Buying stone veneer
Search online for ‘stone veneer’ and you’ll quickly discover the wide array of options available. You’ll find real and manufactured stone ranging in price from about $6 per sq. ft. to more than $20 per sq. ft. Some types are mounted on sheets that can be secured to a wall by simply stacking them and screwing through an attached flange. Other manufacturers specify that their stone only be applied to a wall that is covered with building paper, expanded metal lath and a coat or two of mortar. See how stone veneer installation is done.
Most thin stone veneer, whether it’s real or manufactured, can be installed on an interior wall using the method we show you in this article. We’re using stone that’s intended to resemble dry stacked stone, without any mortar joints. Each piece is 6 in. tall and 23-1/2 in. long and consists of several layers of thinner stones stacked and glued to one another. We bought this stone, called Golden Honey Ledger, at The Home Depot for $6 per sq. ft.
Here’s How it Works
To provide a strong base for the stone, you attach cement board to the wall framing with screws. Then you use thin-set adhesive to bond the stone panels securely to the cement board for a worry-free installation. You can leave the existing drywall or tear it out first. Ledgestone panels like the ones shown here don’t require mortar-just stack them on the wall and you’re done.
Additional supplies you’ll need
Besides the veneer stone, you’ll need 1/2-in.-thick cement board, 2-1/4-in. cement-board screws, polymer-modified thin-set adhesive, mesh cement board tape and tile shims. You’ll find all these products at home centers and tile stores. Cement board is readily available in 32 x 60-in. sheets. Buy enough cement board to cover the wall, keeping in mind you may have to cut the center sheets down to 48 in. long so the ends land on studs. You’ll need about one 50-lb. bag of thinset for every 70 sq. ft. of wall area, and one package of screws for every 40 sq. ft. of wall. You’ll use the tile shims to level the first row of stone.
You may also need electrical box extensions, wire connectors and short lengths of wire to remount outlets and switches. You’ll find these in the electrical department at hardware stores and home centers.
Options for cutting the stone
We used a wet-cutting tile saw to cut the stone because this is the fastest and least dusty method. You can buy a tile saw like the one shown here for about $300, or you can rent one for about $50 per day. If you can cut outdoors and don’t want to rent or buy a tile saw, you could use a circular saw with a diamond blade, or a grinder with a diamond blade, to cut the stone. But be prepared for a dusty, noisy job.
Step 1: Getting started: Room preparation
Installing the stone will go a lot smoother and easier if you take some time to prepare the space. Start by moving everything out of the room. Parts of this job can be dusty, and you don’t want to have to clean everything later. What you can’t move out, cover with sheets of painter’s plastic. Cover carpeted flooring with drop cloths. Protect hardwood and tile floors with a layer of cardboard or thin hardboard before covering them with drop cloths.
Pry off the baseboard trim on the wall where the stone will go, and on adjacent walls. If you’ll be reinstalling the same trim, pull the nails from the back of the trim with an end cutter or a locking pliers. If you have chair rail or crown molding, you’ll have to remove these, too.
To save a little time and effort, we’re showing how to install the new cement board on top of the existing drywall. But if you want to add outlets or sconce lights or do other extensive wiring, it may be easier to remove all the drywall from your wall.
If you decide to leave the drywall in place, mark the center of each stud with a chalk line so you’ll know where to drive the cement-board screws. First use a stud finder or some other method to locate the center of each stud at the top and bottom of the wall. Then stretch a chalk line between the marks and snap the lines.
Step 2: Dealing with electrical outlets and switches
Photo 1: Score the cement board
Mark the cement board and line up your drywall square with the mark. Drag the tip of the scoring tool along the edge of the square to score the cement board. Repeat two or three times until you cut through the fiberglass mesh reinforcing.
Photo 2: Break the board
Bend the cement board to snap it along the scored line. Then cut through the mesh on the back of the board with a utility knife. Use the utility knife to clean up the cut and create a straight edge.
Since you’ll be adding cement board and stone to the wall, existing switches and outlets will have to be moved out to the surface of the stone. There are a few options for doing this. We added electrical box extensions (Photo 18).
Be sure to turn off the power to the switch or outlet before doing any work on them. When you add a box extension, it’s possible that the old wires connecting the switch or outlet will be too short. If your wires don’t extend 3 in. past the face of the box extension, add pigtails. For more information on how to do this, watch Dealing with Electrical Wires That Are Too Short.
Step 3: Install the cement board
Photo 3: Screw cement boards to the studs
Drive screws through the cement board and drywall into the studs. Place screws every 8 in. along the studs.
Photo 4: Break out outlet openings
Mark the outlet location on the cement board. Score all four sides and then score an ‘X’ through the center. Tap with a hammer to create the outlet hole. Then clean up the edges with your utility knife.
Cut the cement board, making sure the ends of the sheets are centered on a stud. Photos 1 and 2 show how. Use your utility knife to clean up the cut end by carving off any protruding chunks of cement. Attach the sheets with 2-1/4-in. screws spaced every 8 in. (Photo 3). Be sure to stagger the seams.
Photo 4 shows how to cut an outlet hole. Remember, you’ll be covering the cement board with stone, so this hole doesn’t have to be very accurate.
