Installing Slate Tiles on Front Stairs

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Slate tile transforms boring steps into a work of art.
Slate tile transforms boring steps into a work of art. (Image: stone steps image by green308 from Fotolia.com)

Slate tile can transform ordinary concrete steps into an eye-catching, nonslip entrance. Slate, a natural stone, features two major types: Chinese and Indian. Slate tile may include many different shades and colors within a single box. Even the sizes and thicknesses can differ within a single box, by as much as 1/4 inch. Slate tile surface characteristics vary from smooth to wavy. Slate tile usually features wide grout joints and, due to the size variations, installers cannot use tile spacers.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Wet saw
  • Grey thinset
  • Latex thinset additive
  • Bucket
  • Mixing paddle
  • Drill
  • 3/8-inch notched trowel
  • Bubble level
  • Grout
  • Grout float
  • Sponge

Find the center of each step with a tape measure. Use a pencil to mark these spots.

Measure from the ground to the top of the first kick plate. A kick plate serves as the vertical riser between the ground and the first step, and between each step.

Make a pencil mark on the edge of a piece of slate tile at the kick plate measurement. Lay the slate on a wet saw tray so the pencil mark lines up with the wet saw blade. Push the tray slowly as the tile cuts. Cut enough tile to cover the first kick plate.

Mix grey thinset in a bucket with latex additive and water. Use a mixing paddle attached to a drill to stir the cement mix. The thinset cement should have the consistency of cake batter.

Spread thinset cement to the kick plate of the first step with a 3/8-inch notched trowel.

Press the cut pieces of slate into the kick plate. Start at the center mark and work to the edges. Cut the edge tiles, if needed, with a wet saw. Sometimes adjusting the grout joints will eliminate the need for cut pieces on the ends.

Measure from the edge of the next kick plate to the finished edge of the last kick plate. Cut the step tile to this size with the wet saw.

Apply a heavy layer of thinset to the step. Starting in the center, lay each cut tile in place. Use a bubble level to adjust the tile for a 1/4-inch slope per foot away from the house.

Measure and cut the slate tile for the next kick plate. Install this tile as you did the previous kick plate.

Measure and cut the slate tile for the next step. Set the step tiles using the same procedure as you did to install the last step.

Install the slate on all kick plates and steps. Allow the thinset to dry for 24 hours.

Mix grout in a bucket with water until it has the same consistency as butter. The grout must remain soft but still have enough body to stand. Do not let wet grout dry to this consistency; add more powder grout as needed.

Press the grout into the joints with a grout float. Try to keep the slate as clean as possible. The rough edges on natural stone tile makes clean up difficult.

Clean the slate tile with a wet sponge. Wipe with the stone's grain.

Tips & Warnings

  • Thinset comes in both grey and white colors. Use grey thin set when working with dark colored stone, such as slate.
  • There are two popular ways to lay out the grout joints. You can keep them in line from the bottom kick plate to the top step, or stagger the grout joints so the kick plate joints line up with the center of the step tile.

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