Countertops can be made from a wide range of materials and the cost of the completed countertop can vary widely depending on the material chosen. The durability and ease of use of the material often rises with the increasing cost of the material but some costly materials are neither particularly durable nor user-friendly. Some common countertop materials are as follows:
- Natural stones
- Silicate mineral
- Stainless steel
- Crafted glass
- Manufactured materials
- Processed slabs
- Compressed paper or fiber
- Cultured marble
- High pressure laminates
- Post-formed high-pressure decorative laminates
- Self-edged high-pressure decorative laminates
- Quartz surfacing or engineered stone is 99.9% solid @ 93% aggregate / 7% polyester resin (by weight), colors and binders
- Recycled Glass surface either with concrete or polyester resin binders
- Solid-surface acrylic plastic materials
- Solid-surface polyester acrylic
- Cast-in-place materials
- Natural stone suspended in a resin
- Post-consumer glass suspended in a resin
- Phenolic resin
Natural stone is one of the most commonly used materials in countertops. Natural stone or dimension stone slabs (e.g. granite) are shaped using cutting and finishing equipment in the shop of the fabricator. The edges are commonly put on by hand-held routers, grinders, or CNC equipment. If the stone has a highly variegated pattern, the stone may be laid out in final position in the shop for the customer’s inspection, or the stone slabs may be selected by experienced inspectors. Emerging technology allows for virtual stone placement on a computer. Exact photographs can now be taken which allow for the integration of a dxf file to lay on top of an stone image. Multiple slabs of material may be used in this layout process. Then the countertop assembly is installed on the job site by professionals. Commonly, initial countertop fabrication takes place at or near the quarry of origin, with blocks being sawn to thickness and then machined into standard widths (600mm and upwards), before being surface polished and edged. This method removes the need to ship waste material, and reduces the time needed to prepare client orders. This practice is called “cut to size” A wide range of details may be pre-machined by the fabricator, allowing for installation of different sinks and cooker designs. A common drawback to natural stone is the need for sealing to prevent harboring of bacteria and/or fluids that may cause staining. In recent years oleophobic impregnators have been introduced as an alternative to surface sealers. With the advent of impregnators the frequency of sealing has been cut down to once every five to ten years on most materials.
Wooden countertops can come in a variety of designs ranging from butcher block to joined planks to single wide stave. Wood is considered to be the most eco-friendly option when it comes to choosing a kitchen countertop as wood is a renewable resource. Wood countertops must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after contact with foods such as raw meat. Although the use of wooden work surfaces is prohibited in commercial food production areas in the EU, and the US Department of Agriculture advises against the use of wooden chopping boards, research by the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin has shown that wooden work surfaces are no more dangerous, and in some cases safer than plastic alternatives. They have shown that while bacteria do get absorbed by the wood, they do not multiply and eventually die. While brand new plastic work surfaces are indeed easy to disinfect, once they have become heavily knife scarred they are nearly impossible to completely disinfect. This is not a problem with wooden work surfaces where the number of knife cuts made little difference.
Crafted glass countertops
Custom architectural crafted glass, tempered glass, textured glass pieces, and the ancient art of verre églomisé, or reverse gilded glass, are applied to contemporary uses including countertops, backsplashes, and tabletops. Glass work may be customized to suit by craftsmen in the studio, then installed on site either in small components (such as a kitchen countertop composed of three rectangles of verre églomisé) or as immense, single units (for example, a glass countertop and sink basin formed of one continuous piece of textured glass). Surface texture comes in several variations, such as sanded, melted, pixels, and linear. Glass countertops also often have customized edges, including: bushed polished, textured, and fire polished edges. The glass is non-porous, relatively stain-proof, extremely hygienic, and “extremely heat resistant (up to 700 degrees).” Much work is being done to “recycle” glass using sources such as post consumer glass or post industrial float glass. The material can be crushed or cut into strips that is heated until the softening point of glass, binding the loose material back into a solid form.
Tile, including ceramic tile and stone tile, is installed in much the same way as flat lay laminate except that the gaps between the tiles are grouted after the tile has been glued down.