Feb 25th 2022 / General Stone Care
How to Find A Quality Stone Restoration Contractor?
When you're walking on any flooring material, whether in your home or commercial space - regardless of what type of material they're made out of - they will soon show wear and tear. This holds true for polished stone as well; marble is no exception. Even though the surfaces are much thinner than floors and less likely to accumulate damage over time, certain types such as those installed in bathrooms or kitchens often don't hold up against daily tasks. Eventually, these surfaces will become scratched and worn down until they're just not shiny anymore. There might be accidental spills from time to time, which can only worsen if done onto a high-quality finish such as marble or travertine.
What do you do? Go back to the stone dealer? Go back to the tile setter? Hardly.
Homeowners may never know when they need a Professional Stone Restorer/Refinisher. It is important to ask the right questions before choosing someone for this service. A mistake can lead to ruined flooring and stained walls.
But...That travertine floor is not so shiny anymore! And the same applies to that marble shower stall and bathroom vanity top! The hard reality that your shiny stone needs maintenance finally dawns on you. But – you may think – what's the big deal?...
Let's be honest about this. The word maintenance automatically leads most people to picture in their minds a kind of menial activity that belongs just about on the lowest rung of the social ladder. In this particular case (refinishing polished stone), the image of a contractor that comes over applies some sort of "finish for marble" on your stone and then "buffs up" the whole thing crosses most people's minds. Sort of a janitor with a couple of stripes on their sleeve!
The magic of stereotype at work!
Well, if you think for a minute, even physicians are in the maintenance business, aren't they! It doesn't take geniuses to make new human bodies: Even illiterate people can engage in passionate love! But it does take a doctor to take care of those bodies.
Stone finishing - or what we call stone finishing - is not an easy task. In fact, it can be said that those who are skilled in this trade are the most sought-after professionals in the industry. Other stonemasons often employ stone Finishers to fix their mistakes and finish certain sections of a slab that they find particularly difficult to do themselves. Restoring anything but natural stones would take a great deal of experience and know-how, specifically knowing which type of stone you are handling beforehand and understanding how each type will react differently under pressure or just plain handling. Not every marble quarried needs the same techniques for restoration because every piece has its own quirks about it, so to speak.
Now that we have put in the right perspective the professional requirements and qualifications of the true stone restorer/refinisher, the questions are:
- How to find one.
- How to tell a professional from an amateur.
The answer to the first question is relatively easy: You can call a few stone retailers near you and ask them if they recommend a particular contractor. Or you can simply "Google it," using the keyword "Marble and Terrazzo Cleaning."
It's the answer to the second question that's the tough one! I mean, would you trust me – a stone guy – interviewing and ultimately choosing a physician for a position in a hospital? And what about the recommendation of your stone dealer or your interior decorator? Well, what on earth do they know about stone?! Consider how "intelligent" they were ever able to make you on the subject! So then, what to do?
Let me help you. But I must introduce the subject to a certain extent to make you understand better. Do bear with me: it's your coveted stone we're talking about, after all!
They can be applied in different shades – accordingly with the different situations, kinds of stone, or even the stone professional preferences – but, basically, the procedure to restore stone surfaces is actually one procedure, though not universal in its execution. The stone has to be ground, ground and ground down to a natural shine, period: no mysterious ingredients, no chemical alterations, no coating of any sort. And no shortcuts, either. It is not the operator who determines the pace; the stone does. It is indeed a skillful craft because, as I said before, it is not a standard procedure by a long shot.
Like anything else natural, stone can be very unpredictable, and the good professional has to adjust his judgment, his equipment, and his pace to each different situation. Whatever the abrasive means are, the procedure usually gets started with a rather coarse grit to remove scratching and etchings. Once this is achieved, patiently and skillfully, the restoration goes on by using finer and finer grits until the stone will begin to show a certain degree of sheen (this phase is commonly known as "honing.”) With a few exceptions, the abrasive means used up to this point will hardly be fine enough to achieve a final deep gloss.
The final grinding action (called polishing) is then done by rubbing very fine abrasive powders (partly metal-oxide based) mixed with water in a "slurry" on the stone surface until a high, consistent gloss is achieved. This final phase is the really difficult part because while the choice of the abrasive means to do the honing could always be the same, the choice of the abrasive powder is not always a question of the operator's personal preference. In many cases, it is dictated by the geological classification of the different stones, the differences between stones of the same geological classification (which can be huge at times!), their crystalline structure, their degree of hardness, etc.
