By Steven V. Philips –
For counters and sinks, soapstone is making a big comeback. In the April issue of F&M, I credited the renowned Professor Soapstone from Vermont Granite, Marble, Slate AND Soapstone, as the expert who answered my antique soapstone sink construction question. I might note that this inside information crowned me as Old Sink Expert at Flavors & More. Time for my raise. Note: “old” means sinks, not me.
Feeling guilty gratitude, I clicked over to VGMS&S’s website and hooo-boy!, soapstone isn’t just for high school Chemistry rooms. You do remember your soapstone-surfaced Chem lab and the ugly business about coloring Marcia Peterson’s hair purple with some concoction that you and Ellen cooked up? Turns out soapstone is not just for you would-be hair stylists.
Unlike Formica which will last 300 million years in the landfill, soapstone is already about 300 million years old. It’s quarried – like marble or granite. It feels “soft” because there’s talc in it but it really ain’t soft. At all. Also it’s inert, but not inert like your teenager. This inert characteristic means alkalis and acids won’t affect it, unlike granite, marble, or slate. Also, unlike your teen, nothing much effects soapstone including that it’s far from absorbent. So if it picks up a stain, the stain is literally on the surface and won’t sink in. You can scrub or sand (sanding with really fine grit) stains and grim off. Not so for marble, most granites, slate, limestone and travertines which are absorbent. Soapstone isn’t absorbent, also unlike your teen.
The one thing that the Professor does recommend is to seal your soapstone counter with either mineral oil or a stone sealer. His Web site is an encyclopedia of sealing facts but basically your spilled moonshine, or whatever else you’re splashing about, won’t penetrate the stone below the surface.
In addition to soapstone counter surfaces, there are the spectacular soapstone sinks, either fabricated of slabs or carved out of one piece. Drain boards can be routed into the counter’s surface. Edges can be shaped and L-counter shapes, and more, can be fabricated. And the Verde soapstone can go outdoors.
In the old days, Vermont and Virginia were the sources in the USA. Today the soapstone at VMS&S comes primarily from Brazil. It has a 50% talc content and it speaks English beautifully…
For outdoor use, Vermont Verde from Rochester, VT is the one to use. In the Serpentine family, it’s basically a very hard stone, containing a very small quantity of talc (1% to 3%). As you chemists well know (see above), the Serpentine group of rocks contain greenish, brownish, or spotted minerals. These would be of rock-forming hydrous, magnesium iron, phyllosilicate minerals. You know, common household words…
For some inside information, in response to my ancient and highly skilled secret interrogation techniques, the Expert did give some not-so-secret answers.
Approximate cost of soapstone per square foot?
$75-$100.00/SF installed, versus granite at $45.00-$200/SF (depending on the type). And versus marble at $70-$200/SF (depending on type).
Can soapstone be easily cut?
True soapstone (that’s with 50% talc content) can be cut with a carbide blade. Butt joints are typically used and joined with stone epoxy. Duct tape or glue sticks will not do.
Can edges be shaped locally?
Vertical edges can be finished with sandpaper, a block of wood, water and much patience. Shaped edges can be routed with whatever profile router bit fits your edgy mood.
Do colors vary by source?
Yes, but the predominantly used soapstone for counter tops (the 50% talc stuff) has a gray-blue color. Once oiled or color enhanced, it takes on darker tones of black, and sometimes a little dark green, matching my eyes.
What about the drainboard grooves?
First I learned that if you say grooves you are marked as such an stone amateur. Be stone cool here and say drain runnels. And note, they are shaped with a ball-shaped router bit so as to have a rounded bottom. More easily cleaned.
Finally, soapstone isn’t only for counter surfaces. Soapstone is being fabricated for cookware, pizza stones, bed warmers, wine chillers and copings for swimming pools. Next year, a hybrid car?
Then Professor added this final hot fact, “Having natural heat retention characteristics, soapstone is widely used for masonry heater fireplaces, wood stoves, fireplace liners and pizza ovens. (They)… heat very quickly from burning coal, pellets or wood…. soapstone will then slowly radiate heat very evenly for hours…. Even after the fire has long gone out!” Home reno projects in the planning stage? Think soapstone.