Stone Countertops: From Quarries to Kitchens, Part 2
If you’ve ever wondered how those giant slices of ancient natural stone end up in a kitchen, we’re going to wrap that question up today. Join us as we tour through the facility and processes of Rock Tops, a countertop fabricator located in Owings Mills, MD.
We left off in the slab yard, where you hypothetically chose your perfect slab. It’s a beautiful sheet of stone that fits your needs and budget. But what happens next?
First, measurements are taken during a home visit. This might actually have happened before your slabyard visit, to confirm what size you will need. Not only do they get the layout of your kitchen on this visit, they also scope out a plan for how to install your countertop. Back at the office, a digital version of your kitchen is created using the measurements they took. The digital measurements are put into a computer assisted design program and details like overhangs, edge profiles and polish are added.
Next the slab is brought in and put against a large green backdrop. Stone countertop slabs are very heavy, as well as fragile and dangerous if dropped. They are moved with what looks like a forklift and a clamp that utilizes the incredible weight of these stone sheets to hold them firmly. Once in place, a high-quality, high-definition picture is taken and sent to a professional using AlphaCAD. The picture is cropped to fit the digitized kitchen and the countertop outlines are arranged inside the slab according to the space needed and customer’s request. This is how specific beautiful stone features can be placed in highlighted areas of a kitchen, like on a peninsula.
The information is sent to a laser attached to the ceiling over a water table. The laser then projects the perimeter of the desired cuts and features onto the water table so that the fabricators can align the slab properly. Once the slab is in perfect alignment with the outline, the jets and blades start up, moving over the slab and cutting according to the same pattern that is guiding the laser. The water jet is a focused stream of water and grit that cuts the granite with a force of 5500 PSI. The blade is a flat disc that is embedded with diamonds, one of the few materials hard enough to cut through stone. After cutting is complete, the countertop is moved to the router for the next step.
The newly cut countertop is moved to another water table to have smaller cuts made and the edges finished. The router adds the edge profiles and cuts out the hole for the sink. Not all edge profiles can be applied by machine, but the longest edges are easier for machines to complete. Each edge profile router has a number of blades on wheels that carve their particular silhouette along the edges of the countertop.
All of these cuts are made underwater, which collects the dust that could be hazardous if large quantities circulated in the air. In addition to maintaining safety, the Rock Tops workshop organizes what would otherwise be waste into recyclable forms. The water tables run the dusty water through a series of filters, removing the stone particles and recycling the water for use in another round of cutting. Scrapped pieces of stone and countertop surfaces are recycled to become asphalt and cement. The dust is recycled as well, and when it is pulled out of the water filtration system, it looks like white mud or clay.
From the router, the countertop is moved to the finishing area. Here is where craftspeople smooth out any chips or blemishes that may have accrued over 350 million years of time. This area is also where unusual details and mitering might be added by hand, highlighting the artistry and craftsmanship of this trade.
After that, the countertop is ready to be installed! It still may need to be assembled on site, or modified according to plumbing decisions, but its long journey to your home is done at last.