Hello, readers! Welcome back to the Stonehouse Countertops blog! We’re pleased you’ve chosen Stonehouse Countertops for everything you need to know about custom countertop materials. We provide comprehensive deep dives into various aspects of the design and installation process, as well as helpful tips for choosing the best material for your home. Our goal is to equip you with the information you need to commission the perfect countertops! Stonehouse Countertops carries an array of granite, marble, quartz, quartzite, soapstone, silestone, limestone, travertine, onyx, glass, sodalite, slate, and porcelain materials in its inventory. In addition to countertops, we offer fireplace surrounds, patios, floors, and walls. Whatever your design goals, we’re happy to help you achieve your unique vision!
Are stone walls for you? Our last article will help you find out! Though stone walls might seem like an extravagant addition to your home, there are many affordable ways you can add stone slabs to your kitchen, living room, bathroom, or commercial space. From accent walls to fireplace backdrops, stone walls are characterized by their striking appearance and visual appeal. We explored how accent walls can be used to achieve a sense of rustic charm or transform a space into a beacon of modern minimalism. If you want to try your hand at designing a stone wall addition but are stumped for ideas–look no further! Our last article is chock full of inspiration for your next project. We quoted a few interior designers, too, for their take on stone walls can add to your home. Finally, we tackled the question at the forefront of most people’s minds: Can I afford stone walls? Along with general estimates, we provided a few options for those who want the prestige of stone walls without the hefty price tag. We hope you’ll give our last article a read (once you’re done here)!
Today, we’re honing in on the countertop fabrication process, a topic we are endlessly fascinated by. The skill of stone masonry has been around for over six thousand years and, though our tools have changed, the level of dedication required to fabricate anything from stone has not. New technology allows countertop fabricators to craft higher-quality pieces in less time. This, in turn, allows individuals to buy stone countertops for prices which would’ve been unthinkable once upon a time. We’d like to walk you through this fabrication process to give you a deeper understanding of how your countertops are formed. We won’t start at the very beginning. (Although, if you’d like to know how stone is extracted, we published a recent article about quarrying.) Instead, we’ll start with the raw material: stone. How does a block of stone become the smooth slab you prepare dinner on? Don’t worry. We’ll explain the wonder of countertop fabrication in detail!
The Beginning: From Block to Form
If you read our article How Natural Stone Is Quarried, then you already know stone leaves the quarry in great, big blocks. These blocks can weigh anywhere from 15,000 to 38,000 pounds each. Before these pieces of stone can be sold to countertop manufacturers, they must be cut into thin sheets, also known as slabs. How do you cut through solid stone without compromising the integrity of the individual slabs? This is achieved by using what’s called a gang saw. A gang saw is “a type of power saw that makes several cuts simultaneously.” If you were to witness one of these saws in action, you might compare their appearance to a harp or the interior of a piano. The wires of a gang saw are strung parallel to one another. Placed above the block, these wires are drug back and forth across the stone’s surface. To ease friction and keep the wires cool, water rains down from above, in a constant waterfall. A gang saw needs almost two and a half days to cut through an entire stone block. At the end, you’re left with clean sheets of stone, ready to be sold to countertop manufacturers everywhere.
When these slabs are being sold, they undergo intense inspection. What are manufacturers looking for? Well, the most common consideration is what’s currently popular. Which colors are people buying? Which patterns? Beyond these considerations, manufacturers are trained to judge the physical appearance of slabs, such as dry seams, black spots, polyester resin fill, pits, directional veining, knots, and more. If any one of these characteristics appears wrong or unattractive, a manufacturer might pass up on a slab. If the slab meets their exacting standards, it’ll be purchased and added to an existing inventory.
The Middle: Refining Form
When these slabs arrive at the countertop manufacturer, their edges are rough. They are the hewn edges the stone block had when it was blasted from the earth. Therefore, the first thing these manufacturers do is cut the edges of the slab. These slabs are much larger than what you’ll find in your kitchen and can weigh over 800 pounds. To move the slabs around the factory, a high-powered suction machine–attached to a crane–is applied to the flat side of the slab. The slab is flipped, until horizontal, and positioned on a cutting table. Without this complicated setup, manufacturers would be hard-pressed to move slabs around. Typically, a water saw with a diamond blade is used to achieve clean, uniform edges.
How are countertops cut down to their precise shape? Well, prefabricated countertops are all cut to the same dimensions. Custom countertops, on the other hand, are made to fit into the unique formation of someone’s kitchen or bathroom. This means exact measurements must be taken. An individual who understands which dimensions are needed travels to the space in which the countertops will be installed. From these dimensions, paper templates are mocked. The template is placed onto a drafting board and a machine goes over the template, marking key points. From these key points, digital versions of the templates are rendered in a computer program. The CNC machine (or computer numerical controlled machine) is then able to use the dimensions within the programs to cut the countertops down to scale. Instead of placing the template onto the countertop, drawing the outline, and cutting along the lines–which could be considered the old-fashioned way of cutting countertops now–this technology ensures the countertops are cut according to specifications, down to the millimeter. In a twelve-hour period, these high-functioning cutting machines can produce two to three kitchen sets per day. They are almost entirely automated, once the slab is placed, replacing cutting heads and directing cuts without human interference.
The End: Final Touches
What’s left? Well, the word fabrication actually refers more specifically to this last part of the formation process, when final touches are added. The CNC machine is also responsible for the carving of edge profiles (e.g. eased, bullnose, flat ogee, dupont, etc.). The edges are polished down with diamond polishing pads (think: extremely harsh sandpaper), again and again and again, with increasing grit, until the sides of the slab are perfectly smooth.
Next, the stone is polished. A thermal finish involves running a torch over the surface of the stone and results in a somewhat rough texture. A honed finish is matter and achieved by abrading the stone. A bush-hammered finish is rendered by a tool which resembles a meat tenderizer and is characterized by numerous divots and rivets–a very rough-hewn look. A sand-blasted finish is the result of blasting the stone’s surface with sand (or another gritty substance) at incredibly high speeds. The result is a stone which resembles the sand on a beach–etched and smooth. A polished finish is the most well-known and is usually achieved by rubbing diamond pads against the stone’s surface. A brushed finish looks exactly how it sounds–as though you took a brush to the stone’s surface–and is achieved the same way. Only, instead of regular bristles, wire bristles are used. Finally, a natural cleft finish (which is ordinarily used on stones like slate) does not require any manipulation. It’s the natural finish of stones which have been split or broken.
The Life of a Stone
Of course, finishing a slab isn’t really “the end.” This slab must be installed in someone’s home or business and, from here, lives a life of its own. (If you want to read about the installation process of countertops, we have an article here.) We hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the world of countertop fabrication. We hope you’ll return for further articles! If this article has you thinking about your own countertops, just remember: At Stonehouse Countertops, we are willing and able to work with you to your specifications. We offer a wide range of different materials and always have someone on hand to answer your questions! Don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation or for help forming a plan. We want to ensure your vision becomes a reality! Until next time—thanks for reading!