The Penny Backsplash Project

Today, something a little different…

The Penny Wall Project

Penny Backsplash ~ whatchaworkinon.com

Kitchen Reno. Needed a backsplash. A backsplash that would go right up the wall behind the stove and chimney range hood. In other words, this would be a feature wall, so it needed some pizzazz.

After looking at thousands of tile samples and considering oodles of other materials, I camePenny Floor at the Standard Gril Restaurant across this little gem of a restaurant floor.Arrow 67050 ps cu
Yes, indeedy, those are pennies in black grout.

OMG.

That’s it! Tile the wall with pennies!

I didn’t get going on it right away, though. I loved how it looked. It was so cool. But it was SO different, SO unusual, SO…out there. If you Google “penny wall” or “penny floor” right now, you’ll get pages of images, but at the time I was considering doing this project, there were only three penny wall/floor projects posted on the internet. Would it work? Or would it just look corny, or worse, super tacky? Maybe people weren’t doing penny walls because they were impossible to do and looked horrible.

Okay. Mock up time. My 7″ x 10″ sample sat on the counter for several days. It had gone together easily and it looked good. The materials were inexpensive—less than $70 in pennies for the whole wall, after all—so if it had to be redone, we wouldn’t be out of pocket much, just a lot of time. I decided to go for it.

Okay…now what?

There was no way I could attach the pennies to the wall one at a time—the space was too awkward to work in. So I decided to treat the pennies like mosaic tiles and attach them to mesh in “tile size” sheets before applying the sheets to the wall with mortar. circles

I happened to have a roll of window screen mesh, so I started with that. To make sure the pennies would fit together seamlessly when the sheets were put together, I printed off templates of penny-sized circle graph paper I custom made and downloaded from HERE. I omitted the last row so the sheets would join with no gaps when alternated across the wall (long row on top next to short row, long row, short row etc.).

Gluing, gluing, gluing…and more gluing…

I taped a piece of template paper to my work surface, taped a slightly larger piece of mesh over top, then used Krazy Glue Gel to glue the pennies to the mesh and paper, placing each penny in one of the circles. By far, this step took the longest. I worked at it over several weeks, usually a few sheets each evening while watching tv, listening to books on CD, or visiting with family.Penny Wall - Before grout closeup - whatchaworkinon.com

I used all Canadian pennies, a random mix of shiny and dull, old and new; whatever came out of the bowl next I glued. There’s also a mix of heads and tails. Again, however they came out of the bowl, with the exception that I didn’t glue more than three in a row of one or the other before switching. I don’t know why. It just felt right.

This is a closeup of one of the glued sheets. You can see the black mesh under the pennies and the white template paper under that.

Laying it out…

Once the tile sheets were all glued, I sprayed them with a protective clear coat. I had worked so hard to have a mix of shiny and dull, I didn’t want the grout to scrub the pennies to a uniform glisteny shine.

Then I measured an area on the floor that was exactly the size and shape of the wall I wanted to cover. Since we were in the middle of floor renos as well, I just drew it on the plywood subfloor in pencil. With a regular floor, I would have used painters tape. Penny Wall - Laid out on the floor - whatchaworkinon.comThe dark lines are where the sheets join each other. They’re dark because I ripped off the template paper around the edge of each sheet to butt the sheets close together. The centers are white because the paper is still attached there. I did take the paper off before applying to the wall. That involved a lot of tweezer use—the second most time-consuming part of the project.

Getting it on the wall…

I installed the pennies as though they were mosaic tiles, attaching the penny sheets to the wall with standard tile mortar as the adhesive.

Labeling each sheet (the little bits o’paper in the image below) and making a map where each would go, made it easy to transfer the sheets in the right arrangement on the wall. Here’s what it looked like partially installed. The pie-shaped triangle you see along the top edge of the photo is the map, which I had taped to the cupboard door glass. :^)

Penny Wall - After mortar and before grout 0 whatchaworkinon.comAnd here it is all installed and ready for grout:Penny Wall - ready for grout - whatchaworkinon.comWe had the power for the chimney hood pre-wired (the white wire sticking out of the wall) and I applied the penny sheets around it.

Once it was all up, I stood back and was amazed at how uniformly random the coloring was. It was something I worried about as I was gluing, but there were no areas that looked out of place, and you couldn’t see where any of the seams were, even up close. Booyah. Success.

Grouting…

I used black sandless grout and grouted as though I had installed tiles (apparently the sanded stuff would’ve scratched the pennies). It comes in powder form; I mixed it with water in a bucket as per the package instructions. The black sure made for a LOT of sponging, and oh, what a messy thing it was. But eventually it cleaned up really nicely…well worth the extra effort.

