The effect of impurities or additives on the microstructure of some commercial alumina ceramic samples have been characterized by scanning electron microscope-energy dispersive x-ray spectrometer and the mechanical properties investigated. Both the hardness and the toughness have been found to increase as the SiO2 content decreases, and the theoretical density is reached in these materials. Grain size and distribution seem to be important factors in the mechanical properties of alumina ceramics. If the additives are controlled carefully, finer grain size and distribution can be obtained, together with a high relative density in terms of pore distribution characteristics and consequently enhanced mechanical properties. © 1994.