Monday, September 20, 2010

Natural Stone Tile Basics - Part 2 - Learn the Lingo

In an earlier post, we went over some basics about stone sizes and how to calculate square footage. In this one, we are going to talk about some of the characteristics of natural stone tile.  There is a seemingly endless variety of stone types out there and we couldn't possibly cover it all.  So we are going to focus on the stone types we use and know well.  The best way to approach this is to give you a little tutorial on the terms that you might hear when shopping for stone.

Terms that describe the edges of the stone:

Straight Cut Edge
All stone tiles start out as a gigantic blocks of stone that have been mined from a quarry.  Those huge slabs have to be cut down into individual tiles.  The process of cutting the tiles leaves relatively straight edges on all sides.  We say "relatively straight" because stone is a natural product and you have to accept some departures from perfection.  More about that later.

Micro-bevel Edge
To get this kind of edge, the Straight Cut tiles are run through one more process to give the top edge of the tile a teeny-tiny little angle.   This is definitely a case where a picture is worth a thousand words.

The Micro-bevel edge gives the tile a very clean, contemporary look.

Tumbled Edges
To get the Tumbled effect, tiles with a straight edge are put into a tumbling machine.  Think of it as a big shaker filled with gravel or ceramic pieces.  The tumbler either vibrates or rotates and after a certain amount of time (and a number of broken tiles) the edges of the tiles are rounded out.
Tumbled edges are a very common way to finish natural stone tiles.  Rounded, imperfect edges are a great complement to the other natural characteristics of stone.

Chiseled Edge
We don't use stone with this type of edge, so we'll have to borrow from a great resource: The Build Direct Learning Center.  Specifically, their Travertine Tile Glossary defines a chiseled edge as: "The process by which a stone is given an aged appearance by mechanically chipping the edge of the tile."  We couldn't have said it better ourselves.  And here is a picture that they provide:

Stone tile with a chiseled edge.

Terms that describe the surface of the stone:

Honed Tile
Honing is a process of sanding or abrading the flat surface of the stone to smooth it.  Honed tiles have a matte finish.  They are smooth, but they are not highly polished or shiny.

Polished Tile
Polished stone is also sanded or abraded but it is done using smaller and smaller grit sanders until the surface of the tile is very smooth and shiny.

Filled Tile
Filling is a process to literally "fill in" all of the natural holes, pits and cracks in the natural stone tiles, which results in a smoother surface.  The fill is usually a similar color to the rest of the stone, so it blends in and adds to the natural texture of the tiles. 

Fill is not the same as grout.  Stone tile will be filled at the factory.  Grout is used only during installation of tile. Grout has a sandy texture. Fill is typically a polymer or synthetic material which is a smoother substance and is very hard once it dries. 

Example of travertine tile honed and filled.  Click on the picture for a larger view and you'll see the arrows pointing out the little spots of fill.  Some of the brighter, white spots are not fill.  They are  naturally occurring calcification running through the stone.

Unfilled Tile
At the risk of stating the obvious, unfilled tile does NOT have any holes, pits or cracks filled in.  It's the raw, wild, unpretentious stone - as if you just chopped a chunk off the quarry walls yourself.  Unfilled tile looks the most rustic and antique.
Examples of unfilled stone tiles

Brushed Tile
We also don't usually work with Brushed tiles so back to the experts at Build Direct Learning Center's Travertine Tile Glossary:
Brushed Finish = A finishing technique that requires the stone be brushed by a coarse wire brush. This replicates the appearance of natural wear over time.

Terms that describe the color of the stone:

Oy vey.  Too many to list.  Fortunately, the names used to describe colors of stone are not as extensive as those used for paint colors (Fuzzy Slippers, anyone?).  But what you need to know is that what one store calls Ivory, another might call Beige or Cream or Crema or Light or Classic.  The words used to describe the colors of different natural stone tiles are not universal.  You will find some consistency in the naming and often hear similar terms used.  But you really should go into the store to look at actual samples in order to see what colors you like.

