Tile Doctor Tip: Bear in mind that just like their man made cousin, stone tiles have their own characteristics and installation requirements. As always, follow the manufacturer instructions for the installation of the chosen material. The manufacturer tests and is familiar with the product they produce. They want your installation to succeed and for you to be happy with it. Bear in mind that it is your responsibility to pick the appropriate product for your needs. For help in this area, go to the How to Shop for tiles and stone section.
This section will cover all of the most common stone tiles produced today as well as stone slab fabrication.
The most common stone products usedin the building industry today are:
- Quartz-based stone
All of these are available to the consumer in slab or tile form. Also, all of these products are quarried throughout the world.
Once the deposits of these rocks are found they are quarried by a variety of means.
Because these tend to shatter adjacent rock, other means of separating blocks of rock from their beds had to be developed. These include “channeling machines” that cut rock with the use of huge chisels. This method would take advantage of natural joints already present within the rock and the machine would follow these joints, dislodging the blocks at these natural points.
The “wire saw” method uses a single or multiple strand wire driven by an electric or fuel powered motor. As the wire moves upon the stone in the desired cut location, a slurry of water and abrasives is applied to the wire facilitating the cutting action. The abrasives can include sand, silicon carbide, and aluminum oxide. The interesting problem with this system is that the wire wears against the stone, making it necessary to use up huge amounts of wire to complete the cuts.
A newer “wire saw” method uses the same basic idea with an improvement. Plastic guides fitted with diamond cutters are the actual cutting devices, thus preventing the wire from abrading on the stone. The advantage of the “wire saw” is obtained through eliminating the waste of the wire.
Other methods include “chain saws” for the softer rocks, which function like the chain saws we are all familiar with. However, they are naturally much larger and have carbide or diamond tipped cutters doing the cutting. These machines can be self-propelled along track systems.
This method of cutting uses a very fine stream of water which is focused through a nozzle at extremely high pressure against the rock. This water pressure opens up existing and creates new along a desired cutting route.
Regardless of how the stone slabs are removed from the earth, the process of turning these huge blocks of stone into usable products begins. Depending on the quality of the stone and its intended use, some blocks may remain and be sold as is. For example, stone monuments or sculpture may require a certain veining or total absence of veining. Through the ages, stone has been selected by the great artists and sculptors based upon its characteristics and appearance.
Assuming that the blocks have been selected for use in forming tiles shapes, the blocks are then gang sawed into the common tile shapes and sizes we are familiar with. These tile shapes are then polished with carborundum or similar wheels with successively finer grits of polishing compound until the desired finish is established. These finishes can be high gloss or matte in appearance.
What happens to all the waste stone that is not part of the block?
As much as 50% of the stone in quarrying can be waste and this is where the “agglomerates” originate.
What are “agglomerates”?
This term is used to describe all the various matrix stone products, such as terrazzo, conglomerates, reconstituted stone, or cast stone panels. All of the aforementioned have one thing in common. They all were developed to make use of natural stone waste to produce a product similar in appearance to the parent stone at an affordable price.
Each manufacturer uses either cement-based products or epoxies together with the stone waste to make either blocks or slabs of finished bonded product. These blocks or slabs are then cut to the desired tile shapes in a similar fashion to that of natural stone.