From the pyramids to the Parthenon, humans have been building with stones for thousands of years. Among the most used and well-known natural stones utilized for construction are basalt, limestone, travertine, and slate. Any architect, contractor, or masonry will tell you that natural stone is exceptionally durable, providing an excellent return on investment.
The technical characteristics of different stone such as porosity, compression strength, heat endurance thresholds, and frost resistance, will affect a stone’s application. Stones like basalt, granite, and sandstone fare well for massive construction projects like dams and bridges, whereas travertine, quartzite, and marble work better for interior construction and decoration.
In this blog, we’ll explore different stone types and uses to give you a broad overview of their unique qualities and applications.
While stone and rock are used interchangeably, they are different regarding internal structure and composition. Rocks form part of the earth’s crust and are found virtually everywhere, whereas stones are hard substances like limestone or sandstone extracted from rock, for example.
The major difference is that rock is bigger and broken down to retrieve mineral elements, while stone can be cemented together to form components useful for construction. Without rock, there would be no stones.
Whether igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary, rocks used for building materials contain different types of stone that can construct some of the most magnificent architectural feats. There are three main types of rock. Let’s examine them more closely.
Named after the Latin word for fire, Igneous rocks form when hot, molten magma solidifies below the earth’s surface. This type of rock is divided into two groups, intrusive or extrusive, depending on where the molten rock solidifies. Intrusive igneous rock crystallizes below the earth’s surface, and extrusive rocks erupt onto the surface.
Igneous rock for construction includes these types of stone:
Metamorphic rock starts as one type of rock but due to pressure, heat, and time, gradually transforms into a new rock type. Although it forms deep within the earth’s crust, it's often exposed on our planet’s surface after geological uplift and the erosion of rock and soil above it. These crystalline rocks tend to have a foliated texture.
Metamorphic rock for construction includes these stone types:
This rock is always formed in layers called “strata” and often contains fossils. Pieces of rock are loosened by weather, then transported to a basin or depression where the sediment is trapped, and lithification (compaction) takes place. The sediment is deposited in flat, horizontal layers, with the oldest layers on the bottom and younger layers on top.
Sedimentary rock for construction includes these stone types:
Below are the ten most common types of stone that have been used for centuries and continue to form part of and be used in our modern world today.
This coarse-grained intrusive igneous rock is composed chiefly of quartz, feldspar, and plagioclase. Granite gets its signature color speckles from crystallization — the longer the molten rock has to cool, the larger the grains of color.
Available in white, pink, yellow, gray, and black, this building stone is lauded for its durability. As the earth’s most durable and common igneous rock, granite is an excellent choice for countertops, monuments, pavements, bridges, columns, and floors.
Sandstone is a classic sedimentary rock made from sand-sized silicate grains of quartz and feldspar. Tough and resistant to weather, this building material stone is often used for cladding facades and interior walls, as well as garden benches, paving material, patio tables, and swimming pool edges.
This stone may be any color like sand, but the most common colors are tan, brown, gray, white, red, and yellow. If it has a high quartz content, sandstone may even be crushed and used as a source of silica for glass manufacturing.
Composed of calcite and magnesium, this soft sedimentary rock is usually gray but may also be white, yellow, or brown. From a geological perspective, limestone is formed either in deep marine water or due to water evaporation during cave formation.
A unique feature of this rock is that its primary constituent, calcite, is formed mainly by the fossilization of shell-producing and coral-building living organisms. Limestone as a building material is used in architectural applications for walls, decorative trim, and veneer.
Dark and heavy, this extrusive, igneous rock makes up most of the planet’s oceanic crust. Basalt is black, but after extensive weathering, may turn green or brown. Additionally, it contains some light-colored minerals like feldspar and quartz, but these are difficult to see with the naked eye.
Rich in iron and magnesium, basalt is used in construction to make building blocks, cobblestones, flooring tiles, road stone, rail track ballasts, and statues. 90% of all volcanic rock is basalt.
Loved, throughout the ages, for its luxury and opulence, marble is a beautiful metamorphic rock that forms when limestone is subjected to high pressure or heat. It usually contains other minerals like quartz, graphite, pyrite, and iron oxides that give it a range of hues from pink to brown, gray, green, black, or variegated coloration.
Due to its unique veining and elegant appearance, marble is the best stone for building monuments, interior decoration, table-tops, sculptures, and novelties. The most prestigious white marble is quarried in Carrara, Italy.
Slate is a fine-grained, foliated, homogenous sedimentary rock derived from shale rock composed of clay or volcanic ash. The original clay minerals in shale alter to micas when exposed to increasing levels of heat and pressure.
Gray in color, slate contains quartz, feldspar, calcite, pyrite, and hematite, among other minerals. It’s a desirable building stone that’s been utilized in construction since ancient Egyptian times. Today, it’s used as roofing, flagging, decorative aggregates, and flooring because of its attractiveness and durability.
Pumice is a porous igneous rock produced during volcanic eruptions. It forms so rapidly that its atoms don’t have time to crystallize, essentially rendering it a solidified foam. While it occurs in various colors like white, gray, blue, cream, green, and brown, it is almost always pale.
Although fine-grained, the surface of this stone is rough. Powdered pumice is used as an aggregate in lightweight concrete for insulation, as a polishing stone, and in a variety of industrial and consumer products, as well as a polishing stone.
When quartz-rich sandstone is altered by heat, pressure, and the chemical activity of metamorphism, it turns into quartzite. During the process, sand grains and silica cement bind together, resulting in a formidable network of interlocking quartz grains.
Quartzite is usually white or light-colored, but additional materials carried by groundwater can impart hues of green, blue or iron-red. It is one of the best stones for construction of countertops, flooring, roofing tiles, and stair steps due to its marble-like appearance and granite-like durability.
Travertine is a type of terrestrial limestone formed by mineral deposits near natural springs. This sedimentary rock has a fibrous or concentric appearance and comes in shades of white, tan, cream, and rust. Its unique texture and attractive earth tones make it popular for building applications.
This versatile stone variety is commonly used for indoor and outdoor flooring, spa walls, ceilings, facades, and wall cladding. It’s an affordable option compared to other natural stones like marble, yet still maintains a luxurious appeal.
A medium-hard gypsum, alabaster is usually white and translucent with a fine uniformed grain.
Its small natural grain is visible when held up to the light. Because it’s a porous mineral, this stone can be dyed in a variety of colors.
It has been used for centuries to make statues, carvings, and other decorative and ornamental work. While the splendor of alabaster is undeniable, it is a soft metamorphic rock that’s only really suitable for indoor applications.
The many natural stone products on the market and their unique characteristics can make it challenging for contractors and homeowners to select the correct ones for their projects. If you’re new to the process, the first thing to consider is the location of the stone installation. For instance, the type of stones for floor applications will differ if it’s indoors or outdoors.
Then you’ll need to evaluate the stone’s durability, the fabricator’s warranty, and its grade. There are three grades of natural stone: commercial, standard, and first choice. Standard grade is a good fit for interior applications, like countertops, whereas commercial-grade, may be better for apartment or hotel projects where only a portion of slab is required, and large imperfections can be avoided.
There’s a lot to consider, right? As well-seasoned experts in the stone business, our team at Stone Center can help you with stone selection for residential and commercial stone projects, regardless of their scale. Why not start by taking a look at our extensive catalog of premium building stone?
Jon, the owner of Stone Center, is a knowledgeable expert in natural stone products, specializing in various types of stone for landscaping and architectural projects. Passionate about promoting the beauty and versatility of natural stone, Jon aims to use these blogs to inspire readers with creative ideas to upgrade their homes.