Templating and Seams – Finishing the Look

Once you have selected your stone, and more specifically your particular slab(s) for a project, you will begin working with your stone supplier on templating your granite, quartz, or marble. Typically the fabricators will visit your home and make a template of your new countertop. This can be done with a laser, referred to as digital templating, or with strips of wood or coroplast (corrugated plastic) referred to as traditional templating. We will look further into these two methods later in this article. This is definitely a process that you want to be involved in as determinations will be made such as where your faucet will be located, how much of an overhang you would like, and the desired corner radius’, among other things. This template (whether digital, wood, or coroplast) is then taken back to the fabrication shop where it is laid out against your stone slab. If it is a digital template, this process is finalized on a computer. If your fabricator has used the traditional method with wood or coroplast strips, you are able to actually view it against your stone slab(s). Here comes the fun part, you get to study the template, laying it out to best highlight the points in the stone you love – for example a particular pattern in your granite. Often, we will highlight a favored pattern in a prominent area such as the island. If there are other parts of the stone that you don’t care for as much, you can work to “hide” those in the templating process. They can be placed in the areas that you are cutting out for the sink or stove/cooktop for example. All of this assumes a reasonable utilization of the material and not excess waste.

When is templating done?

In a renovation project where you are just changing the countertop, you can template once the existing countertop has been removed.It is best to make the template once the countertops are removed so the templator can get the most accurate template. Also, the cabinets need to be checked for level in case they need to be leveled prior to countertop installation. For a complete kitchen renovation or a new build, the templating process occurs after the cabinets and appliances have been properly installed to ensure everything is leveled correctly. This is also where you can catch small issues such as a countertop corner jutting out to the exact point where your refrigerator door opens. No matter how careful you are, stone is harder than the refrigerator and over time you would likely end up with a dent in your appliance. The templator can see this during the templating process, one reason a traditional template may be favored, and adjust the corner appropriately.

Learn More About Templating

What needs to be done prior to templating the countertop?

  • Installation of cabinets
  • Installation of appliances – especially the refrigerator and stove/cooktop
  • The dishwasher may be placed later
  • The countertop fabricator should have a copy of all appliance specifications if they aren’t installed
  • Sink should be decided and sink template supplied to the fabricator, along with the faucet or faucet template
  • The countertop fabricator needs to know about anything that requires cutting into the granite – such as stove vent, faucet spray, soap dispenser, etc.

Digital vs. Traditional Templating

We opened this article discussing digital and traditional templating, let’s dig a little further into the positives and negatives of each method. Digital (or electronic) templating) is using a laser of another type of device to measure. Traditional templating consists of making a pattern or a template in the field, typically using strips of luan (thin plywood) or coroplast (corrugated high-density plastic). Coroplast is often favored because it doesn’t risk staining the marble or granite in the shop like the wood strips can. These strips are laid on the outer edge of the countertops and then glued or stapled together to make a template of the countertop. This process is done in conjunction with the homeowner, and once the template is complete we collectively sign off on the template.

Traditional templating is nice because you are able to visualize the completed countertop. This also gives you the opportunity to see potential issues and make adjustments to the final project. For example, with the template in place, you can open the refrigerator door and discover that you are banging into a sharp edge of the countertop. With a traditional template you can see that ahead of time and recommend a 45 degree angle on the countertop to avoid this issue. With a digital template you may not catch this, or have the opportunity to see real-world scenarios and adjust for them.

Digital templating is faster, which can be a benefit for the templator and the stone supplier, but perhaps a negative to the homeowner who doesn’t have the opportunity to visualize the finished product.

Does every countertop need a template?

The stone industry doesn’t seem to have a standard answer to this question and it’s often up to the stone supplier. It is our philosophy that every countertop should be templated, whether it is a powder room, small space such as a butler pantry or laundry room, or any other space. Some stone companies skip things such as an island which may be a standard rectangular design or a small space like a powder room. A template is cheap insurance to maintain the most accurate countertop, so we believe every project should get a template.

What is a Countertop Seam?

With most natural stone countertops, and even quartz, seams are unavoidable. The seam is the place where two individual stones are joined together. In some smaller surfaces, like a bathroom vanity top, a seamless countertop is possible. However, in most kitchen projects you will end up with seams, the important variable is the finished look. This is where an experienced stone fabricator becomes invaluable. Let’s further explore seams and what can be done to minimize their appearance.

Does Experience Matter?

Yes, the experience of the fabricator definitely matters, as does the stock the fabricator has. For example, imagine you’ve chosen a slab of granite with zebra stripes in it, and your project has two countertop runs that are 8 feet long forming an L shape in your kitchen. Typically, slabs are 5’ x 9’, meaning you would be able to get two countertops out of one slab and match the veins quite well. But if you had more of a U shaped kitchen design, you would not be able to get three countertops out of one slab and match the veins. In this case, you want to be working with a fabricator stocking enough stone to have the ability to select two slabs with the best possible match in coloring, veins, and pattern. When selecting your countertop provider, consider the stock they have access to as well as their experience in seams to ensure the most discreet seams possible. See this Lansing Kitchen Remodel for a highlight on the importance of experience when it comes to seams.

countertop-templates

Another component of the templating and processing is trying to minimize waste, efficiently using the material for the particular project. Working with an educated project manager and fabricator, you can minimize the appearance of seams without creating a significant amount of waste. If we focused only on matching seams flawlessly, we could end up with waste material of 60%. That is counterintuitive to the budget and to the environment. An experienced fabricator will always attempt to use the waste in other areas of the project or job, for example, a smaller countertop area, or a matching bathroom vanity, laundry room, etc.