Finishing…

When the grout had cured, I sealed the wall by rolling on a topcoat of polyeurathane I had leftover from a hardwood floor refinishing project. This made the surface very easy to clean, which, since it was around and behind the stove, was very important. Here’s the finished wall awaiting the chimney stack.Penny Wall - Finished Wall before chimney install - whatchaworkinon.comAnd here’s a closeup view:Penny Wall - Finished closeup - whatchaworkinon.com

Oh, how I *LOVE* this wall. It is a beautiful warm color that catches the light in different ways as you walk around the room or as the light in the room changes. At night under incandescent lights, it practically glows, which makes the kitchen so inviting.

And next time?

LOL…oh, yes, there WILL be a next time. We’ve since sold that house (the penny wall was a big selling feature!), so I’ll definitely make another penny wall at some point.

What would I do differently? I would leave a little room between the pennies to get more drama from the black grout and to make it easier to fit the pennies together (not all pennies are exactly the same size—who knew?—so it took some fiddling at times). I would also choose matte over semi-gloss for the protective coat.Penny Wall - Finished - watchaworkinon.comThinking about doing a penny backsplash? Go for it. If you have any questions, drop me a comment or email. Have you already done one? I’d love to see it. Send me a pic!

MeCheers!

–Eff

 

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38 thoughts on “The Penny Backsplash Project

    1. Thanks, Deedra! I really had my doubts going into it…none now. :^) You’re right…it was time consuming, but SO worth it. It feels so comfortable and inviting (everyone loves pennies) and it’s become the focal point of the room. I love it.

    1. Thanks! I love the range hood, too…it looks great with the vaulted ceilings.

      I think I spent more time deciding on the backsplash than any other part of the reno —I was surprised at how much a backsplash affected the look and feel of a space. Good luck in your search for just the right one for your kitchen!

  1. Love this! I don’t think I have the patience for a project like this…but love the way it looks! Definitely sharing this post! Found you at Friday Finds!

    1. Thanks, Jamie! I was so pleased with how it turned out. It *is* a long term project, but a little bit of patience spread across many days is so much more doable than a lot of patience in one day. ;^)

    1. Thanks, Jane! We’ve since sold that house, but we loved this wall so much we already have a couple of buckets of pennies all ready to go for the next one. If you do a penny wall, be sure to send me some pics!

  2. Absolutely LOVE this! I’ve seen counters done in pennys, but not a wall. Fantastic!!!
    Thanks for all your helpful info. Now I would just need to get the hubby on board for something like this. Could be a problem.

    1. Yeah, my DH was a bit skeptical at first, too, but he’s been through enough of these wild idea things with me—where he ended up loving the end result—that he soon got on board and was supportive (and helpful!) throughout. We loved the end result and because it was unique and cool-looking, helped sell our house faster when the time came. Good luck convincing hubby.

  3. I have a question… I bought some grout for my penny wall. But it does not say sandless anywhere….is that big issue?? I bought the one that already comes premixed…. Help! I don’t want to open it if it won’t work! Thanks!

    1. I used sandless grout because I was told the regular (“sanded”) grout would scratch the pennies, but I don’t have any experience with the regular grout on pennies to confirm that firsthand. If you’re not sure, and you can return the premixed grout you bought, I would probably do that and buy sandless instead, just to be sure. I bought a small bag of the grout powder and mixed it myself. It’s not hard to do, expecially in such a small quantity as you need for a project like this. What’s your project? :^D

      1. Thanks Eff! I was so desperate to get it done I went ahead with the grout I had… It didn’t come out as nice as yours but it worked.. It was also my first time grouting anything so the whole process was new… I did have a lot of work cleaning all the pennies to the best of my ability. I’m working on a small backsplash for my kitchen sink area. All that is left to do is a protective coat of some sort… Thanks again for responding! Your wall looked amazing!

        1. Glad you got it to work. The penny wall was my second grout job, so I knew what how things should go, but oh, man, that black grout took forEVer to clean up nicely compared to the regular grey grout I’d used before. I’d love to see your finished backsplash. Please send pics when you’re finished. eff@whatchaworkinon.com

          P.S. I just bought another house so will be working on a new penny wall soon. Can’t wait!

  4. We are moving into a new home (which I absolutely adore, but needs some decorating) and I SO WANT to do a penny backsplash!! I would LOVE your input and appreciate your expertise in this area. I can send you pictures of the area I want to do, it’s not very big but somewhat challenging.
    Your pictures made me decide that is definitely what I want to do! I have seen lots of penny wall pics and yours are by far the most inspiring!!

    1. Sure. Send me an email at eff @ whatchaworkinon dot com with your pics and questions. I’ve done only the one wall, so I’m by no means an expert on this, but I’ll help as I can. :^)

  5. Love Love the penny backsplash idea. I have the pennies and the window screen I can get the glue BUT How do i attach it to the wall? I understand the grouting and washing but sealing after finished not totally understanding. any help would be appreciated. I am also putting pennies on top of my endtables, i know i need to seal the tops of the tables after i am done just not sure how thick i need it and what sealant should i be using.

