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Cleavage and fracture

When crystals break, they can either split leaving a clean, flat face called a cleavage plane, or fracture leaving a more rough, uneven surface. We can find out more about a crystal by looking at the way it breaks.

Cleavage planes form along the weakest area of mineral's structure. If you break a mineral with a hammer it will always split along its weakest points. This is quite important, and gives some minerals a characteristic shape.

Mica, for example, has only one really good cleavage plane, it splits easily into very thin layers. Another example, calcite, will split along three cleavage planes giving a 'diamond' shape called a rhombohedron. You can see this in the example below .

Mica Calcite

If a mineral's structure is equally strong in all directions it will not have any cleavage planes. Instead it will break unevenly, or fracture. There are different types of fracture. In the example below, quartz has a conchoidal (shell-shaped) fracture. Copper can have a jagged, hackly fracture.

Quartz Copper

Cleavage and fracture are important tools you can use to identify minerals, but you don't need to break your specimens to see this. Take a closer look, you should be able to see cleavage or fracture on any broken surface.

Ernest the mineral detective To find out about minerals you should Take a closer look, and then find out about some of their properties...

Colour Light
Lustre Streak
Crystal shape Hardness
Cleavage and fracture Heaviness
Other tests What we have learnt

Return to the Detectives homepage, or finish by playing Mineral mastermind!