Knowing how to determine the cause of a stone-related issue can make the difference between getting the job and loosing the job. This is what I call "Stone CSI" (Construction Scene Investigation) and it can help you tremendously if you get called upon to render an opinion on a "problem" with any particular job.
Being able to accurately provide sage advice on why a project failed, why a stone suddenly has a huge crack (or a fissure) in it, or why there are now dull white spots on an Absolute Black countertop can increase your credibility with a potential customer. It also can help you get a project that your company is being considered for when the "other guys" that may be called upon can't explain why (cogently) a particular situation is happening.
Understanding stone starts with experience. You can't learn why every stone reacts differently to staining agents, or why some stones bend when others break by "just looking at them," in just a few weeks. Your "experience" cache starts with each job you do, and from each project, you learn a little more about the stones that you work with. I like to say that NOBODY knows EVERYTHING about stone except the "Guy" that made it all - and that would be God himself. Since his position is already taken - the next best thing that we mortals can do is accept the fact all of us are ALWAYS in the learning curve. It's just that some of us have been in the "curve" longer than others! But even the best people in this industry don't have all of the answers.
This is a humbling notion - especially for the guy that's been doing Natural Stone for five years, and he thinks he knows everything... Been there - done that. After a couple of "I did NOT know that" statements - you start to realize that there's a whole lot that you still DON'T know - but I'll expand on that in a minute.
Let's set up an example "scenario" for us to dissect - You have a customer that calls you to get a price on re-doing their granite countertops, which are just over two years old, and have a crack in one of the tops (by an overhang). They also have some "dull spots" that won't wipe off. They want you to come out to look at the "job" some other guy did, and give them a price on fixing it - or replacement.
Here's a couple of rules that I'd use - to make "CSI" work for me in this situation:
1. BEFORE I visit their home, I'd gather basic intel on the fabrication and installation: Type and color of stone, thickness of stone, date of installation.
2. Ask them to e-mail you pictures of the areas in question (the crack and the spots)
3. Don't ask the obvious question of "Who was the Fabricator?" Ask if they have contacted the original fabricator to remedy the issues. Since I do forensic inspections all the time on "problem" jobs - I prefer to NOT know who the Fabricator was - as I am inspecting the work, not the Fabricator.
4. IF the customer names the Fabricator avoid getting into the "let's slam him when he's down" urge that is a normal human response. Attacking the Fabricator in this situation is harmful in a couple of ways - one: it shows a lack of fair play, professionalism and objectivity, and two: the customer may be trying to "test" you - to see how you react to being "baited."
5. The BEST thing that you can do when it comes to avoiding the "let's slam the Fabricator" issue: IF you can't say anything good about the guy, don't say anything at all. He may be in your shoes some day - looking at an honest mistake you or one of your installers made. There's something to be said about karma or whatever you want to call it. Worst case scenario - here's what'll work in a pinch: "Of all the guys in this industry - he (the Fabricator in question) is definitely one of them" ... That's like saying "of all of the people in the world - he is definitely one of them" - is a neutral comment and should have a disarming effect to the conversation.
6. Assume NOTHING. I try to remember the old rule that my English teacher taught me. "When you use the word ASSUME it makes an ASS out of U and an ASS out of ME." Sometimes the most obvious answer gets lost because the problem was described by someone that "assumed" too many things that had nothing to do with the actual cause of the problem. Here's an example: A guy asks, "How do I adhere marble to stainless steel?" This is a fairly innocuous question, but the responses can vary, however. "Qualifying" questions need to be asked in order to give the most appropriate answer. Simply throwing out a particular glue or method of attaching the marble to stainless steel is not enough - if you do NOT know what the application is being used for.
7. Many problems have the same cause, and over time, you'll start to see patterns develop. Things like cracks forming at overhangs, lamination lines opening up, seams opening up, dull spots appearing on stone and many others can be prevented and avoided IF customers are educated better by the guys doing their countertops.
8. Check your ego at the door, or better yet, leave it at home - just don't bring it with you to inspect that problem job. I have found that keeping a humble attitude and always being objective for every situation helps keep everything on a "matter of fact" frame of mind. Striving to give the benefit of the doubt to the cause of the problem helps me find the cause easier, and in the long run - earns you higher respect from your customer. Remember that you are looking at physical evidence, and that the facts have to rise to the surface in order to determine what the cause of the problem is, and what the solution(s) could be.
9. NEVER try to "BS" your way through a scenario. IF you do NOT know the cause of the problem- you may have never seen etching before on Absolute Black, or you didn't know that Jurassic Gold or Costa Smeralda have natural fissures in them, and a fissure is NOT a crack - admit it and try to find others in our "community" that do, and seek their advice.
10. Bear in mind thatYOU are probably NOT the first guy to show up and look at the problem, so other opinions may have already been presented to your customer, so be matter of fact. What you say will be compared with the "other guy's" opinions that have already been given. IF you are the first guy to look at the situation be fair and honest. Sometimes yours will be the hardest act to follow by all of your competitors - especially if your advice is right on the money.
The best advice I can offer on this subject is to be honest and objective all the time. If you "take the high road" as a matter of habit - you'll win more in the long run. Just remember that you're ALWAYS in the learning curve...
Best Regards & Happy Fabricating!
"Stone CSI" (Construction Scene Investigation) is a service that is provided by AZ School of Rock. For more information, contact Kevin M. Padden atby phone at 480-309-9422 or via e-mail at
Understanding stone starts with experience. You can't learn why every stone reacts differently to staining agents, or why some stones bend when others break by "just looking at them," in just a few weeks. Your "experience" cache starts with each job that you do, and from each project, you learn a little more about the stones that you work with.