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!

Our last two articles, Designing Warm Spaces and Designing Cool Spaces, are part of a series. While Designing Warm Spaces focuses on defining the subtleties of warmth–from rough-hewn textures to color palettes–Designing Cool Spaces is a deep dive into the subdued interiors of cool spaces–from chrome finishes to airy materials. Both articles are a one-stop-shop for learning about design basics. Depending on your unique sense of taste, you might find you lean towards one or the other, but well-rounded designs tend to incorporate elements of both. As with anything, balance is key. Perhaps you might pair eggshell walls, as suggested in the Warm Spaces article, with bright white marble floors, as suggested in the Cool Spaces article. And an ashen-blue rug made of knitted wool pairs cool tones with warm textures! To learn more about the philosophy behind designing warm and cool spaces, be sure to check out our two most recent articles! 

Today, we’re following natural stone from its birthplace within the earth’s core to your countertops! One of the major appeals of adding natural stone to your home is its rich history and unique composition. To learn more about the composition of specific stones, check out our All About series, in which we spotlighted granite, marble, quartz, limestone, and soapstone. This article is dedicated to the somewhat arduous (although considerably less so in modern times) process of extracting stone. What machinery is used to haul heaping tons of stones? Is stone ready to be fabricated as soon as it’s extracted? What does stone undergo before reaching my supplier? What happens to the stone that’s unusable for cosmetic purposes? We’ll answer all of these questions and more! Stonehouse Countertops only pairs with the best stone suppliers to provide our clients with the highest quality stone available! To scroll through our inventory–which is live and always updating–you can visit here. Without further ado, let’s learn about how stone is quarried! 

The Quarrying Process

A quarry is simply an open pit, from which natural materials (i.e. stone, sand, gravel, riprap, clay, cinder, etc.) are extracted. Most quarries are dug deep below the water table for the surrounding area, which means water will naturally seep up into the cavity. When construction in a quarry is active, this water is continuously emptied. Excess groundwater can present a problem for those quarrying, as inadequate drainage can halt the extraction process. After the quarry is no longer in use, this groundwater is allowed to collect without interruption, leading to the formation of a quarry lake. It’s recommended humans don’t swim in quarry lakes, as the water can be shockingly cold, resulting in hypothermia. Likewise, there might be equipment or large stones submerged beneath the surface. If you were to dive into a quarry lake from high up, the impact could cause serious damage. That said, quarry lakes can be useful ecosystems for animals. In fact, the water quality of quarry lakes is better than that of shallow standing water and promotes the biodiversity of macrophytes (a type of aquatic plant). 

Before a quarry is created for the purpose of harvesting stone, the stone must be found, right? For this reason, geologists scour rock outcroppings, keeping a keen eye out for materials with appealing colors and patterns. When a geologist finds a bedrock of seemingly desirable stone, they take a sample by drilling into the stone with a diamond-tipped drill bit. This sample will be tested for its strength–to assess whether it’s suitable for building use–and then polished and shined–to assess whether it’ll sell. If the composition is good and the appearance is good, then the next step is for the area where the stone is located to be purchased. After this, licenses must be obtained before work can begin. The licensing process for quarrying can take years.

Once the work begins in earnest, the first step is to clear away anything that isn’t the stone in question. For example, the deposit of granite found by the geologist might be sitting underneath a mound of dirt, a copse of trees, or another type of stone. Whatever’s in the way will need to be removed before extraction of the desired stone can begin. From this point, it’s a matter of hard work and tedious labor to extract the stone in slabs which can be used later on for building and commercial purposes. Depending on how the stone is cut, it may take on an entirely different appearance. For example, a vein cut uses the natural bedding plane of the rock as a guide, thus highlighting the inherent movement within the stone. This is popular with cuts of marble, such as Carrara and Calacatta. Cross-cut on the other hand, seeks to yield a more uniform-looking final product. 

Methods of Quarrying

Stone can be extracted in one of several ways. Digging utilizes pickaxes, crowbars, chisels and hammers. Think of the seven dwarves in Snow White. This method will yield small, soft pieces of soft, but is unsuitable for harvesting large slabs. Heating is a method by which an accelerant is poured onto a portion of rock and set on fire. The sudden heat causes the top layer of stone to expand rapidly, which separates this layer from the one below. Now loosened, excavators are able to ply the top portion of rock in pieces. This is good for obtaining thin layers of stone, such as granite, but the unpredictability of this method makes it unlikely to be used for quarrying slabs. Wedging is a particularly visually stimulating form of extraction, as it involves pounding steel wedges into a large rock to create great fissures within the stone. After some time, these fissures coalesce into a great crack, thereby splitting the stone into manageable pieces. This is typically used for softer, sedimentary materials, like sandstone, limestone, marble, and slate. 

Blasting is the method most often used in old movies and cartoons. It involves using carefully placed explosives to break down large rock deposits into small stones. This method is more often used on harder stones, like granite. However, since the results of the blast cannot be predicted (and are not likely to produce perfectly even slabs every time), this method is never used to extract stone for commercial purposes. 

Most often, stone will be extracted using a drilling process. First, excavators will remove a “bench wall”–a great wall of stone that will be split into several smaller pieces. The bench wall is removed using wire cables made of diamonds, drills, and incredibly powerful torches (which are capable of melting stone). At this point, targeted dynamite charges blow the bench wall from its position. Once it’s on the ground, it’ll be cut up. Granite blocks weigh between 38,000 and 42,000 pounds each. Marble blocks weigh between 15,000 and 25,000 pounds each. Once cut, these blocks are sent to factories, where they’ll be judged by buyers and sold. From here, the blocks are processed into slabs. 

When the stone is ready for fabrication, it’s laid flat and polished with a fine grit until it’s smooth and shiny. Next, the stone is cut with a water jet to the exact layout specified for your space. After this, the stone is hand-finished with final touches such as edge profiles and polishing details. From here, the fabricated stone is delivered and installed in your home! As you can see, a multitude of steps predicate the installation of custom stone countertops. Updates in technology have allowed the extraction and fabrication processes to become both quicker and safer. As a result, consumers can enjoy natural stone at a relatively affordable price point. 

We’re endlessly fascinated by the quarrying process and hope you are too!  As you’re designing your next renovation project, keep in mind Stonehouse Countertops is here to craft custom stone creations for your home, from countertops to floors to walls to vanities. 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!