While there is no industry standard for quality when it comes to marble tile, there are some ways you can watch out for lower-quality materials. Learning what makes a marble stronger, what makes it weaker and when these factors matter can help you choose the right material for your tile design.
Marble has brought elegance and class to homes, commercial building, castles and so on for centuries. In recent times, the love for marble has grown to furniture and now fashion accessories and clothing designs. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the product, there are many limitations to its usage, which is why we have a mixture of faux marble. It can be difficult to tell if you are looking at authentic marble, faux marble or simple a print. Modern imitative materials can replicate the exact look and functionality of marble. Human-made marble has its beauty and value — but you may want to know when you’re looking at the real thing. Learning the characteristics of marble will help you identify it on sight.
Marble is a metamorphic rock that is created when limestone is subjected to a considerable amount of heat and pressure within the earth’s crust, making it a dense and durable material. It gets its unique colouring, textures and veins from the metamorphic change that the limestone undergoes regarding its marble effect and mineral composition. Marble undergoes a re-crystallization process wherein fossil materials, and other sundry elements and minerals are heated and pressurized, creating the stone.
Marble is a natural stone which is used in the construction of residential buildings, public buildings, offices, and religious structures. Apart from the flooring, marble tiles are also used in backsplash, countertops, facades and as decorative wall cladding. For more durability, it is advisable to use good quality marble.
Marble adds a centuries-old elegance to any home or commercial building it inhabits. But it can be difficult to tell if you are looking at authentic marble, faux marble or granite. Modern imitative materials can replicate the exact look and functionality of marble. Human-made marble has its beauty and value — but you may want to know when you’re looking at the real thing. Learning the characteristics of marble will help you identify it on sight.
There are many ways and means for inspecting the quality of marble. Before buying marble tiles for your house, a homeowner must check its quality at the site. Here are some ways in which you can get a rough idea about the quality of marble.
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Check the Coloration
While the colouration of marble can vary from pristine white to black, the natural stone comes in subtle shades of colouring rather than stark colours. Marble free of any impurities or flaws appears as a solid white. Layers in the limestone and integration with other naturally occurring minerals can create green, yellow, pink, grey, cream and bluish colouration. Bright and stark colours such as turquoise, orange or black signify granite, human-made stone — or natural marble that has been mixed with other ingredients such as cement to create a faux marble product that is easy to a custom colour.
Look for Veins
The veins and swirls present in many marble pieces occur when various mineral impurities mix with the original limestone. From discrete cream veins in white Carrara marble to violet, red or blue veins in yellow Sienna marble, natural marble will show its impurities through long sinewy streaks. Granite often has similar colour variegation, but the secondary colouration in granite will look more like clouds than streaks, or it will have a “salt-and-pepper” look to it. Manufactured materials can imitate a swirled, veined look, but will not show the depth and dimension that the naturally occurring veining in marble does.
Do the Knife Test
Authentic marble is a metaphoric rock formed by applying heat to limestone, forming crystals of calcite, a relatively soft mineral. Because of this, the surface of marble shows scratches and wear more easily than its imitators. The malleability of marble is what has made it a popular material for sculptures and custom-shaped kitchen countertops, and any real marble will become more highly individualized through aging and usage. If you see scratches or signs of wear on the surface of your stone, you are looking at real marble. If you scratch a knife across an inconspicuous area or on the underside of the slab and it shows little or no damage, you are looking at the more durable granite or manufactured stone.
The Shine and Sheen
The glossiness of true marble is one of its most desirable attributes and distinguishable characteristics — and can’t be sustainably imitated. Synthetic stones made for kitchen countertops and other household surfaces incorporate glass and other finely crushed materials with a high sheen into their compound. This can create an initial high gloss, but will not shine as clearly or brightly as highly polished natural marble. Use marble polish to get the stone’s surface to its purest and cleanest state, and to be able to see the true nature of the stone.
