Over the years there has been a lot of bickering back and forth between the makers of “engineered stone” and “natural stone” suppliers. Lot’s of arguments and misinformation about stains, heat resistance, and what looks natural. So let’s get one thing clear. They are different products with different advantages. Both are pretty easy to keep clean and sanitary. Both are very hard and resist scratching. Both cost about the same to install as a kitchen countertop. But in the interest of acquiring market share both industries have engaged in a winner take all approach. That was unfortunate. But designers and home owners have been turning the tables on both industries by coming up with “Two Tone” kitchen countertop designs that incorporates natural stone with engineered stone. From an aesthetic standpoint the reasoning is quite simple. The island get’s to be the wild or elegant show piece while the surrounding counters offer a complementary consistent color. The effect can be quite stunning. From a functional standpoint, it means you can take advantage of the engineered stone as a food prep surface while having marble as your centerpiece.
“The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way”. Samuel Butler English composer, novelist, & satiric author (1835 – 1902)
Nothing fits this description better than a sample of a natural stone slab. These seemingly innocent chunks of rock come through our doors everyday in the unsuspecting grip of frustrated home owners. More often than not, (if we do have the same stone type in stock) these folks will stand in front of the full slab glancing back and forth at their sample, and say “That doesn’t look anything like what I expected”. Shame on you sample.
Natural stone is “Natural”. Which means nature is not handing out the specific formula for stone colors and types. Quarries do not have the luxury of knowing exactly what the polished stone will look like until they get it out of the ground and cut it up. Also, over the course of time, as the vein is mined, the color and patterns tend to change. Even colors that seem very consistent, will vary in color, shade, crystal size, speckles and so on. Some slab suppliers have tried color dye to make their material seem more consistent. For the most part color dyes are disdained in natural stone because stone fabricators can have a difficult time getting the edges of countertops to match the top. So with all of this variation, the best a sample can do is give you a general idea of the stone. Nothing more.
So here are a few tips about the use of samples…
1. Do not use samples to select color swatches, tiles, curtains, flooring and so on without first holding the sample up to the specific bundle (or block) of slabs you’re interested in. You need to confirm that your sample is a reasonable match to the actual slabs that will end up on your countertops before basing other decisions around it.
2. Not all slabs come with samples. As hard as we try to get samples along with our slabs, suppliers don’t always send them. They are getting better. If a sample is not available from the same slabs you are looking at, you can often use a sample from a different lot, or in some cases, even a different stone type. Just make sure that you hold it up to the slab you’re considering to make sure that it is adequately representative.
3. The bigger the sample the better. Especially if you’re talking about stones with lots of movement. When slabs like these come with samples, we often see sample stacks that have a lot of variation (as shown in the picture above). Again, a good rule of thumb is to hold up the sample to the full slab and decide for yourself whether or not you think it generally represents the colors and patterns of the overall.
4. Carrying both a sample and a picture of the slab together is very helpful. The sample gives you color accuracy while the picture gives you a sense of the overall pattern as it relates to sample.
Just a few other notes:
- Sometimes a sample can be attained by breaking off a corner of a slab. However, this is only when the slab has a corner that is already cracked. Most suppliers are understandably hesitant to break off home-made samples, as sometimes a missing corner can make or break a potential job.
- Samples you obtain from a tile, flooring or cabinet store may be out of date with what’s currently available at your local slab supplier.
- Finally, if you’re finished with a sample, it’s always appreciated when you return it so that others can make use of them.
Hopefully this information is helpful to you as you begin your quest for your dream kitchen or bathroom. As always, the EleMar crew will go above and beyond to accommodate you in your search for the perfect stone.
The answer is Quartzite. Not to be confused with manmade Quartz products, natural quartzite is a very hard metamorphic rock consisting of a mosaic of inter-grown quartz crystals. Quartzite forms when sandstone is heated to extreme temperatures during metamorphism. It’s often white and grey in color, but blues, reds, greens, or beiges are not entirely uncommon. The formation process behind this metamorphosed rock tends to give it soft, somewhat linear veining that resembles marble.
Quartzite is a whopping 7 out of 10 on Moh’s Scale of Mineral Hardness. As a comparison, granite is typically between a 6 and a 7, and marble is only a 3. The density of natural Quartzite, which directly corresponds with porosity, can vary. Sometimes this stone is extremely dense making it practically nonporous, other times it is less dense and more porous. Try taking a sample of the specific quartzite slab you’re considering and testing the staining potential by leaving a colored liquid on the surface for 5-10 minutes. When you wipe off the liquid, if it leaves little to no color on the stone, the quartzite is probably very dense and an average sealer will suffice. If the liquid leaves a medium to bright color on the quartzite sample, you should probably consider a powerful sealer to help protect the stone.
