when we hopefully convert our fireplace into a double fireplace (that can be enjoyed from the living room as well as the kitchen).

But Clara spurred us into action a bit sooner. See, the bean is just too obsessed with Bart. And the potential harm to Clara thanks to a searing hot 30+ year old wood burning stove has always outweighed any potential benefits. So although we moved in the middle of winter, we didn’t fire him up once. And Clara still finds the sharp metal edges of Bart oddly fascinating, no matter how many times we say no or redirect her with toys/the dog/insane dance moves, etc. In fact two especially pointy corners are right at “pulling up level” – which makes us even more nervous now that she’s about to be toddling around.

Sure Clara, why not play with a potentially scorching hot surface with sharp metal corners that’s conveniently located right at baby level? After all, it was last tested more than thirty one years ago – before either of your parents were even born.

All kidding aside, we know many folks who love wood stoves (even those with kiddos), but Bart just wasn’t working for our fam. We couldn’t keep denying that he was truly (and weirdly) a Clara magnet, and after she once managed to get the stove door open and her hand into some soot before we could pull her away, Sherry and I were officially fed up with this sharp and dirty metal monster that we weren’t even using.

Never ones to act hastily (you know us, we prefer to overanalyze while hemming and hawing), first we considered locking the doors with a kid-proof lock, adding foam pads to the pokey parts, and even blocking him off with baby gates or some sort of homemade blockade contraption. But in the end we realized that building everything short of a moat around something that we didn’t use and already planned to replace down the road seemed more than a little wacky. In other words: it was time to bid ol’ Bart adieu. So we borrowed some confidence from Layla and Kevin‘s fireplace makeover and decided to give our kitchen a Black-Bart-ectomy yesterday (don’t worry, we won’t trash him- Bart will live on, but more on that later).

When it came to the whole wood stove removal thing, I didn’t really know where to start. And this was one of the few times in my life that google was no help. So during Clara’s afternoon nap (so as not to set a bad example slash taunt her) I just sort of started pulling at things. Lucky for me, the flashing around the sides easily pried away. So much so that I’m kinda surprised Clara hadn’t figured it out yet. Yikes.

I learned there was only a little bit of glue holding the three pieces flimsily in place (which made the stove look flush on all sides).

The only questionable moment was when I revealed a bunch of wires on one side and worried that some electrical work might be involved. Thankfully I soon realized that they were just connected to a fan on the back of the unit, so I didn’t have to disconnect anything after all (I just kept it all attached and removed it all together). Phew.

With all sides of the stove revealed, the only place I could see it attached to the house was right here at the top. It seemed to be bolted to a vent that snaked up into the chimney. So I figured I’d just attempt to take that apart and hope for the best.

The good news was that my hunch was right- those bolts were the only things holding that baby in place. The bad news was that the bolts were really friggin hard to get off. Okay, just one of the five was (the top of that bolt was so soft that my wrench had trouble gripping it). Oh and did I mention that space was tiiiight? My skinnier-armed wife tried to save the day, but she’s also shorter-armed, so alas… no dice.

But I kept at it (and Sherry kept trying as if her arms were growing by the second). And after getting covered in ash and enduring a few knuckle scrapes we got Bart fully detached from the vent. Ta dah!

Okay, so it was less of a perky “ta-dah!” and more of a grunting “ohmygoodness” because that beast was HEAVY. But as you can see, we managed to shimmy Bart out of the fireplace and onto a piece of scrap cardboard (which helped us slide the whole darn thing out of the way). So our fireplace could go from this…

…to this:

Admittedly it’s not the prettiest before & after. In fact, the after kinda looks uglier in a way… despite the fact that I got my Cinderella on and scrubbed the inside it with some warm water and mild soap:

Sherry really wanted to be the one to yoink this beast out all by herself (short arms be darned) so she made me scrub things down while she sulked slash snapped embarrassing photos. I’m making that face for two reasons. 1) because the sooty clean-up job was pretty nasty, and 2) because I’m realizing that a photo of me in my high school gym shorts would end up on the Internet. Yep, still own ’em and still fit in ’em… sort of.

Short shorts aside, Bart is currently residing in our dining room (where Clara rarely goes), just waiting to be craigslisted or otherwise donated (haven’t yet figured out if a Big B is worth anything to anyone, but we’ll share the craigslist link if he ends up there).

And hopefully soon we’ll have a prettier version of our fireplace to share. Immediate plans for it include painting the firebox a dark charcoal color to even out the stained brick interior. And that’ll probably be followed quickly by painting the brick and mantel. Spoiler alert: we’re leaning towards bright glossy white (we’re planning to bring some color onto the kitchen walls, so a white fireplace should be a nice counterpart). But we’ll share all those painting details as we go.

Down the road we’re also planning to take the fireplace makeover a step further – perhaps by eventually tiling it, beefing up the mantle, or even framing it out all the way up to the ceiling to give it more height. Not to mention the whole double-siding plan. But all that future fireplace stuff is TBD at this point. We’ll just have to see where we end up. Oh, and Sherry wanted me to mention that she scraped off that big circular blotch of glue that you can see just outside the upper left corner of the firebox in the photo above. Despite how easily the metal flashing peeled off, the gummy glue didn’t come off the brick as easily. So she got all ninja on that blob and ended up using an exacto knife to slice it off in pieces.

