Types of Kitchen Countertops
Once you decide to begin your kitchen remodel, there are many choices and upgrades to consider. One is what type of countertop to choose. There are many different kinds:
The natural stone or dimension stone slab (e.g. granite) is shaped using cutting and finishing equipment in the shop of the fabricator. The edges are commonly put on by hand-held routers, grinders, or CNC equipment. If the stone has a highly variegated pattern, the stone may be laid out in final position in the shop for the customer’s inspection, or the stone slabs may be selected by experienced inspectors. Then the countertop assembly is installed on the job site by professionals. Commonly, initial countertop fabrication takes place at or near the quarry of origin, with blocks being sawn to thickness and then machined into standard widths (600mm and upwards), before being surface polished and edged. This method removes the need to ship waste material, and reduces the time needed to prepare client orders. A wide range of details may be pre-machined by the fabricator, allowing for installation of different sinks and cooker designs. A common drawback to natural stone is the need for sealing to prevent harboring of bacteria and/or fluids that may cause staining.
Wooden countertops can come in a variety of designs ranging from butcher block to joined planks to single wide stave. Wood is considered to be the most eco-friendly option when it comes to choosing a kitchen countertop as wood is a renewable resource. Wood countertops must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after contact with foods such as raw meat. Although the use of wooden work surfaces is prohibited in commercial food production areas in the EU, and the US Department of Agriculture advises against the use of wooden chopping boards, research by the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin has shown that wooden work surfaces are no more dangerous, and in some cases safer than plastic alternatives. They have shown that while bacteria do get absorbed by the wood, they do not multiply and eventually die. While brand new plastic work surfaces are indeed easy to disinfect, once they have become heavily knife scarred they are nearly impossible to completely disinfect. This is not a problem with wooden work surfaces where the number of knife cuts made little difference.
Post-formed plastic laminate
“Postformed” (or literally “formed after being laminated” to the substrate) high pressure laminate countertop, often referred to as “plastic laminate countertop” is a material made more of wood product than plastic. The composition is of kraft paper, decorative papers, and melamine resins, bonded through high heat and pressure. This product is sometimes referred to as “Formica” or “Arborite,” but these are trade names of a manufactured high pressure laminate, of which there are many manufacturers.
The postform countertop is typically a high volume factory-produced product, which accounts for the economy of the product. The material composition consists of a single thin sheet of laminate (typically .030″ – .040″ in thickness) that gets bonded to a 45# density particle board substrate (or other similar base material such as MDF – medium density fiberboard, or plywood), with a PVA adhesive (poly vinyl acetate – a water-based adhesive). Traditionally postform countertops were manufactured with a solvent-based contact cement (a highly flammable, volatile organic compound – VOC). However, in today’s marketplace PVA adhesives have taken over for reasons of environmental responsibility (no VOC’s), safety (non-combustible), economy, and strength of the glue line.
A typical system consists of the following:
1) An automated infeed system for sequencing the particle board into production.
2) The CorFab Machine, an automated feed-through machine that cuts to size, cuts and bonds build down sticks with a hot melt adhesive to the under side of the substrate, and shapes the edge detail, all in a single motion.
3) An automated laminating system that applies the adhesive to both the substrate and laminate.
4) An indexing unit that aligns the laminate to the substrate with the proper overhang.
5) A Pinch Roller that makes the bond between the laminate and substrate.
6) The Postforming Machine that not only heats and forms the laminate around the substrate, but also cuts away the backsplash (when the top is to be used against a wall) from the main deck, all in a feed-through motion machine.
7) The AutoCove Machine, which heats and forms the backsplash upward 90 degrees, locking it into place with what is referred to as a cove stick, utilizing hot melt adhesive technology to hold it all together.
8) The final stage of the system usually consists of a trim saw that cuts the countertops to rough lengths, typically 8′, 10′ and 12′, ready for distribution.
Once manufactured the tops need only to be cut to length, mitered, fitted for assembly, and end capped (only if it is a visible finished end). A very specific machine for cutting the postform countertop is manufactured by only a few companies, it is commonly called a Cutting Station, Top Saw, or simply Miter Saw. This machine accurately cuts the countertop to field dimensions, making it easy for the installer to make the final scribe cuts on-site to complete the work. Sink cut outs can be made either in the field or at the installers shop.
Overall, the postform countertop is the most economical countertop on the market, and has the broadest selection of surface material to choose from. Surfaces can be either a solid color, or a pattern, and textures range from a satin funiture finish to a heavily textured stone or pebbled appearanece, to a high gloss resolution. Because of this diversity the postform countertop can satisfy a wide variety of design applications, and due to its economy, can be easily replaced to provide a fresh appearance in any room.
