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rgruby

Soapstone & Concrete countertops

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In an earlier thread I asked about the pros & cons of Corian and Silestone countertops. (You can read more about that here: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...485&hl=)&st=30)

That thread brought up a couple more countertop material possibilities, namely soapstone and concrete. While there is some discussion of them in that previous thread, I thought I'd give them their own little shot at egullet glory by having their very own thread.

I'm particularly interested in hearing more about soapstone. The only drawback I've heard about it so far is that it comes in, well, soapstone. I have no idea about its durability, porousness, maintenance requirements or cost. Can somebody fill me in?

Concrete was discussed in a little more depth in the Corian/Silestone thread, but any further comments would be welcome.

Thanks,

Geoff Ruby

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A couple of years ago, Martha Stewart spent some shows showing off the new kitchen studio. There were acres of soapstone, counters and sinks. That was when I remembered it fondly from my long ago years as a lab rat. For many years soapstone was the material of choice for lab sinks, counters and such. The stuff is just about indestructible. In one chemistry lab I worked in it had been in place for well over 40 years. If you like the rustic look of soapstone, I can't think of a better material.

Concrete will fizz under lemon juice and is dependent upon sealers. At one point, I was a materials technologist. We had a saying . . . "Man who paint concrete really stupid." From a materials' technology standpoint, I can't imagine a worse choice for kitchen counters. Over the years, I would get "government job" questions from architect friends asking what to do with a problem concrete counter. My answer usually came in the form of "Get a jackhammer." :biggrin:


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Our soapstone countertops are being installed next week. We chose them because they fit in well in our little 100 year old Seattle house, because they are so beautiful when oiled almost to black, and because soapstone is a dense, durable material. They're pretty unusual here in the PNW, and we had a lot of people-from salesmen in countertop showrooms (usually these guys specialized in granite) to our remodeler-try to talk us out of them. Just about every bad thing these people told us about them turned out to be untrue, we discovered after finding some people that had soapstone counters. One co-worker who dearly loves his even let us come over and spill red wine on them (we had been told they stain easily). The stone wholesaler gave us a small sample that we took home and abused as well. They will scratch, but the scratches sort of fit in with the rustic look of the counters, so we're willing to live with that.

If we hadn't gotten the soapstone, the only other material we considered was Richlite, a recycled product that is made locally and is fairly popular here. The black Richlite looks a bit like soapstone, but it costs about the same and isn't as pretty.

I don't know when you are planning on purchasing your counters, but feel free to pm me in the future to ask how we're liking the soapstone.


Edited by kiliki (log)

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Linda, would you mind saying a little more about concrete and sealers? Why are they so bad? I'm asking because I've been working on one, and it been lovely to work on. Other than a big crack, the surface has held up well. Its only been a year that its been sealed, but it seems ok....

Thanks.

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Linda, would you mind saying a little more about concrete and sealers? Why are they so bad? I'm asking because I've been working on one, and it been lovely to work on. Other than a big crack, the surface has held up well.  Its only been a year that its been sealed, but it seems ok....

Thanks.

It depends upon the sealer and how it is applied. The real disasters are the sealers, of whatever polymer, that forms a film. Without getting too technical, concrete has terrific strength in compression, almost none in tension. Whatever polymer film will set up stresses as it cures. This may occur over a surprising length of time, months maybe. Bottom line, the stresses will eventually pull apart the cement part of the concrete at the interface. The interface may be a few thousandths of an inch down in the surface if the sealer had good penetrating power. Now you have peeling and a real mess.

There has been some work with some of the new polysiloxanes and there may be some help there. I think some folks are mucking around with additives such as acrylates in the concrete to help with sealer bonding and to reduce the reactiveness of the concrete.

I am not all that up to date. I lost interest in it because I fail to see the reason to work all that hard to make concrete work as a counter material. When you get through messing with it, you could have spent that money on something more suitable to the purpose. I think it is one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time to some architects that didn't have a good understanding of material properties and it got really popular 'cause it sounded cool. Heh . . . I have one architect friend that puts disclaimers in her contracts if she is working with a client and their kitchen designer. She got really sick of being called in again and again to "fix it." She makes it very clear that if the client insists on it they are on their own.

If Daddy-A or some other designer checks in maybe they can update us.

kiliki . . . I love the way soapstone gets that "lived in" look as well as my nostalgic attachment to it. Since the new kitchen will have acres of counter, I have balked at spending that kind of money for any kind of stone for the counters. But, I have to admit that my resolve is weakening.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Lol...I guess that's a bright side to having a small home-though the kitchen is now the largest room in the house (it now includes what was the back porch), we only needed one slab for the countertops.

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We have selected soapstone for our kitchen remodel, mostly due to the looks and durability of it. Neither of the two contractors we have bidding on the project are excited about that selection.

One of them gave an excellent analogy, he compared soapstone to a cast iron pan. You have to invest the time to oil it, especially in the beginning...but if you do it right, you will have practically an indestructible surface for a lifetime.

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OK,

Googling around I found this - http://soapstonecounters.com/

Ah, look at the cute kid in the soapstone sink.