    1. Wow…I was really skimpy with the information there, wasn’t I? LOL… After I finish here, I’ll go back and flesh out the details a bit more in the blog post. :^)

      Once the pennies were attached to the window screening and the paper removed from the back, I installed them on the wall as though they were mosaic tiles. I used a standard tile mortar as adhesive to attach them to the wall, and then grouted with regular sandless tile grout. The grout comes in a range of colors—I used black. It came in powder form and I mixed it in a bucket as per the directions on the package. I sealed the pennies twice, once with a spray clear coat just before putting them on the wall (to ensure that the grouting process didn’t clean my pennies to a uniform shine), and then after the grout had thoroughly dried I brushed on a coat of polyeurathane that I had leftover from when we refinished our hardwood floors (to seal the grout against splashes…the extra coat on the pennies couldn’t hurt). All of these products are available at your local home building store. I don’t remember the exact brands I used, but a knowledgeable store employee will able to point you to the tiling mortar and sandless grout, and suggest good sealing products for what you want to do.

      I used a single coat of polyeurathane to seal the wall, but for a table top that will experience wear, I’d use at least two, probably three or four coats.

  6. I love it! You’ve officially inspired me! My question is the cleaning part. I would think the grout would be a great color choice but was wondering if/how an epoxy finish could work? I’ve seen penny floors done with epoxy, do you have any insight into how I could use epoxy for the backsplash? Thanks!

    1. I know, right? Once you’ve seen a penny wall, it’s hard to get it out of your head, isn’t it? It wouldn’t leave me alone until I did it. ;^)

      I’ve seen penny floors, bars, and tables done with epoxy, but never a wall. My understanding about epoxy is that it’s a thickish liquid and so must be applied to a flat horizontal surface, which of course, a wall is not. LOL. If you had a small surface, and could apply the pennies and grout to a thick piece of plywood, you could epoxy it horizontally, then install the whole sheet. Somehow… 8^0 It would be amazingly heavy. Having said that, I sealed my wall with a coat of polyeurathane…the kind used to finish hardwood floors. It protected the pennies & grout, gave a hard, smooth, durable surface, was super easy to clean, and could be applied to the vertical surface easily with a brush or roller. I wouldn’t bother with epoxying a wall just to make it easy to clean (the polyeurathane works fine for that). I would epoxy a wall *only* if I really, really, really, really, really, really preferred the aesthetics of epoxy.

  7. This is amazing! Precisely what I want to attempt, I do not have window screen mesh? I do not know what type of mesh I need to find?! The only supplies I have for this project are Pennies! Could you perhaps help me out with a supply list, with some specifics?!

    Laura

    1. Window screen mesh is simply the mesh that’s used to make window screens. It’s readily available in rolls. Ask for it at your local hardware store or home building store (Home Depot, Rona, etc). By glueing the pennies to the screening, you can then glue over several days or weeks without having the disruption of reno you’d have if you were attaching the pennies directly to the wall. Then once you have the pennies all attached to mesh, you can apply the mesh to the wall as you would a mosaic tile (mosaic tile comes from the store on mesh sheets for easier install). The rest of the supplies I used are included in the blog post. If you have specific questions about them, let me know. Have fun building your penny wall!

  8. We love this look and are so excited to complete our penny backsplash! We are in the process of getting ready to seal the pennies. How has the polyurethane stood up to the heat of the stove?

    1. Congratulations! Most of your work is behind you. :^) About a year after installing our wall, we ended up selling the house for an unexpected cross-country move, so I don’t know how it’s doing now. In the time we were there, heat wasn’t a problem. But we had counter space on either side of the range, so air circulation was good (there was no wall butted up against the side of the range), and our range was one with a raised back for the control knobs and not a slide-in model. But even a slide-in model shouldn’t be transferring that much heat to a wall. Do your walls get that hot? 8^O

  9. What did you do with the edges that butted up against wall (as you’ll have at least 1 uneven edge)? Did you have to cut the pennies for a straight edge?

    1. I had two uneven edges (along the far right and far left walls…a piece of cabinet trim covered the uneven edge to the right of the cabinet). They remained unfinished for a long time because I couldn’t come up with something that would look good. Copper pipe was too shiny and too bulky, cutting pennies wasn’t realistic (it’s very hard to cut something so small, and getting straight clean cuts almost impossible, so it looked messy). What I ended up doing was gluing a row of pennies along each wall. The pennies butted up against each other. It did create another layer, so if you looked closely, you could see it was another row on top, but colorwise it blended in beautifully so from a few feet away you couldn’t tell. I would do it again that way.

