I stumbled across this web site a couple of months ago when looking for ideas/tips for building my BBQ island. I just finished the project and thought I'd share my results and a few tips from my experience.
I am a home handywoman who has done a variety of projects including carpentry, tile work, etc. I did this project solo except for occasional help with heavy lifting. I worked in the evenings after work and on weekends. It took about five weeks start to finish.
I had never worked with stone before and was a little worried about dealing with mortar i.e. chicken wire, scratch coats, etc. After a bunch of research online, I decided to use 1/2" hardiebacker with no scratch coat. The place I bought my stone recommended a substance called "Weldbond" which I painted onto the hardiebacker to help the mortar adhere. I back-buttered all the stones and set them individually. It was a little tedious but not too bad. I used Eldorado stacked stone panels. These are 4" tall, varying lengths. I made most of my cuts on a tile saw, with occasional help from a chisel and grinder. The stuff is really easy to cut. It took me a little experimentation to get a good consistency with the mortar. Wetter is better. Basically I got it just firm enough to not fall off an overturned trowel. Spray the back of the stone with water, spread on about a half-inch layer of mortar, wiggle and press the stones in place, then hold for 1-2 minutes.
The 1/2" hardiebacker was actually more of a hassle to deal with than the stone. It was a lot harder to cut than the 1/4" stuff I have used in the past with my tile projects. I was able to score and snap some of the bigger pieces. I tried using a special cement board blade on my table saw but did not like the way it cut. Lots of dust and burning. I then found some awesome Hitachi jigsaw blades on amazon.com that cut the hardiebacker like butter. I highly recommend these:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002V ... oh_product
I know everyone says to use steel studs, but I had no experience with these and decided to stay in my comfort zone which was wooden 2x4's. I know wood and fire don't mix but there's plenty of stone and cement board between the BBQ and the wood. I screwed the hardiebacker to the studs. In some places I augmented with construction adhesive. I filled the joints and screw holes with thinset. I did not use anything special on the corners as some people have mentioned.
The other big challenge for me was figuring out how to incorporate my existing grill. I have a fairly nice Kenmore portable grill that is only a few years old. I did not want to go out and buy an expensive drop-in grill. But I didn't want some hokey looking "BBQ garage" around my existing grill. As you'll see from the pictures, I was able to incorporate the existing grill and make it look built-in but in reality the grill enclosure is a separate piece that can be removed and replaced if my grill ever bites the dust.
I also didn't want to spring for expensive stainless steel doors at $200/pr. Instead I built my own doors using doug fir frames and some pine beadboard panels I found at Lowe's. I spent around $60 for the doors including european hinges. I sprung for a double pull-out trash/recycling bin for one of the cabinets ($70 at Lowes).
Here are the pics start to finish:
I am pleased with the way it turned out and grateful for the ideas and tips I found on this web site.