How To's - How to Install a Natural Stone Backsplash

How to Install a Natural Stone Backsplash

A natural stone backsplash adds beauty and functionality to a kitchen. It’s also a simple way to update your kitchen without a huge expense. Better yet, it’s a very do-able do-it-yourself project for even a beginner DIY-er.


All you need are the right tools, time, patience and instructions to guide you through the process. Here you’ll find a list of the tools and the instructions to install the tile.


As for time, the project will require time on two days: one day to prep the wall and install the natural stone, and a second day to grout the tiles. Depending on the grout’s dry time, you may need some time on a third day to clean, caulk and, if necessary, seal the grout to protect it from water. 

Tools Needed to Install a Natural Stone Backsplash

You probably already have several of the tools required to install a natural stone backsplash. You’ll need some specific ones to cut the tile, apply the mastic or adhesive that will keep the tile on the wall, and to grout the backsplash. Here’s a list of what you will want to have available:


  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Wax pen
  • Straightedge
  • Scraper
  • Studfinder
  • Level
  • Chalkline
  • Stone or stone tile cutter
  • Tile nippers or saw
  • Notched trowel
  • Rubber grout float
  • Buckets
  • Sponge


In addition to the tile, tile adhesive and grout for your backsplash, you’ll also want to get:


  • Tile spacers
  • Caulk
  • 1x2 board (optional, depending on your install area)
  • Nails for the board, as needed

How to Install a Natural Stone Backsplash

For a spectacular finished look, it’s essential to take time preparing the surface where you will install your natural stone backsplash. The surface should be clear of debris, smooth and flat. If it’s the first time the wall will be tiled, this shouldn’t take long; if you’re removing tile, you’ll first need to remove the tile, grout and adhesive.


Once you’ve done this, it’s time to get started.


Step 1. Choose your tile. You don’t need to buy it yet, but you should know its dimensions. If you’re choosing between several options, you’ll want to decide on one first.



Step 2. Measure the area you plan to tile. It’s best to divide the total area into squares and rectangles. For example, measure the area below the cabinets on the left, the area behind the sink and then the area behind the cabinets on the right. Total this area.


If your backsplash will start where there is a countertop, you won’t need to install a ledger board. This is a board you use to give yourself a straight edge, like where the countertop meets the wall, to install the first row of tile on so that they are straight and level. Typically, you would need this if you are installing tile behind a stove, refrigerator or other appliance not covered by a countertop.


To install a ledger board, first draw a level line across the wall extending from the countertop or bridging from one countertop to the other. The line must be level. Then, measure down to where you plan to start the tile, adding 1/8 inch between tiles if there will be more than one. Another way to address this is to use a border tile so its top sits right on the line. This will give you a natural break and the spacing you will need to ensure the tile continues straight across the wall.


Once you’ve identified the size of the area, add ten percent. This is how much tile you will need to buy. Why the extra ten percent? You’ll need to cut tile and some may break or chip as you cut.


Step 3. Purchase your supplies. It’s vitally important to have all your supplies on hand for each step. While you could run out during prep if you forgot something, once you start the tiling or application of grout, you really want to keep going until you’ve finished.


Step 4. Prep the wall. Make sure it’s smooth. You may need to scrape and patch. Use joint compound or vinyl spackling if it’s a small blemish on the wall. For best results, the wall should be smooth. Remove outlet or switch covers and turn off power to outlets you’ll be working around for a safe installation.


Step 5. For this step, you will work section by section, after you lay the first row across the entire wall. Measure out the tile for the bottom and the first section. Lay it out on a flat surface just as it will go on the wall. Snap a chalk line on the wall for each row of tiles. Check for level. Cut pieces as necessary for corners or to fit around outlets. Use the wax pen to mark the stone prior to cutting.  


Step 6. Using your grooved trowel, hold it at 45 degrees and apply the adhesive (mastic) to the wall. If this is your first time doing this, go along one-third or one-half of the bottom row to start. Once you get the hang of it, apply larger sections of mastic. You just don’t want it to dry before you get to it.


If necessary, you can apply a little extra adhesive to the back of the tiles (called “back buttering”) near outlets if you didn’t get a good application with the trowel.


Step 7. Start with the bottom row, sticking the stone on horizontally. As you lay each one, make sure you are leaving a small gap between them, and that you are checking that the edges are aligned as desired. If you find that they are not, remove the previous one and reapply. Tile spacers can be used to help ensure spacing if it is rectangular stone tile.


Step 8. After a few have been placed, use your bucket of water and a sponge to gently wipe the surface of the tiles to clean up any excess compound. If compound builds up between the stone, use your blade to clean away the excess. A smooth, gentle stroke along one edge and then the other followed by a wipe with the sponge should clean it away.


Step 9. After the first row is completed, move onto the next row in that section. Use tile spacers between each horizontal row so that you maintain a straight line. Occasionally check your work to make sure the spacers are keeping the tile level.


Follow this process for all rows and sections. Let your work set overnight.


Step 10. The following day, after the adhesive has set, apply grout per the manufacturer’s instructions. As natural stone is very absorbent, you will want to wet the surface of the tiles before applying grout, so the grout doesn’t stick to the stone. Use your rubber float to apply grout, making sure to push the grout gently into the spaces.


When finished applying all the grout, wipe with a damp sponge to remove excess. Let grout dry completely. Apply caulk around the bottom of the backsplash, where it meets the counter, to prevent water from seeping behind the stone.


If the natural stone backsplash needs to be sealed, let grout dry completely and seal the stone with the sealant recommended for that stone. When using any sealant, follow directions carefully and make sure to properly vent the area.

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