February 23, 2005

Soapstone Countertops...

We've been working on a substantial do-it-yourself project. I'm going to blog it, just so I'll have the pictures and story in one place in case anyone asks or Googles. I'm fabricating countertops for our kitchen, (actually half the kitchen for the first stage) using Soapstone (Steatite. Not to be confused with Talc, which is also called soapstone).

Stone slab on rolling table
Slab of 3/4" Soapstone on my rolling table. Click below for more.

Soapstone has several advantages over other stones. One of them is that it's easy enough to cut and shape so that do-it-yourselfers can tackle it. Another plus is that, although it is softer than granite or marble, it is also denser. It won't absorb stains. Lab benches are sometimes made of Soapstone. Also, it's appropriate for older homes—it's a traditional material without a glitzy modern look. We bought the stone from M. Teixeira Soapstone (pronounced: teh-SHARE-uh) which has just opened a San Francisco warehouse.

In the picture above you saw it in its natural light gray color. But the last task after you've installed your stone is to rub it with mineral oil. When you do, something dramatic happens! It suddenly looks like this:

New countertop one
This is the first piece we've completed. The grain of the stone jumps out when it's oiled.

Soapstone is not hard to cut using a diamond blade. But it's very dusty work. Everything will be covered with fine white powder. Do it outside. I found this simple cutting guide very valuable. Also I covered my table with an extra sheet of rough plywood and set the saw depth to just a little more than the thickness of the slab. Then I cut right on the table. That way the stone is always supported.
Cutting with cutting guide.

The stone used for countertops is 1 1/4" thick. I made the backsplashes from a slab of 3/4" thick stone. We wanted a curved section behind the stove, so I made a template from 1/2" MDF. I roughed the curves out with the saw, then used the template and a router with a pattern-following carbide bit to get the final shape. (I used this cheap little trimming router so that if working with stone damaged it I could just throw it away with a light heart. But so far it's fine.)
Router and template
Also, the edges are easily finished with sanders, and scratches can be easily sanded out..

And here are the backsplashes in place...

Here I've glued two pieces together with a black epoxy, and I'm starting sanding. The epoxy is smelly stuff, you want LOTS of ventilation. The seam shouldn't have been so messy, but no matter, the excess was sanded off, and the seam disappeared once we oiled the stone. This should have been a two-person job; the glue hardens up quickly, and I barely had enough time.
Seam in countertop
That slight bend in the wall and the cabinets was tricky to do in stone. Lots of finicky adjustments, which usually meant hauling heavy slabs outside and then back in...

DONE (Almost. We're considering putting splashes at the ends of the counters...)

Finished counter

Important note: The glossiness of these counters is misleading. They've just been oiled.
Soapstone won't take a high polish like granite or marble.

NOTE: My comments close after 10 days. But feel free to e-mail me. (And if the issue is especially interesting I'll add it here as an update.)

Posted by John Weidner at February 23, 2005 9:03 PM
Weblog by John Weidner