Self edge or wood edge laminates
Self or wood edge plastic laminate countertops are also very popular for those who chose to have few or no surface seams. In this style, the top shops use substrate for the countertop out of MDF, or particle board and then glue sheets of laminate to the substrate using Contact Cement. The laminate is then trimmed using a router. This method can’t reproduce the curved contours of post-formed countertopping but can be made to easily conform to a much-wider range of floor plans with fewer seams.
Custom architectural crafted glass, tempered glass, textured glass pieces, and the ancient art of Verre églomisé, or reverse gilded glass, are applied to contemporary uses including countertops, backsplashes, and tabletops. Glass work may be customized to suit by craftsmen in the studio, then installed on site either in small components (such as a kitchen countertop composed of three rectangles of verre églomisé) or as immense, single units (for example, a glass countertop and sink basin formed of one continuous piece of textured glass). The glass is non-porous, relatively stain-proof, extremely hygienic, and “extremely heat resistant (up to 700 degrees).”Much work is being done to “recycle” glass using sources such as post consumer glass or post industrial float glass. The material can be crushed or cut into strips that is heated until the softening point of glass, binding the loose material back into a solid form.
Tile, including ceramic tile and stone tile, is installed in much the same way as flat lay laminate except that the gaps between the tiles are grouted after the tile has been glued down.
Solid surface plastic materials
Solid surface plastic acrylic or polyester materials are usually prefabricated at the installer’s shop and then assembled on site. The plastic material is readily glued and the glue joints are then sanded, leaving almost no visible trace of the joint. The edge treatment for solid-surface countertops can be very elaborate. The material itself is usually only about 12 mm (1/2 inch) thick so an edge is usually created by stacking up two or three layers of the material. The built-up edge then can be shaped to a rounded edge or an ogee. Fancier edge treatments are, of course, more expensive.
Natural quartz surfacing
Natural quartz surfacing is made from 100% natural quartz cut from blocks into slabs. The slabs are custom cut to create countertops. Quartz is naturally non-porous and scratch resistant. As with solid surface countertopping, the materials are prefabricated and installed by professionals. Thicknesses may be 1.2 cm (1/2 inch), 2 cm (3/4 inch), 3 cm (1¼ inch) or 4 cm (1½ inch).
Engineered quartz surfacing
Engineered stone quartz surfacing is made from approximately 95% natural quartz and 5% polymer resins. Testing has shown that they retain much of the toughness of quartz but display increased ductility due to the resin, improving impact resistance. Countertops are custom made and are more scratch resistant as well as less porous than natural quartz surfaces. Thicknesses may be 6mm, 1.2 cm (1/2 inch), 2 cm (3/4 inch), 3 cm (1¼ inch) or 4 cm (1½ inch). Brands include CMMA Solid Surface by World BMC, Hanstone, NaturaStone, Silestone, Q, Caesarstone, Technistone, Cambria, and Zodiaq.
Concrete may be utilized as a surfacing material in one of several forms: cast-in-place (in which the fabricator creates forms atop the previously installed cabinetry, places, and then finishes the material in situ), custom precast ( in which the fabricator creates site templates, duplicates the pattern in a production facility offsite, and installs the finished product atop the cabinetry), and the machining of pre-manufactured gauged slabs (similar to natural stone fabrication).
Concrete, especially precast, lends itself to a high degree of customization due to the phase-change nature of its creation, filling a specific form with a fluid material which hardens (through mineral hydration) to a durable cast stone. Color choices, edge styles, three-dimensional sculpting, and integral features such as sinks, drainboards, and decorative embedments are design options which may be incorporated. Due to its site-specific and generally handmade nature, concrete countertops are often produced by small shops and individual artisans although there are several large-scale manufacturers of gauged slabs.
Stainless steel, stone, terrazzo, and other materials are usually prefabricated and assembled on site as well. The difficulty of prefabrication rises with the more exotic materials. As with solid-surface synthetic materials, the edge treatments can vary widely, but the material is usually thicker so there is often no need to build up the edge with multiple layers of the material. Many predesigned, prefabricated units (including sinks, drainboards, and other accessories) are available in stainless steel. These may be used “stand-alone” or integrated into larger custom assemblies. Some stainless steel systems stand on integrated legs and do not require the support of cabinetry.
Priority Homes can offer an array of customized countertops. Call 435-623-2382 for more information.