Prepping the Surface

Roger's canvas is a clean concrete wall (painted or stuccoed concrete must be stripped and roughed up with a power chipping hammer first), but stone veneer can also go directly over cement board. Wood sheathing works as a substrate as well, but it first has to be covered with a moisture barrier, then galvanized metal lath (attached with roofing nails), and finally a thin scratch coat of mortar that has to dry overnight. Because Roger is applying a fairly heavy veneer, he starts by bolting a steel angle iron to the bottom of the concrete wall with expansion anchors to create a brick ledge—a shelf to provide support and a level starting line for the stone. To make the job go faster, he lays out dozens of pieces on a long table pulled up right next to him. "You don't want to be fishing around in boxes while you work," he says.

Organizing the stone is one time-saving trick, but the cut of the stone plays a large part in easing installation. At the Cambridge project house, the 450-million-year-old quartzite "Virginia ledgestone"—actually quarried in Bulgaria—gives the appearance of dry-stacked slabs. (Aside from the foundation wall, the veneer also covers the two chimneys, the front retaining wall, and the back wall of the interior stairwell.)

Jason Buechel of Natural Stone Veneers International, the Wisconsin company that supplied the stone, thinks first-time installers have an easier time with a squared and uniform profile like the Virginia ledgestone because it is less challenging to fit. "Irregular styles like fieldstone are a bit harder to get right," he says. "It's a good idea to hire a mason to work with you for a day or two, so you can learn."

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