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   With more than 90 percent natural materials in each piece of quartz surface, it’s a mix that’s close to quarried materials – but, with man-made resins making up the rest of the formula and providing the color options customers love, is quartz close enough to natural stone to actually fabricate and install the same?
   Most shops fabricating and installing the two materials are using identical tooling, mainly for convenience. But, they’re also using their own little tips and tricks they’ve developed along the way to help smooth out the differences between the two materials.
   Many say it pays to experiment with your process going in, because – once you have a system that works – quartz offers a lot more consistency from piece to piece than granite can.
   When you talk with the people whose shops are fabricating both natural stone and quartz, it’s hard to find anyone using different blades to cut the two materials. The reason is simple: convenience.
   Paul White of Cache Valley Counter Tops Inc. in Richmond, Utah, is pretty typical. His company began selling laminate and solid-surface countertops almost three decades ago, then started subbing out stone fabrication about five years ago. The company began doing its own stone fabrication – including quartz – in 2003.
   “We’ve experimented with different types of blades, some of which have been promoted by the tooling manufacturers specifically to cut engineered stone,” White says. “We haven’t seen any difference in the quality of cuts, and we certainly don’t want to change the blade every time. That’s why we use the same tooling on both products.”
   Eric Richardson, vice president of Performance Tile and Marble Inc. in Rocklin, Calif., says his shop cuts everything, “just like it was granite.” However, the company uses quite a bit of water, regardless of what is being cut, to get more life out of its tooling.
   “Because it’s water-fed, there’s no heat build-up with the CaesarStone®,” Richardson says. “The blade and the temperature don’t know what’s being cut.”
   Brad Yarborough, president of Chesterfield, Mo.-based StoneTrends LLC, agrees that when the cut is done wet, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. The company does vary the speeds at which it cuts – but for granite, not the quartz StoneTrends fabricates.
   “Depending on the granite,” Yarborough says, “we adjust our speed and how many steps we take to make a cut. Some granites are soft and some are very hard, and we adjust accordingly. All the Cambria we cut the same.”
   Fred Martin, director of quality for Dallas-based Stoneworkz, says that company uses a combination blade that’s expensive, but not as costly as switching blades between jobs. As with Yarborough, he says cutting speeds can vary, but not just with the DuPont Zodiaq® the firm fabricates.
   “Cutting speed varies even within natural stone,” Martin says. “There are going to be times when the operator will have to adjust the cutting speed because of the density of the stone, whether it’s Zodiaq or natural stone.”
   Fred Hueston, who teaches courses on quartz fabrication and installation through the National Training Center for Stone and Masonry Trades in Asheville, N.C., suggests fabricators go with a blade specified for engineered-tone surfaces or use a combination blade.
   The reason for using a special or combination blade on quartz is simple, as Richardson alluded to. It all comes down to the resins that bind the quartz together in the finished product.
   “Because you have a polymer in there, if you try to use a regular granite diamond or stone diamond on it, you stand a chance of burning the resin, or melting it, for lack of a better word,” Hueston explains.
   He adds that some suppliers, including Alpha Professional Tools® and Braxton Bragg, are now offering specific diamonds made to work on quartz as an alternative to standard granite polish abrasives or disks many shops use.
   Yarborough says StoneTrends does make some use of the different pads, but not all the time. He postulates that some of the problems with heat build-up on the quartz occur when a job is being hand-finished.
   And, while he admits to, “maybe using a little more water, maybe using a little slower speed,” he says the easiest approach he knows to polishing the edges of quartz is to step down the process on the edge machine.
   “Technically, granite can go up to like a 3500-grit polishing pad on an edge to match the surface,” he says. “With the Cambria, we stop at about 1800. You can make the edge shinier than the deck on an edge machine. The Cambria is faster because we use less depth.”
   Stoneworkz’s Martin agrees that with an automatic edger, finishing quartz and natural stone generally follows the same sequence of profiling wheels and polishing grits.
   “When they get to the final station we sometimes have to use different polishing pads for the granite versus the Zodiaq,” he says.
   Rather than go with special pads for the quartz, Richardson says Performance Tile simply changed the way it polishes all its surfaces. These days, the company has abandoned impregnated bricks in exchange for rubber polishing wheels with diamond tape.