Cracks and Appearance
The veins, cracks and fissures in marble give it a naturally artistic appearance, but can also affect its strength. Examine the surface of marble for large fissures or cracks, and then turn the tile over to check the other side in the same place. Quality tiles do not have fissures or fractures that go all the way through the tile, but instead, have a vein of colour without a crack running through it. Manufacturers also apply fibreglass or epoxy mesh reinforcements on the backside of lower quality and weaker tiles to ensure that the tile does not break. You cannot install marble tiles with this backing over thinset, as it affects the ability of the marble tiles to adhere. Use an epoxy-based thin-set instead of one containing cement.
Calibration and Dimension
The thickness of tile — its calibration — offers one indication of its quality. Obviously, the thicker the marble tile, the better, as marble tiles naturally contain flaws. These flaws are nice to look at, but, depending upon its application, they can also cause the tile to break if it is too thin. Besides calibration, check tile dimensions to make certain all the tiles are square. During the cutting process, cutting tools can get off track and misalign, causing slightly trapezoidal tile shapes — not good for creating tight and equal grout lines. Select tiles that are of the same dimensions, height, length and depth, when you want a level floor or countertop.
Chips and Cracks
Marble tiles with chips and cracks can indicate a weakness in the tile. While some chipping and cracking is normal, when chips and cracks appear on more than 5 per cent of the tiles, the marble is too soft and can chip and crack when you cut them for installation. Carefully look at the marble tile for smoothness on all surfaces: the edges, front and back of the tile. Check for pockmarks or indications of crumbling in lower quality tiles.
Sometimes manufacturers add fill to areas that chip or crack on tiles. Suppose you notice dull areas when holding the tile under a light at a slight angle, especially when most of the surface has a mirror-like appearance. In that case, this typically indicates a lower quality marble. High quality marble tiles contain no holes or breaks that require the addition of fill. Avoid using acidic chemicals when cleaning marble tiles, as the material that makes up marble, calcium carbonate, disintegrates with the application of acids.
How to Judge the Quality of Marble Tile
Flip the marble tile over and look at the back. If the back of the tile appears to be covered in a mesh or net, this marble is more fragile than others. The mesh is fibreglass resin and is used to reinforce the stone against cracking or breaking. This marble may not be as suitable for high traffic applications, not because it may crack, but because it may scratch or etch more easily.
Examine the surface of the marble under a light, holding it at a 45-degree angle. If there are small, dull patches on an otherwise polished surface, the marble may have “fill” in small holes or fissures in its surface.
Some stones, such as Thassos White marble, will only have fill in the lower grades; the higher quality stones have no holes that need to be filled with epoxy or resin. Stones with fill that is not a good match in colour to the stone, or stones that have large amounts of fill should be avoided. The fill may come out over time, leaving a hole in the stone that the homeowner will need to patch to prevent further damage.
Examine the marble for veins on its surface and then flip the tile over to see if there is a crack or fissure in the same place on the back of the stone. Some stones, such as Crema Marfil, are very prone to fissures and may be likely to crack if the fissure is deep enough. Small fissures are common in some stones and for wall use, or low traffic areas will not affect quality or use.
Ask for the marble’s complete name. Thassos AAA, for example, is a higher quality of stone than standard Thassos. Also, ask for the marble’s hardness factor. If a stone has a high hardness factor, yet seems to have fibreglass resin, fill or fissures, this is a poor quality tile of that stone. A stone with a lower hardness factor may have these qualities present without it affecting the stone’s overall quality or use.
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Some Practices to Check Quality of Marble at Site:
- Check all pieces for uniformity in colour, size and quality as specified.
- One face of the marble should be polished, and all four sides machine cut.
- It should be straight and uniform in thickness. Non-uniform thickness results in the uneven floor and can cause accidents at home.
- Marble tiles must be checked for even sizes, as uneven sizes make it difficult to cut, install as well as grout it. More wastage of material will occur.
- Along with the front surface, also check the backside of the marble slab. If the back surface has wire-mesh attached to it, then such slabs must be avoided, as manufacturers put wire-mesh if marble is fragile or soft.
