Stone cut from local quarries was likely the first tile used in ancient construction, and the qualities that made it desirable then -- an unending variety of colors, patterns, and textures -- are the same ones desired now. Today stone tile is cut with diamond blades from slabs and polished (gauged stone) or split by hand from large sections of rock.
Gauged stone is fairly uniform in size and thickness. Cleft stone is irregular. You'll find highly polished, matte, and flamed finishes (which gives the surface a coarse texture), as well as roughed-up tumbled stone.
Not all stone is tough enough for floors, and it's not rated by density like ceramics. Four grades, however, indicate its tendency to break. Exercise caution when cutting stone tile.
Most varieties are sold as 3- to 12-inch squares, but 4x2-inch rectangles and 2x2-foot squares are becoming increasingly popular. Oversize tiles make striking design elements and also make installation go more quickly.
Marble, granite, and slate are the most popular stone tiles. Like anything natural, they're prone to damage and color changes. Buy extra tiles, and when you get the boxes home, examine each tile for damage and consistency of color. Don't be afraid to return a tile that detracts from the beauty of your installation.
Substrates for stone tile
All tile must be set on a surface that's smooth and free of deflection. A substrate of 1/2-inch backerboard laid over 3/4-inch plywood will provide sufficient stability to keep stone tile and its grout joints from cracking.
Installation of such a substrate, however, increases the height of the floor and is often impractical in existing construction. In addition, the combined weight of substrate, mortar, and stone tile may exceed the structural limitations of the subfloor. Stone tile weighs considerably more than ceramic tile, so before you commit yourself to a stone floor, engage the services of a structural engineer or architect. An inexpensive deflection test will tell you quickly if your subfloor can handle the weight.Marble
Marble colors range from almost pure white to nearly black, with shades of pink, gray, and green in between. Some varieties are dense and vitreous; others are soft and absorbent. Be sure to consider how much wear your marble tile will be subject to before making a purchase.Granite
Granite is the hardiest of the stone tile family. Its density is the same as vitreous ceramic tile, so it can withstand freezing conditions, resist staining, and stand up to heavy use. These qualities make it extremely versatile; it's well suited for floors, walls, and countertops.Tumbled stone
Tumbled stone is marble or slate that has been roughened by abrasives and acids. The result is a dimensioned tile with a rough-hewn texture, accentuated veining, and rounded edges. It can add classic or rustic character. Tumbled stone must be sealed to prevent staining.Agglomerates
Agglomerates are formed from a mixture of stone dust and epoxy resin. The mix is molded, hardened, and then polished to a high gloss. It is a manufactured stone and not as durable as the natural material from which it came. However, it is less expensive than natural stone tile.Slate
Slate originates from petrified mud, and although some varieties are as soft as marble, others are as hard as granite. It comes in a surprising variety of greens, grays, and blues, which are often installed in quiltlike patterns. Its slightly ridged surface makes harder species ideal for floors.Limestone and Sandstone
Limestone and sandstone come in a wide variety of muted colors and offer a rustic look. As sedimentary rocks, both are porous and vary in hardness, so make sure you're purchasing a stone suitable for long wear when planning to install it on a floor.Quartzite
Quartzite is sandstone that has been buried deep in the earth, where pressure and high temperatures have fused its minerals into an extremely hard and weather-resistant rock. Like marble, quartzite comes in many colors, but in its pure form it's a light neutral color.Cutting Stone Tile
Unlike ceramic tile, stone fractures unpredictably, so you can't cut it with a snap cutter or trim it with tile nippers. Make straight cuts in stone tile with a wet saw or a small stone saw equipped with a diamond blade. To make curved cuts, mark the cut line on the tile with a china marker (felt-tip markers may bleed into the surface). Support the tile on a firm surface. Using a rod saw and carbide blade, cut along the line. Go slowly to avoid splitting the cutout. Smooth exposed edges with a rubbing stone.
- Tile Design Principles & Ideas: Color, Patterns & Texture
- Planning Your Tile Installation
- Preparing Surfaces for Tiling
- Mastering Tile Installation Techniques
- Tiling Floors, Walls & Countertops
- Tiling Special Spaces
- Tiling Decorative Accents
- Tiling Bathrooms: How to Tile Bathroom Features
- Tiling Outdoor Projects
- Installing Resilient & Parquet Tile
- Installing Laminate, Cork & Carpet Tiles
- Tile Repair & Maintenance