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Granite Worktops - Truth, Lies and misinformation

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Alan_M_2Alan_M_2 Forumite
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Ok, so before I start I need to declare an interest in this subject. I am a granite wholesaler. I import material from source (mainly India) and sell it mostly to the trade, although I do deal with the public if they wish. I specialise in pre-produced countertops.

So.....where do I start?

You’ve decided you want a granite worktop, it’s an essential on your list of must haves for your shiny new kitchen, but it’s something you’ve no experience of. You’ve read all sorts of horror stories on the internet, Chinese granite, Indian granite....it is dyed? Are the fitters any good? Why are the quotes so hugely different? Let’s try and give you a layman’s guide to what’s out there.

Pre produced verses tradition slab granite:-

For centuries granite (and many other stone materials) have been produced in slab form, a block of stone is carefully selected by geologists, this can be as big as 3.5 metres in length, 2 metres high and 2 metres wide...it’s huge and very heavy.
This block of stone will then be transported to production facilities where is will be cut on a huge gang saw machine into thin slabs (generally 30mm thick). These thin slabs of granite are then transferred to polishing machines where they are polished to a high shine and any imperfect pieces selected out. These slabs are usually quite consistent in production and the thickness often doesn’t vary a lot more than +/- 1mm.

These slabs are then imported into the UK and bought by tradition stone masons, cut fabricated, polished and fitted into your lovely kitchen. You’ll get a bespoke high quality product which should meet or exceed your expectations. The trouble is it’s going to have a bespoke price tag attached to it.

What if I don’t have £4k or £5K to spend on granite...I’m more your B&Q/Magnet/Wickes/IKEA/Howden customer than Smallbone or Mark Wilkinson. But I’d still like granite. Well this is where pre produced countertops changed the industry.

In granite terms this is still quite a new idea. That generally means there are people that don’t fully understand what it is and how it works.

When the above mentioned large blocks of granite are quarried a selection of smaller blocks are also produced at the same time. Geological occurrences such as seams, fissures, vents and general inclusions make it impossible to quarry large blocks all of the time. These are used for other purposes such as tiles and cladding and generally smaller sized requirements. These blocks also get used to produce ready made countertops.

So instead of being sent off to a large very accurate gang saw machine for cutting, these smaller blocks are sent to another corner of the factory for vertical cutting. This is basically a very large overhead circular saw blade (think very large as in 8ft diameter) that cuts individual slabs at a time to pre required sizes. The material itself is still the same quality but the blocks are not as large and therefore not quite as expensive. However the cutting is sometimes not as accurate as gang saw material. So a 30mm top can be +/- 3mm. That means these pieces of granite arrive at anything from 27mm thick to 33mm thick....so it’s important when selecting more than one piece that the thickness are within 2mm if the tops are being joined or touching.

So a company like mine orders containers of this material, we’ll ask for a variety of sizes such as 2400mm x 610mm x 30mm or 2500mm x 900mm x 30mm breakfast bars.......providing us with blanks. The factory will also polish the edges on these tops to reduce labour in the UK.

Think of this like walking into your favourite big orange DIY store to buy a 3 metre length of laminate worktop except it’s granite instead. A proportion of the fabrication is already done, the wastage of a large slab is reduced and it’s easier to handle to start with (one countertop weighs around 140kg, whereas a full slab can be as much as 500kg and sometimes more).

Is it dyed?

Some more unscrupulous producers dye material, generally Blacks. The UK has an obsession with pure black granite, Nero Assoluto, Absolute Black, Zimbabwe, African Black...same thing, lots of different names.

Sometimes the seams of this product occur with a grey fleck of slight light markings in the product. Occasionally the less scrupulous supplier dye this completely black and sell it as pure black. The dye will eventually wash away over a period of time. There’s nothing you can do other than trust your supplier that this has not occurred, it is not as prevalent as many people make out and generally only occurs with the pure black materials.

Is it Chinese, I’ve been told it’s Rubbish? Is Indian any better?

Well, I’ve seen rubbish from both countries, I’ve seen outstanding quality from both.

What I tend to do is buy a product from it’s country of source that way I’m likely to get a better end product. Lets a pick one of the most popular stones available and explain how this works – Star Galaxy.

Star Galaxy only occurs in one place on this planet, the Ongole region of India. Therefore it makes sense that I buy this product from an Indian producer but how come the Chinese also sell it? Well it’s shipped to China for them to process. Common sense says if the Chinese are buying this product in India, shipping it to China and the processing it, they have to buy cheaper than the Indians to be able to sell it at the same price...therefore the quality is sometimes a little lower.

The flip side of this is I wouldn’t buy Fujian White from India as it occurs in China, so stop getting hung up on where it’s come from. If it looks nice and the production is good and the slabs are all similar thickness then you’ve probably got a nice stone.

I will add that some of the best production I’ve ever seen has come from China, they have invested heavily with government help and have bought out a lot of Italian production companies wholesale and shipped equipment to China for production. Things are very different there now than they were two years ago.

Do I need my kitchen templated?

Actually this is really down to the design of your kitchen more than anything. If you’ve gone the traditional stone mason route, they will template as a matter of course.
If your room is an odd size, you have strange shapes, things are out of square then it’s likely you’ll need a template.

If you have a galley kitchen with a 3 meter length down one side and the same on the other and it’s all straight then there’s probably no need.

