Tools 4 Solid Surface :: Tips of the Trade

Tips of the Trade

Tips of the Trade

Technology, Tooling and Quality

Published in:
Surface Fabrication magazine,
November/December 2006
SURFACE FABRICATION Magazine and SURFACE FABRICATION Online are publications of Cygnus Business Media, Inc.

By David P. George Twenty-two years ago, when I started in the cabinet tool supply business, the old adage was that all you needed to become a custom cabinet manufacturer was a charge card and a garage. With the charge card, you could purchase a table saw, sander, router and the accessories to go with them. In the garage you'd cut, sand, screw and glue, and away the product went. Things changed.

Technology And Growth

The Europeans produced edge banders, panel saws, line boring machines and sliding table saws, and they all became must-haves for cabinet shops that wanted to produce their products at the next level. This certainly separated them from the guys in their garages. CNC routers were soon to follow, and eventually became nearly indispensable. Many of the same advertisers in this magazine were supplying fabricators through distributor networks 15 years ago, just as they are today, with name-brand products that work the same way the first time as they do the 10th.

When solid surface became popular, fabricating solid surface was usually done by the bigger cabinet shops, back in some corner of their buildings. You could use much of the same equipment and much of the same tooling from the cabinet side for solid surface fabrication. As stand-alone solid surface shops evolved, their desire for high-quality tooling designed specifically for solid surface came with it and the tooling manufacturers obliged.

The Right Tool For The Job

Now, fabricators had to know the difference between tooling that worked just fine for cabinetry and tooling that did a much better job on solid surface. And once the nuances were down pat, you could count on certified solid surface fabricators to produce beautiful and functional tops every time. No shortcuts, uniform standards and a high-quality product was the way to go in covering those cabinets. Of course, as with any industry, the more solid surface prospered, the more manufacturers of solid surface sheet goods came into the market, and the more fabricators came with it. Now those same guys with the charge cards could buy solid surface sheets and fabricate wherever without regard to any sort of uniform standards. They didn't necessarily have to know the difference between standard-grit sandpaper, which did a great job on wood and a micron-graded sanding pad, which does a much better job on solid surface, because they weren't following the standards that certified fabricators were. As in any industry, though, most of this type of fabricator was weeded out naturally through their own lack of putting out a quality product.

Enter The Hard, Shiny Products

Then came the advent of engineered stone. The tooling and abrasives used to fabricate it were vastly different than those used for solid surface, and the guy with the charge card and garage did not have a prayer. However, it also left a whole group of fabricators who had previously only worked with solid surface and maybe wood with a need to get an understanding of what worked on quartz. They needed to know that while standard-grit sandpaper worked on wood, and micron-grit pads were great for solid surface, only diamond-resin pads would attain the results necessary to properly fabricate e-stone. And as solid surface shops began to fabricate quartz surfacing, it was inevitable that they would also get into the fabrication of granite. It was sort of an evolution into all things coun-tertop. Then these same fabricators found out that just because a sanding pad or a router bit would work on quartz, didn't mean that it was a great fit for granite. And granite fabricators that were taking on quartz because their customer base demanded it found that their tried-and-true diamond-resin pads worked wonders on granite, but didn't work as well as some specialized pads that were coming onto the market just for engineered stone.

And I was right there beside them, learning what worked, myself.

Buying On Value VS. Price

Several years ago, as we entered the world of supplying solid surface shops with diamond tooling for their stone sides, I figured it was a no-brainer to offer high-end name-brand tooling— sort of an "offer it and they will come" idea. However, that was not always the case.

While at first, the solid surface fabricator who was used to only using the best tooling bought the same in stone tools, they would inevitably be called on by suppliers of cheap, lower-grade tooling. Some purchased on price alone, and got exactly what they paid for—inferior tools. After getting burned several times, they would come back to me and buy what they knew they could rely on.

It seemed to me that granite fabricators had been conditioned into buying a diamond tool with a fancy name. A lot of times these products were alleged name-brand products private labeled with a fierce-sounding animal name or, even worse, cheap imports painted with flames, weapons or camouflage to somehow make them look tough. The tool often didn't produce the same results the 10th time that it had the first. We spent many hours debating what direction to go in ourselves— private label a product out of vanity's sake or offer the trusted brands that always worked? The trusted brands won out, as a fancy name doesn't change anything and our customers expected nothing less.

You Get What You Pay For

The major brand tooling manufacturers have always been on the cutting edge, providing a consistent product, innovation and many choices. With the influx of CNC routers into the solid surface and stone industries, the choices have expanded even further. While back in the day carbide-tipped tooling was the norm, and in many ways still is, solid carbide tools with solid carbide inserts and diamond-tipped tools offer a vast array of choices to all fabricators. With solid carbide insert tooling on CNCs, the quality of cut from one edge profile to another is always dead-on. The initial setup cost may be high, but compared to carbide-tipped tooling, and the sharpening of it, the longevity of solid carbide inserts ultimately leads to cost savings.

In the world of diamond tooling and diamond resin abrasive, as it relates to granite fabrication, consistency is not always the norm. The major manufacturers seem to always have a consistent product, but with so many importers dumping substandard products into the American marketplace, it has really become a situation in which the buyer must beware.

Of course, there is always a market for cheap tooling, just as there is for cheap countertops, but which do you offer? As is usually the case, the consumer of any product gets what they pay for, and taking shortcuts with cheap tooling and inferior fabrication techniques leads to sub-par countertops. And if the consumer is looking only at the per square foot price, the countertop industry is seriously lacking consumer education. The bottom line is they also get what they pay for. We all do, and it's not always pretty. "

About the author:

David P. George is owner of Federal Saw and Tool Companies Inc., a supplier of tooling for cabinetry, solid surface, quartz surfacing and granite. For more information contact the company at 5679 70th Ave. N., Pinellas Park, FL 33781, 866-FED-SAW1.