The Stone Fabricator's Alliance (SFA) recently wrapped up its 2017 workshop series — with sessions held throughout the U.S., as well as a trip to Verona, Italy, to visit Marmomac. The annual workshops are hosted by member companies and are free of charge to SFA members in good standing.

According to the SFA, the workshops are designed to "provide a wealth of knowledge and learning opportunity for the industry." Subject matter ranges from hand fabrication techniques to efficient business management strategies. Both shop and front office subjects are addressed.

"No matter what stage you are as a fabricator, there is always something to learn," said Joey Marcella, president of Mario & Son, Inc. in Liberty Lake, WA, and a member of the SFA board of directors. "The biggest mistake a fabricator can make is thinking they know it all."

In May, Chris and Megan Graham of Sugar Grove Marble And Bath hosted a workshop at their Bowling Green, KY, facility. "Hosting a workshop is hard work, but we were honored this year to be asked to do so," said Chris Graham. "The SFA has helped us in so many ways, and we loved having 60-plus fabricators from all across the nation visit our facility. When you have that many knowledgeable and talented stone fabricators in one spot, the tips and tricks you learn through networking with them is amazing — not only fabrication techniques, but general business practices too."

Graham explained that during his workshop, they strayed a little from the day-to-day fabricating topics. Among the demonstrations at the Kentucky event were engraving stone with a Northwood FabCenter, building soapstone sinks, and cutting and fabricating the newest sintered material to hit the market, Geoluxe.

"The rodding demo was a big hit," said Graham. "We were able to bend a sink run with nominal damage using Weha carbon fiber rods and clip boss glue. I would like to give a special thanks to Steve Guyman and Rick George in helping out with the glues and sealer demonstrations."

In addition to watching demonstrations and learning new fabrication techniques, the workshop allowed attendees to network throughout the day and during meals, which were sponsored by various companies, including GranQuartz, OHM International and Helix. "Our dinner was sponsored by Gmm and was held at the National Corvette Museum," said Graham. "Dinner and the venue were amazing, and of course there was more networking. It's impossible not to talk shop with other like-minded stone companies. Overall, the experience was amazing and we would happily host another."           

Following the Kentucky event, Joey Ganassa of Washington Marble & Granite Co. welcomed SFA members into his shop in Ijamsville, MD, in June. Among the topics were AutoCAD beginner and advanced classes/discussions; installing wall panels and cladding; digital fabrication using the Proliner, Gmm Extesa, Gmm Tower and two Omag CNCs together; bidding, winning and managing commercial projects and a discussion on how they are different from residential jobs; statistics, including tracking your company's financials and analyzing what matters; and getting started with cabinets.

"Hosting is an incredible amount of planning, stressing, coordinating, thinking, worrying and scrambling together at the last minute," said Ganassa. "You spend the entire time unsure if it will all come together; worried that you didn't do a good job. And then the day before it starts the directors show up, some of your SFA friends come in early and they all help and pitch in. Not only does it make you realize the workshop will go well, it reminds you of the whole nature of the SFA itself: it's about helping each other become better fabricators and better people. The good will that is just everywhere throughout the entire workshop reminds you why this group exists. Everyone is there to share knowledge and help each other and to learn from each other. With all of these skilled fabricators, there are hundreds of total years of experience in the same place. It's humbling and exciting at the same time. I have found every workshop that I've been to an incredible experience, and I'm happy I was able to help in the tradition of the SFA."

The final SFA member company sponsored event was in August at Carved In Stone, a shop run by Nick and Bobbi Price in Jefferson City, MO, which Stone World attended. With 157 registered participants before the workshop began, this was the largest SFA session to date. "What attracted me to this one was the number of qualified attendees and the topics," said former SFA board member Ron Hannah of Cadenza Granite & Marble, Inc. in Concord, NC. "Nick runs an efficient shop."

Representatives from TheSize were on hand to give a demonstration of the company's sintered stone product, Neolith. Other demonstrations featured the Gmm six-axis Egil CNC bridge saw to cut boulder vanities, using Slabsmith in the office and shop, and the benefits of cutting with an Intermac 45.3 CNC stoneworking center.

A highlight of the Missouri event was the Gmm Sirio texturing machine. Taf Wharton of Gmm USA demonstrated the capabilities of the piece of equipment to a crowd and discussed the benefits of making the investment. One attendee, Dave Scott of Slabworks of Montana in Bozeman, MT, specifically came to this event to see the machine and make a purchase.

"I finally decided to buy a Sirio," he said. "A real world application is the best thing. I saw it standing, but not working before — only in Italy, but people in other countries use it in different ways." Scott explained he has limited space in his fabrication shop, so seeing the footprint in person made all the difference.

Speaking about the workshops in general, Scott said," How often do I get a chance to talk with someone that does what I do? The other great thing is truly the mission of the SFA is if they make one fabricator better, they elevate the whole industry."

Scott also spoke highly of the Guardian Sponsors — many who promote the events and are in attendance. "It's always about the people," said Alex Bores of Helix Professional Tools. "There's a personalized feeling seeing a person's face instead of talking over the phone. It's great sitting at a dinner table with them. [Also], people like to touch and feel the product." [The workshops] are a homey environment."