How to Choose the Perfect Mortar Joint and Color to Complete Your Natural Stone Vision

Selecting natural stone for your building project is a fun and exciting experience. Your choices seem endless, thanks to all the colors and shapes Mother Nature offers. Whether you visit one of our design centers or dealers to view the large stone panels, or you spend some time on our website to browse our Brag Book and catalog, viewing a variety of installations and inspiration photos can help you solidify your vision.

While browsing, you will likely notice how the different mortar joint styles and colors affect the look of the stone. As much as choosing your stone is a huge step, considering how it will be installed is equally important to achieve a specific aesthetic. Here I’ll explain some of the most common mortar joint styles and how, when combined with different mortar colors, it will affect your final design.

Three different installation styles of Highland Scotch materials.

How do mortar joints affect the look of the stone?

Some of the most common installation styles and mortar joints for stone include drystacked, raked, flush, and overgrout. Then there are some more unique joints that are not as common such as trowel struck, German schmear, and beaded joint (sometimes referred to as a pipe, convex bead, or convex grapevine joint). Each of these joint types paired with the various stone shapes can create a range of visual effects. Let’s look at a few examples.

Drystacked stone, which uses little to no mortar, gives an overall rugged, natural look and feel to the stone. Ledgestone and ashlar shapes are most commonly seen drystacked. If you’re considering a drystacked look for an exterior wall, please be sure to first consult with your Buechel Stone specialist and/or your mason, as this application does not work well in all climates, or ask if using a product like Laticrete’s MVIS veneer mortar would work best for your situation.

Silver Patina Ledgestone with a drystack joint.

Standard raked mortar joints are typically about ½” wide and roughly ½” or more recessed and “raked” from the face of the stone. When it comes to stone installation, this is the most universally used joint. It does a great job of giving the stone dimension and showing off each individual piece.

Jute Cloth Country Squire with a raked joint.

Flush mortar joints are similar to a raked joint in width, but like the name sounds, the joints come flush to the face of the stone. The end result is very monolithic, giving the appearance of a solid, massive wall.

Fond du Lac Country Squire with a flush mortar joint.

Overgrout mortar joints are similar to flush mortar joints but with additional mortar brought over the face of the stone by roughly an inch. This gives your exterior a very old world feel.

In terms of stability, these next three mortar joints are not quite as stable or weather-proof but would be great for interior applications. If done and installed correctly, all these joints can offer a lifetime of beauty and durability.

A trowel struck joint is similar to an overgrout joint but is struck while the mortar is typically a little wetter. This will bring the lime in the mortar to the face and create a very smooth, almost slick appearance.

Custom blend of White Country Squire and Fond du Lac Webwall with a trowel struck joint.

German Schmear has gained popularity due to so many DIY shows using this finish. One reason for it’s popularity is because it is a way to take older stone installs and give them new life by “schmearing” the mortar over the face of the stone. This is often done with a white mortar, and is then brushed into the face while wet.

This Oiled Nubuck Siena was installed using a German Schmear technique. See more images of this kitchen backsplash at

The beaded joint is a very historic look that has been gaining popularity again. This joint can be a bit of a challenge for masons. When installing mortar, masons will typically take their trowel and “cut” the extruded mortar off so it doesn’t fall off. With this joint, they need to keep that extra mortar to create the exposed bead. The result is a very unique finish.

Custom blend of Fond du Lac Country Squire and Fond du Lac Country Squire Jumpers with a beaded joint.

Combining Stone, Mortar Joint Style, and Mortar Color to Achieve Your Dream Look

Choosing a mortar color is often just as important as your mortar style. It’s an unexpected shock for many clients to see how much mortar color can affect the final look. I often show customers the Fond du Lac Country Squire panel here in our San Francisco showroom, which has a lighter gray mortar, and compare it to our Cream City River Rock which has a tan/sand tone mortar. Both of these products have the same color tones, but the color interaction between the stone and the mortar greatly impacts the overall look of the stone.

Combining your stone and mortar color choices with the right installation style is what ultimately brings your project together. For example, selecting a mortar color that closely matches the stone and using a raked mortar joint will make the installation look more contemporary than if you were to install with an overgrout, which softens the look of the stone’s edges.

If you select a mortar color that contrasts with the tone of the stone, such as a lighter mortar with a dark stone, it will create a pattern of the stone which is very clear to see and really help your stone make a statement. This can also make any imperfections in the installation easier to spot. Your final choice will depend on the look you are going for.

Black Frost Castle Rock fireplace with a light mortar vs Black Frost Ashlar fireplace with a dark mortar.

Here are some things to consider if you have a specific style in mind.

If you love the look and feel of a farmhouse style, the best way to accomplish it would be a with an Ashlar style stone with a similar mortar color. Examples of this include our Barnwood Blue Ashlar with a gray mortar, or our Fond du Lac Country Squire with a matching mortar.

Fond du Lac Country Squire with a matching mortar.

For a modern look, standard or flush joints with an ashlar or dimensional stone will create clean lines throughout. Using a contrasting mortar will really make the pattern pop. Alternatively, if you want the stone to make a contemporary statement by itself, a drystacked Tailored Fieldledge product will do the trick.

If your vision is similar to an old-world Tuscan winery look, combine the random appearance of our Fieldledge stones with a matching colored overgrout mortar.

full & thin veneer stone masonry Mill Creek Colonial Blend fieldledge stone veneer - fieldstone + ledgestone veneer blend - Buechel Stone project gallery photo - exterior veneer stone home
Mill Creek Colonial Blend

If hunting lodge or cabin-in-the-woods is the vibe you’re going for, mosaic stones will help you achieve that traditional style. Drystacking a fieldstone or pairing a matching mortar with cobbles will help add a rustic feel when combined with other natural elements.

Granite Cobbles fieldstone veneer stone masonry - Mosaic stone - granite stone veneer - Full & Thin Stone Veneer - Buechel Stone project gallery photo - stone fireplace - fireplace stone veneer
Fireplace with Granite Cobbles.

While these are some of the common, traditional installation styles, don’t be afraid to get creative with your vision. Other elements of your design will affect the overall look of your natural stone installation and can result in some very unique designs. For example, this house below combines Fond du Lac Webwall with a light mortar color and vertical wood panels, adding a modern twist to a rustic mountain cabin.

Mountain modern home exterior stone veneer features lime stone fieldstone wall veneer, Fond du Lac Webwall.

Let us help you find the perfect installation style for your natural stone project! Visit your nearest Buechel Stone Design Center or reach out to your local territory sales specialist. We look forward to helping you make your vision a reality and providing you with the best natural stone experience from inspiration to installation.

Cristal Szyndlar
Stone Design Consultant
Buechel Stone Design Center – San Francisco, CA