If you are like I was, you are afraid of working with natural stone tiles of any kind. I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories of how hard the mortar is to mix, how you have to have a wet saw to cut the tile, how fitting odd shaped pieces is a nightmare.
I’m here to tell you that it’s all a BIG LIE!
I believed those lies. I was terrified to try to put up a natural stone accent wall in the family room, but I knew I wanted something for that wall. I looked at AirStone – nice but way out of my budget. I thought about a wood accent wall, but I have laminate wood-look flooring and didn’t want them to complete. Wallpaper was out – our walls are textured AND I hate wallpaper. I could have painted a different color but I’m trying to get rid of the multi-colored rooms in this house.
But I had to get rid of that last hideous red wall.
It was clear, I was not going to be happy unless it was a natural tile. I resolved to tackle each of those horror stories and show them who was boss. I could do this!
So, I bit the bullet and decided to go with slate. I chose the Peacock Slate from Home Depot for several reasons.
- It was the color I was looking for.
- It was a rough, natural stone – It would help hide my mistakes and I love that “just dug up” look.
- It was surprisingly cheap!
If you are not familiar with peacock slate, it’s a multicolored slate. Not a straight grey or black color like you would associate with a slate chalkboard or Vermont Slate that is all grey. Peacock slate is gray, brown, purple, copper, gold and on and on. But the primary color is grey. Using the peacock slate it would match just about any grey or other color I would throw at it.
#2 Rough, Natural Stone
I have this obsession (among many others!) to texture. It’s a decorating style I call the “just dug up” look. Think about the things you may see come out of an archeological dig. Rough, used, rusted, natural. That’s what I like. Slate gives me that. The surface is uneven, odd, multi-hued and sometimes even rusted. Plus, the nice thing about not having perfect tile is that if you are off a bit you can’t tell!
#3 Surprisingly Cheap
I did the entire 10 foot high by 14 foot wide wall for under $300 – tile and adhesive. I was looking at over $600 if I went with Airstone! $300, I can handle – $600, no way. The tile was $1.99 a square foot for 12×12 tiles at Home Depot. A case of 10 tiles – $19.90. It took me 11 cases of slate and 11-12 tubes of Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive at $3.00 a tube.
Debunking the Big Lies
Construction Adhesive vs. Mortar
As stated above, I used construction adhesive instead of mortar. Since the tile was not going to be in a wet situation, I could forgo the tile backer board and the mortar to seal the back of the tile. I just needed the tile to stick to the wall. I stated out using the mortar but after struggling with mixing and using one batch (enough for about 10 tiles) I was determined to used something else. I started off testing a few tile with the construction adhesive to make sure they would stick and stay stuck!
They did. The mortar nightmare could go away.
On to the next big lie….
Wet Saw vs. Dremel Saw Max
I am totally in love with my new Dremel Saw Max. It’s light weight enough to not be tiresome. Small enough so you can handle it safely. Powerful enough to cut through tile. And the added plus is that it gives an incredibly smooth straight cut. I was able to fit even small edge pieces perfectly.
I hate circular saws. Maybe not hate, but definitely afraid of them. They have that big ol’ blade that you are hauling around. They are heavy and, for me, hard to keep on track. And one little mistake and there goes some body part that I’d prefer to keep.
Enter the Dremel Saw Max. I’ll do a post just on this amazing little tool, but suffice it to say for now that this is my new favorite saw.
You are always told that you should use a wet saw to cut tile to keep the dust down. I used the Dremel Saw Max outside and YES there was tons of dust. But after each use, I just hooked up the electric leaf blower and blew the dust right off the tools and deck – no more mess. I wore a full face shield protector (that I use when making soap) and had no problems with the dust getting in my face/eyes/mouth.
Big lie #2 debunked – wet saw is not necessary.
Odd Shaped Cuts vs. Worksmith MotoTool
Most of my tile was laid in full pieces or partial pieces to fit the space. No fancy cuts for the most part. But I did have several places around the door trim that required some delicate cutting. I have door trim that is not just straight pieces of trim mitered at the corners. That would make cutting tile around the door way too easy. Noooo, I have trim with corner blocks and base blocks that are larger than the trim.
So, at each corner I had to carve out a square niche that would fit around these blocks. Bob had a Worksmith MotoTool (a Dremel knockoff) that I commissioned and using the small grinding attachment, just ground those niches out. Quick and easy.
The Hard Parts
I don’t want you to think that this was all fun and games. There were some challenges.
First, the dirt. These slate tiles were dirty. Because slate is nothing more than compressed clay, it’s brittle, crumbly, and dusty. The first thing I had to do to each tile before it could be used was wash it. That’s right – WASH IT! This got rid of the dust, mud, chippy pieces so you were left with a clean tile to work with.
I washed mine in the shower using the handheld sprayer on the massage setting to beat the dirt and loose pieces of the tiles. Trust me you will need a good strainer and your shower will need a good scrubbing afterward. Bob suggested that I haul all those tiles outside and hose them off. I nixed that idea because I didn’t want to lug all those boxes (at 60 pounds a piece) outside to clean them and then back inside.
Second hard thing, for me, was the constant up and down the ladder. For each piece of tile, I climbed the ladder with a tile to dry fit it to make sure it would fit closely to the other tiles around it. These are not 100% perfectly square tiles, remember? Some of them were even longer on one or both sides so you had to kind of match the tiles. That might take one trip up the ladder, if you were lucky, or more. Then you had to come back down, adhesive up the tile, and climb back up. At least two trips for whole tiles and more when you had to measure and cut.
The last hard thing was keeping the tiles straight and level. Again, because they are not 100% perfect AND because I was dry stacking them (no grout to fill in larger or smaller gaps), if the tile itself was not straight I had to make it that way. I had some pretty odd angles at the end, but worked with them and you can’t tell that some of them are as much as an inch different in size. The fact that the walls were not square didn’t help.
Aside: I have never had a house where the walls / floor / doors were actually square. What’s up with the construction industry anyhow?
I LOVE the results. I would do it again despite all the problems. In fact, I intend to do the exact same treatment on the front of the bar. 🙂
11 boxes of Peacock Slate Tile: 12 in. x 12 in. Peacock Slate Floor and Wall Tile @ $19.90 / box = $218.90
11 tubes of Loctite PL375 10 fl.-oz. Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive (12-Pack) 1390601 @ $2.40 / tube = $26.40