How does stone compare to wood and Corian?

Posted by Rock Solid Worktops on 14 December 2016 at 5:14pm

Choosing the best material for your kitchen worktops can be quite a challenge, as there are many options, each with differing properties and costs. Ultimately, the decision will usually come down to some sort of compromise between looks, durability and budget; or maybe simply aesthetics over functionality, or vice versa. In a busy family kitchen, for example, the work surface may well have to earn its keep and take whatever is thrown at it, quite literally; whereas others who rarely cook but who like to entertain, might prefer to choose materials more akin to the archetypal showcase kitchen.

Whether you prefer the charm and warmth of seasoned wood, the unquestionable durability and glamour of composite quartz, or the seamless, modern look of Corian, there are many options for consideration. Each has its merits in the appropriate setting; equally, each has the potential to prove a troublesome false economy in the wrong setting. So, getting a few facts under your belt should go a long way towards helping to avoid disappointment.

Stone: the pros and cons of using stone for kitchen worktops

We usually think of stone worktops as a (literally) rock-solid, robust alternative to more traditional materials such as wood. This is probably because they undoubtedly are robust - but does stone have any pitfalls when used for worktops?

Describing the properties of stone conjures up a range of opposing ideas as to its strength: stone is hard, yet at the same time it has a brittleness and propensity to snap or split under certain conditions. The type of minerals found in rock will go someway to determining its properties overall. The vast array of compounds, or lack of them, in the case of clear quartz, are what give stone its individual characteristics such as colour and porosity. Much of the attraction of non-composite stone, such as marble or granite, comes from knowing that each piece is unique, with irregularities in pattern, and, in some cases, the presence of tiny fossils adding to the overall appearance.

You might be surprised to know that composite quartz (also known as engineered stone), which comprises of finely ground particles of quartz and/or granite pressure-bonded together with acrylic resin, can be manufactured to look and feel remarkably similar to irregular marble or granite.

It is worth bearing in mind that solid stone is extremely heavy. Without stating the obvious, extreme care and thought needs to go into ensuring that kitchen cabinets are stable, and that frameworks and/or braces are strong and secure enough to support a length of solid stone worktop. Manoeuvring heavy slabs of granite may need specialist equipment, such as a block & tackle, particularly where stone is being used to clad walls or staircases. Even with thinner - and hence lighter - slabs of composite quartz, you are unlikely to want to be fitting them on your own, which you might be able to do when working with wood.

Be they granite, marble or composite quartz, solid stone worktops are organic, unique, and should give lasting service for years to come. However, as with any beautiful object of high value, a commitment to its care and awareness of the correct way to clean and maintain the lustre of stone is paramount. Each type of stone requires a subtly different approach. The delicate, almost ethereal beauty of marble can be ruined by simply allowing it to air dry, and over time, standing water on the surface will stain. This is worth special consideration if marble is to be used in bathrooms or for kitchen sink surrounds - perhaps a marble-effect composite quartz might be a more practical solution.

Granite, although being the most expensive material available to the kitchen designer, is a hugely popular choice for use in the kitchen as it is durable and heat resistant. But because granite is porous, it needs regular sealing to protect it against the rigours of food preparation and spills, with staining and ingress of harmful bacteria being particularly problematic. Over time, without proper care, granite will loose its lustre and shine. Sealing and polishing each year adds to the long-term cost of maintaining its beauty, whilst on the other hand, unless heavy, hard objects are dropped directly onto it, granite is relatively impervious to damage and resists day-to-day scratching.

Our article entitled How does quartz compare to granite and marble? explores the differences in the various stone products in greater detail.

Wood: the pros and cons of using wood for kitchen worktops

From a sustainability point of view, wood is perhaps not the first choice for a kitchen worktop. Heritage, though, is hard to resist; and in some cases, the use of finely crafted wood might be the only choice. Wood certainly adds warmth and character to a kitchen; be it the butcher’s block made from curly grained maple, or the farmhouse style arrangement of free-standing cupboards and walk-in larders. Add a sizeable table of planked oak or reclaimed pine, to serve both as a food preparation area and the centre of family life, and there it is: heritage on a plate, as it were.

In a world with rapidly declining natural resources, wood needs to be sourced responsibly. It is worth doing some research into where the hardwood for your new worktops is coming from, and whether or not the harvesting of this wood is sustainable.

Choosing wood can represent good value for money for the initial outlay, since it is much cheaper than solid stone. That said, wood work-surfaces do require ongoing maintenance and care to inhibit the risk of fading, staining and splitting. There is a wide range of suitable products on the market - from specialist oils and waxes to polyurethane coatings - all designed to protect wood in a steamy kitchen environment. Heat resistant mats or tiles used before setting down hot cooking pots, will protect the wood from scorching.

Wooden worktops are easier to install than stone since they are lighter in weight. It is important, however, to ensure that there is room for the wood to expand over time, as it will be subjected to fluctuations in the humidity levels of your kitchen.

Just as solid stone can have attractive natural patterning, wood brings with it beautiful grain, knotting, colour and character. These variations can give a sense of the traditional or exotic; each piece of wood is unique, which presents the opportunity to experiment with its features to compliment your overall kitchen design.

Corian: the pros and cons of using Corian for kitchen worktops

Corian is the brand name for a solid surface material created by DuPont. Produced by mixing acrylic resin with bauxite and pigments to form a sheet of solid surface material, it is usually then bonded onto a timber substrate to form a solid surface worktop. Other brands of solid surface material include Encore, Maia and Getacore, but Corian was the original.

Available in three thicknesses - 6mm, 12mm, and 19mm - its composition is consistent in colour and has an even distribution of patterning throughout. Corian is nontoxic and nonallergenic to humans, making it a credible choice for use in the kitchen. Generally speaking, Corian worktops are expensive, especially when you factor in the charge for specialist fitting, which is a must if you want your worktops to last.

Since its launch onto the domestic market over 40 years ago, Corian worktops have become synonymous with many of the characteristics of solid stone in comparable environments, but opinions vary as to Corian's resistance to scratches and cuts. This probably comes from how it is treated, which can be said of any worktop material i.e. use chopping boards when cutting, and heat mats for pans straight from the hob.

In contrast to granite, Corian is non-porous and therefore does not require sealing to make it resistant to stains. It can also be repaired. A scouring pad will buff out scratches, and deeper marks can often be eliminated with an orbital sander. It is also easy to keep clean using everyday household detergents or gentle scouring creams. Most of the problems that arise with Corian, stem from inadequate jointing or movement of the worktop joints, which allows water into the timber substrate, which then expands. For this reason, a solid framework/base and expert installation is a must.

Corian offers a wide choice of themed colour variations, some of which mimic the look of natural stone, creating random patterning in natural shades. DuPont's DeepColor Technology is a relatively new addition to the Corian product-range, offering darker colours, which minimise the appearance of scratches. If your budget can stretch to it, Corian can even be ordered in custom colours, allowing you to get really creative with your kitchen design, to produce something truly unique.

In general, Corian, as with granite, marble or composite quartz, is no less value for money than any other option if its properties are what you are looking for. It is down to personal preference and the expectations for the overall outcome of the kitchen design. Natural solid stone will, perhaps, always appear more luxurious from an aesthetic point of view; conversely, Corian or composite quartz, demonstrate an ability to contribute to form and function, and provide long lasting service as kitchen worktops.

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