Taking the Edge Off Granite, Marble or Travertine Tiles

Jim Mallery

(First of two parts)

Granite, marble or travertine tiles have rough edges that, left exposed, will leave your backsplash or counter project looking unpolished.

Sure, you often can trim the edge of the stone with wood and grout, or in the case of the common travertine, possibly find expensive trim pieces that aren't what you really wanted.

Or, you can pay several dollars an inch to have a shop professionally polish the edge. That can quickly add up to more than you paid for your tiles in the first place.

Six Tips to Polishing It Yourself

As a true do-it-yourselfer, you may want to polish that edge yourself, but you are stopped by the cost of a polishing kit, which will run from maybe $300 to $500 for the variable-speed grinder and a set of polishing pads.

But you don't have to spend big bucks on exotic machinery to do a passable job. You can polish with a belt sander, reciprocating sander, and a lot of sandpaper. Here are six tips to get you ready.

  1. We're talking about common tiles, about 3/8" thick, not the thicker, 2 cm or 3 cm slabs of stone. If it's slab granite, any polishing should be left to a professional. Marble or travertine slabs you can polish, though it would be very laborious. And you would want to practice on some scraps first.
  2. Do your polishing outside, if possible. Stone dust permeates as badly as drywall dust. Use a dust mask and cover up, or experience the joy of dust in every orifice. While wet sanding is not necessary to get a nice polish, the water will reduce the dust (creating mud instead).
  3. For an outside bench, clamp a small piece of ¾" or 1" plywood to sawhorses.
  4. A hand-held belt sander will do, but if you have a mounted belt sander, great! It's not a common home-shop item.
  5. A square edge is the easiest to polish. Don't try to bull-nose granite without specialty tools--too much work and it might end up looking pretty sloppy. Edges of the softer marble and travertine can be rounded, if you have a steady hand.
  6. Buy lots of sandpaper: belts in the finest grit possible (probably 120- or 220-grit) and sheets of 200-, 400-, 800-, 1500-grit and even 3000-grit, if you can find it. The finer grits can be purchased at a shop that supplies auto paints or auto-body-repair supplies (your big box store probably has grits only as fine as 400). Figure you'll get about two 12" edges from an 9" x 11" sheet of sandpaper.

Once you are set, you can start polishing your stone. You'll be surprised how nice it looks.


About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.

Search Improvement Project