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An Inside Look into the Fabrication of Countertops

Posted by Irene Ferreira on Apr 25, 2016 1:30:00 PM

This is a step-by-step guide explaining the fabrication process from start to finish.

1.  Select your Stone

Granite, Marble, Limestone, Quartz, Quartzite, Porcelain, Soapstone, Onyx, or Concrete, there are many options when choosing your stone countertop. Each stone has unique qualities and is specially suited for a variety of applications. A little research goes a long way. A reputable fabricator will have a vast selection of first quality stone in their slab warehouse and should be able to answer any of your questions regarding the characteristics, color variation and application when selecting your stone. 

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A Radio Control Crane with a Clip makes moving slabs almost effortless.

2.  Choose the Surface Finish of your Stone

Polished, honed, brushed/leathered or SatinStone, like the characteristics of stone, each surface finish is different and uniquely suited for each type of stone. Your fabricator should be able to show you samples and guide you in choosing the right surface finish for your stone.

Now that you have selected your stone and surface, it is time to prepare for the template process. Your fabricator will walk you through these steps.

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3.  The Template

Point markers are manually placed on all the corners of the cabinets to define the edges. Point markers are also centered on the sink and cook top areas to define placement for the cutouts. A Template Digital Laser Machine is then strategically placed to gather all the points from the countertops and loaded into a special software to generate the template for the fabricator. This accurate digital template is e-mailed to the CNC (Computerized Numerical Controls) Department and the fabrication process begins.  

Now let's take an inside look into the fabrication of your countertop.

4.  The Digital Layout

The digital image/template is sent to the Photo Station for a digital layout. The template is laid over the image of the stone slab. All the separate template pieces are strategically nested into the slab to create the best possible and aesthetically pleasing placement for the cutout, taking into consideration the stone’s natural veining and seam matches. Attention to detail is a high priority to ensure the best results.  

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The Traditional Layout 

This process entails creating a plastic cutout of the template that is placed directly on the slab for the customer’s approval making the customer part of the fabrication process. The material and manual labor involved adds an additional cost to the fabrication.

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5.  The Robo Jet

Using a Vacuum Lift Crane, the stone slab is placed on the platform of the Robo Jet machine. The template is once again, digitally laid out over the image of the slab and matched against the previously generated image for accuracy.  

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6.  Reinforcement

A Bridge Saw is used to score a slot into the surface of the stone. A fiberglass or steel rod is inserted into the stone for reinforcement in preparation for the sink and cooktop cutouts. This process ensures that the stone will not break during the fabrication or installation process.

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7.  CNC Router - Computerized Numeric Control

The template drawing is programed into the CNC Router via the project bar code. The slab is strategically placed on suction cups to hold the stone in place ready to be machineddrill. The CNC runs through a series of point checks for slab placement and alignment ensuring that fabrication will be accurate. The piece may go through a series of tooling (diamond impregnated tooling can cut even the hardest stone) drilling, routering, shaping and polishing, to create a finished part. 

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(Above 1st image) - A radio controlled crane and vacuum lift is used to place the slab onto suction cups to secure the slab from slipping while it is being cut. The CNC Router is the industries’ most specialized equipment.  (2nd image) The CNC Router is  fully equiped with a wide assortment of specialized bits for creating custom edges.  (3rd image) Water is used to cool down the bits of the CNC Router to prevent a meltdown and to cool the stone to prevent cracking while cutting the edges.

8.  Polishing the Edges

For a straight edge finish, the stone is placed on the Edge Polishing Machine. A series of buffing heads glide over the stone until the edges are polished and smooth to the touch, requiring very little hand work to complete the job.  There are also a variety of custom cut edges to choose from:  Round, Ogee, Full Bullnose, and Chiseled to name a few, just ask your fabricator.

Side Note:  The Mitered Edge

The Miter machine is specially designed to cut stone at a 45 degree angle for creating perfect mitered edges. Applications include: countertop aprons that fit perfectly together, backsplashes for countertop, and the popular waterfall leg.

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9.  What’s on the Surface Does Count

Most stone surfaces come polished. A reputable fabricator will have the specialized equipment to change the surface of most stones to a completely different finish, honed, leathered or Satin-Stone, a specialized satin or suede soft to the touch surface. The stone is sealed to protect it from water absorption, ensuring that it will look and perform well for as long as possible.

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(Above 1st image) Special polishing bricks or brushes are placed into the polishing heads of the polishing machine (Above 2nd image) to achieve a desired finish.

Custom Design Projects

A reputable fabricator should have the ability to create custom design projects. State of the art water jet equipment uses fine abrasives (garnet) mixed with water at 50,000 psi allowing it to produce intricate designs in natural stone, concrete, tile, glass, metal and other materials. Knowledgeable in-house fabrication programmers should always be available to assist in custom projects and meet a variety of architectural and design needs.

Last but Not Least - Choosing the Right Fabricator

When choosing your stone countertop, it is just as important to choose the right fabricator to work with. To be on the safe side, a good place to start is to find a fabricator in your state that is MIA Accredited.  "To earn MIA Accreditation, a company must complete an intensive, rigorous process that includes documentation of its business and employment practices, letters of recommendation, a written examination and site visits to the facility and completed jobs." (http://www.marble-institute.com/accreditation/why-select-an-accredited-company/)

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For more information on designing with stone and tile, visit the many posts in Resources and Inspired Spaces, or join our mailing list for updated events, new collections and much more!

Topics: Fabrication, Quartz, Granite Countertop, Marble Countertop, Marble, Stone Edges, Stone Slabs, Granite, Stone Surface, Inside look into the fabrication of countertops, Fabrication of countertops, Countertop