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Thread: Solid Surface Class

  1. #1
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    Solid Surface Class

    I'm taking a class on solid surface fabrication this semester. No questions here - I just thought I'd talk about the class and working with solid surface material.

    Just to define things first - solid surface is material like Corian or Staron. It can be worked with carbide woodworking tools. Our first project was to do a kitchen counter top, with a solid surface sink, coved back splash, a cut out for a cooktop, and buildup for the edge (to make the countertop look thicker).

    It's been an interesting class so far. Although it's not that hard to work with solid surface material, it does require a lot of care when gluing up pieces, such as doing the buildup on the edges. If you're not careful, the glue joint will show, or in the worse case, you'll have a gap where two pieces fit together.

    Additionally, the material is very heavy and difficult to handle.

    According to the instructor, there's not much difference between the different brands of solid surface material - although almost everyone has heard of Corian - and may not have heard of the other brands. Also, Corian has the largest selection of colors - but it's the most expensive brand, by far - a sheet of Corian 30" wide and 12 feet long can go for anywhere between $300 and maybe up to $1,000 (I'm quoting figures he gave us). The price to the customer could be $40/sq foot or more, depending upon the color and pattern chosen (the cost of the material).

    To buy any of the solid surface material, you have to be certified by the manufacturer. And to get certified, you have to be in business and have a shop - they're not interested in selling to "do it yourself" people. The reason is that each company warrantees the installation. But if problems are reported, and the problem is with the installation (including the fabrication), the installer is called and has to fix the problem. The manufacturer only pays if there's something wrong with the material or the glue.

    Each sheet is numbered and the numbers are recorded when the fabricator buys it from the distributor. Additionally, the installer is supposed to register each installation with the manufacturer, giving the sheet numbers used. So if ten years later the manufacturer gets a call that a countertop failed, they can track back to who did the installation.

    Anyway, I just thought I'd discuss this for those people who haven't worked with the material. I know several of the regulars on this forum have done solid surface so please correct or add your own comments. I find it an interesting class and wanted to pass along some of the things I've learned.

    Mike
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 09-26-2007 at 04:27 AM.
    Ancora imparo
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  2. #2
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    Thanks for starting this thread, Mike. It should be an informative one to watch.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

    workingwoods.com

  3. #3
    Its an interesting marketing technique, but I hope it does not catch on. It seems to me it is a legalized monopoly really. Maybe not in the full sense of the legal term, but it definately is all done to keep the price of the material way up, and under the false pretenses of quality control. In my opinion anyway.

    Can you imagine if this was applied to viynal siding, or cedar shingles or whatever...it would cost a fortune to build a house. The fact that few people know anything other than Corian says their marketing ploy is working however.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  4. #4
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    Solid surface is fun to work with, once you get past the weight of the full sheets. I've done a ton of Corian work over the years, but even I'm still amazed every time I clean up a glue line, and it just disappears.

    You can experiment with design too, as different colors can be mixed together in any configuration...side by side, sandwiched together or inlay...

    Keep lots of denatured alchohol on hand, and start buying spring clamps by the truck load. As the material is non-porous (unlike wood), you can squeeze too much glue out and weaken the bond.

    And unlike wood, after you cut it too short, you can just scab another piece right back on. Not that that's ever happened to me, but I've heard stories.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Johnson View Post
    Its an interesting marketing technique, but I hope it does not catch on. It seems to me it is a legalized monopoly really. Maybe not in the full sense of the legal term, but it definately is all done to keep the price of the material way up, and under the false pretenses of quality control. In my opinion anyway.

    Can you imagine if this was applied to viynal siding, or cedar shingles or whatever...it would cost a fortune to build a house. The fact that few people know anything other than Corian says their marketing ploy is working however.
    I can understand why the solid surface people require certification and track who did each installation. There's a lot of "do's and don'ts" when putting the solid surface together. If you don't do it right, it'll crack or otherwise fail within a few years. The manufacturer, especially DuPont with Corian, wants people to get a good installation because the customer sees the countertop as "Corian" and not Mike Henderson's installation of some solid surface material. If the counter top fails, the customer will blame the Corian and not the installer.

    So DuPont has to have a way to (1) make the sure the installer knows all the "do's and don'ts" and follows them, and (2) make the installer correct problems in the installation. To do that, they require "certification" and only certify people who are really in the business of doing countertops professionally, and who will still be in business years from now. When an installer goes out of business and one of his/her countertop installations fails, DuPont pays for the repair to maintain the quality image of the material.

    All the other solid surface manufacturers do the same thing.

    And just an additional comment, all of the patents on solid surface material expired years ago so there's no more protection for DuPont. There are a number of companies who make solid surface material now but they all pretty much follow the same certification and warrantee policies.

    What the companies do seems reasonable to me. If they sold to all comers, you'd probably see a lot of bad countertop installations.

    Finally, if you really know how to work with the material, then you know someone who is certified and who will buy the material for you. But that person will be who has to stand behind the countertop if it fails so they're not going to buy it for you unless they know you can fabricate it properly.

