Yesterday when Matt, the production manager for Architectural Stone Works, Inc., was unloading a slab truck from one of the local distributors he noticed a bad crack running throughout the slab. He rejected the slab and we notified our customer that the material had a bad crack in it that could not be avoided when we cut out the countertops. We advised our customer to pick another stone. We will go with them to the distributor this time to help them with their selection. They selected the stone before they contacted us for an estimate. Otherwise we would have sent them to a distributor that has a better quality of stone. Unfortunately this is happening more and more.
The number of slab distributors in the area has doubled in the last few years. The increased competition has forced some of them to import lower quality stone so they can sell it at a lower price to increase their sales. This only helps the distributor. The distributor gets the sale but the fabricator has to deal with a slab that’s not structurally sound and can be dangerous if it breaks. The customer is the biggest loser in this situation because they get a finished product that is the quality that natural stone should be.
Stone is graded by what they call first and seconds. When the block is cut out of the mountain, it is cut into slabs at a facility. Slabs without cracks and blemishes are called first. The slabs with cracks and blemishes are called seconds. The seconds are sold at large discount because of these imperfections. I have even seen higher priced stone with cracks, blemishes, and fissures too. The problem is the finished slabs are not labeled a first or second. If you do not know what to look for, you will not know if the slab you like is a first or second.
How To Select A Quality Natural Stone Slab
A close inspection of the stone is the only way to tell if the slab is a first or second. The salesperson at the slab yard will not be able to tell you if it is or isn’t. This is not because they are being misleading, but because they do not know. The only people who will know are their purchasing agents and owners., who will not share this information with the rest of the employees. They want the stone sold as a first. Some of the local distributors are just satellite locations for distributors who are based out of town. They will not know because they inventory only what the home office sends them.
- Inspect the slab in good lighting. If the slab is indoors and not well lit, ask that the slab be moved outdoors for you. Use the light to help you find any fill or cracks. If you look at the slab at an angle instead of straight on, you should be able to see any cracks or fill.
- Run your hand over the slab. Do you feel any pits, bumps or cracks? A good quality slab will be smooth. Be sure to check any veining for cracks, as that is where they are most likely to be.
- Check for any large blemishes. We call these birthmarks. They will be a spot in the stone that looks different from the rest of the stone, the size of a softball or larger. Smaller birthmarks can be in first quality slabs and usually can be avoided when the countertops are cut. Just be sure to thoroughly inspect the slabs you tag.
The easiest way to avoid all this is to go to the slab distributor your fabricator recommends. We have several distributors we recommend because they import high quality stone. There are also several we avoid because of the low quality of their stone. To get the best finished product you have to start with a quality stone.