The Stone Fabrication & Installation Process
If you are just beginning your research on the stone fabrication and/or installation processes, you may be surprised at how much goes into the creation or renovation of a new kitchen or bathroom. This guide will cover information related to the creation of a project from start to finish. And even though the title centers on fabrication, you’ll find that other aspects of the projects play a role as well.
Table of Contents
- Design vs. Fabrication vs. Installation
- Project Design
- Showrooms and Slab Yards
- What Are Stone Fabricators?
- What Installation Professionals Do
- Which Tools Are Needed for Stone Fabrication?
- What Installation Tools Are Required?
- Choosing A Stone Fabrication Professional
- What to Expect During Installation
Design vs. Fabrication vs. Installation
What people think of as “fabrication” is actually made up of three other aspects of work. These are as follows:
Differentiating each of the above parts of work from the others may differ from one professional to the next depending on how much of the complete process the company you are dealing with handles. Therefore, we will take a few moments to separate these “phases” of stone work to add a bit of clarification for general readers.
The design process is the “planning” phase of the overall project. Additionally, the design may be taken care of by the consumer, a design professional, or it could be a collaboration. Determining what the look and feel will entail and making color choices are important aspects of the design phase. Yet, projects utilizing natural and engineered stone materials require other considerations too.
One element to consider when in the design stage is the kind of material that the countertops will be fashion from. Natural stone, sintered stone, and engineered stone are all options and will require fabrication to various degrees.
Another thing to think about is the styling that the project will have. For example, the edge profiles that are used will contribute to the style. The pattern and color of the stone that is used will also have a bearing on the style.
The fabrication phase of the project can be thought of as the “preparation” part. In other words, stone fabrication can include the cutting, shaping, and polishing aspects of the project. In fact, turning a slab of material into a kitchen countertop takes a significant amount of equipment, experience, and work; not to mention time.
We won’t go into the nitty gritty of this phase of the project at this point, but suffice it to say that the fabrication stage of a stone countertop job is something that professional are best prepared to handle.
Once the slab has been formed into the pieces and templated out to fit a particular space, it has to be putin place and fixed into area. The installation stage can be thought of as the “positioning” part of the task.
Like the other stages of the project, the installation phase involves specific tasks. Handling the material, affixing the surface into its final resting place, and getting everything just so requires knowledge, skills, and tools. Hence, we will elaborate on those points a bit later. For now though, lets begin looking at how the project unfolds.
The project’s design is an important first step in the overall process of a project that involves stone fabrication. So getting the design completed in an orderly and smooth manner is what gets everything off to a good start. Hence, if the Design phase of the project is “bumpy”, it often times ripples through the rest of the process.
Make no mistake, whether you choose to participate in the design process or not, the design must happen. In fact, if there is no official design professional, the consumer, the fabricator, or both will end up making the design decisions.
What is involved in the design phase of the project? Well, there are a number of things that come into play when a countertop is being created form stone. And the importance increases if your surface will be constructed from natural stone.
Example of Design Benefits
For example, imagine that your particular stone slab has a big splotch of color that just happens to be undesirable to you. During the design process, you are able to point it out and often times the designer is able arrange the project in a way that the undesirable part of the stone is not used as part of the countertop. In fact, some companies even have the ability to show you the design and layout of the template before the cutting starts.
Showrooms and Slab Yards
One place you will most likely visit during your project is a showroom or a slab yard. The terms vary in their use and meaning, but in many cases they are pretty similar. This is where the material for the surface is represented so that it can be purchased for the project.
Consistency Allows for Showroom Display
Since the man made materials are more consistent in appearance, they can be displayed in smaller pieces. The overall look and color is controlled and does not require a whole sheet.
Unique Variation Calls for Spacious Slab Yards
In contrast to man made products, natural stone is created by nature. This means that each slab will vary inconsistency, color, and pattern. As a result, displaying a natural stone slab requires much more room. Add to that the fact that each slab is unique and it becomes clear that many more square feet are necessary to present natural stone slabs.
So, even though you may fin “samples” of natural stone slabs in a “showroom”, it is impossible for a sample to accurately represent a natural stone slab. Hence, going to a slab yard for selecting your slab of natural stone will yield the best results. But going to a showroom for man made material should suffice in most cases.
What Are Stone Fabricators?
The fabricator is the craftsman that makes the design into a reality. The work of the fabricator involves a number of techniques, skill, and experience working with various equipment.
Cutting Materials During Fabrication
One of the main tasks performed by fabricators is the cutting of the material. Various equipment is used for the process. For example, fabricators use bridge saws and other equipment like CNC machines in conjunction with diamond bridge saw blades to make the cutting process happen.
Another tasks carried out by fabricators is coring. This term describes the act of removing a circular section from the slab. Common reasons for wanting to use core bits is to cut the holes for faucets, soap dispensers, and sprayers. Having the tooling for cutting these round holes, makes the task easy.
Cutting is not the only aspect of stone fabrication, the flat surfaces are to worked by stone fabricators so that they have a distinct finish. This is where polishing pads come in. Depending on the fabricator’s preference and the material, different polishing pads will be used. For example, if the fabricators work on engineered quartz, they may select one of several polishing pads for quartz surfaces. On the other hand, if they are working a different material, a different pad might be selected.
There are many other operations that fabricators perform. And they use a variety of tools as well. Tasks like shaping, edge profiling, and grinding are just some of the additional work fabricators do.
What Installation Professionals Do
Once the stone is made into the format that will fit the cabinet layout, it is time to install the stone countertop. This means installers are needed. Stone installation involves some very delicate work that is carried out by cautious and patient pros.
