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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
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    Metro West Boston, MA
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    165

    Default Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    I'm thinking seriously about having a go at some soapstone tops and maybe a sink. We did a remod job a few years ago where the fabricators simply brought in slabs and fabricated the tops on the spot. Used regular carbide tooling and carpentry tools. No magic, no CNC machinery, just epoxy and relatively soft soapstone. I remember thinking that not only could WE do that but we'd probably do a better job, as some of the joints were pretty sloppy.
    All that said I have to assume there's more than a few tricks to using this material and I hate to eat expensive goods learning to do a decent job. So, I looked around for something about soapstone fabrication and came up empty handed. No books. No DIY sites. So I figured I'd ask here.
    Anyone ever try it? Know of any sources of info? Books? Websites?
    Any info appreciated.
    Mark White

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    Western suburbs of Chicago
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    5,554

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    Here are a few links to get you started...

    http://www.vermontsoapstone.com/

    http://soapstones.com/

    I seem to remember reading an article on fabrication in either JLC or FHB several years ago. I'd do a search & try to find the article, but I'd also suggest contacting the companies above. They're an excellent source of info & have installation guidelines they can direct you to.

    I did my own kitchen counters a few years ago, but chose to use large soapstone tile instead of slabs, thinking the fabrication might be easier to do by myself. In hindsight, it ended up being more work than just fabbing the slabs, due to all the extra substrate prep, epoxy grout, etc. I still used some of the same techniqes & the same tools you use on slabs. That said, it's pretty easy to work with. Good quality carbide tooling is a must, as is good dust collection. If possible, I'd do the fabrication outside to minimize the mess. If you're comfortable fabricating wood products & follow the installation guidelines from your supplier, you shouldn't have much trouble.
    Greg

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
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    2,196

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    Mark,

    There is a guy just north of me on the Island named Andy who lives in a house thats like 300 years old. He's a contractor and I believe he fabricated and installed soapstone tops in his kitchen.
    He hangs over at Breaktime. Give him a shout over there, he goes by AndyBuildz. Nice guy and I'm sure he will give you some good info on the material.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    Southwestern Vermont
    Posts
    1,972

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    I use a local high-end kitchen remodeler for the few pieces of soapstone I do. He's let me hang out in his shop when doing my pieces; dust control and a couple of strong backs are key. I haven't had the b8lls to try fabbing it myself yet (primarily because of the cost of the stone) but here's a soap stone bar I designed for a customer recently. The legs were handforged by a blacksmith.

    -Norm
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  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Norwalk, CT
    Posts
    223

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    I did some for a customer last year, with good results, then did them in my own house about six months later, so the experience is fresh in my mind. It's remarkably easy to work with, but soft and heavy, so you have to be careful not to nick or gouge it, or break corners, and did I say it was Heavy? I can post more later, but wood working tools do everything you need. Carbide tipped stuff works great, just do multiple passes. The dust by the way is talcum powder, and really clouds up. Work outside. I'll post more later. Great DIY section at

    http://www.soapstones.com/diy.html

    This is the outfit I bought the stone from for both jobs.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Metro West Boston, MA
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    165

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    Thanks for the help guys. I did a little checking and got a few surprises, mainly that soapstone is rarely quarried here in NE anymore, it all comes from Brazil and China (I guess like most everything else nowadays). I figured I'd be using local stone...
    The link at soapstones.com was great, one of the few links that talks about DIY fabrication. A call to my tile supplier (who also fabricates soapstone) confirms the ease of fabrication, within limits (he recommended diamond tooling not carbide, and limiting slab size to 30 x 70). Well, now I have to find a decent and inexpensive source and then give it a shot. If anyone has any other NE sources they've been happy with I'd appreciate it.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
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    Norwalk, CT
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    223

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    OK, so here is what I learned. Sorry for the long post...

    I was given 2 recycled staight countertops that had to form an "L" one of which recieved a farm style sink. That staight run containing the sink had drainage grooves routered into the surface to drain excess water into the sink on both sides of the sink, but it was too short. I ended up making a seam in the middle of the grooves on the right, then continuing the grooves about 3" into the "L" to the right. For the left side, I had a circular tabletop of the same stone about 50" in diameter that I cut into another "L". The existing straight run, holding the sink, had a profile milled into the counter lip, that was a classic "Tabletop" profile, kind of a cove to a 1/4 round shape. The corners were curved.

