For several years, tumbled marble tile has been installed in many areas of the home. These rustic-looking tiles have a distinctive finish and style with a variation that can be moderate to extreme. Because marble previously was found mostly in 12-inch polished squares, many people are still unsure what tumbled marble is. But just as the name indicates, these tumbled-stone tiles are made of the same material as the polished ones, as well as a few other materials.
The Tumbling Process
When a stone, such as marble, is labeled as "tumbled," it literally has been placed inside a drum with abrasive materials and tumbled to produce its finish. Tumbled marble and tumbled stones are cut to slightly larger proportions than the desired finished size. Frequently, the tiles will also be much thicker than the finished product.
The tiles are added to a drum filled with sand, water, rocks and other abrasives and the drum is rotated or turned. The water and abrasives antique, age and distress the pieces of marble. When the tiles are done tumbling, they are sawn or cut on the back into a uniform thickness.
Types of Tumbled Stone
The name "tumbled marble" is used to cover a number of different kinds of tumbled stone. In addition to actual marble, a metamorphic stone made of calcium, stones labeled tumbled marble may actually be made of limestone, travertine, quartzite and granite.
All tumbled stones have a rough, antiqued finish, are porous and have a large degree of variation from piece to piece. Tumbled travertine may be more rustic in appearance than marble, due to its naturally more rustic state. Tumbled quartzite may have a glittering appearance, with multiple flecks of quartz and mica, while tumbled limestone may have a softer, sandblasted finish.
The Appearance of Tumbled Marble
True tumbled marble is made of the same stone used to produce polished tiles and countertops. Other tumbled stones sold as "tumbled marble" can also be found as honed limestone, polished granite and filled travertine tiles. The abrasive finishing process used to produce the tiles gives them a prematurely aged look. Some characteristics of tumbled marble and stone include a jagged, cracked edge, missing corners, pronounced fissures or cracks in the surface of the stone, small pits or holes in the stone, a dusty, muted color and a perfectly smooth, sawn back.
Tumbled-marble tiles are frequently sealed with a color enhancer after installation. This reduces the chalky finish and brings out the natural color of the stone that is also brought out in the polishing process.
Sizes of Tumbled Marble Tile
The most frequently seen size of tumbled marble is the 4-inch-square tile. However, tumbled marble tiles can be found in a variety of sizes, including 3/8- and 5/8-inch mosaic; 2-, 6-, 8- and 12-inch squares; and 3x6- and 4x8-inch rectangles.
Because the larger tumbled marble stones are more difficult to produce intact, it becomes more difficult, and more expensive, to find stones in sizes larger than 12 inches. Nearly all tumbled marble tiles measure 3/8 inch in thickness, but some larger tiles may be thicker to help the stone make it through the tumbling process.
Purchasing Tumbled Stones
Because not all stones sold as tumbled marble are in fact made of marble, be sure to check with your sales person about what, in fact, the stone is made of. True marble will have veins; limestone may have small fossils, while travertine will have small holes. Tumbled quartzite will have a flecked, shimmery appearance, while granite will have a more granular look. Each of these stones requires different care; don't assume that the stone you have purchased as marble should be treated as marble.
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