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timbo59 12-01-2010 09:30 PM

slate walls
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I'm looking to create a fireplace-like effect on a wall in our kitchen, using slate.

One wall used to house a fireplace, a crappy prefabbed affair that a former owner had installed which I tore out when we moved in. It left a cavity about 3' wide, 5' high and 1' deep. As it was already there I figured it would be a nifty idea to have our new pantry slotted into the space, two feet deep but with one foot recessed into this opening. It should create a surprising effect when people open it up for the first time and see how mysteriously deep it actually is. It's a custom job obviously, which we're having done with the rest of our kitchen cabinets.

One of the ideas I was running with was to surround the pantry with slate in pinwheel fashion. Imagine the brickwork surrounding a fireplace, and replace the idea with a pantry and slate sheets, flat against the wall. The pattern would be about six feet wide, with about 18 inches of it running down either side of the pantry.

I think the effect would look nice, but never having put slate sheets vertically I'm concerned about a couple of things.

Firstly, because of the way I'm going to have to lay and space the slate, it's going to dry in place with the studs bearing all the weight - obviously the grout is going in later afterwards, so there isn't going to be much if any load bearing from the ground up. Slate is pretty heavy, so it's not going to be putting too great a strain on the studs, right?

Secondly, slate is a fairly flaky stone. Is there a chance it could deteriorate and have pieces falling off in future, such as on top of the pantry? Or pieces flaking off if the installation of the pantry requires a little hammering?

The aesthetic of it appeals, but I'd hate to see it backfiring on us.

The attached picture shows the setup, with the difference that the pattern shown on the wall has had to be adjusted somewhat because the 12" slate pieces I wanted to use are no longer available in the color I like, and I have to go out to 16" pieces instead. Note the shelving that is going to be put in place either side.

And just in case anyone is wondering, no, I'm not sticking the slate directly against the painted drywall. I simply used it to draw out the pattern and give my and idea on how it would all look. I've already purchased the appropriate backing to screw in place on the wall.


PS - The other pic is something I came across while looking for some tips on slate. Does anyone have any idea how to create that 3 dimensional effect - is it simply done with different thicknesses of slate? Beautiful job, however it was done. The random pattern is something I've considered as an alternative for my kitchen job.

Bud Cline 12-02-2010 11:19 AM

Typically the inexpensive slat tiles sold at home centers is what is known as "ungauged" slate. It comes in random thicknesses and would be similar to your second picture but won't be the same product and will be all one size nominally but you can cut it if you want to. It will however give you the random thickness appearance you desire and will reflect beautifully under the right lighting conditions.

It would be better if the drywall was replace with cement board. You aren't talking about that much tile so weight won't be a major issue. The load will be mainly on the bottom-plate of the stud wall when all is done. You are dealing with shear factors more than download factors in this case. Don't cheap out on the thinset. Theoretically the better the thinset the higher the shear-bond-strength. So buy a high quality modified thinset for this purpose.

Before grouting, the slate should be sealed with a stone sealer. This will make the grouting process easier and will help to lock-in some of the wafers that could fall away over time. The inexpensive slates can shed terribly.:)

timbo59 12-02-2010 04:30 PM

You're right about the thinset - I bought the best available as it was the one most suited to the task - I think it was about $22 for the bag.

Funny you should also mention the bit about finishing the slate surface before grouting - it was virtually the last bit of information I gleaned from the guy at the tile place I purchased the slate from. He'd just given me a complete rundown on how to apply two coats of oil-based sealer and finisher, all the while telling me how liberal I had to be because of the porosity of slate. As I was about to leave a little light went on in my head and I asked him if the porosity might be a problem with grout and should I take special care. That's when he said I'd make a real mess of it if I didn't seal the slate first with at least one coat of finish - then do the second coat after the grout had dried.

Thanks for the tips - I'll post a picture once the job is done and the pantry is in place.

Bud Cline 12-02-2010 06:21 PM

Only one seal coat before grouting may not be near anough.:)

What "oil-based" sealer are you planning to use? Name it.:)

timbo59 12-05-2010 02:07 AM

Sorry, didn't see your post for a few days.

It's Dupont premium sealer and enhancer. I've already done the job and put on a couple of coats. I was going to give it another one tomorrow, which will make it three, and then leave it till the day after to do the grouting. I figured it might need the extra coats even before I saw your post, out of the fact that the first coat seemed to soak in a bit and showed some of the original dry color. I figured if it did that than it wasn't sealed enough for grouting.

Putting the slate up proved easier than I expected. The premium mortar I used was very impressive, different to anything I've used before. The adhesion and fast drying were excellent. I used spacers, but really they weren't all that necessary. Once I pressed and moved each piece around a bit to get good adhesion the stone stayed right in place for the most part.

What's the recommended way to grout slate anyway - different to the way you'd go about grouting tile?

Bud Cline 12-06-2010 09:46 AM


What's the recommended way to grout slate anyway - different to the way you'd go about grouting tile?
I think I would address only the grout joints and try not to get grout anywhere it didn't need to be. You could employ a grout bag but it isn't necessary. Just go slow and be particular. Clean it up as soon as the grout allows.:)

You generally reach a point when cleaning the grout that the cleaning becomes counter-productive and then you just have to walk away for a while. Allow the joints to dry and then go back and clean any remaining residue.:)

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