- To have an idea of how it will look after polishing. Splash water on unpolished marble and more or less, it will give a similar look when polished.
- On examining the marble’s surface under light at an angle of 45 degrees, if you find any dull surfaces and patches, then it indicates poor quality. These dull areas are due to cracks filled with the chips. This type of marble cannot be used for heavy traffic area.
- Veins on the surface of marble should always be checked. While buying, flip the stone over and check for cracks or fissures. Sometimes small cracks are located along with the veins on the marble surface. Slabs with small cracks can be used in low traffic area. If wide cracks are there, then it is not good- quality marble.
- Also, you can check if artificial colours are added to marble by scratching its surface. If it resists scratches, then the marble is artificial, and colour can fade after installation. Pure marble has a low resistance to scratches.
- Marble slabs can be checked for porosity by dropping 3 to 4 droplets of lemon juice (citric acid) on top of its surface.
Difference Between Fake And Real Marble Tiles
Once we understand how real marble is formed, we can get a better understanding of why the patterns are so random, so different and never the same. This is one of the unique parts of marble and why we love it. Everyone wants to have their own identity and be different. Marble can provide elegance and beauty, but at the same time, not be the same as the person next to you.
The veins and swirls present in many marble pieces occur when various mineral impurities mix with the original limestone. From discrete cream veins in white Carrara marble to violet, red or blue veins in yellow Sienna marble, natural marble will show its impurities through long sinewy streaks. Manufactured materials can imitate a swirled, veined look, but will not show the depth and dimension that the naturally occurring veining in marble does.
The glossiness of true marble is one of its most desirable attributes and distinguishable characteristics and can’t be sustainably imitated.
These days imitation marble does a great job at copying the beauty of marble and allowing it to be more affordable than the real thing whether it’s engineered marble or high-quality printing like the above photo.
But there are characteristics that our technology still can’t cope.
To experience and knowledgeable marble lovers, it’s the feel, the touch and the minor flaws that are inherent in each real marble that makes the difference between real marble and fake marble.
However, the simplest test to determine real marble and fake marble is it’s appearance. As we know how marble is formed now, we understand the basic that each pattern is always different.
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How to Check Quality of Marble before Buying
Marble flooring can make your home look elegant and expensive. Here are a few tests you can conduct yourself to check the quality of marble tiles:
- Measure their thickness from all sides. If the tile does not have a uniform thickness, it is not of good quality as it might crack or break easily.
- The veins in each tile may differ, but make sure the colour of marble is uniform as specified.
- All four sides of each tile must be machine cut and have straight lines. If the tiles are of uneven sizes, cutting and installing them would be a hassle.
- One flat side of the marble tile must be polished while the other should be free of any wire-mesh. The presence of wire-mesh indicates that the marble tile is soft and easy-to-break. These tiles are generally cheaper but are not of good quality.
- The backside of the tile should also be checked for cracks and fissures.
- Carefully check the tiles to make sure there aren’t any cracks present along the veins.
- One of the most commonly known properties of marble is its porosity. You can squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on marble to check the quality of tiles. Low quality marble is more porous. Thus it quickly absorbs the juice. Meanwhile, if the lemon juice causes white stains on the tile, it indicates the presence of calcite, which means the marble is not of good quality.
- Dull patches on the surface of marble indicate poor quality. The simplest way to check the quality of tiles is to examine the marble under light at a 45-degree angle.
- Some manufacturers use artificial colours to make the marble tiles look more attractive. You can confirm that by scratching the surface. If the tile remains virtually unscratched, it’s artificial and can fade after a while.
You can find more about types of marble and their rates in our detailed guide on the topic.
Above are the basic tests and if you want to check the material quality, there are certain laboratory tests like water absorption, dimensions, Mhos scale hardness, chemical resistance, specific gravity, porosity, modulus rapture, frost resistance, thermal shock, etc. In today’s global markets, it is necessary to test all materials in the laboratory, particularly for a large project.