The final step in the cement-board installation is to reinforce the seams with self-adhesive mesh tape covered by a layer of thin-set. Apply the tape to the seams. Then mix a small batch of thin-set to about the consistency of peanut butter and trowel it over the tape.
Step 4: Plan the layout to avoid surprises
Photo 5: Determine the layout with a stick
To determine the height of the top and bottom rows of stone, cut a scrap of lumber to the height of the ceiling. Arrange stone on the floor and move the stick up and down to determine the top and bottom cuts. The goal is to avoid a narrow sliver of stone.
Photo 6: Snap a level chalk line
Mark the height of the first row of stone on each end of the wall and snap a level chalk line between the marks to indicate the top of the first row.
You’ll have to cut the stone to fit against both walls, the ceiling and the floor. But with careful planning, you can avoid having to finish with tiny slivers of stone.
To figure out the side-to-side layout, start by measuring between the walls. Then lay a row of stone on the floor, a little longer than the distance between the walls. Use your tape measure to see what the last cut would be if you started with a full stone on one end. If the last stone will need to be cut less than an inch long, plan to cut several inches off the first stone to allow for a wider finishing piece. Next you’ll need to figure out the horizontal cuts where the stone meets the floor and ceiling. It’s tempting to measure down from the ceiling and start your stone so that you’ll end up with a full piece against the ceiling. But doing this is likely to cause you problems. So instead, plan on cutting both the top and the bottom rows to fit against the floor and ceiling.
To figure the width of the cuts, first measure the distance from the floor to the ceiling. Then cut a 1×2 or other spare piece of lumber to this length. You’ll use this measuring stick (called a ‘story pole’) to determine the best stone layout. Arrange stone on the floor to create a stack a little longer than the length of the story pole. Set the story pole on the stack of stones and move it up or down until you find a position where both the top and the bottom stones will need to be cut to fit, without leaving a sliver. When you’ve found a good spot, mark the stone at the bottom of the stick (Photo 5). Measure from this mark to the top edge of the bottom stone. In our case, this distance was 5-1/2 in. You’ll use this measurement to position the starting chalk line.
To ensure that the first course is straight and level, snap a level chalk line on the wall to indicate the top of the first row of stone. Using a 4-ft. level or a shorter level held on top of a straight board, check to see whether the floor is level across the width of the wall. If the floor is level, use the measurement you determined using the measuring stick to mark the distance from the floor to the line at each end of the wall, and snap a line (Photo 6). If the floor isn’t level, measure up from the low side and level across the room to make a mark at the other end. Then snap a line between the marks.
Step 5: Install the stone
Photo 7: Cut ends with a tile saw
Mark the stone and set it on the sliding table of your tile saw. Line up the mark with the blade. Turn on the saw and simply slide the table toward the blade to cut through the stone.
Photo 8: Cut the first row of stone
Mark the stone pieces to fit between the chalk line and the floor. Align the mark with the tile saw blade and cut along the line. If your saw won’t cut the full length, flip the stone around and finish the cut from the opposite end.
Photo 9: Spread thin-set for the first row
Mix thin-set and spread it below the line with a notched trowel. Press a test piece of stone into the fresh thin-set. Pull it off and check the back to make sure it’s fully covered with thin-set. If not, use a trowel with larger notches or butter the back of the stone.
Photo 10: Align the first row with the chalk line
Press the stone pieces into the thin-set. Then slide shims underneath until the top edge is perfectly aligned with the chalk line. This will ensure that the following courses of stone will be straight and level.
With the prep work done and the level line marked on the wall, you can get started with the fun part, installing the stone. The first course takes a little longer because you have to cut it to fit to the line, but after that, the stone will go up quickly. Cut and dry-fit the first row of stone before you mix and spread any thin-set. Measure from the floor to the line and subtract 1/8 in. to determine the height of the stone pieces. Photos 7 and 8 show how to cut the ends of stone pieces and how to make the long rip cuts. If you’re having trouble seeing the cutting line because it’s being washed off by the wet-saw spray, apply masking tape to the stone before you mark it, and then draw the line on the tape.
When the first row of stone is ready to install, mix a bag of thin-set mortar according to the instructions on the package, using a 1/2-in. drill and a mixing paddle. Spread thin-set below the line (Photo 9) using a 1/4 x 3/8-in. notched trowel. Press the first piece of stone into the thin-set. Then remove it and check the back to make sure it’s completely covered with thin-set. If not, you’ll have to use a 1/2 x 1/2-in. notched trowel instead, or ‘butter’ the back of each piece of stone by spreading a layer of thin-set over it with the flat edge of your trowel, and then setting it into the thin-set on the wall. Slide plastic tile shims under the stone pieces to align the top edges with the chalk line (Photo 10).
The seams between the stones will be less visible if you stagger them. To do this, start the second row with a piece that’s about two-thirds as long as the piece below it, once again checking to make sure you don’t end up with a thin sliver at the far end. Spread enough thin-set to apply about two more rows of stone and work your way up the wall. Continue like this until you reach the top.
