Granite Countertops - Get the Right Start with the Right Finish

June 28, 2012

The start of a race is important – but no matter how quick the runner is off the blocks, it is how he finishes that counts. When it comes to selecting a granite finish for your project, this is also true. Starting with the right material and color for your project is important, but the final choice – the finish – will determine the overall appearance of the stone and the impact on your room. 

Surface finish is the final step in a process that starts with a rough granite slab. (Note that the surface finishes discussed here are not the same thing as surface sealants.) Finish is determined by the amount of grinding, polishing and buffing that the slab undergoes throughout that process. Common granite finishes are polished, honed, and brushed. Each finish affects the look and function of the granite differently.

 Polished – The most common factory finish for granite, polished is the smoothest, most reflective. It enhances the natural colors, patterns, and crystal structures in the stone. The stone even appears darker. A good way to think about how a polished finish affects stone is to think about a pebble or shell you find on the beach. When dry, you can see some of the details. When dipped in the ocean, it suddenly comes alive – darker, sparkling, and shiny from the water.

In terms of function, polished is also the least porous of the finishes. This makes it a highly popular finish selection for high traffic, moist areas like the kitchen or bathroom vanity, as it is easy to clean and maintain and the color is not likely to stain (darker or lighten).

The overall effect of a polished finish of the granite countertop is a sleek, colorful look that is, simply put, polished. The impact on the room is highly contemporary. Polished finishes pair well with modern appliances, especially stainless steel. Though the material itself is natural granite, the finish gives it a less organic feel than achieved with a matte finish.

Honed – Unlike its polished, mirror-like counterpart, a honed surface finish has a very low sheen. A honed finish is smooth but reflects little or no light. (Think of this finish in terms of wall paint – polished would be gloss and honed would be matte or flat.)

Honed is grinded and smoothed like polished, but it is not subjected to the final buffing stage that gives a polished finish its shine. Honing also softens the granite color, so where a polished stone is boldly vibrant, a honed stone finish is subtle and appears more washed. This lighter, muted look is suited to traditional spaces where a natural looking surface is desired.

It’s important to note that in terms of function, a honed finish opens up the pore of the granite more than polishing, making it more susceptible to stains. Proper care, cleaning, and sealing will keep a honed finish looking its best. However, this maintenance is balanced by the benefits – a honed surface is less slippery than polished, making it not only useful in kitchens and bathrooms like a polished option but additionally effective on floors and stairs.

Brushed – This finish is obtained by applying plastic or metal brushes to the granite surface during processing. The result is a somewhat antiqued or worn look which is satiny soft, without reflection (shine), and textured, rather than smooth like polished or honed surfaces. The texture is pleasant to the touch, not rough, but not as popular in high traffic areas (like the kitchen countertop) where it is less suited as a writing surface or place for rolling out dough as is a polished surface.

 

Brushed granite can serve the same functions as other finishes, like granite countertops and backsplashes, but is also particularly valued for accent pieces given its unique look. The soft texture lends itself to an organic feel which is fashionable for focal points. The only downside to selecting a brushed finish for an accent piece is that if it is not as readily accessible in every day use, you will miss out on the opportunity to run your hands over it!

When it comes to maintenance, a good sealant is a must. Brushing the surface opens the pores, like with a honed finish. Different species of granite respond differently to texturing, which will affect ease or difficulty in cleaning, so it is important to consider the type of granite, as well as where and how you’ll apply granite with a brushed finish to your project.

When compared to honing, there are several key differences. Brushing gives a more sophisticated look to the stone, meaning that it is visually striking but does claim the weathered look one might associate with a honed finish. In addition, a brushed finish retains the vibrancy of granite colors (almost like a polished finish without the shine), rather than muting them.

Uses of honed and brushed stone finishes vary, and are ever-growing in popularity. Only 5 to 10 years ago, natural or polished finishes were the mainstays. However, granite lovers who wished to explore all that this material has to offer encouraged the pursuit of more ways to finish it. The result is the many ways to change the appearance of the same stone, depending on style and need, by finish alone. Whatever you choose, remember that your material and color selections are important, but it is the finish that will win this race!