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Solid surface, myth of the month - part 5

Solid surface, myth of the month - part 5

Myth no. 5 ’“ all "solid surface" is solid surface!

When is solid surface not solid surface? Not a philosophical question for you early in 2013, but rather an attempt to highlight the fact that there are many products out there calling themselves solid surface but which I would argue should not be.

This is also not an attempt to open up the argument about acrylic or polyester being the basis for solid surface (which has run and run on some fora recently).

My point is that when it comes to worktops (the main area of my concern here) one of the key requisites for being a solid surface should be the fact that the material used in making up the worktop is at least 12mm thick.

The devil's in the detail

Loathe as I am to quote Wikipedia, if you look at their page on solid surface it outlines several characteristics. According to the Wikis out there, solid surface:
  • "is a non-porous low-maintenance countertop surface."
  • "can be joined invisibly by a trained craftsman."
  • "[...] can also be heated and bent into three-dimensional shapes using a process called thermoforming, which adds to the versatility of the product.
  • "Countertop fabricators typically join solid surface sheets into desired shapes using a two-part adhesive, after which the cured joint is machined flat. The same method is used to create extra thick edges"
  • "Solid surface sinks can be joined to the countertop surface with no gaps, which eliminates areas for water to collect and bacteria to grow."
  • "Integral backsplashes can also be created that follow the contours of the wall ‘seamlessly’ and without gaps."
  • "Should the material become scratched or broken, solid surface can, in most cases, be repaired quickly by a trained fabricator."

Thick is Good

There are many worktops being sold as "solid surface" which are made of a 3mm or 4mm thick solid surface-type material bonded on to chipboard and then offered to the customer as blanks. Against the criteria above then, these products are not solid surfaces but rather a high end laminate product. Why do I say this -
Drainer Grooves and Sinks

One of the features of a solid surface worktop is to be able to have an integrated solid surface sink seamlessly flowing down from the worktop and to be able to router in drainer grooves and hob bar cut-outs. This is easily achieved when the worktop is made from a 12mm solid surface. Either (i) this cannot be done where the worktop is only 4mm thick as you would see the chipboard or leave a piece of worktop that is so thin it will crack easily with use; or (ii) it can be achieved through a complex process of cutting into the chipboard, filling it with a piece of 12mm solid surface, and then adding the sink or drainer grooves - all of which is extremely labour intensive and can end up being more expensive than if you use a 12mm solid surface in the first place.
Coved Upstands

One of the principle benefits of a solid surface worktop is the ability to add a coved upstand that looks great but importantly makes the worktop easy to clean and maintain. Once again, with only 4mm of solid surface to play with the only real alternative is a straight plant-on upstand or no upstand at all.
Preparation in a workshop environment

Solid surface requires a clean workshop and joinery skills to create a good job. The rule is always to leave as few site joints as possible needing to be done. The laminated blanks on the other hand are promoted for fitting and finishing on site alone. This can actually work out to be surprisingly difficult and expensive by the time you have added edging and done any cut-outs required. The nature of the joint area is also interesting. With only 3mm or 4mm of solid surface to be joined by the glue this can lead to inherently weaker joints than when joining two pieces of 12mm together. If the fitter is over-vigorous on the sanding then the joint will be even weaker due to lack of material left over.
Solid means solid

One of the key features of solid surface is the fact that it is solid and homogenous. This means that it cannot rot or delaminate. Where you have a thinner piece of material bonded onto chipboard on top and on the front this leaves a greater propensity for heat and especially water to get under the solid surface and into the chipboard. It does not take much for the worktop to "explode" leaving a delaminated mess.
Colour blind

Solid surface is a product that is made in batches and therefore needs to be colour-matched. A solid surface fabricator will make the whole job from sheets that colour match. As already mentioned the laminated products are sold as blanks. The issue here is that extra pieces such as edging strips, upstands or even blanks for island units will not be made from the same batch as the worktop and therefore are likely to highlight considerable differences in colour.

Each to their own

In this series of myth-busting blogs I am very keen not to be seen to be having a go at competitor materials. The same is true here: high end laminated worktops that use 3mm or 4mm solid surface type materials are good products for the price point that they serve and are helping to develop the solid surface market in general as the consumer becomes more aware of the possibilities available to them. That said, what is important is that the manufacturers and resellers of these products should not be selling to the public on the basis that their product is the same as a 12mm solid surface. If they don't want to be seen as a laminate then come up with a different term; just don't call it "solid surface". This is happening a lot - if you look around the web for well known brands of these laminated products they all refer to themselves as "solid surface". One of our fabricators went on a training course recently about how to fit a certain type of 4mm bonded worktop and had to take the trainer to task when he responded to a question by saying that their product was "the same as Corian®". It is simply misleading the public into believing that they are getting the same level of product as solid surface when they are not. Every product has its benefits, I just wish they would sell those benefits rather than muscling in on our market.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me?


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