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John Smith Flett, Encyclopædia Britannica


SANDSTONE, in petrology, a consolidated sand rock built up of sand grains held together by a cementing substance. The size of the particles varies within wide limits and in the same rock may be uniform or irregular: the coarser sandstones are called grits, and form a transition to conglomerates (q.v.), while the finer grained usually contain an admixture of mud or clay and pass over by all stages into arenaceous shales and clay rocks. Grewackes (q.v.) are sandstones belonging to the older geological systems, such as the Silurian or Cambrian, usually of brown or grey colour and very impure.

The minerals of sandstones are the same as those of sands. Quartz is the commonest; with it often occurs a considerable amount of felspar, and usually also some white mica. Chlorite, argillaceous matter, calcite and iron oxides, are exceedingly common in sandstones, and in some varieties are important constituents; garnet, tourmaline, zircon, epidote, rutile and anatase are often present though rarely in any quantity. According to their composition we may distinguish siliceous sandstones (some of these are so pure that they contain 99% of silica, e.g. Craigleith stone and some gannisters), felspathic sandstones or arkoses (less durable and softer than the siliceous sandstones); micaceous sandstones, with flakes of mica lying along the bedding planes; argillaceous sandstones; ferruginous sandstones, brown or red in colour with the sand grains coated with red haematite or brownish yellow limonite; impure sandstones, usually in the main consisting of quartz with a large addition of other minerals.

The cementing material is often fine chalcedonic silica, and exists in such small quantity that it is difficult to recognize even with the microscope. In some of the cherty sandstones of the Greensand the chalcedonic cement is much more abundant: these rocks also contain rounded grains of glauconite, to which they owe their green colour. Crystalline silica (quartz) is deposited interstitially in some sandstones, often in regular parallel crystalline growth on the original sand grains, and when there are cavities or fissures in the rock may show the development of regular crystalline facets. By this process the rock becomes firmly compacted, and is then described as a quartzite (q.v.). A calcareous cement is almost equally common: it may be derived from particles of shells or other calcareous fossils originally mixed with the sand and subsequently dissolved and redeposited in the spaces between the other grains. In Fontainebleau sandstone and some British Secondary rocks the calcite is in large crystalline masses, which when broken show plane cleavages mottled with small rounded sand grains; in the French rock external rhombohedral faces are present and the crystals may be of considerable size. Many of the British lurassic and Cretaceous sandstones (e.g. Kentish Rag, Spilsby Sandstone) are of this calcareous type. In ferruginous sandstones the iron oxides usually form only a thin pellicle coating each grain, but sometimes, in the greensands, are more abundant, especially in concretionary masses or segregations. In argillaceous sandstones the fine clayey material, compacted by pressure, holds the sand grains together, and rocks of this kind are soft and break up easily when exposed to the weather or submitted to crushing tests. Among other cementing materials may be mentioned, dolomite, barytes, fluorite and phosphate of lime, but these are only locally found.

Many sandstones contain concretions which may be several feet in diameter, and are sometimes set free by weathering or when the rock is split open by a blow. Most frequently these are siliceous, and then they interfere with the employment of the rock for certain purposes, as for making grindstones or for buildings of line dressed stone. Argillaceous concretions or clay galls are almost equally common, and nodules of pyrites or marcasite; the latter weather to a brown rusty powder, and are most undesirable in building stones. Phosphatic, ferruginous, barytic and calcareous concretions occur also in some of the rocks of this group. We may also mention the presence of lead ores (the Eifel, Germany), copper ores (Chessy and some British Triassic sandstones) and manganese oxides. In some districts (e.g. Alsace) bituminous sandstones occur, while in N. America many Devonian sandstones contain petroleum. Many Coal-Measures sandstones contain remains of plants preserved as black impressions.

The colours of sandstones arise mostly from their impurities; pure siliceous and calcareous sandstones are white, creamy or pale yellow (from small traces of iron oxides). Black colours are due to coal or manganese dioxide; red to haematite (rarely to copper oxide); yellow to limonite, green to glauconite. Those which contain clay, fragments of shale, &c., are often grey (e.g. the Pennant Grit of S. Wales).

Sandstones are very extensively worked, mostly by quarries but sometimes by mines, in all districts where they occur and are used for a large variety of purposes. Quarrying is facilitated by the presence of two systems of joints, developed approximately in equal perfection, nearly at right angles to one another and perpendicular to the bedding planes. Sometimes this jointing determines the weathering of the rock into square pillar-like forms or into mural scenery (e.g. the Quader Sandstein of Germany). As building stones sandstones are much in favour, especially in the Carboniferous districts of Britain, where they can readily be obtained. They have the advantage of being durable, strong and readily dressed. They are usually laid “on the bed,” that is to say, with their bedding surfaces horizontal and their edges exposed. The finer kinds of sandstone are often sawn, not hewn or trimmed with chisels. Pure siliceous sandstones are the most durable, but are often very expensive to dress and are not obtainable in many places. Sandstones are also used for grindstones and for millstones. For engineering purposes, such as dams, piers, docks and bridges, crystalline rocks, such as granite, are often preferred as being obtainable in larger blocks and having a higher crushing strength. Very pure siliceous sandstones (such as the gannisters of the north of England) may be used for lining furnaces, hearths, &c. As sandstones are always porous, they do not take a good polish and are not used as ornamental stones, but this property makes them absorb large quantities of water, and consequently they are often important sources of water supply (e.g. the water-stones of the Trias of the English Midlands). Silver is found in beds of sandstone in Utah, lead near Kommern in Prussia, and copper at Chessy near Lyons.

Published in 1911