    So in short, I had to cut: long straight runs, a large scribed 90 degree outside corner, radiused inside corners, Rout profiles into the radiused corners, run tapered grooves into a flat surface, then put the three pieces in place and glue them all up.

    It was all suprisingly staightforward. the material really works like wood, in that it can be worked with the tools we all have with us every day. I did invest in a good diamond blade that I put in an old "77" worm drive that I used for the long straight cuts, using a 1/2" thick plywood shooting board clamped to the soapstone. I set a shopvac up to the front of the saw with a funnel made out of masking tape, taped to the saw. This helped a lot, I wouldn't have been able to see my cuts otherwise, the whitish /blue dust was everywhere. I did all my cuts dry, no attempt to use a wet saw or cutting system.
    (When I did my own counters afterwards, I used my festool saw as an experiment to do my sink cut outs and end cuts. I ended up with cleaner results, but I used up a new blade in about 12 linear feet of cuts.)

    For the Edge profile, I used a router with shopvac attached, and did about three passes to get the final cut. The bit showed little wear after about 6 linear feet of cutting.

    The corners for the sink and radiused corners were cut with a bosch jigsaw, with a thick blade (DP series) then "tuned" with a belt sander freehand.

    The grooves were run in with a round sign-making bit then tapered to nothing with a multimaster with a couple of rubber profiled tips.

    Holes for the radiuses or for fixtures can be bored with regular steel hole saws.

    Joining the pieces together went smoothly, make sure everything is really flat and level, so the pieces all meet perfectly flush. Score the edges and apply the epoxy, I used Akemi epoxy, which was easy to use and very strong. Butter up the joints, (I applied blue tape on either side of the joint so that the epoxy wouldn't get onto the flat surfaces) then squeeze the slabs together. The stuff sets up in about 15 minutes. Then I sanded it clean with my festool sander, using 100 then 150 grit paper.

    All in all it went very smoothly. Make sure you have a bunch of bodies around anytime you want to carry this stuff around. It is heavier than granite. It is not fantastically strong, so I wouldn't cantilever it for a bartop, and it can nick or gouge quite easily. Living with it myself, I really like it. Glasswear placed on it feels solid, it doesn't "bounce" the way it can on granite, ( and Granite is soooo 2004 .... :-) ) It does scratch, but mineral oil applied to it makes the scratches disappear. nasty ones can get rubbed out with 220 grit paper. You need to coat it with mineral oil every month or so for about a year till it stays dark. You can put a pot on it right off the stove, spill anything on it and it doesn't stain. Very good stuff, and it adds a lot of character to the kitchen. In my opinion, looks much "richer" than anything else. There is a "softness" yet solidity to it that just works.

    Oh yeah, I bought my stuff from the guys in the link,
    M. Teixeira Soapstones (SP?) They were great to deal with. I bought 30 inch slabs, ripped them down to 25" and used the off cuts as my backsplash. (Be careful handling these....)
    Last edited by trimdude; 01-15-2007 at 09:49 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Metro West Boston, MA
    Posts
    165

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    trimdude-
    Great post and great advice. Just what I was after.
    I'm gonna give it a whirl.
    So, did you toast the carbide router bits (as in: should I spring for a diamond bit?) or did they work OK? When you used your Festool I assume that was a carbide blade you ate in 12 lf? I was leaning towards the dry cut diamond blade and a beater skilsaw. Did you use 3/4" goods or 5/4"? I'm tempted to use 5/4. I hear that you can get 30 x 72 slabs pretty readily, what type of finish were the faces (80 grit or tool marks or what) out of the crate? What trouble did you have with the backsplashes, fragile?
    Lastly, what did you use for glue? I hear regular (high grade) epoxy works fine.
    Thanks

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Rockport, MA
    Posts
    556

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    I was too cheap to put granite in my own home, so I opted for soapstone as well. I ordered my from an outfit up in Amesbury, Mass, they specialize in salvage. I forget the name of the place, but they were good to deal with. We got Ice flower soapstone from Brazil. I wanted something different then the solid stuff. The Ice flower has lots of veins and character and I think hides the wear and tear well too.

