One of the benefits of working with solid surface is that not only does it offer a clean and seamless look, but it can also be fabricated using common woodworking tools. This has allowed a number of traditional woodworking shops to cross over and begin to offer a premium countertop material to customers. Some shops have even dropped the woodworking all together, and opted to specialize in only countertops as markets have changed. For others, the low cost of woodworking tools vs. the cost of tooling designed for stone has helped new shops open up and get started fabricating countertops with less overhead.
That being said, times are changing and solid surface is no longer a simple color palette in one size. We now have solid surface which looks like quartz from the Staron Tempest or Hanwha Brionne line, 3-cm solid surface from EOS and Formica, and even sheets of the material custom made to the size you need from Avonite. How do fabricators keep up with the trends in the shop?
A number of manufacturers are now using mica in solid surface. Mica is a naturally occurring mineral that consists of hydrous silicates, most commonly of aluminum or potassium, which provides a sparkle or opalescent effect when included in the solid surface mix. It comes in a number of different micron sizes and when used, is usually added to darker colors. It shows up well when the product has been sanded to a higher gloss, but can be noticeable at any gloss level.
Mica, while it looks neat, can really suck the shine out of traditional carbide tooling. This is because mica is harder than the solid surface it is suspended in and acts as an abrasive increasing tool wear, shortening the life of your tooling. \
To combat the issues associated with carbide tooling wear from mica or wear from the challenges of working with a thicker 3-cm solid surface material, many fabricators are looking to diamond tooling for a solution. Though diamond tooling tends to hurt the pocketbook more than carbide, there are a number of benefits to adding diamonds in solid surface fabrication.
Before discussing what diamonds can do for you, let’s take a look at the makeup of diamond tooling. Diamond tooling lines marketed for use on solid surface are not the same tools marketed for use on stone. The difference is in the placement and functions of diamonds on the material. Diamonds on stone tooling function as abrasive tooling, meaning the diamonds are most commonly impregnated into a tool body. The diamonds don’t actually cut, but rather wear down the surface of the stone or quartz material.
Diamond tooling for solid surface differs from this abrasive type of tooling in that the tools are diamond-tipped rather than impregnated. The diamond-tipped tooling actually cuts the material rather than wearing it down. It’s polycrystalline diamond that is tipped onto the tool so that the appearance of the tool is virtually identical to carbide. It’s only upon close inspection do you see that it isn’t carbide material on the bit — it is diamond; whereas, you would definitely see the difference to an abrasive stone tool.
When it comes to diamond vs. carbide tooling for your solid surface materials, diamond is 300 times more abrasion-resistant than carbide. This is good news for your mica-containing solid surface materials. This doesn’t mean, however, that your diamond tooling will last 300 times longer than the traditional carbide tooling, but in many cases, diamond-tipped tooling can last 15 to 20 times longer than carbide tooling on a CNC machine. Because of the life expectancy of diamond tooling, it’s becoming more common to see solid surface materials machined with diamond-tipped router bits, or even shaper stations or saw machines utilizing diamond-tipped tooling.
As far as cost is concerned, yes, diamond tooling is more expensive than carbide tooling, but depending on the tooling being purchased, it can be reasonably affordable as it relates to the type of tooling you are purchasing.