Types of Stone Floor Tiles

Types of Stone Floor Tiles

A guide to understanding the origin of stone floor tiles and their characteristics.  

The colour of rocks

The most abundant components within rocks are silicon, feldspar and mica. Rocks that contain low amounts of silicon tend to be darker and opaque due to its high magnesium and iron content. Rocks with a large portion of silicon tend to be lighter in colour and may even appear translucent. Translucent rocks contain large amounts of silicon dioxide minerals called quartz.

The characteristic colours of rocks are primarily influenced by the minerals present within them. Different minerals have distinct chemical compositions and crystal structures, which can result in a wide range of colours in rocks. Here are some key factors that contribute to the colouration of rocks.

  1. Mineral composition: Minerals contain various transition metal ions that can absorb and reflect specific wavelengths of light, giving the rock its colour. For example, iron oxides like hematite and magnetite can give rocks a reddish or black colour, respectively. Copper minerals can impart a greenish hue, while manganese minerals can produce brown or black colours.


  1. Impurities: Impurities or trace elements present within minerals can influence the colour of rocks. Even small amounts of impurities can significantly alter the colouration. For instance, the presence of chromium in corundum (aluminium oxide) results in the red colour of ruby, while iron impurities contribute to the yellow or brown colour of quartz.


  1. Crystal defects: Structural defects within minerals can affect the absorption and reflection of light, influencing the colour of rocks. These defects may include vacancies, substitutions, or dislocations within the crystal lattice. Examples include irradiation-induced colouration in some quartz varieties, causing purple amethyst or yellow citrine.


  1. Optical effects: Some rocks exhibit colour due to optical effects rather than intrinsic mineral colouration. For instance, labradorite, a type of feldspar, displays a phenomenon known as labradorescence, where iridescent flashes of colour appear when light interacts with the mineral’s internal structures.


  1. Weathering and alteration: Weathering processes can chemically alter minerals, leading to changes in their colour. For instance, the oxidation of iron-bearing minerals can cause rocks to develop a reddish or yellowish colour, as seen in many weathered sandstones and iron-rich soils.


It’s worth noting that rocks can display a variety of colours due to the presence of multiple minerals or a combination of these factors. The overall appearance and colour of a rock are often influenced by a complex interplay of mineral composition, impurities, crystal defects, optical effects, and geological processes.


Stone formation

Stone formation can be described into three categories or processes, igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic.

Igneous Rock

Igneous rock is formed when magma cools within the earth (intrusive) or above the surface (extrusive).  Intrusive solidification is slow due to the warm earth keeping the mixture in liquid form. Combined with the earth’s pressure these two conditions assist in the formation of crystals, which are similar elements that attract each other during the liquid state. The slower the cooling, the larger the crystals can be formed. The pressure of the earth above also forces low-density particles to the surface, leaving densely-compacted rock around the crystals. An example of an intrusive igneous rock is granite.

The extrusive solidification process forms rocks with lower density because of the lower pressure and temperature above the earth. The external pressure does not force out the light-weight compounds, such as air, and because the temperature is colder it solidifies much quicker, creating smaller crystals. Examples are pumice, rhyolite, obsidian and basalt.

Sedimentary Rock

Although some igneous rock can contain calcium, the majority of calcium-rich rock is formed as sedimentary rock above the earth’s crust. In a marine setting limestone may be formed from a reef or from fossilised plants and animals. In caves, stalactites and stalagmites form a limestone which is referred to as travertine. Other types of sedimentary rocks are composed of particles of eroded rocks from various sources that accumulate usually in water or desert sands. Over time these small particles become buried and compacted. Examples of such sedimentary rocks are shales and sandstone.

Metamorphic Rock

Metamorphic rock is formed from pre-existing rocks (igneous, sedimentary, or other metamorphic rocks) that undergo changes in their mineralogy, texture, and sometimes chemical composition due to high temperatures, pressures, or the presence of fluids. These changes occur within the Earth’s crust, typically deep underground.

Metamorphic rocks are characterized by the presence of foliation or banding, which is a layered or banded appearance resulting from the realignment of minerals under pressure. The degree of metamorphism can vary, ranging from low-grade (slight changes) to high-grade (extensive changes). Examples of metamorphic rocks include:


  1. Marble: Formed from the metamorphism of limestone or dolomite, marble has a crystalline texture and often exhibits a range of colours. It is commonly used as a decorative stone in architecture and sculpture.


