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rgruby

Soapstone & Concrete countertops

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I think my soapstone countertops are about three years old now, heavily used and minimally maintained.

-Soapstone is soft, in the mineralogist's sense. It cannot be polished to a high gloss. It will scratch--some varieties more easily than others. Most scratches will disappear with a touch of oil. Major scratches could be sanded out, but I can't imagine I would ever bother. I have had people ask me, "can you cut on it?" Sure, if you have no more regard for your knives than your countertop. I use a cutting board, same as I did when I had laminate. I guess I might put a little padding under the clamp for the meat grinder. Do not get soapstone if you are fussy about keeping things looking showroom-perfect. Over time, it will show that you actually work in your kitchen, though the evidence will not be as conspicuous as with butcher block.

-Soapstone is not porous or acid-sensitive and, in my experience to date, nothing stains or etches it.

-Soapstone is very heat-resistant. They use it to build stoves to heat homes in Finland, I think. I love being able to pull pans from the oven and throw them right on the counter. It's a great heat sink; cake pans cool faster sitting on the counter than they do on a wire rack. My only fear is that I will get so used to this that I will do it in someone else's kitchen and burn their non-soapstone countertop. Do get soapstone if you want a countertop with great performance qualities.

-Like other stones, soapstone is usually cooler than your hands and makes a nice surface for working with dough.

-Oiled soapstone is dark. Make sure you have plenty of light.

-As mentioned above, you really cannot maintain the light 'unoiled' look, because every fingerprint will leave a mark.

-I don't believe that the oil actually soaks in much (see "not porous"), but probably oxidizes on the surface to form a patina that doesn't wash away so easily. When I am motivated to oil my counters (maybe twice a year), I rub them with an oily cloth, then rub down with dry paper towels. Most of the surface does not lighten appreciably from the usual soapy sponge, but around the undermount sinks the stone at the edge stays lighter, except when freshly oiled, due to frequent water/detergent exposure.

-Soapstone is hard, like any stone, when you bang your head or your glassware against it. This is the major criterion on which I would prefer Formica. I hate feeling that I have to set things down gently for fear of chipping the dishes. No dishes have actually chipped, but the feel and the sound that they make touching down inspire fear that they could. The gentle landing becomes automatic with time, but it still annoys me when I think about it.

-Overall, my soapstone counters are nearly perfect for me and I am still delighted that I was able to get them. My stone was supplied by M. Teixeira and fabricated by my general contractor, who is a good carpenter with a bit of stone experience and did the work on site.

Any other questions?

Fern

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Any other questions?

Fern

Just one. But first, thanks for your thorough, thoughtful response.

Anybody care to guess why soapstone isn't more popular/ available? From what I can gather it is seeing a renewal in popularity, but around here, at least in the kitchen design joints I've visited, it is not on display or otherwise being promoted as a possibility. When discussing possible counter materials I'm the one who is bringing it up.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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I've had soapstone countertops in our kitchen for eleven years. They have been extremely low maintaince, very durable and beautiful. They can scratch and chip, but that really hasn't been a problem. It is a great surface for placing hot pots and pans on. Over those eleven years we have oiled it maybe a handful of times. It is pretty easy to clean. I don't know why the materiel isn't more popular. We originally got ours because the stone came from a quarry near where we used to live in Charlottesville, Va. We also have a soapstone fireplace. Neither our architect nor our builders tried to talk us out of the materiel. In fact, they encouraged it and the architect put them in his own home.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Anybody care to guess why soapstone isn't more popular/ available?

I've concocted elaborate theories about this, most of which involve a granite mafia or Corian racketeers, plus bribes, threats and payoffs.

I could be wrong, though.

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I like that fact that soapstone is not in every other kitchen.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Anybody care to guess why soapstone isn't more popular/ available?

I think it has to do with where soapstone is quarried. It's not like there's a soapstone quarry around every corner. The deposits aren't likely as common as granite. Most of the soapstone companies I've researched all seem to be on the East Coast somewhere.

Though I suppose that granite is shipped all over the place.

I do like the fact that it's not in every kitchen. Can I just say that I'm personally sick of seeing granite everywhere?


"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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All of the soapstone sold here comes from Brazil. I'd called around early in the summer looking for samples and was told by 5 different places they were waiting for the container from Brazil.

Ours were installed today (there's a soapstone backsplash and bar, too) and they are so beautiful. I am in love.


Edited by kiliki (log)

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You guys are killing me. I am drawn to this thread like a moth to a flame. I really really can't make myself spend the money. But, good grief the stuff is gorgeous (to me) and I really like the fact that it comes to look "lived in." That goes with the rest of my "look" . . . think beach house or summer house. Everything is not perfect and shiny. And it is so practical. And I could have a big clean up sink fabricated for that corner. And . . . no, really, I can't . . . really.

