On The Surface:solid ideas for
By Russ Lee
For all the miracles your fabricator can perform with solid surface
material such as the ability to join it together with no visible
seams, include built-in integral bowls and fabricate coved
backsplashes why does he avert his eyes and dig his toes into the
floor very time you mention a high-gloss finish?
Can this be the same guy who cheerfully created a
three-dimensional inlay of a western diamondback rattlesnake in the
island countertop for that hepetologist client of yours from the
Actually, putting a high-gloss finish on a solid surface
countertop is not difficult at all. True, it’s a time-consuming job
which requires the fabricator to pay close attention to detail, but
it’s well within his capabilities.
The reason he may hesitate when you talk of glitz and glamour is
because he knows the potential for dissatisfied clients rises
dramatically when you mention high-gloss. What is comes down to is
a question of maintenance. Your fabricator knows that unless your
customer is well-trained on the ins and outs of maintaining a shiny
surface, sooner or later, high and low spots will appear on the
countertop. And they won’t come out without effort.
The reason for this has to do with simple wear and tear. You
probably are already aware that the finish on a solid surface top
is created through a graduated sanding process. In essence, what
happens is that relatively course grades of sandpaper are used to
take deep scratches and other imperfections out of the material,
which normally occurs during fabrication. These courser grades of
abrasive leave their own scratch pattern in the surface, which must
also be removed by successively finer grades of abrasives, until an
acceptable finish is achieved. This sanding process is critical to
the overall appearance of the finished countertop, and often
constitutes the difference between a happy or dissatisfied
If a matte or satin finish is applied to the solid surface, the
scratch pattern left behind by the abrasive is small enough to fool
the human eye into seeing an unbroken, uniform finish. The use of a
Scotch Brite pad then blends those tiny scratches together and
creates a finish that’s as smooth as a still lake on a warm, summer
day. The best part about this whole scenario is that homeowners can
actually enhance that look every time they clean their countertops
using the Scotch Brite pad.
With a high-gloss finish, however, the scratch pattern is
accentuated by the reflective finish, and any irregularities will
attract the eye. Fabricators pay close attention to that fact when
progressing through the sanding steps, and are careful to ensure
that each deep scratch is removed by the next finer grade of
abrasive by following a precise sanding pattern and by usingsanding
equipment specifically designed to achieve a uniform finish on
solid surface. Even a loose grain of abrasive left over from a
previous sanding step can sometimes find its way under the sanding
pad and ruin the finish. That’s why most fabricators take great
pains to thoroughly clean, and even wash, the entire countertop
between sanding steps.
Applying the finish
The most common method for applying a high-gloss finish to the
sanded countertop is through the use of two grades of automotive
polishing compound. A lamb’s wool buffing pad attached to a
high-speed buffer is used to work the polishing compound into the
The result of this approach is a mirror-like finish that’s both
uniform and hard. If, during the sanding process, however, some of
the course scratches are not completely removed by finer grits of
abrasive, it will become obvious once the final, high-gloss finish
is achieved. Most often, this condition is characterized by what
looks like clouds floating in the reflective finish.
Without going back through the sanding steps to remove the
offending scratches, a uniform, high-gloss finish can never be
achieved. And a cloudy finish in solid surface translates into
stormy relations with the homeowner down the line.
Consider what happens when the homeowner slides a 10-quart,
cast-iron pot across the glossy countertop, leaving nasty-looking
scratches in the surface. Can those scratches be removed? Of
course. But in order to return the finish to its original luster
and uniformity after the scratches have been removed, the entire
sanding process, including re-buffing, has to be repeated.
Even with dust-control equipment attached to the sander, this is
continued from Page 42a dirty process not to mention the mess
created when your fabricator fires up the 2,000-rpm buffer and
slings polishing compound all over the kitchen.
Compare that to the relative ease of repairing a matte or satin
finish using a couple of sanding steps followed with a Scotch Brite
Train your client
There’s no doubt that a
high-gloss finish is desirable, even preferred, on some of those
darker solid surface colors where the luster of deep tones adds a
richness to the countertop that can be achieved in no other way.
Happily, you can offer your clients that kind of finish. Just
remember that in order for them to be content with the countertop
over the long haul, they must be trained on the proper procedures
to follow in its care and maintenance.
The basic rule of thumb is never to use abrasive cleaners of any
kind. Even Soft Scrub may be too harsh for a high-polish finish on
solid surface. Generally, a soft cloth dampened with a solution of
water and mild detergent will be all that’s needed to clean the
countertop. Depending on the type of finish, your customer may also
be able to use a very fine grade of Scotch Brite pad to maintain
the top. Consult your fabricator about whether or not this type of
pad might be used with your specific installation.
Just as important as educating your clients on the proper
methods for taking care of a high-gloss finish is the need to help
them understand the mechanics of restoring such a finish if it’s
ever damaged. I recommend you put that information on paper and
include it with the standard care and maintenance kit provided by
the fabricator. Not only must your clients deal with the extra mess
created when their kitchen is transformed into a fabrication shop,
but there are cost issues involved, too. Ask your fabricator to
provide you with an hourly rate for performing finishing repairs,
and include that information in your written care and maintenance
Yes, a high-gloss finish is possible with solid surface.
However, whether or not you actually want to specify that type of
finish on your next job might depend on how well your client
understands what it takes to maintain that shiny look.
Either way, as long as you spend the time to educate your client
on the advantages and disadvantages of each type of finish, the
chances for a happy, referral-bearing client are greatly
Russ Lee is editor of SolidSurface
magazine, a bi-monthly sister magazine of Kitchen & Bath Design
News that is aimed primarily at solid surface fabricators. Lee, a
former fabricator himself, will be a regular contributor to
K&BDN, focusing on ways that the kitchen/bath designer and
specifier can forge a more effective and profitable working
relationship with the solid surface fabricator.