I grew up in a house with oak kitchen cabinets. I knew oak was a kind of tree and had raked mountains of oak leaves at my grandmother’s house. Give me a few minutes and I could turn an acorn into a shrill and deafening whistle. Even with firsthand knowledge of oak trees, it never occurred to me that our cabinets came from a tree. They had no similarity to any natural product I had encountered. It was easier to believe they were created in a lab where technicians poured oak colored epoxy into cabinet door–shaped molds.

Stone, like wood, can be dramatically altered. Stone alteration was easier for me to comprehend. I never saw a tree fall and turn into a pile of boards. I did see roads cut through rock exposing the veined and striated surface. I walked barefoot on river rocks worn smooth, and tucked stones tumbled by the tide in my pocket.

It amazes me that you can take massive chunks of quarried stone, slice them into sheets 11⁄8" thick, and polish them smooth as glass for use as countertops. In addition to high gloss, countertop stone is commonly available honed or leathered. A highly polished surface will look less like any rock you’re likely to walk over on a hike but will hide evidence of use effectively. A honed surface will show evidence of use more readily. Leathering is somewhere in between. The surface is polished then distressed with wire brushes. The brushes remove softer material. The result is a mildly textured surface with a satin sheen.

There are two primary ways to template for stone countertops. The low-tech way involves 2"-wide strips of 1⁄4" plywood. Those strips are placed on top of the base cabinets, mimicking the edges of the eventual countertop. The strips are held together with hot melt glue, marked to keep the orientation correct, then taken back to the shop and used as a template. The high-tech option utilizes a tripod-mounted machine that looks like a boxy laser level. Targets are set on top of all base cabinet corners and moved during the process to other various locations. The tripod-mounted unit collects the location of the targets and sends the data to a connected laptop. The laptop’s program interprets the data and creates a drawing of the future countertop. It will also generate the program for the computer-controlled fabrication saw. The information collected and program created can be sent directly to the saw. If scheduling allows, fabrication can begin before the templating tech has packed up their tools.