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How To Protect Finished Soapstone


sharry t

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Hi everyone

 

This is my first post (other than to say hello) and I'd like a bit of advice please. I've done search but can't seem to find anything that quite answers my question so apologies if it's been raised in another thread that I've missed.

 

Anyway, I've tried a little piece of soapstone carving just to get the hang of it before making a mess of a bigger piece and I've found that the stone marks extremely easily. Even a nail seems to mark it. I've used wax to get a glossy finish and left parts of the piece with some texture but both surfaces get damaged.

 

My question is how do you protect a finished piece of soapstone carving?

 

Thanks for your help.

Sharry

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sharry:

 

In my experience, short answer, you can't protect the finish. It's soapstone. I have antique Chinese soapstone carvings, and they, too, can be marked with a fingernail.

 

I put Renaissance wax on mine and lightly buffed it with a rag by hand. You just have to handle it with care, it's pretty fragile stuff. The stuff I carved was almost like rotten wood in a few places; the grain was such that it came off in hunks. Fortunately, I was aiming for the look of an artifact, so it didn't make much difference.

 

If you want to see what mine looks like go to My link, go to Sculptures and scroll down to the Celtic Piece. I looked at your website and found it most impressive.

 

Soapstone is about the only stone that I've carved using only handtools. I understand that alabaster is easily worked with handtools, marble a little harder. In the U.S., we have a white stone with black webbing in it called Howelite, which I done with primarly handtools. I believe all of these would take a better finish than the soapstone, and not be so easily damaged. It's just going to take alot longer to carve.

 

When I first started carving I thought that I'd like working with softer woods, but quickly found that the harder wood was better. It doesn't splinter or fray as much, and holds detail much better. Also, it's been my experience that tools have to be very sharp to carve soft wood. I'm pretty good about sharpening my tools, but I don't like to have to stop continually to hone them. Harder wood, like stone, does take longer to work on, but in my opinion is more rewarding.

 

Hope this is helpful.

 

Debbie K

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Here is a question for you Debbie, or others, about soapstone... can the stone absorb cyanoacrylate (super glue)? Sometimes that has been suggested by woodworkers for various hardening or filling options. Could the surface of the soapstone be flooded, hardened then sanded and polished to the degree desired? I imagine that it would be a messy job for anything of size.

 

Janel

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Janel:

 

Interesting propostition. I've used superglue on howelite, a stone with a hardness of about 4-5 and used a vacumn to aid in impregnating the stone. It did make it harder.

 

Part of the appeal of soapstone is the way that it feels, which I would imagine would be destroyed by the superglue. I'll try a scrap in the next day or two and get back to you guys.

 

As far as the price is concerned, Hobby Lobby sells the larger bottles of superglue for only $5-6 dollars. For Sharry's purposes, I don't imagine that the penetration of the superglue would need to be that deep, probably it could just be brushed on.

 

Debbie K

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Janel:

 

Interesting propostition. I've used superglue on howelite, a stone with a hardness of about 4-5 and used a vacumn to aid in impregnating the stone. It did make it harder.

 

Part of the appeal of soapstone is the way that it feels, which I would imagine would be destroyed by the superglue. I'll try a scrap in the next day or two and get back to you guys.

 

As far as the price is concerned, Hobby Lobby sells the larger bottles of superglue for only $5-6 dollars. For Sharry's purposes, I don't imagine that the penetration of the superglue would need to be that deep, probably it could just be brushed on.

 

Debbie K

 

 

Thanks Janel & Debbie. Sounds interesting.

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Sharry:

 

The supeglue does not seem to penetrate the soapstone to any appreciable depth. It floats on top and makes a glossy plastic finish and darkens the surface (like it looks when it is wet). Further, if you give the soapstone a tap, it bruises under the superglue and makes a light mark.

 

There are products on the market, most notably Opticon, which are supposed to penetrate the stone, fill cracks, stabilize and harden. I don't use it because I read that it continues to leach over the course of months or years. I don't know if it's available in the U.K.; you might have to mail order it.

 

Another trick that lapidarists use is to mix a good 2-ton 2-part epoxy and acetone in a glass jar and soak the stone for about a week. This is mostly done to fill cracks in opals and agates before working with them. You might want to give this a try with a sample and see what it does.

 

I will reiterate that the silkly smooth tactile quality of the soapstone will probably be completely done away with by any of these processes. I don't believe that the Opticon or epoxy or superglue would give soapstone much more structural strength. If you look at what most people carve in soapstone, you can see that the form is usually compact (not many things extended out) and rounded. The material more or less dictates the form. Maybe you should think about carving other materials if you want something more resistant to damage.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Debbie K

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Many thanks Debbie for taking the time to try it and write it up. It's much appreciated.

 

I'm tying soapstone as I managed to get a dozen or so blocks at a very good price, plus I thought it'd be a good and fairly easy introduction into stone carving. I know each material will have it's own learning curve but it seemed like a good place to start as I've never carved before.

 

I wanted to make a piece for my sister, not too big, and fairly simple but I was concerned that it may damage easily and didn't want to give her something that would look tatty in a few weeks/months. Hence the query about protecting it. I'll just have to warn her to be careful when handling.

 

Thanks again.

Sharry

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Sharry:

 

You're right about it being easy to carve, and it's great being able to carve a stone with handtools. Some of my first carvings were in soapstone, too.

 

About being careful, I've got pieces that are over a hundred years old and they're doing alright. Tell her it marks easily and it ought to be okay.

 

I've noticed on one or two of my antique pieces that they seem to coated in parafin or some other harder wax. Don't know what it is, but I bet who does know. Either the British Museum or the V&A. If you're really curious, I'd try contacting the curator of the Oriental Art division of one of the museums. They love being asked technical questions (at least they've always been really nice to me).

 

Debbie K

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Sharry:

 

You're right about it being easy to carve, and it's great being able to carve a stone with handtools. Some of my first carvings were in soapstone, too.

 

About being careful, I've got pieces that are over a hundred years old and they're doing alright. Tell her it marks easily and it ought to be okay.

 

I've noticed on one or two of my antique pieces that they seem to coated in parafin or some other harder wax. Don't know what it is, but I bet who does know. Either the British Museum or the V&A. If you're really curious, I'd try contacting the curator of the Oriental Art division of one of the museums. They love being asked technical questions (at least they've always been really nice to me).

 

Debbie K

 

 

I'll try that, thanks Debbie. I'll let you know what they say.

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