So what’s better, Pre produced or traditional slab installation?

Sometimes this is actually determined for you by the design of your kitchen.

A regular “L” shape or “U” shape kitchen is very often the perfect installation for pre produced tops. It’s very efficient, has very little wastage and can often be fabricated on site.

If you have Island or peninsular units, the size of these pieces will govern which is the more suitable fit.

Bottom line is, a traditional fit will cost more, you are paying for a bespoke service to get exactly what you request. It will be made to measure from scratch and should be perfect.

Pre produced countertops work if you design allows for modular sizes and you maybe don't mind an extra join or two. The upside is it will be substiantially cheaper.

Fabrication costs

Labour and fabrication is what makes granite expensive, it is heavy, difficult to move, difficult to cut and very difficult to polish accurately. The more polishing requirements you have the more the price goes up.

A simple cut out for a over mounted sink will take a good fitter 30 minutes or so to produce and is likely to cost around £60 or so.
A Franke under mount bowl and half sink with tap hole, polished cut out and drainer grooves is going to take some hours (and specialist equipment) and is going to run you to £450 or so in fabrication alone. So you can see how something as simple as a sink design can alter the price substantially.
The rule is, if you’re on a budget, keep it simple. Reduce the polishing keep all the lines straight and stay away from curves.

How do I know I can trust the company?

Take all the usual precautions. A recommendation is worth it’s weight in gold, so always go that route if you can.

Pick a company that are happy to allow you to view the stone or even pick your own slabs before the fit.

Don’t be put off by companies that ask for small or reasonable deposits. This often is used to weed out the timewasters.

Be sensible about it as you would with any large purchase, ask questions, if you aren’t comfortable with the answer get a second opinion.

Get a variety of quotes and make sure you understand what you are buying and what you are paying for.

I’m generally happy to answer any questions on this subject, so fire away if you have any specifics. However, as I have a vested interested and I am in the industry I won’t comment on other companies in the open forum. In most cases it is simply not appropriate.

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Replies

  • DoozergirlDoozergirl Forumite
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    Superb post Alan, thank you!
    Everything that is supposed to be in heaven is already here on earth.
  • nearlyrichnearlyrich Forumite
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    Hung up my suit! Mortgage-free Glee!
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    Thanks Alan as Doozergirl says a superb post, I have already made a substantial investment in a red granite worktop around 4 years ago, it still makes me happy everytime I see it. It is a bit daunting spending a lot of money on a worktop and it's good to get an expert opinion.
    Free impartial debt advice from: National Debtline or Stepchange[/CENTER]
  • IonkontrolIonkontrol Forumite
    802 posts
    This should be a sticky thread, as the questions answered here crop up every week.
  • tsbtsb Forumite
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    Interesting reading Alan. Can you give me advice on cutting 25mm off the length of a piece granite. I've re-modelled our kitchen, re-useing the worktops but one is just too long by 25mm. The cut doesn't has to be polished as it's being butted up against a tall larder unit. Thanks for any advice
  • Alan_M_2Alan_M_2 Forumite
    2.8K posts
    tsb wrote: »
    Interesting reading Alan. Can you give me advice on cutting 25mm off the length of a piece granite. I've re-modelled our kitchen, re-useing the worktops but one is just too long by 25mm. The cut doesn't has to be polished as it's being butted up against a tall larder unit. Thanks for any advice

    Get someone in to do it.

    Even though the end doesn't require polishing, it will butt up tight against a unit so needs to be a spot on cut.

  • As an add-on to this thread, can anyone recommend any reputable granite companies?

    Thanks,

    Rachel
  • CKdesignerCKdesigner Forumite
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    As an add-on to this thread, can anyone recommend any reputable granite companies?

    Thanks,

    Rachel

    Hi,

    Generally the best granite companies only supply the trade and not direct to the public. We use (OMG) Original Marble and Granite in Hertfordshire for example, excellent solid work surface fabricator but only supply the trade.
  • edited 24 June 2009 at 10:50PM
    Alan_M_2Alan_M_2 Forumite
    2.8K posts
    edited 24 June 2009 at 10:50PM
    As an add-on to this thread, can anyone recommend any reputable granite companies?

    Thanks,

    Rachel

    Where are you?
    What colour of granite are you after?
    What sort of installation do you require? (normal widths or breakfast bar or islands etc).

  • alan_m wrote: »
    Where are you?
    What colour of granite are you after?
    What sort of installation do you require? (normal widths or breakfast bar or islands etc).

    Hi, the colour of the granite I am looking at is the common star galaxy, or simliar.

    My kitchen is pretty straight forward, 2 lengths of granite. 1 at 2500mm and 1 at 3000mm. These are to fit in an L shape and run wall to wall. An undermount sink cut-out for a 1 and half sink with drainer grooves and a hob cut out too. An oven splashback and upstands too. This will be standard width and no islands, etc... but I do need fitting.

    So far my quotes are as follows:

    Whitbys Granite in Northwich, Cheshire, quoted £2200 (local company to me)
    Universal Granite quoted £2100
    https://www.granitefitters.co.uk quoted £1400!!!
    Mister Marble £1800

    I have samples from all these companies and they all appear to be good quality. As you can see granitefitters are coming in cheaper (alot) than anyone else and their star galaxy looks the same as the others.....

    Rachel
  • Alan_M_2Alan_M_2 Forumite
    2.8K posts
    You have a PM.

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