Installers Handle and Transport
How do you get a stone slab that weighs hundreds of pounds from point A to point B? That is the question that is routinely answered by stone installers. Loading the stone into a truck, driving it to the consumer’s home and then taking it into the house and placing it onto the cabinetry means making use of material handling equipment. Hence, installers use equipment like a-frames, lifters, and transport carts regularly.
Setting the Stone Up for Great Seams
One part of the install process that could get overlooked involves the placing of the stone on the cabinets. Doing this in such a way that places where two edges come together and line up nicely is challenging. Furthermore, leveling these areas is tricky without seam setting gear. So installers must have suction cups, seam setters, shims, and other devices.
Bonding Stone Surfaces During Installation
After setting the slabs and getting them level and even, bonding the joints requires the installer to use a stone glue. Hence, professionals use adhesives for all sorts of materials. Install pros will have preferences depending on what material and color the stone is. Choosing a color match adhesive designed for the project is a key to getting invisible seams that disappear into the surface.
Which Tools Are Needed for Stone Fabrication?
As we mentioned earlier in this post, there are a number of fabrication tools used to get a natural stone slab or an engineered stone surface ready for installation. We already specified two in a previous section(bridge saw blades and polishing pads). However, like we said earlier, there are others. Some of these tools include the following:
- Coring Bits
- Edge Profiles
- Grinding Wheels
- CNC Finger Bits
- Edge Polishing Wheels
Professionals Have the Needed Tools
Stone fabrication professionals will most likely have all of these tools and supplies on hand or have the ability to obtain these necessary tools and supplies. Of course, having the proper work environment is also important. And as we have talked about here on our website, having quality dust collection equipment, water treatment solutions, and machines for sludge management is important.
Although the complete list is much larger when it comes to the tools needed for stone fabrication, we won’t drown you in lists of supplies, tools, machines and other equipment. The links provided thus far in this post point to other sites that have more complete listings of what tools are needed for stone fabrication.
What Installation Tools Are Required?
The question above could be worded a bit more accurately since installation could be done without the tools we will mention in this part of our discussion. However, it would not be the easiest way to perform the installation and the results would most likely not be to your liking. So, what tools make stone installation easier and yield great results?
A number of tools make for great stone countertop installs and they range from shop carts to wooden shims.Even though we shared a brief list of some important install tools earlier on, lets consider some specific install tools here and briefly summarize why each one is important. We won’t exhaust the list, but we will look at five tools and the value of each one of them.
Install Tool Information Table
|Installation Tools That Make the Task Easier With Better Results|
|Stone Adhesive||Bonding sections of stone surfaces together.||Stone glue plays a pivotal role in the difference between a good install and a great one. In particular, the adhesive used for the seams contributes significantly to whether the seam will be visible or unnoticeable. Using a glue that is color matched to the stone is important in both the fabrication phase and the install phase of the project.|
|Seam Setters||Positioning and leveling sections of stone.||Positioning the stone sections and getting them level when gluing seams is a key aspect of making a seam as invisible as possible. Seam setters accomplish this by allowing the installer to fine tune the positioning of the stone sections when bonding seams.|
|Vacuum Cups||Gripping the slab so it can be adjusted.||Stone sections are very heavy. With a thickness of 3cm and having sections of stone cut out from the slab for sinks and faucets, lifting a countertop from the corners is not the most practical way to maneuver a countertop. the weight and the weakness combined can cause the stone to break. Vacuum cups allow the countertop to be lifted from anywhere on the surface; not just the corners.|
|Support Brackets||Providing sturdy support for overhangs.||When a stone slab is installed, sometimes there are areas of the stone that hang over the edge. Because stone is heavy, there is a limited amount of overhang that should exist before a support is used. Support brackets provide the benefit the name implies. Supporting the overhang reduces the likelihood of the stone’s weight causing it to break.|
|Carrying Clamps||Keeping stone sections straight when carrying.||The weight of a stone slab in relation to its thickness creates more than one challenge during the install (and the fabrication process for that matter). One of those challenges is keeping the slab completely straight while it i moved from one place to another. Keeping a countertop from twisting while moving it from a horizontal position to a vertical position with carrying clamps reduces the risk of breakage.|
Choosing A Stone Fabrication Professional
In light of all that we have discussed thus far, it is imperative that careful thought be given to which stone fabrication professional you choose. In fact, selecting a fabricator based solely on price is not only simplistic, but also short-sighted. Considering other aspects can improve one’s decision making.
One basic aspect of selecting a fabricator you are familiar with is looking at the credentials of each professional you are considering hiring. Some great places to research the credentials of stone fabrication companies are:
Credentials obviously do not tell the whole story, but they do show how much time, energy, and money a company has put into the skill set of the professionals it employs.
What to Expect During Installation
One of the biggest things to mention right up front in this section of our discussion about the stone fabrication process is that many consumers are not aware of everything that goes into stone countertops. So if you used the table of contents links at the top of this page and aren’t sure what to expect, we recommend that you go back and at least browse through the other sections of the article before looking at this information.
Considering all the various aspects of each of the phases of the fabrication process, it is no surprise that the time it takes a countertop project to go from concept to completion is more than just weekend. If you’re talking about natural stone, there will probably be multiple meetings counting consults and approvals. So, prepare yourself to be patient and to make a number of decisions about how you want the work to transpire.
Another aspect of the project is that you will be without your kitchen during the time the surface is being installed. Good communication with the company that is doing the installation is a key to eliminating surprises and preventing misunderstandings. Asking questions along the way will help you to have clearly in mind what to expect as your project is completed.
In this article we have looked at some key aspects of the stone fabrication process. Each of which plays an important role in the final project’s success. Whether it is the design, fabrication, or installation phase that you are in, having a great relationship with the fabrication company handling the job will yield good results. Regardless of whether you select engineered stone or natural stone surfaces, if you are working with a professional that has proper credentials and you communicate well, your stone fabrication process will run smoothly.