Q: I've installed enough ceramic tile to feel fairly confident with the basic techniques of lay-out, cutting and setting. But I've never worked with stone, and I'd like to give it a shot when we remodel our bathroom. Are stone installation techniques much different than those for ceramic tile?

— Kathy Silverwood, Southbury, Conn.

A: Joe Ferrante replies: They're similar in many respects, but if you don't pay attention to the differences you can really mess up a job.

For one thing, you can't score and snap stone the way you can with ceramic tile; you'll definately need to rent a wet saw. Also there's going to be greater variation in sizes, colors and thicknesses, so you have to work a lot by eye and feel. For instance, you won't be able to rely on those X-shaped plastic spacers to keep everything even, unless you use "gauged" stone cut to a uniform thickness and size.

Stone is more porous than ceramic tile, and you have to be careful about what it touches. Some light-colored stone will absorb the gray color from ordinary thinset adhesive, so it's best to always use a white thinset with stone. Grout, too, can stain some stone. Before you grout, seal the surface with a penetrating sealer, sometimes called an impregnator. Sealing also makes grout cleanup easier.

Joe Ferrante is a tiling contractor in Massachusetts who has worked on many This Old House TV projects.
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