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What is Slate?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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To understand the formation of the rock we call slate, we must first travel back in time a few billion years. As volcanic lava flowed over the ground, superheated clay deposits mixed with ash. This mixture eventually dried in layers, much like shale but noticeably harder. Slate can be split into slabs, and those slabs can be split once again into thin sheets.

Slate has been used for a number of applications over the years. One common use is as a natural form of roof shingle. Individual shingles are manually carved from a master slab and sold to roofers and contractors. The tiles are arranged in offsetting rows over a few layers of tar paper and sealants. Slate shingles are desirable for their natural durability and heat absorption, but individual shingles can become fragile. Compared to other modern shingle materials, they can also be relatively expensive.

Tiles for walkways and gardens can also be made of slate. These tiles are generally thicker than roofing shingles, so they are not as likely to break or flake off. The tiles are known to be irregular in shape, which allows for some creative applications.

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Another common use for slate is found in the recreational field. Because slabs can be ground down to an absolute flatness, slate is often used as the base for billiard and pool tables. A slab is custom-cut to the dimensions of a table and made as level as possible. A layer of green felt is then glued to the top of the slab to provide a playing surface. The slate tablet is by far the heaviest element of a pool table.

Perhaps the most common application of slate has been around since our childhoods. The relatively smooth but granular surface is ideal for use as a chalkboard. An old-fashioned chalkboard was generally black in color and noticeably heavier than today's greenboards. Individual students often carried small pieces of slate to demonstrate their skills. Tablets were also used by filmmakers to record vital information about filmed scenes. An assistant holding a board and a clapper would write the number of takes, the scene number, the title of the film and the director's name. The sound of the clapper would later be used to synchronize the sound with the filmed scene.

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Perdido
Post 8

I have slate slabs that serve as stepping stones to my house and through my garden. I got them at a nursery, where they had been piled in a bin and marked down. They were very heavy, and I had to have help loading them into my car.

I loved their irregular edges. They look as though I found them cast aside in a quarry. All of them are large enough for people to stand on while walking to my door.

When my niece comes to visit, I let her draw on them with chalk. As soon as it rains, her art disappears, and she has a clean slate for her next visit.

Oceana
Post 7

When I was in school, some rooms had the green chalk boards and some had the old black slate boards. I actually preferred the look and feel of the slate.

I remember touching it for the first time and feeling how cold it was. It felt totally different from the green boards. Also, the chalk seemed to glide across it more smoothly.

My mother got me a small slate blackboard for Christmas one year, and I drew on it all the time. I also remember putting my face against it on hot summer days to cool down!

anon36465
Post 3

Can slate be used to make an outdoor patio?

anon27216
Post 2

how is slate made?

anon4546
Post 1

what are the characteristics of slate and where is it found?

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