Rather than simply ripping out and replacing old or tired fireplace surrounds, it is often a fairly simple job to renovate them. This will save you money and, if the surround is original, be more in keeping with your property.
Wooden surrounds create a homely, warm feeling in a room, even when not lit. To begin, strip any paint or varnish from the wood by sanding with a coarse and then fine sandpaper. You can use a chemical stripper to do this but be aware that this will take some of the natural oils from the wood and dry it out. This can cause the wood to warp and split. Once you have the surround cleaned back to bare wood, fill any holes with a good quality wood filler that matches the colour of the natural wood (wood filler is available in a wide range of colours), leave the filler to dry properly and then sand it down flush. Apply a couple of coats of wax polish and your wooden fireplace surround should be looking as good as new!
Marble is pretty hard wearing, so the biggest problems are going to be cracks and chips, along with dirt and staining. First off, deal with the dirt and stains. Wash the surface of the marble down with warm soapy water and a coarse cloth. A bit of elbow grease will soon shift most stains. Now fill any minor chips and cracks with Kaolin powder mixed with epoxy-based glue. Kaolin powder is used in the manufacture of porcelain, and is available to buy from some DIY stores, as well as online. Allow the kaolin mixture to set in the cracks and then rub it down with Silicon Carbide paper. Give the whole thing a final polish and you are finished.
Cast Iron Surrounds
Cast iron surrounds, common in Edwardian and Victorian period houses, are often painted with several layers of paint. Once the paint is removed and the iron restored with Iron Paste, these will return to their original silvery grey colour. The problem is that cast iron is very soft and scraping at the paint will damage the surface of the surround. If you are doing a major renovation of the room, it is worth taking the surround out and having it professionally stripped. However, this can be expensive and is not within everyone’s budget. You can buy chemical blanket stripping kits, consisting of a chemical backed paper “blanket” which you apply to the surround. Whichever you decide, once the surround is stripped, treat it with a rust converter and inhibitor before applying the iron paste with a brush. You can then polish the paste to bring up the shine.