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Laboratory Countertops


paulraphael
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After using all the common countertop materials, I can safely say I hate all of them.

Not completely ... many have their charms. I love the look and feel of wood. I half like the look of granite, and love that you can put a 500 degree pan on the counter. I like the low maintenance of corian. I like the idea of soapstone.

But they all have drawbacks. I don't like the hardness and completely unforgiving nature of stone ... the sense that if a glass topples over it will shatter. I don't like that it's quarried. I don't like that the patterns hide dirt. I don't like that wood and corian can' handle hot pans. I don't like the maintenance required by wood. I don't like the sterility and scratchability and dentability of stainless steel.

It seemed like there was no perfect option, until I heard about laboratory counters. Once upon a time they were made of soapstone or slate, but in recent years they're mostly rock dust (like quartz) bound with high tech epoxy resins. They are 100% non-porous, almost completely chemically inert, scratch resistant, and heat proof for anything short of nuclear experiments gone wrong.

Here are the performance specs for the counters made by Durcon. This company has recently branched into selling counters specifically for home kitchens. Many other lab companies make similar products.

I'd love to hear if anyone has first hand experience with this stuff. It sounds perfect.

Notes from the underbelly

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sounds like corian. corian is just alumina (aluminum oxide) powder in a polymer resin. I think the resin is PMMA.

It's not! This stuff is quartz in an epoxy resin.

Did you check out the link?

Try heating a porcelain crucible to a dull red color and setting it on a corian countertop until it cools. Or pointing a lit bunsen burner at corian for 5 minutes. Or leaving a puddle of 40% sulfuric acid on corian for 12 hours.

I don't know about you, but I can't be bothered to clean up each and every sulfuric acid spill in my kitchen.

Notes from the underbelly

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How interesting. When I was back in chemistry school over 25 years ago, the counters were all slate. I had not realized that another material was now popular.

Regards,

Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

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In the lab where I worked we had these countertops. They are indeed as close to invincible as you will come, though they do scratch. The ones we had were also specifically NOT warranted against extreme thermal shock: liquid nitrogen to bunsen burner-type shocks, of course, so you're probably safe for kitchen use. I would not exactly call them attractive, however. We put in a solid matte black. Fine for a lab, but I wouldn't want it in my kitchen.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I like the look of this material Vetrazzo. Being mostly recycled glass, it's sustainable as well as attractive.

I like the fact that this material is made from recycled glass and thus normally friendly and it looks very durable. The problem is the colors are terrible! The samples on the website kind of look like ceramics projects gone bad. They might work in some decors but I don't think they'd work in many, the only place I can see them work effectively is in a contemporary design.

I've learned that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

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I'm not sure about the thermal shock issue. The web page for duratec's consumer kitchen line suggests using a trivet, but makes it sound more like a precaution. The lab part of the site says they test the commercial tops by setting glowing-red poercelain crucible on them.

Scratching does seem to be an issue, but I doubt moreso than with softer stone (like marble or soapstone). The truth is, I consider my kitchen counters to be a work surface. I don't need them to be pristine. I don't mind them having a lived-in look.

Silstone is not nearly as heat reistant as the real lab surfaces. I don't think it uses anything like the same grade of epoxy.

Some ground quartz is quarried; some is synthetic. But even the natural stuff doesn't requre the impact of an open quarry. Quartz can be refined from scraps, gravel, sand, etc. etc... I seriously doubt they're pulling huge blocks of quartzite out of hillsides to grind them up into countertops!

Concrete is basically artificial limestone. It has many of the same issues as marble ... needs to be sealed (only much more often) is attacked by acids, etc. etc.. Depending on the durability of the sealants I can see it being a reasonable choice. But I just don't like work surfaces that are so hard and unforgiving.

I have granite and marble in my (rented) kitchen. The owner is a stonesmith and did all the renovations. EVERYTHING in this place is covered with rock. I like it most places except the counters. With patterened rock, function follows miles behind form. The counters drive me nuts.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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I think it's a brilliant idea, Paul. Do you know what laboratory countertops cost compared to traditional materials?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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P.S. I've said it before and I'll say it again: tile countertops are cheap and incredibly durable. Their only weakness is the grout, but if you use closely spaced, large tiles and a darker grout it's not a huge issue. If you're looking for the best cost:performance ratio tile is the way to go.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In particular, make sure you include installation cost: if I recall correctly, it actually cost my lab more to have them installed than the material itself cost. I don't think we were able to use the university's labor force, we had to have a specialty contractor come in to do it. This may be particular to the lab environment, however.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Which reminds me (thanks FG), I laid the tile for our counter top, and I'm pretty damn happy with it. As for grout, you must use a sealant, but a contractor would hopefully take care of that for you.

On NB for DIYers that I learned; the easiest way to lay/apply? tile for the nose is not with mortar or quickset, but rather with construction adhesive.

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I had a black epoxy resin cutting board for about ten years before it wore out. It was actually the cut-out for a stainless steel sink that was going into a new laboratory in Langley, BC. I was an intern architect at the time an asked the subcontractor for the piece, since it was headed for the trash. It eventually got quite scratched up, plus it was black - hard to see dark foods sometimes.

