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Fireplace Glass Holes
When a roaring Christmas fire turned into a DIY project, I was excited to learn some new tricks, even as I found myself making more than my share of missteps.
A mere six months ago (roughly), my family was enjoying Christmas day at my sister's house in front of an enormous roaring fire. Her fireplace is enormous and we made full use of it. Four or five large logs stacked together created the perfect pyro-holiday scene. It also threw off an enormous amount of heat.
So much heat, in fact, that it melted the silcone beading that held glass in the fireplace doors, which resulted in the glass coming loose. To be clear, a bead of silicone probably wasn't the best choice for keeping the glass inside the door frame. So I set out to fix the doors properly — and discovered that was more easily said than done.
The first step — and this was always a temporary one — was to use a banded spring clamp to hold the glass in place. This worked insofar as it kept the glass from falling out, but it certainly wasn't a permanent solution.
For that, I figured I would use a more heat-resistant adhesive than the silicone, which had melted from the intense fire. A quick sojourn to the local Home Depot yielded a high-temperature fireplace cement caulk that I figured would do the trick. Back at my sister's house, I cleaned off the old silicone with a razor blade and then used my caulk gun to apply the cement. Unlike the silicone, which comes out like a smooth bead, the cement squeezed out like, well, cement. It was thick and pasty.
I tried to apply it cleanly, but it ended up looking like what a three-year-old might do if given a jar of peanut butter, a bucket of Play Dough, and an endless supply of mud. Also unlike the silicone, it was brittle and began to flake off soon after it dried. So not only did I do a poor job of applying it, but it hardly seemed up to the task. Somehow I had, unsurprisingly, made a bad situation worse.
After consulting with a friend, we decided the proper course of action would be to use mechanical fasteners — basically clips would need to screw into the frame to hold the glass in place. The wisdom of this approach was that mechanical fasteners would be impervious to heat. The downside was thatI had no idea how to do this.
Hole New Approach
What I did know was that to go this route, I needed to remove the doors and bring them back to my shop. (The phrase "bring them back to my shop" is among my favorite phrases. I feel like I've leveled up in life. I have a "shop" I can "bring" stuff back to for repair. It makes me so happy.)
Examining the doors, it seemed that they should simply lift up off their hinges, but no matter how much I lifted them, they didn't budge. I contemplated this for a while and decided to lubricate the hinges with PB Blaster (A Cleveland original!) and then I used some wooden sticks to pry the doors upwards. That worked brilliantly. The doors lifted right off and I loaded them into my truck.
Back at the shop, I laid the doors face-down on the workbench and set about cleaning off the silicone and cement. Despite the brittle nature of the cement, it was actually somewhat hard to clean off. Eventually, though, I was able to break it loose without damaging either the doors or the glass.
The next step was deciding how I was going to mechanically fasten the glass. At this point, it's worth taking a moment to discuss the doors themselves.
The doors are made of black iron and feature a frame for the glass to sit in. The frame extends back about three-quarters of an inch. So, my thought was I could drill holes through the side of the frame on the inside of the door, insert a bolt through the frame and a metal L-shaped clip, and add a nut to hold the clip in place. The other side of the clip would be pressed against the glass holding it in the frame. Seems simple enough, right? I also figured I'd buy some fireplace rope to sandiwch between the glass and the metal door to act as a cusion.
With that plan in mind, I went to the hardware store to find some clips with holes in them. I found some, but they were all too big; the holes would sit beyond the edge of the frame, so clearly that wouldn't work.
Instead, I bought some aluminum angle iron (not iron) and cut them into small 1-inch sections. I also cut small pieces of rubber and adhered them to one side of each L with the idea that the rubber would serve as a cushion against the glass.
I laid down the fireplace rope and set the glass in place. Then I set the clips on the glass and lo and behold, this wasn't going to work. The rope pushed everything up so high that there was no room for a hole to go through the frame and clip.
I chucked the rope and that made it better. I drilled through the fireplace door and clip and all seemed right with the world. I inserted bolts and tightened them down with nuts and for the most part this worked; the one problem was that some of the holes were too close to the base of the frame, so the bolt and the nut couldn't align properly. When this happened, I was usually able to make it work by cutting a new piece of angle iron (not iron) with a higher hole.
Once everything was bolted into place, I stepped back to take a look. It wasn't bad, but against the black metal doors, the shiny aluminum clips were really visible. It looked janky, to be honest.
I figured that could easily be solved with some black spray paint, so I removed the clips, sprayed the black and once they were dry, put them back on. I'm not saying they looked worse, but I am saying they weren't better. Aluminum doesn't hold paint all that well and that fact would be obvious to anyone who looked at these doors.
So, I decided to start over again. This time, I bought some ½-inch steel angle iron that was pre-blackened. I cut the pieces and before drilling the holes, I decided I would skip the bolt-and-nut approach and instead, tap or thread the holes so that I could simply screw the iron to the frame. This would eliminate the problem of there not being enough room for the nuts to align with the holes.
After cutting the iron, I used a Sharpie to blacken the cut edges and then drilled holes in each piece. Then I used a tap set to thread each hole. Since I didn't bother reading tapping directions, I tried to tap each hole with a drill (easier by hand, right?) and found that I might be able to thread one or two holes before the tap bit broke. Since each tap bit was like $10 and I had 20 holes to tap, I could see this getting expensive pretty quickly. Finally I read the instructions, which clearly said "do not use with a power tool" and "make sure you go back and forth to clear out shavings and avoid breaking the tap." Funnily enough, when I followed the directions, I was able to tap 15 holes without breaking the bit.
Lastly, I glued small pieces of rubber to the undersides of each clip and then screwed the clips in place. Everything fit and worked like a charm.
With the doors finally complete, I took them back to my sister's house and re-hung them. They looked great. The clips were well hidden and the glass nicely secure.
My sister started a fire and all was well with the world. And then the glass in the fireplace sidelights fell out. They had been held in place with silicone, too. It never ends.