Slate is mainly composed of quartz and muscovite or illite, often along with biotite, chlorite, hematite, and pyrite along with, less frequently, apatite, graphite, kaolin, magnetite, tourmaline, or zircon as well as feldspar. Occasionally, as in the purple slates of North Wales, ferrous reduction spheres form around iron nuclei, leaving a light green spotted texture.
Slate can be made into roofing slates, also called roofing shingles. Slate has two lines of breakability: cleavage and grain. This makes it possible to split slate into thin sheets. Fine slate can also be used as a whetstone to hone knives. Due to its thermal stability and chemical inertness, slate has been used for laboratory bench tops and for billiard table tops. In 18th and 19th century schools, slate was extensively used for blackboards and individual writing slates for which chalk pencils were used. Because it is a good electrical insulator and fireproof, it was used to construct early 20th century electric switchboards and relay controls for large electric motors.
Slate tiles are often used for interior and exterior flooring or wall cladding. Tiles are installed and set on mortar and grouted along the edges. Chemical sealants are often used on tiles to improve durability and appearance, increase stain resistance, reduce efflorescence, and increase or reduce surface smoothness. Tiles are often sold gauged, meaning that the back surface is ground for ease of installation.
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