    All-in-all, it seems like a reasonable way to handle the situation.

    Mike
    Ancora imparo
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  6. #6
    I can understand what you are saying Mike, but you can apply that entire line of reasoning to anything. Lets take a look at something my family makes for the housing industry...the lowely ole cedar shingle.

    Now around here anyway, whoever made the shingle sticks their name sticks with the shingle. Like there are Johnson Shingles, Clearance Choke shingles, Maibec Shingles etc, so its really the same thing. There are a lot of do and don't to cedar shingling to, and if you don't get it right, you will have water infiltration into your house that will rot out your sheathing and could damage the structural intergrity of your house.

    It would be great to imprint our name on the back of each shingle, track it and train for proper installers so that "if there was ever a problem, we could figure out who was responsible", and it would be great to also have only long established carpenters install them too. Everyone knows carpenters come a dime a dozen and they get started as often as the go out of business. If you only knew how many times contractors used wall quality 3/8 inch shingles on roofs to save money instead of buying inch roof quality shingles, you would understand why shingles have such a bad reputation.

    Anyway that is what I mean by being able to apply this line of thinking to anything. As a family that makes a product for the housing industry, I applaud Corian and the other makers for what they are doing. They found a way to ensure they have a high success rate, low failure rate and keep their product reputation up.

    As a homeowner, I stand by what I said in my previous post. I hope this marketing ploy does not catch on because it could apply to anything, and really drive the price of things up. You get that when you CONTROL the supply and demand of any product, and that is really what they are doing.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  7. #7
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    i can see more manufacturers taking this route in the future only because of the box stores and their liberal return/refund policy......first they beat the manufacturer down on price to where he`s running on such a small margin that if/when something goes wrong it`ll hit his books hard then they expect the manufacturers to accept returns `cause suzy homemaker didn`t like the way the gizmo looked after her husband got done installing it to the best of his abilities.
    you can do it--we can help..........at who`s expense?

    this is the reason that i only wholesale my curved millwork, i can`t afford to have harry-hack returning a jamb extention that took me 2-3 days to build `cause he measured wrong.....the yards i deal with make money on my work and deal with "known-good" customers.....might sound harsh but it`s reality.
    [SIZE="1"] associated with several importers and manufacturers.[/SIZE]

  8. #8
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    A lot has to do with the inherent nature of the material and how it's used. For example... All inside corners (L-shaped countertops for example) are built using a minimum of 1" radius at the corner (major pain, alot of work), with the seam (if there is one) being not on the corner, but at least an inch away.

    You have to think about the material as though it were glass, because it will behave the same way. If the fabricator was lazy and just glued a butt joint on the corner (like you would do with wood), you would end up with a stress point at the corner and the crack will begin... right after the check cleared.

    I never liked they're marketing plan, and I'm sure they would have made ALOT more money if they just sold to anybody. But if everybody's countertops were cracking, they wouldn't have a strong reputation,and the product wouldn't still be around.

    Anbody remember SSV ? If you blinked you probably missed it.

    Wait until you see how to do cook-top cut-outs.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Johnson View Post
    As a homeowner, I stand by what I said in my previous post. I hope this marketing ploy does not catch on because it could apply to anything, and really drive the price of things up. You get that when you CONTROL the supply and demand of any product, and that is really what they are doing.
    I certainly understand your position, Travis, but I don't really agree with you.

    I don't think DuPont or any of the other solid surface manufacturers control the supply or demand for their products. The demand is driven by the homeowner (or homebuyer, or contractor). There's probably a certain number of kitchen countertops put in each year, and there's a number of technologies competing for those tops - laminate (Formica), tile, solid surface, quartz in binder, and granite to name the major ones I'm familiar with.

    As long as solid surface has a good reputation, it will get some of that market share - how much depends upon the cost and the customer's perception of how well it looks and works (all of the options have advantages and disadvantages). What the solid surface manufacturers are trying to do is maintain the quality image of their product so that they can maximize their profit. The question is "What works best to maintain the quality image?"

    If there was another way to maximize profit, one of the manufacturers would have taken it. Let's say that Staron chose to sell its solid surface product through Home Depot to all comers and was more profitable using that technique than DuPont using the certified installer program. Every other manufacturer of solid surface would be selling their product through HD and Lowes in short order.

    Distribution channels develop because they work - not because a manufacturer wants to use that distribution channel. If another distribution channel can be used profitably, some manufacturer will use it which will force all the other manufacturers to do the same.

    I doubt if many other products will go this same route. It seems to me that solid surface has a number of characteristics that favor that particular distribution channel.

    But to get back to the original theme, I don't see their choice of distribution channel as doing anything to control either supply or demand - it looks to me like a pragmatic solution to their particular problems of marketing and distribution.

    The only time a company can really control the price of their product is when they have monopoly power. That can come from a patent and no acceptable alternatives (drugs are an example of this), a usage monopoly, such as Microsoft's Windows operating system, control of scarce natural resources (such as oil), and a few other situations.

    Mike
    Ancora imparo
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

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