Anyways, they have some info re: maintenance, installation etc. They're even in my area and charge @ $90 per square foot (Cdn dollars) installed. I'm not sure how that compares to Corian, Silestone or Granite around these parts however.

Further drawbacks - it will chip and scratch (but scratches can be sanded out apparently, there is abit of maintenance (oiling) particularly at first, and if you have an overhang, it needs some support underneath. On the plus side, it looks great (my opinion, of course) & you can put a screaming hot pot on it. Maintenance seems minimal and it looks pretty darn durable as long as you're not using it as a cutting board. At the moment I'm leaning towards soapstone providing it is reasonably similar in cost to the other surfaces mentioned above.

In the Corian thread Arne also posted a link re: soapstone that I haven't managed to access yet.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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Soapstone is my dream kitchen counter. I love the feel of it because it's not as cold as granite is. It has a softer touch to it in spite of its durability that I like better than hard, cold, highly polished granite. Plus, as to the mineral oil upkeep, mineral oil is cheap cheap cheap, and the sealants for granite cost what? I'm sure they cost more.

I doubt that any kitchen surface is absolutely perfect, or has no drawbacks whatsoever. The key thing is to look at those drawbacks and ask yourself if they are something you can live with.

I do know that you can get soapstone tiles (usually 12x12 or something like that) that are significantly less expensive than the slabs, if you decide you love the look and feel but can't put out the cash.


"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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Thanks for starting this thread...I'm one of those who digressed on the original Corian thread to ask about soapstone and concrete.

Fifi, it sounds like you have nothing good to say about concrete. So can anyone explain its popularity? I love the look but don't want to invest in anything both stupid and expensive.

As for soapstone, like jgarner53, I like the soft quality of soapstone over the brittle feel I get from granite. But I have two concerns: on the functional side, architect friends warn about how soft or easily stained soapstone is, but so much that I read says otherwise. What gives? on the aesthetic side, I look at various soapstone fabricator web sites and there is often an "oiled" and "unoiled" photo. My personal preference is for the lighter, unoiled photo. How important is the oiling?



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I don't have any real data to justify the popularity of concrete. I can only tell you what my architect friend said when I asked her . . . "What were you thinking?" (We are friends.) Her answer was that she isn't a materials scientist and didn't know what she was getting into and "got caught up in the look."

I agree on the softer look of the soapstone. As much as granite has to recommend it, I just don't like how it looks and feels. You get a lot of resistance to soapstone from the design shops here, too. The whining about durability and stain resistance is just flat not true. I went back and figured out that the counters (benchtops in lab speak) and sinks in that older lab I worked in were actually installed in about 1935 so that is more like what . . . 75 years? (They are still there.) Of course, there may be different grades of soapstone so that you need to buy from a reputable supplier. I think some of the objection to the soapstone is that they aren't a direct supplier for it.

You could leave it unoiled but I would think that it would get pretty grungy looking in that every little oily drop would show. I would oil it. One of the suppliers I looked into had some that was not as dark as some others I have seen.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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My neighbor recently poured his own concrete countertops. And I have to say, they are really beautiful and solid.

I'll take some images this week when I have time, and document.

woodburner

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Fifi, I think I must be missing something. I've spent plenty of time in labs - presumably with those same soapstone benchtops - and even helped spec out some benchtops, once upon a time. I never heard a word about oiling. Do the benchtops get a different treatment, or different finish, in the labs than they would in kitchens?

JGarner53, this one's more for you, but Fifi may be inclined to answer it: what's with the comment about the warmth of soapstone vs. granite? Does soapstone have a detectably different heat conductivity than granite? That's a surprise. Or is it just a different feel that results in a perception of warmth?


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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I have had soapstone countertops in my kitchen for 3 years, purchased them from a supplier in New Jersey: www.soapstones.com

I have the Cobra variety. It is almost black when oiled with very little veining, which gets coated with mineral oil once a month or so to keep them dark and rich looking.

To keep them from scratching, all you need do is use a cutting board. Deep scratches will not come out, but surface scratches come out with a little sandpaper.

I do not have a problem with staining.

:smile:

Erica

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I also considered soapstone for my kitchen counters (some of them, anyway, the other are maple butcher block) and also met resistance from my contractor and the counter fabricator he usually used. Neither tried to convince me not to use it, they just said that they didn't have any experience with it (we live in Atlanta), so we'd need to find somebody that did.

I ended up going with plain black granite with a honed, flat finish rather than a polished. Plain right angle edge that's got maybe a millimeter angled off the corner to make it less dangerous. So it looks a lot like soapstone, also has a sort of worn-in look, but is much harder.

So no problem with dings, but it's cold (nice in summer, chilly in winter) and hard.

Overall very happy with the finished product, both look and performance. People often ask me if it actually is soapstone.


Can you pee in the ocean?

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Fifi, I think I must be missing something.  I've spent plenty of time in labs - presumably with those same soapstone benchtops - and even helped spec out some benchtops, once upon a time.  I never heard a word about oiling.  Do the benchtops get a different treatment, or different finish, in the labs than they would in kitchens?

