Wednesday, March 19, 2014


I looked on the internet recently, and found the close to 200 advertisers are listed in Portland area, most of them stating they specialize in quality stone counters. Times have certainly changed.

When I moved to Portland in 1968, 46 years ago, there was one stone fabrication company, that took care of the entire state, as well as southern Washington state. It employed six people including two man who only worked on memorials. If you needed some slab marble or granite work done it was sawed by Art Lear our foreman, machine polished by Howard Coleman, the edges were finished by Cal Mickalson with a belt sander, and measured up by the new kid, me. It was installed by one of five union marble setters who worked by the job, most often my mentor, Pete Rigguto. [ These five marble setters had nothing to do with local fabrication in that they strictly were stone installers, a special branch of union brick layers that installed prefabricated stone mostly on high rise commercial buildings ]. That was the total fabrication and instillation team in 1968 in Portland Oregon, a city with a population of maybe one million in the metropolitan area. Our foreman Art Lear told me when I gave him the information on the first job I measured up, that it was the first shop ticket he fully understood in 40 years. This wonderful man had a way of making you feel good, as well as himself by stopping by the Elks Lodge every night on the way home before dinner. In these less stressful times, Art summed up the QUALITY issue of every job with LUCKY TO GET IT. When I talk to Bob Skull the structural engineer, who still attends the Elks lodge 46 years later, he reminisces that the local fabrication team , Art, Howard, Cal, myself and Pete doing every job twice, and still making money.

We felt like top notch quality team, when the stone fabricator, from Seattle came to Portland, he told me he didn’t even have a surface polisher Likely QUALITY in those days in Seattle involved pretty much taking the stone the way you get it. Same thing, LUCKY TO GET IT. We actually seemed to do quite good work considering the tools and stone variety’s we had at that time. What we lacked in tools and I think we made up in personal service and concern for the customer. Which proves theirs a lot to be said for the same person, listening to what the customer wants and advising him as to the best way to achieve the results, and fallowing through until jobs completion. I found out early on, in custom fabrication, subdividing and handing out different parts of a job for the sake of economic gain leads to customer dissatisfaction. Or lack of QUALITY. Unfortunately I don’t have photos, but I am sure there are a lot of fireplaces, and bath vanities, still around Portland, resulting from our efforts.

The word QUALITY, is a lot like defining the third person of Christian dogma THE HOLY SPIRIT, everyone says they have it, but no one can define it. It just is, in the mind of the individual, who declares he has it . As stated, looking on the internet in Portland, you will in 2014 find, about 200 stone advertisers who tell you they specialize in QUALITY kitchen counters. All these QUALITY people have entered the stone fabrication business in the last 15 years and are ready to serve your custom stone fabrication needs. The old LUCKY TO GET IT DAYS are apparently over for Portland. But are they, I tend tend to think all these folk declaring themselves as Quality providers are much like religious zealots, declaring they have the truth.

These are deep waters, were few care to swim, but I will continue on this subject of QUALITY stone fabrication, because as a friend of my says, its what I want to do. I expect few readers, since one one who ever fabricated or installed or purchased a stone counter, could bring himself to question the quality of their project. Often, the only way define Quality, is to identify whats missing if there seems to be a lack of quality. . Maybe a weak method but no one has come up with a better one. Kind like me defining the quality of a figure skating event, I think I know a good one, but can only describe a lesser one by intangible things like poise, or, bad jumps, mis-timed music, etc.

So let's describe what might be missing in a bad quality job and see if it helps describes a good job, so now we are equating quality with goodness, another deep philosophical issue I have no intention of getting into.


1. Personal care, if you not working with someone who carefully listens to you and is strong enough to give you years of experience weather you like it or not, and fallows through you project from begging to end without handing it off to others you probably are not going to get quality.

2. A old friend of mine used to tell me the difference between a amateur and a professional is the amount of time one spends on each part of a job . So True. Spending time visiting with a prospective customer in his house with some color samples probably isn’t going to add much in the way to quality A salesman in you kitchen will likely tell you anything you want to hear. Your spending time in a marble shop , with a stone fabricator showing you the material and tools and all the possibilities and limitations of the stone, and steps to get the details you want is time well spent. Its all about preparation, and announcing expectations up front including price agreement.

A quality shop allows the customer to be part of his kitchen layout.

3. Scheduling and coordination with customer and contractor. There is a sequence to putting a kitchen together and a shop fabrication format, that must interface , if they doesn’t, there is a good chance of customer dissatisfaction .

4. Field templates Full size templates must be made on the job site, this is a best time to work out structural details. stone shapes , jointing patterns, overhangs, sink and appliance details etc. This information is then passed on with professional shop drawings to the CNS operator and Diamond saw operator to began fabrication , Precise information is fundamental, the old days of Dagoing it in, are for amateurs , field cutting and grinding almost always provides poor quality. Professionals spend a great deal of time getting the information correct up front , not making corrections on the job.

Full size templates waiting for fabrication

5. Shop Technology , The sculptor Nagoshi stated with unusual artistic honesty, I am only better then artists before me because I have better tools. I remember the way Art had to slide the slab to the saw blade track, to make a cut, or the hacker with a skill saw cutting out a slab, I guarantee the slab will be cut the easiest way rather then the rite way.

Having a bridge saw that allows the sawyer to study the stone patterns , even with the customer if they like , and he can easily choose the best blending of stone. This also provides the stone sawyer a sense of pride in his work.

Bridge saw capable of doing 3-axis work

Stone fabrication today is so much superior to anything done before this
machine that there is no comparison . This machine that has taken all the brutality out of fabrication , is essentially a 3D automated router, that cuts and forms edges, plus it mills stone exposed edges to precise thickness , unheard of in my working days. Counters not finished to this way shows . The old days of reaching over stones to grind holes was a back breaking and crude system , hard on people and produced not such good work . I remember grinding front edges on job sites years ago to try to even them up, those days are best forgotten. Today its all done under water and professionally formed . Complex shapes come out of this machine as easily as straight runs all holes are perfectly machined Need unusually shaped and detailed stones, no problem, the craftsmen and computer technology exists in a modern fully tooled shop.

Finished counter with all exposed edges planed flat to the same thickness


This is the first major tool I perched 35 years ago when we set up our fabrication shop. Along with modern diamond technology, this machine allows a fabrication shop to provide any finish the customer chooses as well as a way to resurface stones with a unacceptable finish. Not having this ability suggests to me a major void in the finished project.

Surface polisher using diamond technology

How could anyone say he has quality if the job was fabricated in dirty, unhealthy conditions Healthy present working conditions attract the best craftsman. To have a job done by someone who cuts corners in peoples health and working conditions, is not quality. Its unconscionable in modern stone work. I would be willing to bet that less then10% of the 200 advertisers discussed here are ever looked at by OSHA. The reason they can offer cut rate prices is because the not only do cut rate work but fly under all health and safety and insurance regulations . Brick and Mortar parts of the business community are the easy to visit locations that inspectors spend there time at. The cut rate fly by night dust covered operators that people seem to believe are craftsmen are part of the general myth bargain hunters find to do there job. The race to the bottom my produce jobs, but it does not produce quality. In a survey taken by STONE WORLD magazine January 2014 , asking stone fabricators there biggest challenge 61% stated these low end fabricators, 25% stated lower margins, 8% competition from other materials, and only 5% from changes in the housing industry.

A marble shop should not break employees' backs

Clean, environmentally sound working conditions

I doubt that many people know the difference between a cut-rate counter job and a quality one. Thankfully, there are enough discriminating people still around to keep some quality marble fabrication shops and all the people they employ still active in the industry.

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