Have you guys removed a wood stove or any other fireplace insert? Was google surprisingly unhelpful? Does anyone have a kid who loves their wood stove as much as ours? Do you think Big Bart is worth craigslisting or should we donate him to the Habitat For Humanity ReStore?

Psst- We’re sharing a fun, functional, and affordable little kid-art corner over on BabyCenter today.


  1. Kate says

    Great, great, great idea! Kevin and Layla’s method and finished product is an awesome inspiration. Can’t wait to see the transformation.

  2. says

    Awesome job guys! This post came at a PERFECT time. I’m considering painting the inside of my (decorative only) fire place. Maybe something ‘different,’ like a slight metallic or a color? Very interested to see what you two come up with.

    ps. Clara is getting cuter every day!! So big!!

    • Bethany says

      I’ve been thinking of doing the same thing (our fireplace no longer works) but had never thought of metallic paint, I was going to go with just a chocolate brown, the metallic is such a good idea!!

  3. says

    I have been dying to see what you guys do with your soon-to-be double fireplace. I have a similar situation in my ranch, and I also want to turn it into a double. It’s an intimidating process, so I’m waiting to let you guys make the first attempt!

  4. says

    I’m not sure about in Richmond, but up here in the mountains you could get some decent money for Bart on Craigslist.

    We had a standalone wood stove in the middle of the living room at our old house, and our son LOVED it. We had to be on baby-watching duty all.the.time. Thank goodness in the new house we have a wood furnace that has cool-to-the-touch sides and is located in the basement. They are more work as far as keeping the kiddos safe, but they save us a ton of money on heating in the winter.

    • Vikki says

      I grew up in a house with a “buck stove” and we also loved it. We almost never ran the heater in the winter because of that thing. My brother and I only had to touch it a couple of times before we learned. LOL… When I was 10 years old, Hurricane Hugo hit SC and my dad and brother and spent that fall and winter accumulating what wound up being a 15 year supply of wood. We finally got rid of it because my dad was tired of spending so much time chopping wood. (We gave the rest of the 15 year supply to my uncle.)

      I understand you guys getting rid of the stove because it isn’t at all pretty, but boy is it functional. :D

  5. says

    I don’t have kids, but in my old place when my cats were kittens they managed to climb in the fireplace and get all sooty. That stuff does not come off! My poor white pawed, orange cat had a black eye for days! We lost him a few years ago and it’s now one of our favorite memories of him :)

    We tiled around our slate fireplace, using the same mosaic tile as our kitchen backsplash since they are essentially one great room. I still plan on (hopefully) painting the slate on the floor piece since tiling over it would make for exposed funny edges. One of our contractor friends recommended concrete paint, but we were warned that the VOCs are god awful for indoors. So it’s been on the back burner with no help from google :( Hopefully your project goes smoother!

  6. Sami says

    I started reading YHL right about the time you guys moved into this house – great to celebrate the anniversary!

    We just completed our very first big DIY project at our house – installing a second-hand freestanding wood heater/fireplace (winter’s just starting here Down Under!). Aren’t they difficult to work with – heavy and messy!

    Keep up the awesomeness!

  7. Sonnie says

    So what did Clara think of her missing fireplace insert? Any reaction from her?

    Can’t wait to see what you do with the fireplace next!

    • says

      She woke up from her nap and I carried her in there and she immediately noticed and pointed and let out a whole excited strong of not words (ex: bah booo beee bay bah!!!). It was funny that she was so happy and excited to see her friend gone. Maybe she sensed that she’ll be allowed to meander a lot more independently now that we won’t have to shadow her when she’s in the kitchen.


  8. says

    I can’t believe you guys were able to remove Bart! It’s actually sort of scary that it was so easy to remove the flashing/siding. I think the kitchen looks better this way (almost bigger without the excess clutter).

    Can’t wait to see when it’s a double fireplace… or even when it’s painted for that matter!

  9. Jen says

    Hi there- We recently gave our fireplace a makeover, as well. It didn’t have an insert, but tearing down a rock surround turned out to be an ugly mess! Anyway, the fireplace remodel is near finished now, but I do have a question. We scrubbed the inside, however we still are left with the yucky uneven black stuff. You mentioned painting the inside of the fireplace. What kind of paint do you plan on using? We still want to use our fireplace (no gas insert). Do you know what type of paint is safe to use? Thanks so much for all your inspiration!

  10. tarynkay says

    You mentioned painting the inside of the fireplace- can you do that with regular paint? Or is there special paint for that which would withstand the heat? Or are you not planning on using it as a fireplace?

    • says

      There’s high heat paint for functional fireplaces, but ours isn’t functional right now (it’s still vented for a wood stove, so we just closed the damper to seal it off for now). More on the whole painting step as we go!


  11. says

    Awesome job! The fireplace is already looking better. Can’t wait to see the rest of the rehab. Bart is definitely worth something. I’ve seen woodstoves go for $200-300+ on our local Craigslist.

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