From Quarry to Kitchen
Mar 18, 2013 07:17PM
● By Anonymous
Natural stone, nurtured by the earth for millennia, has long been prized for enduring elegance and the ability to withstand whatever tests time can dish out. Until recently, though, reaping these treasures was time consuming, costly, and relatively primitive, relegating their use to commerce, industry, and government. But advancements in technology have virtually transformed the landscape, enabling homeowners to affordably appoint their living space with a veritable artist’s palette of palatial raw materials.
Charles Koppel, who presides over an Annapolis-based stone/material company’s smorgasbord of fabrication materials, has seen the industry changes firsthand. Twenty years ago, just out of college in Boston, Koppel began as a salesman in the dimensional stone business, eventually becoming product and general manager. In 2003, he married a Maryland girl and opened his store.
“When I started out, there were only about four to five colors of granite available. Today, there are virtually thousands,” he says. Koppel travels three times per year to peruse international supply channels, including Brazil, Norway, India, and Italy. “Customers today invest long hours to research and decide on their décor. We respond to requests, but also like to offer the unexpected to keep things fresh and interesting,” Koppel says.
Azul Bahia, Blue Louise, Typhoon Bordeaux granite, and Calcutta Gold marble are just a few of the dimensional stone offerings prized for striking the artistic patterns and depth that uniquely define a kitchen design.
By the time customers view them at fabrication showrooms, they’re lined up by the hundreds, slab after slab of gleaming granite, marble, and even soapstone. Manufactured by Mother Nature, dimensional stone is delightfully unique—no two pieces are ever alike. This aesthetically appealing quality presents so many possibilities.
In the midst of perusing those possibilities, it might put things in perspective to ponder for a moment the intricate steps involved in bringing these specimens to the showroom.
Granite is mined almost universally, in regions remote and populated, on every continent except Antarctica. Marble, meanwhile, is more specific to certain regions, primarily Italy and Spain, but is found in mountain regions of North America, as well. Soapstone is found as far away as Finland, as well as in the last standing soapstone quarry in the U.S., the Alberene, which opened in 1888 in Schuyler, Va., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
From discovery to recovery takes more than moxie, money, or multiple permits (though the task ultimately requires these); it also takes a quarry manager with in-depth knowledge of the stone’s innate qualities and quirks. Strategic planning and layout is crucial for safe, efficient extraction, as well as ensuring aesthetic results. For instance, will the stone be vein cut, highlighting the undulating movements in the rock, or will it be cross cut, creating a more uniform appearance?
With strong enough equipment, granite can be “grabbed”—drilled with holes along the joints and controlled explosives inserted (or for more precision and greater care, there is the diamond saw method, where explosives containing industrial diamonds are attached to a pulley on a small set of rails, then moved over the rails to neatly cut the granite). The most efficient method, water-jet-cutting, uses rotating nozzles to “power jet” water at 40,000 pounds per square inch. In some cases, high temperature torches melt the stone free. In Morgantown, Pa., where American Black granite is mined, engineers from Finland have helped develop customized drilling equipment specifically designed with the quarry’s characteristics in mind.
As strong as marble is, it can shatter under the impact of explosives regularly used to release granite, so quarries use diamond saws, pneumatic drills, or channeling machines, which carefully cut holes and grooves into the rock to form the point of release.
All told, today’s timetable for turning stone in its natural state from ground rock to kitchen countertop is roughly 30 days. After being whittled down and sawn into slabs, the finished product is inspected, photographed, and carefully packaged to protect each masterpiece on the long container voyage across continents and oceans. In showrooms around the world, they await selection to be expertly cut for template fitting and installation as the centerpiece of some lucky homeowner’s dream kitchen, providing perfection that will last a lifetime.