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Installing Stone Veneer Panels – Why is Trowel Size and Shape Important?

One of the cool things about our natural stone veneer panel products is that they are DIY friendly, so anyone with some tiling experience, or the eagerness to learn and take it slowly, can achieve fantastic results. Trowel size is a seemingly insignificant footnote in a stone veneer panel installation guide right up until you find yourself staring at the collection of different sizes and shapes of trowels at your local hardware or tile shop. Let’s learn together what a notched trowel is and what it’s used for and what size and shape to use for a stone veneer panel installation.

Half Inch Square Notch Trowel used to install large format tiles and stone veneer panels

A notched trowel is a tiling tool used to comb setting materials over the substrate before tile, or similar products like stone veneer panels, are installed. A notched trowel has at least one side, and often two, three or all four sides of the trowel cut out with a certain pattern creating what is commonly referred to as the “teeth” of the trowel. This pattern and the dimensions of the teeth dictate what kind of “notch” the trowel creates when combing the setting materials. There are three main shapes of notches that a trowel will create – square, v-notches, and u-notches. As you might have guessed, the square notched trowel creates a square notch when combing over thinset. The V and U notches similarly create notches that resemble either “V”s or “U”s when the thinset is combed over.

Notched trowels come in different sizes based on the type of product being installed and how big of a notch it requires. Square and U Notches are typically sold with the width and depth dimension of the teeth being the same. For example a 1/4” square notch trowel has teeth that create a 1/4” tall x 1/4” wide notch when combed over thinset. V notched trowels are measured and sold by the depth of the tallest part of the “V” and the distance between two “V”s.

Comparison of the different shapes of notches available showing a V notch, Square Notch, and U Notch

The size and shape notched trowel to use will vary based on the product being installed. The goal is to select and use the perfect size and shape notch that results in sufficient thinset coverage on the back of the tile while avoiding excess squeeze through of the thinset between tiles which needs to get cleaned off before it dries. While not hard and fast rules, V notched trowels are generally used for lightweight tiles,especially mosaics. U and square notches are for tiles larger than 4”. The largest trowel size for most common applications is the 1/2” square notch.

Tile and stone veneer panel products that install similar to tile should have a notch size specified in their installation guides to take most of the guess work about which size and shape trowel to use. For most Norstone applications we recommend the 1/2” square notch trowel. Our stone panels and Planc Large Format Tiles are heavy products that generally get installed without grout joints, so the big notch size ensures complete coverage across each unit. Our Lynia Interlocking Tiles are thinner and more lightweight, thus a 3/16” x 5/32” V notch trowel is recommend when installing that product.

Square Notched trowel keying in thinset to create a setting bed for tile

Apart from getting the right size for the job, some other things to consider when buying a notched trowel include size, handle type, and how many sides are notched. Notched trowels will come in a different overall sizes, so depending on your job, selecting a bigger or smaller one might make sense. For example, if you’re working in the tight confines of a backsplash, a smaller overall size to the trowel will help get around the outlets and tight spaces of this type of project. If you’re working on the facade of a building, larger trowel will be more efficient. Always select a trowel that feels comfortable in your hand. Even if its more expensive, your hands will thank you later! Finally, depending on the type of product being installed you might want to get a trowel with at least one side flat,which gives the tool some versatility. For example, when installing our stacked stone veneer rock panels, we recommend each panel gets back buttered with thinset before applying it to the notched setting bed. A trowel with at least one flat side will allow you to both back butter and notch the setting bed with one tool instead of two.

Tile Installer using a notched trowel to prepare thinset for a stone veneer panel installation

Finally, notched trowels are only as good as the hand they are stuck too. Learn the proper tile and stone installation techniques for notching mortar in a setting bed, such as making sure the trowel stays at a consistent angle against the wall and taking the time to re-notch a wall if the notches come out with gaps and holes in them due to lack of thinset.

Thanks for taking the time today to learn more about notched trowels and how the play an important part in any tile or stone veneer panel installation. If you have any technical questions related to Norstone products or installation, please call us at 866-717-4548 and out technical services team will be glad to assist.

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Norstone's New Dimensions in Natural Stone blog aims to discuss design themes, sources of inspiration, and how the world around us influences our creative interpretation and buying preferences.

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