Natural Slate

Buying Slate Tile - Comparing Dealers Versus Chain Hardware Stores

rajah slate floors
Despite the fact that some tiles look black, and others look red or gray, this entire floor is made of the same, multicolored natural slate, a material widely known as Rajah. © PebbleArt

Beware making hasty decisions when purchasing natural stone! Slate is a beautiful and powerful mountain born material that is very popular as a hard tile flooring surface. However, the variation that is found in natural materials can make choosing a particular type of slate rather difficult. This is further complicated by the range of quality that exists amongst vendors. The following are the major factors that you have to consider when purchasing a slate floor.

Gauged Material

This refers to the thickness of individual tiles. A box of gauged slate will contain tiles that are all roughly the same width. Lower quality materials may vary greatly in thickness, resulting in a floor that is bumpy, uneven, and hazardous to walk on.

Color Variation

Because slate is a natural material, the appearance of each individual piece is determined by the chemicals that were present when it formed below the earth over centuries. This means that each individual piece of slate is going to look slightly different from any other.

With solid colored material, this can be a problem if the tiles shift in shade significantly from box to box. With multi-colors, the situation can be even worse, with two different tiles looking like completely different types of flooring.

Discount stores will often sell you one color of slate in a showroom and then will deliver a material that looks completely different. This isn’t even always dishonest, as variations in the same stone can make two different boxes look completely different. You always want to check the return policy of a store when purchasing slate in order to ensure that you can exchange or return it if the lot you receive is not what you were expecting.

In some rare cases, you may be able to convince the retailer to allow you to hand pick certain tiles and return others. However, you want to ensure that this is covered under the return policy prior to making a purchase.

Because of natural variation in the materials, you always want to hold on to an extra box or two of tile, in case damaged pieces need to be repaired at a later date.

Size of the Tile

If the dimensional size of the tiles is off even slightly, it can ruin the consistency and straightness of your grout lines. This can lead to a messy installation that looks amateurish and chaotic. Higher quality slate will be machine consistent, with each tile being the same length and width as every other in the shipment.

Hardware Stores Versus Tile Dealers

Many of the larger chain hardware stores are now offering natural slate tiles for retail consumption. Because they are owned by corporations they are able to purchase the material in bulk, and then offer it to customers at very low discount prices. This allows people access to a wide variety of inexpensive, imported and domestic slate flooring choices.

The problem with hardware stores is that they are not set up specifically to handle flooring or natural stone. Because of this, the material that they offer is often lower quality than that which can be purchased from a specialty tile or flooring dealer. It may be un-gauged, cracked, or inconsistent in size or shape. There can also be extreme variations in color from box to box.

By contrast, a reputable tile dealer will have direct relationships with wholesalers. They will be able to purchase material which is consistent, and first-rate in quality, and offer that to the customer. Tile dealers will also have trained salespeople who can show you boards containing color ranges for each stone, as well as the overall dimensionality of that particular material.

Generally, chain hardware stores are going to be able to offer the lowest prices on just a few materials which they purchase in bulk. Tile dealers will charge more for the material but will have a wider selection, better quality, and more customer service. In some cases, this higher price is offset by eliminating waste from broken or misshapen slate tiles that have to be discarded.

The return policy of the store you purchase your materials from is very important. You want to make sure that they will allow for the return or exchange of material that does not meet your expectations. Ideally, you want a store that will allow you to hand pick individual tiles.

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