COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — One of the hottest things when remodeling kitchens and baths these days are granite countertops. There’s also Corian, Silestone Quartz, and other products on the market…but everyone talks about granite. Our West Michigan Story this week focused on how it goes from a chunk of stone out of the ground to your home.
We stopped in at Signature Stone Tops in Comstock Park on Mill Creek Avenue and spent a few hours with owner Dan Stein. The company began in 2004 and covers a wide variety of installations from residential, to commercial, to wholesale. They even participated in an Extreme MakeOver Home Edition (ABC) installing countertops and vanities for a family in Holt, Michigan.
Granite is simply stone or rock embedded in the ground. It literally has to be blasted out of the ground with dynamite. The blast holes are still visible from places like South America and Spain when the 1,300 pound slab arrives at the shop. Granite is typically more abstract of a pattern and therefore has more variation within it. Also sealed at the factory, it requires resealing each year through the life of it. Silestone Quartz, on the other hand, does not require sealing and has more of a uniform consistency in the pattern.
When the slab of stone arrives, it’s lifted by giant suction cups and moved to a diamond cutting wheel. The machine follows a pre-measured template and cuts both length and width. It uses water to keep the blade cool and extend the life of the diamond tipped saw.
Afterwards, the slightly smaller slab is moved to a CNC machine or computer numeric control router. All the measurements taken of someone’s kitchen or bath countertop-to-be are fed in to the CNC machine. The computer makes all the intricate cuts, including sinkholes, and routes all the edges using a variety of tools. Water again is used to keep the tools, blades, and cutters cool as the stone is cut. A specific template is (again) followed which removes any possibility of human error (barring the initial measurements that were taken on location).
After all the cutting and routing is done, the almost finished countertop is moved to the polishing stage. Here the polisher will spend time using polishing pads (similar to sandpaper grits) from 50 to 3,000 grit along the edges to make them smooth as silk. Water is used again in an effort to keep things operating cool and make the edges smooth.
While my analysis seems rather quick and crude, it’s easy to see why granite and solid countertop surfaces cost so much. There’s plenty of raw labor involved in getting the stone out of the ground, shipping it, cutting it, detailing it to exact specifications, and polishing it to perfection. Of course, installation is a whole other process along with selecting a back splash to compliment the countertop.
Signature Stone Tops started in 2004 with just two employees, but now has 18 full-time workers that can turn out about four countertops per day. It’s a long, tedious, labor intense job that doesn’t give a second chance when cut. Hopefully we can all appreciate what goes in to this thing they call granite.