Well, my loft conversion is almost complete – the builders have left and the bedroom and office carpets were fitted on Friday. All that is left is for me to finishing painting the stairs and get the landing and stairs carpets in. The part that I am possibly happiest with is the ensuite – I have a huge shower (1400mm by 900mm) and a lovely granite top on my vanity unit, with a free standing basin. I picked the granite myself from a local supplier – it was an off-cut, so only cost me £120! All this has got my old geography brain thinking – where did my bit of granite come from?
Granite is often considered the Rolls-Royce of surfaces – good looking, durable, but not cheap. Then again, thanks to its durability it could be considered very cost-effective over the long term. Considering the effort and expertise required from skilled personnel to obtain and work on it then the expense could certainly be justified.
What is Granite?
It is hard, looks great and always cold – but what is this thing? Granite is an igneous rock, which means it has been formed from the solidification of molten rock. There are two types of igneous rock, intrusive and extrusive, and granite is an intrusive type in that it cools and crystallises beneath the earth’s surface.
It’s composed primarily of quartz and feldspar with small amounts of amphiboles, mica and other minerals which give it a pink, grey, red or white colour, with darker mineral grains visible throughout. Granite is the most common igneous rock, and is used to create various items such as paving stones, stair treads, floor tiles, gravestones and of course kitchen and bathroom counter tops.
Fun fact: Granite features in various worldwide sights, such as the spectacular rocky landscapes of the Yosemite Valley in California and the famous four presidents sculpted into the rock of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota – it must have taken a lot of picking to sculpt statues from pure granite rock!
Where is Granite Found?
It’s found throughout the world – it’s the most abundant rock in the earth’s continental crust. In North America, most granite comes from the high quality deposits found in five states including Georgia, South Dakota and Idaho.
In the UK, Aberdeen has many buildings made of the rock – hence its nickname of ‘Granite City’ – and the nearby Rubislaw Quarry yielded hundreds of thousands of tons of granite before its closure in 1971. There are several granite quarries in Cornwall which mine from The Cornubian Batholith rocks that were created around 300 million years ago and range from Dartmore to the Isles of Scilly. The quarries each provide their own named granite – Land’s End Granite, Carnmenellis Granite and St. Austell Granite. My top may have come from one of these!
Other than Scotland, there is some in Wales, the North West and all over Scotland – if you draw a line from Cornwall to Scotland, passing through Wales and Lancashire, you will more or less have the line of rocks that was deposited 300 million years ago by volcanic activity. There is no granite on the east side of England.
Quarrying and Transportation
The journey from quarry to forming a work top counter is a lengthy and intensive process. Granite is quarried as a ‘dimension stone’, meaning it’s cut into slabs of a certain size.
To start with, finding a suitable quarry site takes time and research with test bores and careful examination of the rock and the site to ascertain its suitability as a quarry. Once a decision has been taken, much work has to be done creating access and readying the site for extraction of the rock.
Careful thought by skilled quarrying experts goes into deciding how to extract the stone based on how it lies, then calculating and planning the drilling and use of explosives. The ‘dimension stones’ or blocks could be around 20,000 kg (40,000 pounds) each in weight, so do take some careful handling!
Even short distances from quarry to processing facility can take a long time as they may have been removed from mountainous areas or from quarries in remote locations. Overseas transportation obviously adds much more to the time taken.
Where specific granite slabs come from in the world will depend what type of granite finish the customer orders; granite from differing locations possesses specific colour properties.
Once at the processing facility, the huge ‘dimension stones’ are cut into more manageable slabs with a huge gang saw, like a giant bread slicer.
Next comes polishing; the slabs lie on a conveyor and pass under polishing heads that begin with coarse abrasives and progress to finer and finer types, like sanding wood. Next the granite receives a resin coating to fill in any small fissures which makes the stone easier to clean later.
Excess resin is removed with more polishing to the point where only around 1% stays on the finished surface.
The next step is for the granite counters to reach the granite specialist who will then turn it into the specific counter tops as per the customer’s specification. Because granite is so heavy it requires specialist lifting equipment to get it off trucks and into the local stone mason’s workshop.
At the Granite Specialists
The final stage of the granite’s progress is the detailed work undertaken . Using templates created from the existing counter configuration, the newly delivered granite is carefully cut to size and polished. This template system makes for a perfect fitting counter top and demands skilled workmanship as does the final fitting in the customer’s home.
Finally, the new counter tops are carefully fitted in the customer’s house, ready to provide a lifetime’s service.
Granite: the Durable Surface
The expense of granite can be justified when one considers the extensive journey it’s taken and the work undertaken on the way by skilled people.
It’s worth bearing in mind that, once fitted, there’s pretty much no maintenance to worry about apart from the occasional wipe down, and it’ll likely last a lifetime. Granite’s trump card is that it looks superb and can be specified in various finishes – in the hands of skilled specialist stonemasons it’s definitely an ideal bathroom or kitchen counter surface.