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Is composed primarily of talc and shares many physical properties with
that mineral. These physical properties make soapstone valuable for
many different uses. These useful physical properties include:
soft and very easy to carve
low electrical conductivity
high specific heat capacity
resistant to acids and alkalis
Soapstone is a rock, and its mineral composition can vary. Its composition
depends upon the parent rock material and the temperature/pressure
conditions of its metamorphic environment. As a result, the physical
properties of the soapstone can vary from quarry to quarry and even
within a single rock unit.
The level of metamorphism sometimes determines its grain size. Soapstone with a fine grain size works best for highly detailed carvings. The presence of minerals other than talc and the level of metamorphism can influence its hardness. Some of the harder varieties of soapstone are preferred for countertops because they are more durable than a pure talc soapstone.
How is Soapstone Used?
The special properties of soapstone make it suitable, or the material
of choice, for a wide variety of uses. A number of examples of soapstone
use are explained below and in the photograph captions on this page.
Countertops in kitchens and laboratories
Cooking pots, cooking slabs, boiling stones
Bowls and plates
Ornamental carvings and sculptures
Fireplace liners and hearths
Wall tiles and floor tiles
Molds for metal casting
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Soapstone Kitchen and Laboratory Countertops
Soapstone is often used as an alternative natural stone countertop instead of granite or marble. In laboratories it is unaffected by acids and alkalis. In kitchens it is not stained or altered by tomatoes, wine, vinegar, grape juice, and other common food items. Soapstone is unaffected by heat. Hot pots can be placed directly on it without fear of melting, burning, or other damage.
Soapstone is a soft rock, and it is easily scratched in countertop use. However, a gentle sanding and treatment with mineral oil will easily remove shallow scratches. Soapstone is not suitable for use as a workbench top where it will receive rough treatment and where o sharp abrasive objects will be placed upon it.
Soapstone Tiles and Wall Panels
Soapstone tiles and panels are an excellent choice where heat and moisture are present. Soapstone is dense, without pores, does not stain, and repels water. Those properties make soapstone tiles and wall panels a good choice for showers, tub surrounds, and backsplashes.
Soapstone is heat resistant and does not burn. That makes it an excellent wall covering behind wood-burning stoves and ovens. Fireplaces are also lined with soapstone to create a hearth that quickly absorbs heat and radiates it long after the fire is out. This property of soapstone was recognized in Europe over 1000 years ago, and many early hearths there were lined with soapstone.