  10. Hi. Love your backsplash. I’m going to do my backsplash with pennies. Since my decor is beachy, I’m going to oxidize all of the pennies, to get a blueish, green color. I was wondering if I should clear coat the pennies once they are on the wall, so the grout doesn’t take off any of the colour. Then grout, and then add a coat of poly. Do you think that would work? Thanks😊

    1. Oooo…oxidized pennies? That sounds gorgeous. :^)

      I was worried the grout would “clean” my pennies to a glorious shine, which I didn’t want after I had painstakingly worked to get a variety of copper colors in a random arrangement, so I basically did what you’re describing. I sprayed on a clear coat after the pennies were glued to the mesh but before putting them on the wall (that way I could do it outside and not worry about ventilation, and I could lay the pennies flat and not worry about drips). Once that was dry, I applied to the wall, grouted, and did a coat of poly…which, since the pennies already had a coat, was mostly to seal the grout.

      Have fun with your wall! :^)

  11. I love this idea and plan to do a penny back splash also . I have collected my pennies and got my glue. I clicked the link u provided for the circle graph template. But when I printed it off it seems the circles are to large … did u have to modify it ? What measurements did u change !? Any advice would be amazing . Im eager to get started !

    1. Yes, you have to adjust the input numbers to generate a grid that will fit pennies. I’m sorry, it’s been several years now since I did this, and I don’t remember what my exact settings were. Also, on this wall, the pennies were butted right up against each other, and after grouting, I decided I wanted more grout to show next time, so whatever my numbers were, I wasn’t going to use them again.

      I do remember measuring pennies and then experimenting with different numbers in the generator. Keep in mind that penny sizes will vary a little with wear and year issued, even if you use all Canadian or all American coins, so measure a few pennies so you can use a larger one as “the standard measurement”. Unfortunately, the programmers who created the generator were thinking like mathematical programmers and not like users, so the labels aren’t terribly helpful to folks like you and me, but play around with different numbers in the boxes and you’ll soon see what they do and how you can adjust them for actual penny size and distance apart you’d like. Have fun with this project. It’s so cool.

  12. Do you think this method would work to cover existing tile? I have been researching penny tiles for several weeks now, but I have yet to find an answer.

    1. For this decision, pennies are no different than any other tile. So widen your research to find out whether you can cover your existing tile with new tile. If it’s okay to cover your existing tile with new tile, then it’s okay to cover it with pennies. :^)

  13. I can’t wait to take on this project at my new house!! I am halfway done with my sheets. Like someone above, I collected pennies with a patina in addition to various shiny and dull ones. I found that that you can reuse the paper template if you put the pennies face down in the pattern you want, then put on the mesh on top and glue through that. I went through too much Krazy Glue Gel for it to be cost effective. I had some pennies pop off as well, so my next route will be to use Gorilla Glue Epoxy. The template for the penny graph I used had the parameters on the website:
    .05
    5
    .85
    1
    It makes a template of 102 pennies that’s around 7.5 inches by 8.5 inches. So, figure on about 1.5 sheets to get close to a square foot!

  14. That is SO awesome! Like you, I preferred the mix of patinas…I’ll definitely do it that way again. We’ve since sold the house where I did this penny wall. I’ve been collecting pennies since then to do it again. It’ll be a couple of years before the next kitchen reno, but I can’t wait to get going. :^)

    It sounds like your sheets are about the same size mine were…making for a very manageable installation. You glued the pennies from the top? Now there’s an idea I’ll have to try. I would have thought they would move around as you glued them…kind of like herding cats…LOL. If it works, though, that would certainly be a faster way to go. Thanks for the idea! Sorry the Krazy Glue Gel didn’t work for you. :^( It did take a lot, but of all the adhesives I tried, it was the only one that worked. Gorilla Epoxy is one I didn’t try. I just looked it up…it’s “gap-filling” so I worry about the bulk it might add, but I sure like the idea of the syringe to mix the two parts. Let me know how it works for you. And I’d love to see a pic of your finished wall. :^)

    1. The epoxy has been a bit of a learning curve! I have to only squeeze out a little at a time to mix. Too much and I can’t keep up before it starts to harden! I am very careful when gluing from the back and weigh down the edges of the mesh with more pennies. Maybe printing two sheets would go faster because you have to wait 5 minute before moving the sheet or you will mess some up. I have 9 sheets done and hopefully 1 more will be enough.

  15. Thanks for all the details you included!! What did you use for the clear coat before adding it to the wall? I’m excited to revamp my kitchen with a penny backsplash this Summer! 😀

    1. You’re welcome, Jessica! I hope you give it a try. :^)

      The clear coat I used? You know…it’s been 5 or 6 years now since I built the wall, so I don’t remember the specific brand, but it was just a general, non-yellowing, clear coat spray.

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