  1. Slate: Derived from the metamorphism of shale or clay, slate has a fine-grained texture and excellent cleavage. It is often used as roofing material and in the production of tiles.


  1. Schist: Characterized by its foliated texture and medium- to coarse-grained appearance, schist is formed from the metamorphism of various rock types. It often exhibits mica minerals and can have a wide range of colours.


  1. Gneiss: Gneiss forms from the metamorphism of igneous or sedimentary rocks. It displays distinct banding and alternating light- and dark-coloured layers. Gneiss is commonly used as a building material and in landscaping.


  1. Quartzite: Quartzite is formed from the metamorphism of quartz-rich sandstone. It has a high quartz content and is known for its hardness and durability.


These pictures show some examples of rock that has just been described. 

Rock formation examples from sedimentary and igneous to metamorphic

Popular stone tiles

The most popular stone floor tiles that we’ve encountered in homes and offices are granite, limestone, travertine, sandstone, slate and marble and quartzite. These stone tiles are also found on walls and countertops, however the most opulent stone panels of all are made of quartz and onyx, which are slightly translucent and look so beautiful with a backlight.

These Quartz and Onyx crystals are retrieved from larger rocks and cemented together in a matrix to form one magnificent panel of various shades and hues.  An example of a blue onyx can be seen here.

Stone tile surface and textures

When stone tiles are shaped by the factory the surface can be produced as gloss, honed, tumbled or brushed. These textures are created through sanding and agitation with rotating abrasive blocks. The sanding blocks are often made of stone, hard resin blocks, or silica-carbide brushes. Silica carbide has similar hardness and refractive index to that of diamond. This is why stone restoration specialists refer to their buffing pads and “diamonds”.

Here are some common surface textures found in stone tiles:

  1. Polished: Polished surfaces have a smooth, glossy finish that showcases the natural beauty and colour of the stone. This texture is achieved through grinding and buffing the stone surface to create a reflective, mirror-like shine. Polished surfaces are commonly seen in marble, granite, and some limestone tiles.


  1. Honed: Honed surfaces have a smooth, matte finish that lacks the high gloss of polished surfaces. The honing process involves grinding the stone surface to a consistent, even level and then applying a fine abrasive to create a satin-like sheen. Honed surfaces have a more natural appearance and are less prone to showing scratches or wear. Many types of stone, including marble, limestone, and travertine, can be honed.


  1. Tumbled: Tumbled surfaces have a weathered and antiqued look. This texture is achieved by mechanically tumbling the stone tiles, which rounds off the edges and corners, creating a worn, aged appearance. Tumbled surfaces often have a slightly uneven, pitted surface, adding to their rustic charm. This texture is commonly seen in travertine and limestone tiles.


  1. Brushed: Brushed surfaces have a textured, slightly rough feel achieved by brushing the stone surface with stiff bristle brushes. This process removes the softer particles from the stone, leaving a textured surface that retains some natural colour variations and character. Brushed surfaces are commonly found in granite and slate tiles.


  1. Flamed: Flamed surfaces have a highly textured, rough finish created by exposing the stone surface to intense heat followed by rapid cooling. This thermal treatment causes the outer layer of the stone to flake off, revealing a rough, textured surface with a slightly faded appearance. Flamed surfaces are often used in granite tiles, providing slip resistance and a unique, natural texture.


  1. Sandblasted: Sandblasted surfaces have a rough, textured feel achieved by blasting the stone surface with high-pressure sand or other abrasive materials. This process creates a consistent, fine-grained texture by removing the softer portions of the stone. Sandblasted surfaces are commonly used in granite, limestone, and sandstone tiles for their slip-resistant properties.


These are just a few examples of the various surface textures that can be created on stone tiles. The choice of texture depends on the desired aesthetic, functional requirements, and the specific type of stone being used.

Maintaining stone floors

Stone floors are a beautiful and durable addition to any home. Whether you have marble, granite, limestone, or slate floors, proper cleaning and maintenance is essential to keep them looking their best. For instructions on how to maintain your floors in between professional restoration services, please see this article: Cleaning Stone Tiled Floors

Maintaining stone floors requires a little bit of effort, but with regular cleaning, sealing and protection, your stone floors will remain beautiful and durable for years to come. It is important to consult with a professional for regular maintenance and for any issues that may arise to prevent long term damage.

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