Marble is Not Scary! – Article in Stone Business by Cameron DeMille

Straight From the Shop – Stone Business Magazine. For the last decade, marble hasn’t been all that popular as granite became more affordable than ever. Granite’s ease of maintenance and scratch resistance made it easy for buyers to leave marble in the dust. The momentum is swinging back, though, as more customers are asking for marble countertops, especially in kitchens. This isn’t the time to be scared of dealing with marble; it’s time to be ready.

The problem is that, no matter how many times you try and educate someone on the stone they are picking out for a functional kitchen, they don’t listen. They want what they want, and -especially with marble- all of the vital information you’re offering takes the express through one ear and out the other. Marble is great for a kitchen, as long as you and your client know the limitations. Low scratch resistance, acid sensitivity and other peculiarities aren’t issues that many homeowners are willing to put up with, but many of them don’t know the difference between marble and granite. And, when I say marble and granite, by the way, I mean marble, limestone, travertine, serpentine and, well, granite.

We’ve all had that client who picks a stone that doesn’t rank with the more-durable varieties of quartzite and granite. They pay no mind to the warnings and cautions you offer. Then, you get the frantic phone call one week after installation about the “water stains” and the questions about why their sealer, for which they paid so much, for isn’t working. Now they’re listening; they need you to fix a problem they created. Are you ready to deal with this problem? Do you know how to properly repair and refinish this stone you’ve just installed? What good are you to the client if you cannot service your own installations? You can’t just go in the house and rub some magic powder on the stone and fix it … or can you? This is when it pays off to have at least one person on your staff capable of performing refinishing and restoration services.

The initial problem is usually something small, but often right in the middle of the counter. The repair needs to blend in and be the same as the original finish, because that’s the proper way to do it. If you or someone on your payroll cannot perform these tasks, the client will find someone who can. And, if that ends up as a good repair, you’ve lost a good opportunity to provide continual service and generate repeat clients. (This isn’t exclusive to marble, either.) And, if you start to see more marble jobs in your shop, you’re likely to need these refinishing skills before countertops start going out the door.

Our shop re-polishes or re-hones every calcite-based stone that comes through before we deliver it to the client. Most of the time, the factory finish isn’t even acceptable and it doesn’t take much to make it significantly better. Proper training is critical if you are just venturing into the refinishing world. Get started on the wrong foot and you’re in trouble -not because you won’t get paid, but that the guys that really know what they’re doing will make your work look silly. As my friend Ted McFadden says, “Stone refinishing is a science, not an art.” The majority of stones can be refinished with the same process and materials to yield the same results every time. Since it’s a scientific method, it can be taught.

Ted McFadden owns and operates Sureshine Care and Restoration Services, Inc. in Southern California. To be fair, there is an art to refinishing – it lies in the ability to adapt to the small percentage of problem stones and properly execute the proper technique for each to achieve the proper finish. Speed (rpms), pressure, the amount of water, type of polishing compound and the type of polishing pad being used will all have an important role in how the final product will look. While this may sound like it is a lot to take in and learn, it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Starting with your basic process, you can add pressure, increase speed, change the way the materials are used and go from there. The process of elimination is your friend. If something isn’t working, it isn’t working; move on until you find something that makes it better. Move on from there until you eventually get what you’re looking for. This is the skill needed to diagnose the problem stones. Whether you attend a class or are trained on the job, you’ll develop a technique slightly different than the trainer.

Everyone has certain details that make their process unique to them. This is one of the reasons why no single product will work for everything. I would love to tell you my polishing compound works on all stones and anyone can use it, but that’s simply not true. You need to find what works best for you, so you’re comfortable with your equipment and materials. As long as your finished product is correct, it doesn’t matter how you get there.

Practice on a few pieces of stone and do some experimentation. See if you can tweak the process a bit to make it easier or faster. Crema Marfil is a great “base” marble for learning; it’s very easy to polish and, depending on your equipment and polishing compound, can handle anything between 400-3,000 grit. The stone can take a beating, but will orange-peel if over-polished, so you can get a good feel of when enough is enough. Change the pad, change the compound, change the pressure and the speed, and then see what results you get. All will help you get a better feel for the process and what results to expect when you apply certain techniques. Knowing how to properly refinish the marble is only half of what’s important. When you do these types of repairs in a home, you can’t hook up a garden hose to your polisher and proceed to fling water around the house at 3,000rpm.

Prepping the area is just as critical as anything else. A lot of times, my prep work is overkill, but I know I won’t be paying for anything I damaged. The homeowner will see that you care about their property and belongings, and leave you alone to do your work. Put plastic or wax paper wherever the water might splash, protect any fixtures, and remove linens. A properly finished job, left just as clean as you found it, will guarantee your client calls you instead of the other guy when they need more work done. Take pictures! I don’t have a fancy sales pitch or color brochures to convince people to hire me. What I do have are thousands of before-and-after pictures of my jobs. With almost every service call, I can bring up pictures of the stone the client wants me to work on and say, “This is what your floor looks like now, and this is what it can look like when I’m done.” You won’t have thousands of pictures to start off with, but you’ll accumulate a collection quickly.

Taking pictures is important -not only for making things clear with customers, but also to put on your website. Many people tell me they aren’t any good at snapping pictures, but I find that to be a poor excuse. (Not that instruction always helps; I took photography in high school and learned absolutely nothing.) There are only a few settings that you really need to know how to use with today’s digital cameras; the rest is point-and-shoot. All the pictures I’ve posted in online forums have been taken with a $150 digital camera. We recently purchased a decent digital SLR camera to take high-resolution pictures, but even without knowing how to use it properly I can still take decent images. And, I can offer a couple of hints for taking better stone photos:

  • The macro setting should be used for close-ups, to allow the camera to focus when very close to an object.
  • When taking virtually any photo of natural stone, turn the flash off. You may have to stand very still to take photos that will be in focus, but you’ll pick up more detail and eliminate glare spots.

The bottom line with marble is this: If you’re going to sell it, you need to know how to fix it. Find some proper training, either on the job or at one of several good classes, and get to work. Again, if you cannot service your product after the fact, what good are you to the client in the future “Cameron DeMille heads up restoration work with MilleStone Marble & Tile Inc. in Palm Desert, Calif. He’s also a regular on the forums and at workshops with the Stone Fabricators Alliance, which named him Educator of the Year in 2009. “2010 Western Business Media Inc. Get the best in insightful and informed coverage of the stone industry every month with Stone Business magazine. Sign up for a free subscription (or renew your current account) and don’t miss a single issue ” just click here.

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