Photo Courtesy The Brooklyn Museum
When you are in a warehouse selecting granite or marble slabs for your kitchen counters, it’s fairly obvious that they are not in their native environment. Even someone with little experience in the Boise, Idaho area can tell that Schumacher does not have a quarry stuck somewhere among the trucks and pallets in the back lot. So where did the 600-plus slabs in our display come from? Well, that depends.
Much of the granite and marble used in countertop and other flat installations comes from Brazil, but some does originate in China, Spain, Italy, or even the United States. South Dakota has a quarry with unique materials.
Granite has several characteristics which clarify the reason why high-quality, meticulously produced granite countertops have become such a clear implication of class and style in our society. These characteristics, however, also contribute to the costs involved in creating such a marker.
As a natural stone, granite is varied in color and quality. It is extremely difficult in most cases to guarantee uniformity between one color lot and another, or even between one slab and another. Your countertop will be unique, but you must carefully hand-select which slabs you want to use, if there is any exact pattern you like.
Granite is very heavy, and depending on which type and how dense it is, can range around 18 pounds per square foot of a three centimeters thick material. This contributes to the cost of moving these rocks from various countries to Boise, Meridian, or whatever town the fabricator resides in. But since it is such a dense, hard, material, it is extremely durable.
In spite of its strength, granite can also be brittle when it is only two or three centimeters thick, is standing on its side, and has little to no extra support. With the proper support when installed on a countertop, granite isn’t going to go anywhere. But out in the field, it cannot support its own weight when there is a strong hold on one end, but the middle is suspended. Thus, special care has to be taken while transporting slabs, not to mention caution to prevent scratching the finish polish.
So how does such a contradictorily strong yet fragile material travel from its quarry to your house? It’s a fairly remarkable journey. Each granite countertop starts out as a slab not yet distinguished from the rock around it in a mountain in an obscure part of the world. These quarries use water, explosives, and diamond-wire drilling methods to separate enormous blocks of stone from the massive deposit in the earth’s crust. This is dangerous work, and the mining companies have extensive safety regulations and rightfully boast when they have no fatal accidents over long periods of time.
Photo Courtesy Peter Kaminski
Once a block is loose in the quarry, it is lifted from its resting place of millennia and transported to a processing plant. The block is cut into flat plates, or slabs, of varying thicknesses depending on the stone’s strength and what is needed in the market. After slicing, each stone is polished or finished according to specifications; flaming, honing, acid washing, and antiquing are all terms used to describe the surface aspect of a slab of granite or marble. If the slab is of a particularly brittle or ‘crumbly’ material, a piece of netting may be affixed to its back with resinous glue. The front of the slab is also coated with a resin to preserve the finish.
Have you ever looked at a rock in a stream, and marveled at how much clearer the color and shine are when wet? A resin preserves that ‘wet’ look, and lets the color of the rock shine through. Otherwise, we’d all be looking at a collection of various shades of beige and gray. Not nearly so appealing, wouldn’t you say?
Each slab is bundled with five to twelve of its brothers from the original block. These are crated with four by four posts and two by four crosspieces to form a roughly supportive crate. Bundled slabs are much sturdier than singles. Sometimes a heavy plastic cover is used to further protect the surfaces. These bundles are shipped to the coast, and then by boat to a port, assuming the material is from overseas. The trip can take several months from quarry to distribution center in a near-coastal town.
Slabs are then transported by flatbed truck to the fabricators who purchase them for their customers. The bundles are broken down, and the slabs secured to A-frames, washed, and displayed in our indoor viewing, where you can choose which piece complements your perfect kitchen or bath design.
Schumacher Tile & Stone