It is hard to say. The one place I worked where I lived with the benchtops for 5 years, those things had been there since 1935 so I wasn't around for when they were first installed and "finished." One year, we ran out of budget money (federal govt.) and had nothing to do and were really bored. We decided to "clean up" so we stripped everything off the benchtops, cleaned and oiled the benchtops. Heh . . . What a mess. Those things had been around long enough, and possibly oiled multiple times over the years, so that they absorbed very little of the new oil. We had quite a time cleaning that up. And that was in the micrbiology section where they are wiped down several times a day with grain alcohol.

I have heard different regimes recommended but it makes sense that you oil them on some frequency when new but pretty soon you really don't have to do that anymore.

On the reason why soapstone feels "warmer" than granite . . . How something "feels" to human skin when the mass temperature is the same is a function of thermal conductivity. For instance, at 150 degrees F, you can probably pick up and hold a chunk of wood fairly easily. You can't do that with a piece of aluminum.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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On a trip to Vermont we stopped at a soapstone place. The guy was very nice, he gave us samples to take home (3 different kinds, three different prices). I tested all for staining, pomagranite juice, lemon juice, red wine, mustard. Left on overnight all were fine (slight pom. juice tint but washed off). Each had a different degree of "scratchability", that could be sanded out. The owner also showed us a piece of counter that they did not oil. The coloring was a uneven, you could see areas where the counter had absorbed the oil from the people that had touched the surface. He said eventually it would take on a more even apperance the longer it was around, & that oiling would hastened the process.

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On the reason why soapstone feels "warmer" than granite . . . How something "feels" to human skin when the mass temperature is the same is a function of thermal conductivity. For instance, at 150 degrees F, you can probably pick up and hold a chunk of wood fairly easily. You can't do that with a piece of aluminum.

Yep. I'm just surprised that granite and soapstone would have such different conductivity as to be perceptible to the human touch. Guess I'll have to go take another look at a minerology book and see what soapstone is.


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Yep. I'm just surprised that granite and soapstone would have such different conductivity as to be perceptible to the human touch.  Guess I'll have to go take another look at a minerology book and see what soapstone is.

Here ya go, Granite is mostly 70-77% silica (SiO2) and 11-14% alumina (Al2O3)

Where as soapstone is generally steatite (3MgO-4SiO2-H2O)

Thermal conductivity of quartz (SiO2) is 2.2 Watts per (meter degree Kelvin) and I found steatite to be 2.9

For reference, silver is 429 and liquid water at 0 degree C is .561, aluminum is 237, and concrete is listed at .05-1.5 Thermal Conduction


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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My neighbor recently poured his own concrete countertops. And I have to say, they are really beautiful and solid.

I'll take some images this week when I have time, and document.

woodburner

Please do. I trust fifi's expertise here but I'm still having a hard time letting go of the concrete option.



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Well, I guess it just amounts to your priorities. The concrete certainly has a certain "look" that is attractive. If you are willing to put up with its (considerable) deficiencies it may be the right thing for you. I remember when it first became popular that its first claim to fame was the low cost. That turned out not to be entirely true by the time you did what was needed to make it work in a busy kitchen, you could have done something else.

I do have to make a confession here. As enamoured as I am by the soapstone, I may have to go back to the Formica® type laminate. I have had it in most of the kitchens of my life and have never had a problem with it. After forty years I still don't put hot pots on counter tops. I still use cutting boards. I can't say that I have ever had a problem with laminate and that is what my nostalgic attraction of the soapstone is fighting.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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This is interesting because I just bought an old soapstone sink out of the back of a guy's pickup truck for $150. It's three feet wide, 21 inches deep and 25 inches tall with a backsplash. I have to remove an 8 foot formica counter, dishwasher, and two cabinets to install it. I already have the big plumbing problem of the drain hookup solved. And I have priced out faucets, which are not going to be cheap, like $228. The problem is going to be the two small pieces of counter material I am going to need to go on either side, about 24x28. Soapstone would be $330 apiece, plus shipping from Green Mountain soapstone, unless I want to drive to the Saratoga area to pick it up. Lowe's not only won't quote be a price because it's less than 25 sq ft, but they won't sell me the corian, Bill Shea's corian hasn't responded to a quote request. I went to a local granite place and they can do two pieces of black or ubatuba for about $225 each. The sink must weigh 300 lbs. It's going to be fun to move off the porch. Once it's installed, the bottom of the sink will only be 23 inches off the floor, about like reaching down to the bottom of a garbage disposal. And who knows when this will get done?

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I've had a concrete counter for the last 5 years and really enjoy it.

It is 2" think and has not cracked or shown any serious signs of wear. We have it sealed and have resealed once. I have a picture of my kitchen on my computer but don't know how to post it here.

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I asked this about Corian, but it may have relevance here as well. Will soapstone counters put up with having things like pasta makers or meat grinders screwed down to them. Might they be prone to chipping or cracking? Will it leave scratches?

Thanks,

geoff ruby

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I would think that would scratch it. My friend with the soapstone counters showed us the spot that he always opens wine bottles in-the bottom of the bottle has worn scratches on the counters. He could sand them out, but he doesn't mind the way it looks.

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