    I used a wormdrive and diamond blade and cut against a straight edge each time. I didn't score, I just made one cut. A vac out in front really helps keep the path clear. The 5' slabs were 30" thick and I got extra for a higher backsplash - I think I went 8" or so. My slabs weighed 250 lbs each. They were a bear for me and my father in law to move around. I had one of my helpers there a few times to help us too. I cut outside as much as possible b/c there is tons of talc dust as everyone has said. I did cantilever my soapstone on a bar/overhang and had a local welding shop make up some brackets. It overhangs about 14" and is two pieces joined together over 10', with the bracket at the joint and into a stud. It has been fine. We used the two part epoxy they recommended and it worked great for joining seams. Regular black silicone caulk worked well on the sink and and black latex caulk worked well to set the backsplash.

    I did an under-mounted sink, man made granite and I think it looks good. I rounded over all the edges with freud 3/16" radius bit and it lasted the whole job. The collet or washer thingee scratched the edges in a few spots and it would not sand out. it has darkened a bit as the slabs have aged, but a little tape of the edges would have protected it better. I too used a bosch jigsaw for the sink. I started with carbide blades and they got destroyed. The Ice flower has some mineral spots in it that are very, very hard. I needed the blade, I can't think of the name, but it looks like the sawzall blade you would use to cut cast iron, to really make the cut. Then I rounded the corners with a 3/8 radius bit. The corners do get pretty banged up washing dishes, pots, pans, etc. I think the larger radius helps. Oh and my sink just didn't have curved corners, there is also a sweep or wave near the faucet. Lots of hand sanding and working at it. The place I bought from does installations and I forget the crazy price he quoted me for an undermounted sink, but it was expensive. He said Soapstone cost very close to granite and his company was set up to do both.

    I think it may be a lot easier to make a pattern out of wood with the jigsaw and then use a plunge router with a guide or top bearing bit and carefully plunge away. I think it would be quicker and more accurate too. I am planning on trying it out on some extra slabs I have more my pup's bowl stand. I have been going to do it for a year+ now. I would really love to try a sink too.

    I really do like the material and enjoy the low maintenance aspect. No sealing. Mineral oil now and then, but not as often as we should.

    I will try and post some pics after I resize them.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Rockport, MA
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    556

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    They haven't been oiled in months. About a year and a half old now.
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  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
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    Rockport, MA
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    556

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    A couple more.
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  12. #12
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    Jun 2004
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    Rockport, MA
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    556

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    One last pic.
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  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
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    2,196

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    Would it be easier and cheaper to just have your fabricator make it up and install it?

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Norwalk, CT
    Posts
    223

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    Nice stuff mdann.
    Looks like mine, ( always should have been oiled yesterday...)
    Nice veining.

    Sounds like we did pretty much an identical installation.

    Mark,
    I used the akemai for the slab to slab joints, and black caulk for the backsplash. You end up with a nearly invisible seem if the tops have been oiled, (the akamai is black...) I had 30 " wide slabs, ripped to 25", leaving me with long 5" wide pieces for the backsplash. One broke when lifting it unevenly, so the "Be careful" statement... (i fixed it w/epoxy)
    The Festool had the stock carbide blade in it, and I didn't completey kill it, but it was pretty beat when I finished, but I ran into some hard crystalline sections as mdann described. These sections are hard to work, but on the plus side give a lot of character to the the slab.
    The router bit was carbide, and did a lot of work, and was in great shape at the end of the job.

    I bought 5/4" heavy slabs. The skill 77 w/diamond is the champ for long rips, the festool was just for the sink cutout, and the backsplash cuts.
    i would say the slabs were 150 grit at least out of the crate on the good side. Light sanding smoothed them ready for oil.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
    Rockport, MA
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    556

    Default Re: Advice On Fabricating Soapstone Tops

    Gary, I think I bought all my slabs for about 3k and they wanted another 5k to install it. For two days worth of work, I'll do it myself. It wasn't bad work at all other then the slabs being heavy. My friend and tile installer has some people building a house in town and they want to come over and take a look. They are thinking either slate or soapstone. The house is on the water an mammoth. He said the kitchen is expansive. At 250 a slab, I don't know if I am interested in the work, but I could probably charge a good penny, so I am always interested. My father in law wanted us to go into the soapstone business as a side thing, but the weight of the slabs has kept me from diving in.

    Granite is great for now and might be timeless, but soapstone has been around for ages and really is timeless in my opinion.

    Hey Trim, what do you think of the router idea for sinks? Pattern and plunge router, multiple passes... Think it would work any better? Those crystalline sections were a killer with the jigsaw.

    Mike

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