And if you are going to shop around, write down the names of the tiles that you like along with the name of the store where you found them. You might fall in love with the Chocolate Tumbled Classico Antiqued tiles at Shop A.  But if you walk into Shop B and ask for Chocolate Tumbled Classico Antiqued tiles, you could be met with blank stares.  (Or if they are smart, Store B will whip out their Rustic Ancient Noce Classic tiles and tell you why Rustic Ancient Noce Classic tiles are so much better than Chocolate Tumbled Classico Antiqued tiles.)

Putting it all together:

The terms that we've just listed all describe different characteristics of natural stone tiles.  So you'll see individual types of stone described using many of these words strung together.  For example:

Honed and Filled - it is very common to see these two put together.  They both describe the surface of the tile - the holes have been filled in and then the surface was polished to a matte finish.

Tumbled and Unfilled - this is also one you'll see often.  The edges are tumbled and the surface is unfilled, showing the natural holes and crevices of the tile.

How about a little quiz?

Tell us if the tile descriptions below are correct or incorrect.  In other words, does it actually make sense when you put those particular terms together?  Remember that one piece of tile wold have to have all of those characteristics to be correct.  And don't forget- this will go on your permanent record.

A. Honed + Filled + Micro-bevel = Correct or Incorrect

B. Tumbled + Unfilled + Straight Cut = Correct or Incorrect

C. Unfilled + Brushed + Chiseled = Correct or Incorrect

D. Brushed + Polished + Tumbled = Correct or Incorrect

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A. Honed + Filled + Micro-bevel = Correct!

B. Tumbled + Unfilled + Straight Cut = Incorrect!
Tumbled and Straight Cut both describe the edges.
You can't have edges that are both tumbled and straight cut.

C. Unfilled + Brushed + Chiseled = Correct!

D. Brushed + Polished + Tumbled = Incorrect!
But this one was a little tricky.  Brushed and Polished both describe the surface finish of the tile.  Technically, you could polish the tile to make it shiny and then rub it with a wire brush to rough it up again.   But that would just be silly.  No point in polishing something that you plan to scratch up again.


If you answered all 4 questions correctly - You are a Stone Master.  You would dominate in the building materials version of Trivial Pursuit.  You are more than ready to go shopping for stone tile.  In fact, you could probably sell natural stone tile!

If you answered 2-3 questions correctly -  You are a Stone Knight.  The force is strong in you but there are still a few things yet to learn.  You can enter the tile stores with confidence, but keep your mind open for more learning opportunities.

If you answered 1 question correctly - You are a Stone Novice.  You've got the enthusiasm, kid, but you need to hit the books a little harder.  Start hanging around tiles stores and slab yards, and if they don't call the cops on you for loitering, you might pick up a little knowledge.

If you got 0 answers right - You are Stone Vessel.  A blank slate upon which much can be written.  Your journey towards mastery will involve asking questions.  Many questions.  Find a helpful tile salesperson and let them impart their wisdom.  Taking notes is encouraged.

Wrapping it up:

We hope that you found this tutorial to be helpful.  Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of all of the terms that are used when talking about natural stone.  Just some of the basics that relate to the stone tiles that we personally work with most often.  It's a big world of stone out there.  There is always more to learn.  Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.  In the next post we'll talk about learning to love the variations in natural stone tile.  Stay tuned!

Click below for other posts in this series:

Stone Tile Basics Part 1 - Sizes and measuring
Stone Tile Basics Part 2 - Learn the lingo - YOU ARE HERE
Stone Tile Basics Part 3 - Embracing Imperfection - coming soon
Stone Tile Basics Part 4 - It's all about us, baby! - coming soon

1 comment:

Slate Roofing Tiles said...

Very interesting info!Perfect just what I was looking for!Thanks a lot.