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February 2, 2018

Ever wonder how a dull chunk of mountain ends up in your kitchen as a glistening granite countertop? Me too!

Miles below the earth's crust is a flow of magma. Over millions of years, some of it has risen to the surface, cooled, and solidified into granite. Its composition is mostly quartz, feldspar, and mica. The patterns and colorings that it flaunts are determined by other trace minerals which are deposited in varying amounts and combinations in locations all over the world. Today, most granite is excavated in Brazil, India, Italy, China, and the US; each site having its own unique tone and design.

Granite is removed from the mountainside in blocks measuring roughly 5'x5'x10'. Sometimes it's blasted out with very carefully placed charges; but more often it's broken off using special drills. Extremely heavy-duty fork lifts and cranes are used to move and lift the 40-ton blocks onto ships; which transport them to special processing centers. These facilities are not necessarily in the country from which the granite was excavated. For instance, although Italy quarries its own granite, they are even more well-known for their exquisite stone finishing techniques. So, granite from many other countries may land in Italy to be cut and polished.

All over the world, processing plants use custom tools to work with granite. Most have diamond tipped blades, wires, and pads. Because diamond is the only stone harder than granite, it's the only stone able to cut it. Blocks are usually sliced into thicknesses ranging from ¾" to 1¼". It's a slow process. Even with the special diamond-wire saws, it takes about an hour to cut through a mere twelve inches of granite.

Once separated from the block, the slabs are run horizontally through a huge machine, complete with multiple, high-speed, diamond polishing pads. Slowly, the luster of the stone is revealed as finer and finer pads continue the buffing. It's much like smoothing wood with ever finer grit sandpaper.

When the granite is polished to the desired smoothness and luster, it may appear finished; but it is still naturally porous. Most of its pitting is very small and hard to see; but visible or not, the voids exist. Therefore special resins are applied, often with pressure, to fill every nook and cranny. When this step is complete, the slabs are considered sealed, stain-resistant, and ready to be sent to a local fabrication shop.

Some fabricators will send a representative to the processing plant to hand pick the slabs they want; others will simply place an order. The selected slabs are then strapped into manageable bundles, and shipped to the shops that purchased them. It is these fabricating experts who will do the final prep of the granite and install it.

A technician typically comes to the customer's home to take precise measurements, and to discuss any special needs. Then it's back to their facility to cut and trim accordingly; and to grind and polish the chosen style of beveled edging. Any additional sealing or repair is made before it is delivered to the customer. As it is set upon the kitchen cabinets, it officially becomes a countertop.

Obviously, the earliest civilizations recognized a good thing when they saw it, and used granite in structures to honor themselves and their gods. The amazing thing is that, like us, they quarried and transported huge stones; but only used hand tools and literal man power. I, for one, am pleased that the tools are now powered, and even happier that the tradition of using granite continues and that its beauty is still appreciated.