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What is the Difference Between Honed and Tumbled Travertine?

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Travertine tiles are desirable due to their trademark imperfections and dignified natural stone appearance. There are four classifications of travertine tiles in total. Of the four, two of them are most commonly used for residential flooring. They are: honed and tumbled travertine. 

What is the Difference Between Honed and Tumbled Travertine?

What is the difference between Honed and Tumbled Travertine?

The difference between honed and tumbled travertine is in the texture of their surfaces. Honed travertine has a softer appearance and a lightly polished surface whereas tumbled travertine has a more rustic appearance due to its unfilled holes and unpolished surface.

What is Honed Travertine?

Honed travertine is the class of travertine most commonly used inside homes. The pock marks and holes in honed travertine tiles are filled in with an epoxy grout or resin and then the entire surface is smoothed out, or honed as its name implies.

Honed travertine

This leaves behind a tile with a polished but generally flat finished appearance. Its edges are also typically squared which provides a more uniform shape.

What is Tumbled Travertine?

Tumbled travertine tiles go through a tumbling process that results in a rougher more rustic look than what you see with honed travertine. The tumbling process involves placing similarly sized and cut stones into a barrel that is then filled with water and abrasive grit or pebbles and sometimes even acid.

Tumbled Travertine

Travertine is vulnerable to acids because of its calcium carbonate make up. The filled barrel is then tumbled and the friction created softens the edges of the stones and creates a worn look. The tumbling process can take three to five weeks.

Are Honed and Thumbled Travertine Slippery?

Because honed travertine tiles have been smoothed and polished, they have less natural traction underfoot and can be slippery. Thumbled Travertine has slightly better traction because of its uneven surface.

Measurement standards to rate slippery

There are measurement standards used in the industry to rate how slippery a tile is. You may have already seen references to these measurements before and simply not been aware of their meaning. 

The SCOF, which stands for static co-efficient of friction, was the only standard rating until 2014. The SCOF rating of a tile is determined by multiple factors including: surface condition, footwear, and force.

The higher the SCOF number, the more friction and the less slippery a tile is.

So, let’s give the SCOF number context by comparing the measurements between the four different classifications of travertine tiles available on today’s market.

  • Polished Travertine – This classification is the most slippery and therefore has the lowest SCOF measurement of the four with a range of .40 to .50. 
  • Honed Travertine – Honed travertine comes in next on the list with an SCOF range between .40 to .60. Therefore, some honed travertine tiles are less slippery than their polished tile counterparts. As you see however, there is some overlap of the range between honed and polished. While the surface of honed travertine is generally a smooth matte finish, some honed tiles have been polished to a satiny sheen. The more polished honed travertine is, the lower the SCOF number.
  • Tumbled Travertine – This class of travertine is popular because of its rougher rustic appearance. While the holes of tumbled travertine can be filled, they aren’t polished and therefore have a higher SCOF range between .50 and .70. Tumbled travertine is therefore usually less slippery than honed.
  • Brushed Travertine – Brushed travertine tiles have been treated with a wire wheel or a wire brush that smoothens out the sharp edges of pocks or valleys but again, isn’t polished. This classification has an SCOF rating also between .50 and .70.

It should be noted that since 2014, there have been some changes in the industry regarding friction measurements and testing. When purchasing travertine tile you may find a reference to a COF or DCOF measurement instead of a SCOF rating.

COF stands for coefficient of friction, and DCOF stands for dynamic coefficient of friction.

While the testing methods and acronyms are different, the premise remains the same. The higher the number, the less slippery the tile is.

How Do You Fill Honed Travertine?

While it is true you can purchase honed travertine that is unfilled, it is much less common. Generally, as part of the honing process, the holes and pock marks are filled in to leave behind a smooth finish. 

If you purchase unfilled honed travertine but decide to fill the holes after all, you’ll need a travertine filler such as Tenax Travertine Filler or grout.

To decide between the two, consider that a sanded grout will have a rougher texture than the rest of the surface of the honed tile. If you want to match the smooth texture of your tiles, the filler is the better option.

How Do You Fill Tumbled Travertine?

To fill the holes on your tumbled travertine tiles, you’ll want to use a non-sanded grout. Non-sanded grout will fill the smallest holes better than sanded. Additionally, sanded grout can damage tumbled travertine tiles.You can fill the tumbled travertine tiles at the same time you do the grouting.

Prior to grouting and filling, test it on a spare tile to see how the color of your chosen grout interacts with the colors of the tiles.

You may find that you like a contrast of colors to enhance the filled imperfections. Alternatively, choosing a grout color that matches the color of your tile will result in a quieter and simpler look.

Related questions

Do Both Honed and Tumbled Travertine need to be Sealed?

Honed travertine tiles have been filled and smoothed but their surface remains porous. The same is true for tumbled travertine. Their porous nature makes them vulnerable to staining.  
Therefore, they should be treated with a penetrating sealer first, and then a surface sealer. The sealant applications need to be done upon installation and then every three to five years after as routine maintenance. Applying proper sealants will create an absorption barrier that allows you time to clean up the spill before it seeps into the stone.

For more information about travertine and it’s pros and cons, read my post, “What is Travertine?

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