Step 6: Cut the stone to fit around electrical boxes
Photo 11: Measure for the outlet notch
Measure from the closest installed stone and transfer these marks to the stone you need to notch. You can stick masking tape to the stone for easier marking.
Photo 12: Notch around outlets
Cut out the notch with the tile saw by making a series of closely spaced cuts that end at the line for the bottom of the notch. Tilt the stone up to create a square-bottom cut. Then break out the fingers and clean up the cut with a back-and-forth motion through the saw.
It’s almost certain you’ll have to cut around at least one outlet. We show how to notch the stone piece to fit (Photos 11 and 12), but if your outlet falls in the center of a piece, you’ll have to use a slightly different technique. Mark the outlet on both sides of the stone. Then you can either use the tile saw, or an angle grinder with a diamond blade, to plungecut on all four sides. Start on the front of the stone and plunge until the cuts just reach the corners. Then flip the stone over and plunge-cut until the center piece falls out. You may have to clean out the corners with a dull wood chisel, a glass-drilling bit in a drill, or a rotary tool. Later we’ll show you how to mount the outlet and fit the cover plate to the irregular stone surface.
Step 7: Mount the optional shelves
Photo 14: Attach shelves with angles screws
Apply construction adhesive to the back edge of the shelf and rest it on top of a stone. Press the shelf against the wall while driving angled finish-head screws through the shelf and into studs. Make sure to position the shelves over two studs.
Photo 15: Cut stone to fit over the shelf
If your shelves are exactly as long as one piece of stone, you can simply cut off the thickness of the shelf from the length of one piece of stone. Otherwise, notch the stone to fit around the shelf.
We decided to add small floating shelves to the stone wall. We built ours by gluing two layers of 1×8 poplar together, cutting them to the length of one stone piece-in our case, 23-1/2 in.-and ripping them to 6-1/2 in. wide on a table saw. Then we applied ebony stain and finished them with two coats of satin polyurethane.
Plan the shelf positions by arranging strips of masking tape on the wall, making sure that there are two studs behind every shelf. Then when you reach the level of a shelf with the stone, apply construction adhesive to the back edge of the shelf, rest the shelf on the stone, and drive 3-1/8-in. finish-head screws at an angle into the studs (Photo 14) to hold the shelf in place. Rip 1-1/2 in. from the bottom of a stone piece to fit over the shelf (Photo 15). You can work from the shelf toward the walls on both sides to finish the row of stone.
Step 8: Finish up with the top row of stone
Photo 16: Cut and fit the top row
Complete the project by installing the top row of stone. Measure and cut each piece and test the fit. Then spread thin-set onto the back of the stone pieces and press them in place.
Don’t spread any thin-set in the area behind the top row of stone. Instead, apply the thin-set to the back of each piece before setting it in place. This allows you to dry-fit the piece and makes it easier to avoid accidentally getting thin-set on the ceiling. Measure between the top stone and the ceiling, and transfer these measurements to the stone pieces for cutting. Use the technique we showed you in Photo 8 to cut the top row of stones. After you’ve checked the fit, spread thin-set on the back of the stone and press it onto the cement board (Photo 16).
Step 9: Reinstall the moldings
All that’s left to do is to reinstall the baseboards. You’ll have to scribe the ends of the baseboards to fit against the irregular stone surface. To see how to do that, read How to Scribe for a Perfect Fit.
Fitting Outlets and Switches
Photo 17: Carve a flat spot for the cover plate
Hold the cover plate in position over the outlet and trace around it. Now use a diamond wheel in a rotary tool or a 1/8-in. glass-drilling bit in a drill to carefully smooth out the stone in the area under the cover plate.
Photo 18: Install the box extension
Slip a plastic box extension over the outlet and slide it into the electrical box. Mount the outlet to the electrical box with the extra-long screws provided in the package.
Photo 19: Attach the cover plate
Set the cover plate into place and make sure it’s tight to the stone, without large gaps. If it’s a good fit, screw it onto the outlet.
Since the surface of the stone is too irregular for mounting the outlet and cover plate, the first step is to carve away the stone to create a flat mounting surface. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds, because the area you need to flatten extends only about 3/8 in. beyond the hole in the stone.
First, make sure the power is still turned off. Then, start by temporarily connecting the outlet to the box using the long screws included with the box extension. Set the cover plate over the outlet, making sure it’s level, and trace around it. Now remove the screws that hold the outlet to the box and move the outlet of the way. We used a rotary tool with a diamond wheel attachment to cut the stone, and an old wood chisel to square up the corners. You could also use a 1/8-in. glass-cutting drill bit mounted in a drill to chisel away the stone.
Start by cutting the outline of the cover plate. Then cut away protruding stone inside the line until you have a flat surface for the cover plate (Photo 17). Then simply reattach the device, along with the new box extension (Photo 18). Finish up by installing the cover plate (Photo 19).
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- 1/2-in. corded drill and mixing paddle for the thin-set adhesive
- 1/4 x 3/8-in. notched trowel
- 1/4-in. glass bit for a drill or a rotary tool with a diamond wheel
- Cement-board scoring tool
- Chalk line
- Standard hand tools
- Tile saw