Significant technological achievements teamed with the use of highly sophisticated, state-of-the-art, automated finishing lines enable the stone processing plants to overcome most of the differences among stones of the same geological classification; therefore, the polishing process is most likely the same all the time. All those achievements, alas, can hardly benefit the professional stone refinisher, if nothing else, because, in the factories, the loose stone (in the form of strips, planks, or slabs) go to and through the automated polishing line under ideal conditions (horizontal work pattern, perfect flatness, no encumbrances, constant speed, and pressure).
In a preexisting situation instead (whether it's a floor, a shower stall, a wall, a fireplace, etc.), the stone refinisher goes to the stone, under conditions that are certainly not ideal and using machines that are certainly not automated. Sometimes, certain areas can only be reached by hand! At this point, all the inherent differences listed before will have a dramatic bearing. The good professional has to choose the right polishing powder, select the proper polishing attachment for the machine, adjust its weight, determine the pattern and pace of the work and the amount of water to be used. This is the moment of truth. This is the phase that separates "the men from the boys." Some six hundred years of research, testing, trials, and errors are concentrated in this last phase of the restoration procedure.
Wow! ... Right? "Wow" indeed!
Well, now that you've overcome the first shock, let's see if you're ready for the second one!
How many of the stone restoration contractors listed on the Internet are professionally trained? I don't have official statistics to base any numbers on, but if I have to venture an educated guess (I met with many of them), I'd go for something like 5 out of 100. OK, maybe 10.
What happened to the other 90 to 95?
NOTHING! Or just about, compared with the complex and multiple requirements that are needed. In fact, they've got their "training" by some salesman who was there to push their "miraculous system" to polish marble! I do professional training, and I can tell you that nobody – including myself – can actually teach anybody HOW-TO polish marble. A true trainer can only teach the mechanics of the process, that is, WHAT's happening under the machine, and WHY. After that, either one has the "right stuff" to learn as one goes (which, among many other things, includes being able to recognize and classify the different marbles and granites, to the point of getting to know what to do with each one of them) or one's just in the wrong business.
And that is the real problem.
The stone industry is a happy bunch indeed. It's still so small that everybody can get away with murder! In fact, it is totally unregulated for all intents and purposes. No comprehensive official guidelines (only a few mild and toothless recommendations, here and there), no official professional training programs, no professional certifications of any sort. The recognized industry authorities seem to be there to do one thing and one thing only: promote the sales of stone. The only requirement to belong to them is the ability to pay their yearly dues. So, no matter how good or bad, everybody is accepted with open arms (and cash register, too!) Once such a situation is well-rooted, there's no way that any serious criteria of standards, or even plain business ethics for that matter, could ever be enforced: It would be against the interest of some group or another of (dues-paying) salespeople, therefore politically unfeasible.
When the problem of stone maintenance began to emerge and started growing by leaps and bounds, the whole matter was not perceived like the actual science/craft that it is, but like a "nice business opportunity." And the salespeople took matters into their hands! Of course, they didn't (and still don't) have a clue about different marbles and different "granites" (whatever they actually are!), etc., but it didn't matter. The smell of money was too enticing! They initially investigated with scientists and true stone experts but concluded that their determinations were not "sellable." Just too darn difficult!
There's got to be an easier way!
And an easier way they found. Well, kinda. OK, not really! But it could be sold, and sell it they did! The wondrous "Crystallization," or "Vetrification," or whatever the marketing gurus' vivid imagination dubbed it, made its much-heralded entrance on the stone industry stage! It had all the answers the end-users of stone were longing for. Well, kinda. OK, not really!
So, let's more properly say: The make-believe answers that end-users of stone were dreaming about! It also had all the make-believe answers that all those innocent stone refinisher wannabes were looking for: The Equalizer! The "Miracle-in-a-bottle." The “one-medicine-cure-all, the easy-way-to-refinish- stone-that-even-a-$6.00-an-hour-idiot-can-do”! Thus, also confirming the stereotype image that most people have in their minds when the word "maintenance" hits their ears!
Such a procedure, which found only detractors in the scientific world (I have on files several articles on the subject published over the years by eminent scientists and that were never opposed by any other scientist), is relatively quick, relatively inexpensive, and, above all, it promises the miraculous "protection" everybody and his brother is desperately seeking. It claims to attack the original molecular structure of calcite-based stones (marble, travertine, etc.) by means of a strong acid (the typical pH factor of any "crystallization" concoction is anywhere between 1.5 to 2.5!!), and change it into "something better." Kind of "We're better than God" sort of thing! All those claims are totally unsubstantiated, and at the very end, the whole thing turns out to be nothing but a high-tech, high-risk, and inherently wrong way of waxing.