Possibly the greatest benefit of quartzite in the kitchen over marble, is the greatly reduced potential for surface etching. Marble is a calcite, and calcite reacts with acids, so when you’re dealing with acidic foods or liquids on a marble countertop, you’re likely to etch the surface polish. Quartzite on the other hand, is made almost entirely of quartz, which does not typically react with acids. To be sure that the specific quartzite slabs that you’re considering for your project will not etch, use the same sample you used for your porosity test and try leaving a small puddle of straight lemon juice on the surface for 5-10 minutes. Wipe it off and check for any signs of etching (spots where the polish isn’t as shiny any more).
So, if you love Bianco Carrara Marble, but you have to have a stone that will withstand the everyday wear and tear of your family, Quartzite slabs like our Moon Light Quartzite are the perfect solution to your dilemma.
It’s taken a year but our 3 part video series is nearly ready for publishing in HD DVD format. Much of it was shot on location in Italy. The video was produced and directed by Tracey Whitney of MaeStar Productions. This is a sneak preview of Part 1, which explains the characteristics of each stone type and the process of mining and creating slabs. Once published, the DVDs will be available online, from our Oregon Office, or the many Designers and Fabricators we work with.
[hana-flv-player video="/WONS.flv" width="720" height="480" description="" player="3" autoload="true" autoplay="false" loop="false" autorewind="true" splashimage="/WONS.jpg" /]
Soapstone is quickly gaining popularity as a kitchen countertop material due to it’s soft feel and subtle colors. It is primarily composed of talc, magnesite, dolomite, and chlorite. Soapstone is completely non porous and totally resistant to acids. Because of this inert quality, soapstone has been a material of choice for chem labs. Even though soapstone is soft, it has the advantage of being easily repaired by light sanding. Finally, the appearance of soapstone can be darkened with periodic applications of mineral oil or specialty stone waxes. Over time the application fades but it can easily be restored with another application. What about stains? In the cases stains have been reported, the soapstone (true soapstone) was easily restored with light sanding and an application of mineral oil.
Soapstone has an exceptional array of uses. It’s unique ability to retain and radiate heat has made it widely used for masonry heaters, stoves and even cook tops. It’s malleable characteristics makes it popular for carved sinks, pots and pans.
Limestone is a sedimentary rock, mainly composed of mineral calcite. The primary source of the calcite is typically marine organisms, which are deposited on the ocean floors as pelagic ooze. Popular uses include flooring, interior and exterior cladding and exterior paving. Travertine is limestone that is formed by geysers. Manufactured as tiles or slabs, travertine is generally filled with cement and is then polished or honed. More common uses are for flooring and siding. It is sometimes used for countertops.
Marble is metamorphosed limestone, composed of very pure calcium carbonate. The softness of marble and it’s consistency makes marble very desirable for sculpture and building. Marble is essentially limestone, that has been subjected to much higher amounts of temperature and pressure during it’s metamorphosis. Three primary locations for marble are Carrara Italy, Pentelicus Greece, and Proconnesus Turkey. Because of it’s maintenance requirements, marble is not often used for kitchen countertops in the US. In addition, marble is subject to stains from acidic foods and juices. Some new sealers can retard staining. However, for those who understand the maintenance requirements of marble, it can provide for a kitchen look that is like no other material. Typical uses include floors, wall coverings, tabletops, bathroom walls, floors, vanity tops and showers. There is no doubt, in the hands of the right designer, Marble can make a most stunning statement in your home.
Granite is igneous rock with visible crystalline formation and textures. It is composed of feldspar and quartz, with small amounts of mica and other minor minerals. Granite crystallizes from magma that cools slowly, deep below the earth’s surface. The rate of cooling gives rise to various crystal grain structures. Typically, the slower the lava cools, the larger the crystals become. Granite, along with other crystalline rocks, constitutes the foundation of the continental masses, and it is the most common rock exposed at the earth’s surface.
Granite has greater strength and hardness than sandstone, limestone, and marble making it more difficult to quarry. Gang saws take up to 6 days running 24 hours a day to slice through a block. Slabs are numbered in sequence and polished. It is usually a good idea to select slabs that are from the same block for your countertop project. The variance in color patterns from block to block can be significant.
Granite as a countertop surface provides one of the most attractive and durable surfaces available. It is highly resistant to scratches, stains and heat and will last virtually forever. Granite does not harbor bacteria and resealing only needs to be done when water stops beading on the counter surface.