Slate is a beautiful, natural stone that can enhance any surrounding in which it is installed. It is an incredibly easy stone to work with given the nature of the material. The installation process can be an adventure, but it can be done with a little forethought and planning.
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The Material Itself
Slate is essentially nothing more than layers of mud that have solidified over the years and petrified. The look and feel of slate adds an aesthetic appeal that will give a rustic feel to any area where it is installed, and as a natural stone it is one of the most durable products that can be installed in your home or any project in which you choose to use it. If installed properly, slate will give you a lifetime's worth of enjoyment, and in an age where the lifespans of appliances and other features seems to be growing shorter and shorter, a lifetime guarantee is a breath of fresh air.
The Basics of Working With Slate
While slate is a natural stone and quite durable, it is still a softer stone that requires specific care in its handling. Sharp movements can cause the weaker stones to flake off or break. Be gentle but firm when handling slate, and don't be afraid to get a little dirty, as it can be a dusty and muddy process.
If you want to get a good view of the slate before you start working with the material, simply give it a quick dusting with a towel or rag, or wipe it down with a sponge so you can get a closer look at what you'll be working with. Slate is a beautiful stone, and it has a richness of color that you just can't find in man-made products.
When you are initially planning on working with slate, you will want to sort through the various packages to insure you only use the "best" pieces, in the sense that you discard the softer stones that flake by hand and stick to the hardest, most durable pieces. As a general rule, you should order 10 to 15 percent extra when you are looking at installing slate in an area, just to be sure you can pick the best stones out of the batch.
Slate is a soft material that is easy to work with. Regardless, if you are cutting it with a tile saw or a grinder, the process will be both dusty and muddy. The thicker the slate, the more difficult it will be to cut, but as a general rule slate cuts "like butter." It does not require any special knowledge, just a little patience and a desire to get your hands dirty.
The best way to cut slate is to rent a tile saw from a home improvement or hardware store. Be sure to use protective gear such as safety glasses and ear plugs when working with industrial tools. If your work area is something smaller, such as boring a hole in a slate wall to mount a new towel rack, a common drill bit will easily work, given the softness of the stone.