The MIA+BSI: The Natural Stone Institute and Stone World magazine held a one-day Colorado Stone Summit in September at M S International, Inc.’s facility in Aurora, CO, as part of their Stone Industry Education seminars. The event held 40 fabricators from the area who came to learn and discuss some issues and provide solutions for problems they had.

In the afternoon, attendees broke into three different groups, business, marketing and technical. In the business group, the discussion turned to equipment purchases, ROI, metrics and remnants. In the marketing group, the fabricators talked about sales, marketing their brand, hiring and using social media. Finally, in the technical group, CNC lines, dealing with exotic materials and staining edges of countertops were discussed. The following are some of the comments that fabricators from the area had about their technical problems and ways of solving them.

CNC lines

“The biggest thing we know with tools is that we have to cycle through it faster if we are getting lines from our CNC tool,” said Matt O’Callaghan of Spelts Schultz Countertops in Kearney, NE. “Maybe after a month you will see the lines come through. Make sure the tooling company sends you the specs on the tools. The more information you have on your tools the better. What we found is that there is only one of those blocks out there to get those lines out and it’s like you almost have to have a guy who is just doing that to get those lines out. We also use dressing sticks each time they come off the machine, they get redressed.”

“Fourth position for us made a lot of lines,” said Jared Barlow of Countertop Source in Hurricane, UT. “We had to slow it down to break the tool in. We would see it between the fourth and fifth position. Sometimes you have to touch it up by hand by polishing it out. It’s something you have to train your guys to deal with.”

“How long can you go before you need to redress?” another fabricator asked.

“Usually we can get 3,000 to 4,000 linear feet before redress,” said O’Callaghan. “It depends on the material that we are cutting.”

“You got to see where it’s coming up the most then touch it up at that point and then run it through your polishes,” said Barlow. “So if you notice it happening at step four; stop it there and touch it up.”

“The problem is you will never fully get those lines out, but just try to clean it up as much as you possibly can,” said O’Callaghan. “We just run the polish by hand on the edges to not ruin them, but we also realized that in the shop we have a lot of lights in there and we can see the countertop in several different positions. In the home is the only place that matters if you can truly see those lines. Their lighting is going to be different. If they have cabinets above the countertop, it creates shadows and is harder to see those lines.”

“Realize that everyone in your competition market is dealing with the same exact issues,” O’Callaghan went onto say. “So whatever your issues are, make sure your customer knows the stipulations in the beginning. We work with our sales staff to tell the customer this and it helps us out in the long run. We explain it is coming off a machine. Some of the artistry is taken out because we don’t have someone sculpting it. If you set those stipulations or requirements up front then they are okay with it.”

Exotic materials

During the workshop, the conversation shifted to exotic stone. “When we work with some of the exotic material, sometimes when we would be cutting it on the saw it absorbs the water then it blows up parts of the stone,” said one fabricator. “So then we end up with missing chunks of stone when cutting it so we spend a lot of time repairing it. Is there a better way of doing it?”

“For some of the stones that are very heavy mica based, we have a huge upcharge for them,” said O’Callaghan. “We will charge by the slab not by the square foot.”

“I say you have to slow the saw down and it isn’t an exact RPM; you just have to watch and listen to it,” said Barlow. “But when it comes to your CNC tools, we have to go really slow in position two.”

“With some of those stones, it’s patches of granite, then mica, then granite, then mica and you can run your finger down the stone at the end and flick off mica,” said O’Callaghan. “Then if there happens to be a quartz pocket in the stone, you can be cutting along and your bit hits quartz and blows out everything behind it, or in front of it. The other thing is we only run two profiles on it, flat polish or double radius. We don’t miter it. Those two we found will blow out the least.

“Those stones are a nightmare and a huge learning experience,” O’Callaghan went onto say. “The other problem is that we can’t really tell you exactly what speed to cut it at because every machine is different — not just brand but how old it is and how well it runs. So what works for me isn’t going to work for anyone else. You just got to play around with it.”

Edge stains

Another issue often encountered by fabricators is how to handle edge stains. “With some material that you’re cutting, you have to stain the edge,” said a fabricator. “Let’s say you run out of that material stain, what do you do?”

“Call your supplier and say you need more of it and tell the homeowner you will be back to finish,” said O’Callaghan. “There’s nothing else you really can do. You’re supposed to get enough from the supplier to leave some stain with the homeowner if you ever have to come back to fix a chip or something else in that profile, but it rarely happens. It’s really hard to get the edge to match the stain. We will sometimes use an ager on the darker stone to help blend that in.”

“Do any of you use the stain sets that come from some companies?” asked Paul-Simon Holguin of Integra Adhesives in Compton, CA.

“We haven’t,” said O’Callaghan. “We try to use what the supplier sends us.”

“We have used a dye in some of those sets and taken the dye and mixed it with the ager,” said Barlow.

“So if you apply it and you miter it and have an exposed edge in a 3cm piece, does it discolor your adhesives ever?” asked Holguin.

“The agers, no,” said O’Callaghan. “The most we may see is a super light shade difference that we see but no one else will. And even then, you can blend it out to the rest of the stone to help ease it. Every seam we do we wipe down with an ager because it darkens that seam just a little bit and helps hide it just a little bit more.”