It is a very interesting and amazing natural stone. It has been used in a variety of applications. And because of its properties, it is selected for very specific uses as a coutnertop or worktop surface material. We are talking about soapstone. In this article we sill convey basic information about natural soapstone. In addition to information, we will also talk about its properties and cover some uses for this amazing material.
What is Soapstone?
It the world of natural stone, it can be challenging to differentiate one material from others. In fact, even perceiving differences between natural and man made materials takes a bit of effort. So we are going to delve into the material soapstone. What is soapstone? The simple answer is tht soapstone is a metamorphic rock composed largely of talc. But that really doesn't explain it in detail. Notice how a geologist explains what it is in her article from UseNaturalStone.org:
Soapstone is an unusual type of metamorphic rock. Most metamorphic rocks are heated and squished versions of their former selves. Limestone becomes marble. Sandstone turns to quartzite. But soapstone doesn’t abide that simple recipe. Soapstone comes about from a series of chemical reactions that take place deep underground. Hot groundwater carries dissolved minerals from one rock to another, allowing a mingling of ingredients that begets entirely new minerals. In some cases, soapstone is a derivative of dolomite or dolomitic marble (like Super White). In others, soapstone comes from ultra-deep, ultra-dense rocks from Earth’s mantle. In this latter case, serpentine is also formed, and hence, soapstone and serpentine can often be found side-by-side in a quarry or outcrop.
From that definition then, we can see that soapstone is a unique material. As she says, it is not like most metamorphic rocks. She also says that soapstone varies in its composition to a degree. Soapstone can be confused with other greenish colored natural stone. So, it is good to not only know what it is, but also what its properties are. That way, it becomes easier to test a stone as being authentic soapstone.
Often times when we make mention of natural stone, we cite its porosity as one of its characteristics. However, natural soapstone is an exception to that rule. True soapstone is non-porous and does not absorb liquid. This characteristic means it does not need to be sealed like many other natural stone surfaces do.
Another trait that natural soapstone has is that it is considered a "soft" stone. You could say that it rolls with the proverbial punches. Since its composition includes a large portion of talc, it can range in hardness anywhere from 1 to 3.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness; all of which are soft. That is a pretty good sized range. But it makes sense because as we saw from the geologist's quote above, even the formation of the stone varies. So, it stands to reason that the resulting stone properties would vary too. Normally, cutting soft stone can be done using a diamond blade designed for cutting marble, limestone, and travertine.
In addition to being soft and non-porous, natural soapstone is unscathed when it is exposed to extreme pH levels in either direction on the pH scale. It resists being affected by highly acid substances and very alkaline substances as well. This tolerance for various pH levels is useful for certain applications as we will see in a bit.
Soapstone is also very heat resistant. In fact, it has been used as the material for several applications that require heat tolerance. Additionally, it is a material that is versatile and has a wide range of uses.
Uses for Soapstone
From scultping to flooring and wall tiling natural soapstone is a practical sotne that takes on many shapes and forms in many areas of life. Some of the uses for soapstone iclude the following:
- Laboratory Surfaces
- Boiling Stones
- Molds for Metal Casting
- Sculpting Material
- Cooking Pots
- Fireplace Liners
- Cooking Slabs
- Bed warmers
- Bowls & Plates
One highly targeted ara in which soapstone is used is in laboratories. Why? Because the surface must be able to withstand exposure to a variety of chemicals. Soapstone does this and that makes it desirable for such a use.
Soapstone Care and Maintenance
Caring for and maintaining soapstone is not complicated. After all, most of the care and maintenance that a natural stone requires is due to a stain that made its way into the pores of the stone or from a reaction to a liquid. Yet, as we covered earlier, soapstone has no pores so it is not susceptible to stians. And it does not react with acids or with alkali liquids so it is not a problem for it to be used in a kitchen as a countertop. However, that is not to say that soapstone needs no care or maintenance.
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, soapstone is a soft material. This means that it is relatively easy to scratch. It also can be "dented", which is not something that you normally associate with a natural stone material. But soapstone is not just another natural stone material as we have seen.
Dealing With Soapstone Scratches & Dents
So how can soapstone be cared for if it is easily scratched, dented, and even gouged? Well, soapstone that is regularly treated with mineral oil maintains its natural beauty. If scratched, applying mineral oil to the surface of the stone makes the scratches much less visible; even invisible. And for deeply gouged surfaces made form soapstone, there are techniques for filling and repairing these.
Is Soapstone Right For Your Project?
Knowing whether soapstone is the right material for your surfaces depends on what you consider to be acceptible and which methods of care and maintenance are suitable for you and/or your customers. Knowing this will give you an idea of whether soapstone is a good fit.
As we have seen, soapstone is a very moldable material that we could say does not fit into the mold so-to-speak. On the one hand, it can be easily shaped. And yet on the other hand, it is very different from virtually all other natural stone. Its metamorphic development is different, its properties are different, and the use and care that is needed is different. But when you need a natural stone that will endure virtually everything you throw at it and still look pretty good after being bumped, bruised and scratched, it just might be the choice for you.