For most (not all) labs it's the countertop of choice because it's chemically inert and can handle a good range of temperature. For a school like in the case above it's a good choice because it gets a little bit of everything usage-wise. These counters often come with a marine edge -- a raised edge to prevent spills from pouring onto the floor. I wouldn't like this feature in my own kitchen.

Last time I checked, which was a long time ago, epoxy resin countertops are very expensive.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I couldn't find anything about price when I snooped around. Chris may have put his finger on it; the material cost might be low compared with fabrication and installation. It may be hard to get an idea without an actual quote.

It definitely seems like there's a wide range of composite countertops for labs, and they're not all created equal. There's probably a wide range of cost, too.

Notes from the underbelly

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I don't know about you, but I can't be bothered to clean up each and every sulfuric acid spill in my kitchen.

Candidate for quote of the year! :biggrin:

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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I wasn't suggesting that corian was just as inert, just that its a similar inorganic-organic composite. I guess my materials science background makes me assume everyone else thinks like me. I work in a lab now with similar countertops and they do scratch a bit but seem otherwise quite stable. I can't say how they react to concentrated sulfuric acid but I have spilled bleach and various organic solvents on them and they seem fine. Although stable they arn't very attractive for a kitchen.

Professional Scientist (in training)

Amateur Cook

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We have had John Boos 4" thick end grain countertops for over 10 years now. Haven't been able to hurt them, hot pans or whatever but no sulfuric acid available.

Scratches?, sandpaper every couple of years followed by Boos food grade oil.

We also have a 10 ' Sushi bar of edge grain Boos, same process but since no cutting on bar, sandpaper is followed by a Boos poly gel. -Dick

Edited by budrichard (log)
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We have had John Boos 4" thick end grain countertops for over 10 years now. Haven't been able to hurt them, hot pans or whatever but no sulfuric acid available.

Scratches?, sandpaper every couple of years followed by Boos food grade oil.

We also have a 10 ' Sushi bar of edge grain Boos, same process but since no cutting on bar, sandpaper is followed by a Boos poly gel. -Dick

I love butcher block counters, especially endgrain. In most ways they're my favorite. If I decided against the high tech option, I might go all the way the other way to wood. But I'm concerned about it in wet areas, like around the sink. And I also worry about leaving huge scars by putting screaming hot skillets and roasting pans on it. You've had no issues with this?

Are yours finished with something like urethane, or are they just oiled?

I can see bamboo being an interesting choice. It's a bit too hard for a cutting board, but it's practically indestructible and it seems to handle water without trouble.

Notes from the underbelly

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We have had John Boos 4" thick end grain countertops for over 10 years now. Haven't been able to hurt them, hot pans or whatever but no sulfuric acid available.

Scratches?, sandpaper every couple of years followed by Boos food grade oil.

We also have a 10 ' Sushi bar of edge grain Boos, same process but since no cutting on bar, sandpaper is followed by a Boos poly gel. -Dick

I love butcher block counters, especially endgrain. In most ways they're my favorite. If I decided against the high tech option, I might go all the way the other way to wood. But I'm concerned about it in wet areas, like around the sink. And I also worry about leaving huge scars by putting screaming hot skillets and roasting pans on it. You've had no issues with this?

Sink is Franke Manor House commercial thickness unit and sealed around the block with clear sealant. It gets wet, we keep a towel for drying and eventually will have to reseal the interface but so far no problems. I wash large pots/pans and just put wet onto block until I can dry.

If possible I try to use trivet for a very hot pan but if not, down the pan goes with no effects i have been able to discern. If there was, just sandpaper to remove.

Are yours finished with something like urethane, or are they just oiled?

Boos says just food grade Mineral Oil and that's all we use on the 4" end grain. Edge grain Sushi Bar is not cut on by us although some do use for this purpose so finished with Poly Gel about every two years.

4" Blocks come maximum 5' lenghts as I remember and are quite heavy, most contracters don't want to work with them as they are either lazy or have no experience. They want to sell you what they can make the most markup on and what's easiest for them to install. Went through two contracters in the process and finally the third knew what they were doing. It's not for the faint of heart but once installed and used, you will know. Blocks can crack, its an agricultural product. We have one with a crack, Boos has supplied new block free and we will install this coming spring. Either an original defect aggrivated by dry winters or from moisture from dishwasher? Who knows but i will design new moisture proof enclosure for dishwasher when replacing the block. -Dick

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I grew up in a house with butcher block tops---they are quite susceptible to all of the things you mention wanting lab grade tops for. I have burnt them with hot pans, scarred them deeply with dropped pots, and permanently stained them with aluminum cans, red wine, etc. If you are willing to call all of this abuse "patina" then you are fine. But in my opinion, from a functionality/ease-of-care standpoint, butcher block tops are just about the worst option out there. If you baby them they look great, but you better clean up those sulphuric acid spills right quick!

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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