Does the size matter?

In many cases, size does matter when it comes to seams. Seams are designed and placed to ensure a workable size of stone. Without seams, the stone would be too large and heavy to safely bring inside your home for installation. We work to place seams in not only the most discreet, but also the most effective place for safe fabrication, delivery, and installation of your stone.

Does the material matter?

The material you have selected for your project may have influence over the size of stone we can work with without a seam. Some stones have characteristics of being more fragile in the shipping and fabricating process than others. For these particular stones, sometimes called exotic stones, we are limited to where we can design seams or cut the stone. An experienced project manager will counsel our clients in the templating and seam layout process minimizing the risk involved in cutting the stone. It bears mentioning that those characteristics do not carry over into the installed product. Regardless of the fragile nature of certain stone in the shipping and fabricating process, once the stone is installed it will last a lifetime.

Does the color matter?

A darker stone can sometimes have a more visible seam than a lighter stone. Pattern can also play a role and the visibility of seams can be dependant on how well the pattern is oriented at the seams. We recommend selecting a stone based on your particular project and color scheme. It is our job as the stone fabricator to work closely with you to discreetly place seams and provide you with a beautiful finished project in the color scheme you want.

Can we minimize the look of seams?

When all quartz, granite, and marble are cut, the diamond sawblades leave microchipping (sawtoothing) on the freshly cut edges. When you put two pieces together using a poly resin (epoxy) you end up with double microchipping and the possibility of a “chippy” looking seam. There is a process that can be used to remove the microchipping on the seams prior to putting them together. You can grind and polish the seams by hand to remove the chipping so the edge are razor sharp. Then when the two edges are joined, you have a tighter seam with less chipping, and therefore a less visible seam. Another key question to be asking your stone supplier is their method for cutting, polishing and joining the stone together at the seam.

Are all stone types created equal when it comes to seams?

Yes, all stone materials require seams, whether you are looking at a man-made quartz or a natural marble, granite, or quartzite.

Special Seam Options

Bookmatch Seams

We don’t want to make it sound like seams are a negative, as a matter of fact, there are a few ways that we can use seams to enhance the look of your finished project. One option is a process called bookmatching where you get a dramatic and elegant vein match at the seam. Bookmatching can only be done with some slabs. For example, the slab needs to have veining in it to achieve that special look. Also, opposing faces of the slab need to be polished. In almost all cases, the slabs are polished by the fabricator in the location they were quarried before they are exported to a supplier. The marble or granite is first cut from the quarry into giant blocks. The blocks are then sliced like bread and numbered in sequential order and then polished, in most cases the same side of each slice is polished, and then they are numbered and sent out. However, for bookmatching, instead of polishing the same side of each slab, opposing sides need to be polished so that the two polished sides are facing each other in the stone block. Think of opening a book, you want both “pages” or slabs to be polished, hence the name “bookmatched”. Another analogy would be to imagine them mirrored like butterfly wings. If you are working with a stone supplier that has a polisher in their facility such as, they can actually polish the opposing side in the facility and give you a bookmatched seam. Many suppliers do not offer this type of service, so if you have your heart set on a bookmatched seam, you’ll want to inquire early if they have stones that have been polished for bookmatching by the fabricator, or if they have the ability to do this in house.

Bookmatching is typically done in larger spaces where you can appreciate the full effect. For instance, shower walls, kitchen islands, feature walls, or a full height backsplash. Bookmatching provides the most impressive visual effect on a vertical surface like a wall.

A natural byproduct of needing to match up the veining on each slab to achieve the bookmark effect is more waste in the project. More waste can mean more expense, so this is another place that you want to work with your stone fabricator closely to achieve your desired look and budget.

Diamond Matching Seams

Another stunning effect is Diamond Matching, where four slabs come together to form a diamond shape. The vein matching occurs around a center point and flairs out from there.

Conclusion

As you can see, selecting your stone, and then your slabs still isn’t the only critical part of a project. Each and every detail, from the templating to the experience of your stone fabricator when it comes to seams is equally as important. Asking key questions of your supplier up front will save you from surprises or unmet expectations throughout your project. Ask what type of templating they do, insist on a template for each and every surface of countertop. Ask about their ability to polish in-house should you select a bookmatch or diamond seam design. And last, ask about their process for seams, do they hand grind and polish before attaching two pieces together for a seam. Armed with this information, you will be an expert, one with a beautiful countertop that is functional and awe-inspiring for your enjoyment!

To finish off the perfect look for your project, check out our article about countertop edges and choosing the one that best fits your style and project.

CNC Machine

The sawhead is cutting rod slots in the front and back of the sink opening to create the opening for the sink top.