Natural Stone vs. Veneer Architectural Stone

Stone Wall Next To Modern Staircase
Stone Wall Next To Modern Staircase. Getty / Astronaut Images

It's getting harder to tell natural veneer stone apart from manufactured veneer stone (confused by the names?  You're not alone--see below).  The manufactured stone industry is trying its best to displace natural stone as the masonry veneer of choice for home cladding, fireplace surrounds, and interior touches.  

I have delineated differences between natural and manufactured stone in the chart below.

 But if you're in a hurry, I have boiled it down to a couple of points in the summary below, at least in terms of DIY residential installations.

QualityNatural StoneVeneer Architectural (Manufactured) Stone
What Is It?100% stone quarried straight from the earth, nothing added or removed.A slurry of Portland cement, aggregates, and iron oxides "baked" in molds to look like stone.  Cement lends stability to the product; iron oxides provide pigments.  This stuff goes by so many names:  Cultured Stone (a Boral company trademark), architectural stone, veneer, and manufactured stone.  It's all the same thing.  Not to be confused with faux veneer stone, a high-density polymer product.
Can Be Used Structurally?Yes, though not all types are structurally sound.  Slate, for example, is too brittle for structural uses.No.  All veneer stone is far too weak to be used structurally; that is, it can hold up its own weight, but cannot carry additional weight.

For consumer use, natural stone comes in two sizes.

There are two sizes.

  • Full-dimension veneer starts at around 2 inches thick and goes outward from there.
  • Thin stone veneer maxes out at two inches.
ColorfastMost natural stone does not fade with sunlight; or if so, it fades at such an incredibly slow rate that it will not be noticed within a person's lifetime.Veneer stone's colors can fade over time.
Types of StoneFor block, any type of stone is available.  For veneer, popular stone types are fieldstone and ledgestone.Fieldstone, ledgestone, sandstone.
Face SizeWhile it depends on the type of stone, face sizes range up to about 18" diameter.Faces range up to 14" diameter.
WeightUsing veneer fieldstone as an example:  about 13 pounds per square foot.Veneer stone weighs approximately half of its natural stone counterpart.
Interior / ExteriorEither.Either.
Be CarefulNatural stone is beautiful and desirable, but don't overestimate your masonry skills.  If you have doubts, manufactured stone will be an easier install for you.Cheap manufactured stone is tempting, but it's terrible:  highly repetitive patterns (or monochromatic colors) and only 1 inch thick.  Be sure to read manufacturer's specs before purchasing.

Install natural veneer directly on porous concrete, stone, or block.  Or if the surface is smooth, attach metal lath and scratch coat to provide surface for stone to "grip."  Attach with mortar.  Either grout between the stones or go grout-less for a dry-stack appearance.

Cannot be installed on drywall or other thin materials.  Natural stone is difficult to cut.

Installs generally the same as natural stone (lath, scratch coat, mortar, and grout).  

The main difference is that manufactured stone is far easier to handle and cut than natural stone because it is porous and light-weight.

CostBegins at $8 per square foot for ledgestone.Between $3 and $12 per square foot for ledgestone.

See list of manufactured stone companies:

  • Coronado
  • Cultured Stone/Boral
  • El Dorado
  • Stonecraft



Why use man-made veneer stone if the resulting product is a bit more bland than natural stone?  And why do this if the installation process is roughly the same between the two?  Predictability is the name of the game.  Manufactured stone comes is predictable sizes that are easy to carry, cut, and hang.

 Some manufactured stone, like Boral's Versetta Stone line, install as 2 foot square panels and don't even require mortar or grout.  They go on much like thick, stone-looking HardiePlank Lap Siding.

For close-up, detail applications like fireplace surrounds, or for anyone concerned about installing the best possible product on their home, then 100% natural veneer stone is the only way to go.