Unfortunately, nobody is there to explain to the customers how bad that process could be for their stone and how false the promises are that it implies. Even the stones that can take that severe chemical beating are not easily serviceable after the first application. That hardened-on wax can't be stripped with regular janitorial grade strippers, and the only way to get rid of it is to grind the whole floor, even under the furniture, seriously! If you ask me, it's full-fledged quackery at its very best! But, hey, for as long as their promoters pay their yearly dues ... "the jury is still out on this one!" The ultimate real loser is the end-user, but that has never been much of a concern!
If nothing else, one simple question should come to mind:
If the wondrous process is so good, how come that in the factories, all over the world, nobody uses it to polish marble tiles and slabs?
Now, did I scare you enough? I sure hope so!
Now, the question is: "How do I recognize the doctor from the quack?"
In 1993, I participated in a four-day trade convention down in Miami Beach, FL. While in my hotel, out of curiosity, I took a look at the local Yellow Pages under the heading "Marble and Terrazzo Cleaning" (I hate such a misleading classification!). To my amazement, I realized that most ads were blatantly and proudly advertising the "Crystallization" process. Only one lonely ad explicitly stated: "We do NOT do Crystallization!" On the last day of the convention (which was open to the general public), a consumer with marble floors in her house came into my booth and asked me if I knew any good stone refinisher in the Miami area that I could recommend. The answer, in that case, was easy: "Get the only company that advertises NOT to do crystallization!"
I don't know down there, but at least in the North East, the answer is not as easy anymore! As a matter of fact, despite all the marketing hype preceding and following the "miracle-in-a-bottle," the theoretical damages that it can do to many a marble started to catch up and become a severe reality. Of course, nobody legally had a case – due to the lack of specific standards – but over the years, the process has gotten such a bad reputation that its promoters had no choice but keep it quiet, and disguise "the wolf in lamb's clothes."
So, don't expect that the "crystallizer" will disclose its real nature. They now go out with expressions such as: "We use the fluorosilicate process (very impressive, ain't it!)", or "We use a process that actually feeds Calcium back into the stone (can you actually believe THAT! Who on earth took the calcium out of the stone to begin with, that now it needs to be fed back into it?!)", or "We use the same process that the major casinos and hotels use (Yeah, like if they were the authority in stone maintenance!)", or they simply use the words "polishing."
It is easy to spot them, however.
- 1.If they admit (when specifically asked) that in the last phase (assuming that they even plan to do something else before that!...), they use a liquid polishing solution in conjunction (in most instances, but not always necessarily) with steel wool pads under their floor machine, it's a sure giveaway.
- 2.If they don't give a straight answer to that specific question (which would be a behavior already suspicious enough in my book!), you can demand (it's your legal right) to see the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) of the polishing agent they will be using. If that document indicates that the product is a liquid, it's again a sure giveaway.
These kinds of questions can be asked during the first interview over the telephone. If the contractor tells you that they can use either a liquid or a powder, as you prefer ("You prefer?"... How can you possibly have any preference? Who's the professional in the picture, you, the homeowner?!), it only means that they don't even know the difference or couldn't care less!! Take your pick!
Now that you have eliminated the quacks from the equation, the final task is to recognize a good professional out of those that actually polish stone. It shouldn't be so difficult. First of all, if they choose the "hard way," it means that they're really committed to becoming true professionals. They may not have much experience at times, but they may still deserve to be given a chance. They will make good on their end of the bargain one way or another. If that is not enough for you, then there's the usual routine.
- How did they impress you when you first met with them? Did they recognize your marble (or your "granite")?
- Where and how did they get their training?
- Can they supply trade references?
- Do they have a comprehensive written contract, or is it just a quote written on the back of a business card (beware of those that can't tell you what you can and cannot expect from their work. You do NOT want surprises, do you!)
- Are they going to supply you with precise guidelines (and possibly proper products) on how to properly maintain your stone once they are finished with the job? You had enough useless "advice" from your original dealer and installer, didn't you! Now it's time to hear something different, for a refreshing change!
I believe this should do, but if you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to contact us at http://www.mbstone.com. You actually adopted your stone, and now you want the best care available for it!
It sure deserves it.