The problem is, this is the one natural or unnatural stone material that I like the look of. Because of my attachment to the lived in look, I have never liked the Corian, Silestone or the polished granite.

I, too, have researched the sources. The Gulf Coast seems to be about as far away from the sources as you can get in the US. The uncertainty of getting a final product that will actually fit shipped in from far away is a valid worry to a builder. And, if you don't have qualified craftsman in the area that is another valid worry. It gets to be a chicken or the egg thing. It isn't used much around here so I don't have craftsmen. I don't have craftsmen because it isn't used much around here.

So, how did we get over that hurdle and granite burst upon the scene? I would like to know how many acres of granite have been installed around here. And most of it comes from very far away. We do have pink granite in the state but I see very little of it used in kitchens. Well, perhaps that means that we did have craftsmen around. (It is lovely, for granite, BTW.) I would be curious to see the sales figures from the soapstone suppliers and what happened to them after Martha Stewart did that series of programs on her new studio kitchen a few years ago. It was that program that brought back fond memories of my lab days and planted the evil seed in my head.


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 architect found a soupstone distrubtor in Houston that happens to be one of the largest in the country, The Slate Company

I will probably use them for soapstone couterntops as there are no options in Austin.


Edited by NewYorkTexan (log)

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The Slate Company looks promising!

Fifi, it looks like you're running out of excuses. :biggrin:

Fern

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OH GREAT! Thank you, NewYorkTexan. May all of your steaks have gristle and your apples have worms.

GROOOAAAAN! As she dials the number for The Slate Company.


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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OH GREAT! Thank you, NewYorkTexan. May all of your steaks have gristle and your apples have worms.

You're welcome :biggrin:

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You guys are killing me. I am drawn to this thread like a moth to a flame. I really really can't make myself spend the money.

My apologies for my role in this as well.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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For all you soapstone junkies, here are some pics of our recently installed counters. They are a bit smudgy from their recent oiling. I included pictures that show how the counters look with a stainless undermount sink as was discussed on the sink thread. Notice how we've already stunk up the place with the old white microwave. :wacko:

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Edited by kiliki (log)

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For all you soapstone junkies, here are some pics of our recently installed counters.

They look stunning! Thanks for the pix!

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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Your counters are beautiful, kiliki, just what I love about soapstone.

Now I am really torn. I had a close encounter with some concrete this past weekend that left me totally enamoured. At an otherwise dull open studio group art show, someone was showing concrete--side tables inlaid with sea glass or agate, etc. as well as a simple concrete kitchen sink in apple gree. I loved it all, especially the simpler stuff. I asked the guy about some of the issues that have been raised here, esp. cracking and staining. I liked the fact that he didn't refute any of them, but made me feel confident that they weren't deal-breakers.

Anyway, his web site is here Slab Lab Concrete but I've looked at the pictures, they don't do justice to how beautiful this material is.



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Sorry to see this topic so late. My wife and I did a complete renovation of our kitchen this past fall and have now lived with the results for about 10 months. For the most part I've been very pleased with the choices we made, but I have two regrets...

Our Jenn-Air french door fridge has been a real pain. It literally died six weeks after installation and we've had it serviced several times. Mostly for minor things, but still it's been annoying.

I researched countertops quite a bit, and was all set on granite. Then, when my wife and I were in our cabinet maker's showroom, we fell in love with the soapstone counters that they had on display. After more research we came to the conclusion that soapstone was for us. However, there are some serious issues that come with soapstone. Frankly it all depends on how much you are willing to accept numerous nicks, dents, cuts, and scratches. If scratches are going to bother you, then soapstone is most definitely not for you.

It's amazing how SOFT soapstone is. There are posts within this thread that cite soapstone as being hard. Sure...it's hard when compared to formica or lineoleum. But extremely soft when compared to granite. I can literally scratch it with my fingernail. If you have a small crumb underneath a cutting board and you slide that board, the crumb will scratch the countertop. I'm going to repeat that sentence...A CRUMB WILL SCRATCH THE COUNTERTOP. Opening wine bottles leaves a mark. Everything we do involves a cutting board or trivet.

One of the big pros of soapstone is that you can put a hot pan directly on it. Sure that is true, but make sure you put that hot pan onto the countertop gently and straight down or you will have a large scratch. Yes, mineral oil eliminates many of the minor surface scratches. But it doesn't do a thing for a deeper chip, scratch or dent, and they occur all too often.

Frankly, I think that my Soapstone countertops are much more aesthetically pleasing than granite or any other stone, faux stone product out there. But don't kid yourself, granite is a hell of a lot more durable.

I just oiled my countertops this evening...I do it about every six weeks...it takes less than ten minutes. They look super. However, if I had to do it all over again, I'd put in granite. I'd have very good looking countertops (not as good looking as soapstone) AND very functional countertops as well.


Edited by mikec (log)

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Frankly it all depends on how much you are willing to accept numerous nicks, dents, cuts, and scratches.

