Granite is a naturally occurring stone. It is mined in quarries, where diamond wire saws and drills are used to cut it into transportable size and dimensions. Usually a very large diamond tipped saw is mounted nearby and the massive blocks of granite from the quarry are sliced into slabs for use as grave markers, countertops and tiles. The cut granite is then transported to wholesalers and retailers. Granite countertop slabs are generally around 1 3/4-inches thick and are not polished or fabricated in any way. The consumer chooses her desired slabs and then has it fabricated to fit her kitchen, for which there is an additional cost.
Prefabricated granite countertops are usually made of real granite. The raw granite slabs have been cut to standard countertop sizes with diamond saws and the edges have been rounded off or bullnosed with diamond grinders. Prefabricated granite comes in the regular choice of colors and sizes. Some have had holes cut out for standard sized sinks and their faucets. The granite is also polished and buffed to a shine with diamond polishing pads. This is often performed overseas prior to importation where labor costs are lower and the savings are passed on to the consumer. The ready-made prefabricated counter tops only need to be fitted together at installation.
Manufactured granite is made in a factory. A blend of natural granite chips and stones and quartz is mixed with polyester resin. The resulting slabs are baked in a hot oven to cure the resin. The slabs are then polished with diamond pads. The retail cost of manufactured granite is comparable to that of prefabricated granite as the granite can be pre-fabricated in the molds and does not require fabrication after production. The manufacturers claim manufactured granite is as beautiful and durable as naturally occurring granite. It is difficult for the average consumer to detect the difference between natural and manufactured granite countertops.
Tiles are a less expensive method of installing granite countertops, although they are not inexpensive, often retailing, as of 2011, at more than $15 per square foot. The advantage of granite tiles is most homeowner handymen can easily install them and cut them to fit around fixtures. They are also easy to transport and relocate and do not require a specialized delivery vehicle. The downside is the grout may become discolored and require more maintenance than granite slabs.