Walk into any tile store or stone yard and you are likely to encounter stone tiles that carry the label "tumbled." In the tile industry, the word "tumbled" describes both the finish of the stone and one of two processes used to create these finishes. Not all stones that have been labeled tumbled have been produced the same way, nor do they all look the same.
Tumbled Tile Appearance
Stone tiles labeled with a tumbled finish have a distinctive set of characteristics depending on what type of tumbled finish they have been given. All tumbled tiles will have a soft, smooth and worn look to them. Natural tumbled tiles will have a slightly rounded edge and corners with a soft face. Honed tumbled tile have a matte finish with a rustic edge. Polished tumbled tiles have a polished surface, but a rustic, tumbled edge. Antiqued tumbled tiles have a rustic surface full of small pits, fissures and holes, as well as a worn edge. The two most common finishes seen are natural and antiqued tumbled tiles.
There are technically two different ways that a tile can be given a tumbled finish. The most common method is to place the tiles into a rubber drum along with rocks, water and sand. The tiles are literally tumbled over and over while the sand, rocks and water wear down their edges and soften their finish. Not all tiles labeled tumbled are produced this way, however. Larger tiles cannot be tumbled this way because they will often break in the process, and those tiles with a honed or polished finish are normally not tumbled in this manner. Instead, these tiles are either hand-chiseled or chipped on the edges, or a machine is used to rough up the edges of the tiles to give them a tumbled look.
Types of Tumbled Tile
Any type of stone tile can be turned into a tumbled stone tile. This includes marble, granite, travertine, onyx, limestone, quartzite and slate. The most common stone to find tumbled is marble, and many different types of stone may be labeled as "tumbled marble" when in fact they are onyx, limestone, quartzite or travertine. This is because all of these stones are made of calcium. Some quartzites and onyx are actually subsets of marble, while travertine and limestone are the sedimentary stones that metamorphic marble is formed from. When purchasing a stone tile labeled tumbled marble, always ask what the stone actually is to learn the best way of caring for it.
How Tumbling Affects the Stone
Tumbled tiles look very different than tiles that have been honed or polished. Their surface is often slightly chalky or dusty-looking, and their color is muted. Tumbling does not in any way affect how the stones are treated; it does not remove any protective finish from the surface of the stone. Because polishing and honing often deepen the color of the stone, however, it can mean that tiles are duller in appearance. To correct this, apply a color-enhancing topical sealer to the tiles after they have been installed and grouted. The sealer will brighten the color and remove the dusty finish from the tiles.