I think you hit the nail on the head there-it depends on what you feel is acceptable, as well as your own personal definition of beauty. I look at the scratches as character, as evidence that the counters are broken in and used. I feel the same way about the fir floors in my house. They're 100 years old, scratched up, scuffed up, and pretty dinged up in places, but I think they're gorgeous and I'd never dream of replacing them.

I will say, as a cavaet, the counters are still new-ish and it's possible I'll be singing a different song in 5 years. You never know.

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Frankly it all depends on how much you are willing to accept numerous nicks, dents, cuts, and scratches.

I think you hit the nail on the head there-it depends on what you feel is acceptable, as well as your own personal definition of beauty. I look at the scratches as character, as evidence that the counters are broken in and used.

In the design industry, we refer to this as patina. As in, "After using your new soapstone countertops for a couple weeks, you'll notice they've developed a nice patina."

Feel free to substitute the word patina for any of the following: rust, yellowing, peeling, dents, scratches ....

Very useful! :wink:

A.

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That's very interesting. My lab has new (less than 3 years old) soapstone countertops, and they have no patina. They are quite hard and durable, IMO. Are there different hardness of soapstone you can get, or have I been working without a respirator too long?


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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It's amazing how SOFT soapstone is.  There are posts within this thread that cite soapstone as being hard.  Sure...it's hard when compared to formica or lineoleum.  But extremely soft when compared to granite.  I can literally scratch it with my fingernail.  If you have a small crumb underneath a cutting board and you slide that board, the crumb will scratch the countertop.  I'm going to repeat that sentence...A CRUMB WILL SCRATCH THE COUNTERTOP.  Opening wine bottles leaves a mark.  Everything we do involves a cutting board or trivet. 

That's very interesting.  My lab has new (less than 3 years old) soapstone countertops, and they have no patina.  They are quite hard and durable, IMO.  Are there different hardness of soapstone you can get, or have I been working without a respirator too long?

Yes, there are different soapstones, with different hardnesses. When I was choosing countertop material, I had samples of soapstone from two different quarries (on different continents), from M. Teixeira. I picked the harder one. After a couple of years of hard use, our counters have seen plenty of little scratches, but none that I consider a serious issue. I think that mikec's counters must be significantly softer than ours. When a plastic bucket of water was slid across our counter, grit embedded in the bottom did cause scratches, but they weren't noticeable after a little oil touch-up. I have never seen a crumb scratch the counter and I cannot scratch it with my fingernails.

But mikec is absolutely right: don't get soapstone if you can't deal with scratches.

My advice: if you're going to spend a bundle on countertops, whatever the material, get a sample and fool around with it to be sure you're comfortable with how it wears. I know my husband thought I was truly obsessive during the design & specifications phase of our remodel. But I figured I had to get it right the first time, as I would never muster the energy (never mind cash) :blink: to change it again, once it was all done.

Fern

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Thanks for the gorgeous remodel pictures Kiliki! Your kitchen looks wonderful, bright, sunny and ready for cooking action! Congratulations!

-moose

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Sorry to see this topic so late. 

It's never too late on eG! In case you haven't noticed, many of us have been planning our new kitchen for a long, long time and still haven't begun...yet.

I've reached the conclusion that there is no such thing as a (universally) perfect countertop material. It really is a trade-off between what you want functionally as well as aesthetically, and everyone's taste and needs vary.

Not to mention budgets. In the end, the concrete v. soapstone debate may turn out to be academic for me if I decide to make the major plumbing moves I'm contemplating--in which case, I see laminate in my future.



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Thanks Moose!

Just to make everything more confusing, I think soapstone can vary in hardness even when it's from the same place. This thread got me thinking about the fact that the stone on our counters and on the bar, which came from two different slabs but from the same source, have always felt a little different. They match, but the bar stone seemed...harder. Sure enough, I just went and tried to scratch both stones with my fingernail, underneath their overhangs, and while the counter stone scratches easily, the bar stone does not.

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Oh dear . . . After seeing kiliki's pictures and mikec's post, I tried to reply and the computer ate it. Anyway . . . To possibly repeat, my research did turn up different soapstones with differing hardness. I do know that the stuff we had in the lab that was put in in the 30s did not scratch easily. Metal flask stands got dragged across it with great regularity and other insults did not result in any noticeable damage. It was also more uniformly black without any obvious veining or other pattern. It was just . . . black. Also, in the 5 years that I was there, we only tried to oil it once and it idin't seem to make any difference. I suspect that after all these years it was pretty well "cured" and further oiling didn't have an effect.

LindaK . . . I am a well known fan of laminate. With a couple of exceptions, that is all I have ever had in my kitchens and I have never been unhappy with it. The price is certainly right. I did see a Formica® brand pattern that looks like soapstone at a fancy Home Depot type place a few months ago but I can't find it on the Formica® website.


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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