The effect of heat treatment and the layer orientation on the tensile properties of granitic gneiss were studied under the unconfined stress condition. The tensile strength of the samples was studied using a Brazilian configuration, and the geochemical and microstructural properties were studied using the X-ray diffraction technique as well as scanning electron microscopy (SEM), respectively. The fracture pattern and the geometrical analyses were performed using the digital photographs. The results show that both the heat treatment and layer orientation have strong control on the tensile strength, force-parallel and layer-parallel strains, and on the tensile fracture geometry. A general decrease in the tensile strength of the rock was documented with the increasing heat treatment. Although, in the heat-treated samples, X-ray diffraction study do not reveal any major change in the mineral composition, but the SEM shows the development of several micro-cracks in the grains. In the samples with different layer orientation, along with the changes in the tensile strength and layer-parallel to force-parallel strain ratio, the layer activation under shear stress is also noticed. Here, the ratio between the tensile to shear stress, acting along the layers is thought to be the major controlling factor of the tensile properties of rocks, which has many applications in mining, civil constructions, and waste disposal work. © 2015, Springer-Verlag Wien.