   “We just do everything with the rubber polishing wheels now,” he says. “They’ll do the granite and I don’t feel like having to change wheels every time I do something different.”
   Again, Cache Valley’s White says it’s more a matter of the color of the material than the material itself.
   “Darker colors are more difficult to deal with on the engineered stone, probably for the same reason darker stones are more difficult in natural granite,” he says. “You see more of the scratches if you haven’t gotten them polished out.”
   Still, he says when it comes to the natural-quartz products his company turns out, the process is likely to involved lower speeds, lower pressure and as much water as possible.
   While that combination of lower speeds and lower pressure can slow down some natural-quartz jobs – White estimates they may take up to 25-percent longer – the product does give fabricators some edge options that they might not be able to achieve with natural stone.
   “Engineered stone will hold the identical profiles a granite surface will, but some of the brands of engineered stone can take profiles that granite cannot,” says NTC’s Hueston. “Engineered stone can be cut extremely thin, so that allows you to cut a very thin section that can be laminated to the front edge, where granite may tend to break apart.”
   Nor is that the only area where quartz tends to stand out. The manmade product offers more flexibility, eliminating a step that for many natural stone projects is a must.
   “Generally, engineered stone will not need to be rodded in most cases,” says Hueston. “Because of its flexural strength, the manufacturers may not even recommend rodding unless you’re dealing with a very large piece with something like a cook-top cutout.”
   Stoneworkz’s Martin agrees. He says while that company typically rods its natural stone before putting it on the CNC or waterjet to prevent internal damage, it just isn’t necessary with the Zodiaq.
   “If we were doing an extra large piece of Zodiaq or it had a very thin rail or something out of the norm, we might,” he says. “It’s not our standard practice.”
   That same flexural strength allows fabricators to do sink holes closer to the edge of the piece, says Performance Tile’s Richardson, and it also makes transporting finished pieces easier, says White.
   “We don’t open the trailer when we get to the jobsite and find a splash that’s broken,” he says. “It’s much easier to transport, just as it’s easier to handle in the shop. Even though it may take a little longer to fabricate properly, we make that up later.”
   White says from his perspective, the properties of natural-quartz surfaces also make for easier installations. For one thing, the top edges of the seams with quartz turn out sharper, producing a better match between pieces.
   “We don’t have to worry about fissures and veins and cracking showing up,” he says. “Plus, you don’t get the variations you get in granite, and I think a lot of what draws your eye to a seam is changes in color or veins that don’t match up.”
   StoneTrends’ Yarborough says that’s not entirely true with Cambria. Because of its use of quartz particles, colors aren’t always identical. However, he does agree with White that the product is easier to install than granite.
   “It just doesn’t break, so you don’t have to worry about a sink cutout or how you handle it,” Yarborough says. “With granite, you’re worried all the time because you know the color is going to break. With Cambria the installation is pretty easy.”
   NTC’s Hueston says, in general, the two products should seam about the same – if you know what you’re doing.
   “You can seam granite pretty tight, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t know how to do it,” he says. “The seaming techniques are really identical between natural stone and engineered stone. It’s a matter of proper preparation and proper fabrication of the material, making sure it’s cut straight.”
   Of course, finding the best way to do any job can be a matter of time and experimentation, and while many of the natural-quartz manufacturers offer their own tips and training on how best to work with their products, not everyone is content to leave the situation at that.
   Cache Valley’s White admits to experimenting with different blades for use on the Cambria his shop mostly produces, and Stoneworkz’ Martin says part of his job is constantly reviewing different aspects of production to make sure the company is putting out the best product in the most cost-effective way.
   “We continually look for different blades,” he says. “Right now we have one that works well, but we’re going to be trying another one next month because it’s important to us that we don’t have to make a switch between blades whether we’re working with granite or Zodiaq.”
   Stoneworkz went so far as to recently evaluate other natural-quartz products for which it could obtain samples. Whether with substrates or equipment, Martin says the end goal isn’t change for the sake of change, but rather it’s a constant quest for profitability.
   “We always make sure that in making one change we don’t create other problems,” he says. “When we evaluate a component of a job, we compare it with what our standard is now, and when we do change we make sure it’s for all the right reasons. We’re always interested in finding ways to do things better and faster at lower cost.”

This article first appeared in the June 2004 print edition of Stone Business. ©2004 Western Business Media Inc.