Everything you need to know about Soapstone
Soapstone is a metamorphic rock comprised primarily of talc, with varying amounts of chlorite, micas, amphiboles, carbonates and other minerals. Due to the high presence of talc, soapstone is often thought of being very soft compared to other natural stones – which is where it got its name, derived from the “soapy” texture and softness. The natural stone is typically gray, blueish, green or brown in color, and often contains a varying density of veins. Soapstone is quarried in two types: architectural and artistic.
Artistic soapstone has talc content close to 70%, making it lighter in color and soft. This is best used for carving and sculptures, and is not strong enough to be used as a permanent fixture in the home. This is also where the myth that soapstone isn’t strong enough for countertops comes from.
Architectural soapstone, on the other hand, is comprised of roughly 30-50% talc as well as other minerals such as magnesium and magnesite. This type of soapstone tends to be darker, denser and is strong and durable enough to use for kitchen countertops, tiles, sinks, fireplaces and more.
History of Soapstone
Soapstone is truly a time-tested material – people have quarried it for thousands of years. In locations where soapstone was exposed to the surface throughout the world, it was one of the first rocks to be quarried.
Native Americans on the eastern coast utilized softer soapstone to make bowls, cooking slabs, smoking pipes and ornaments as early as the Late Archaic Period (3,000 to 5,000 years ago). On the west coast, they traveled in canoes to obtain this precious material from San Clemente Island as early as 8,000 years ago.
During the Stone Age, people would use the soft rock to craft the first cooking pots without the aid of metal tools. The finished product was highly prized and widely traded, despite being very heavy and difficult to move, and thus archeologists believe that the people who used large soapstone pots had intentions of living on a specific site for extended periods of time.
In Scandinavia, soapstone was also used during the Stone Age, guiding them into the Bronze Age as they discovered that the stone could be easily carved into molds for casting metal objects such as knife blades and spearheads. They were also among the first to discover soapstone could absorb heat and radiate it slowly – inspiring them to make soapstone cooking pots, bowls, cooking slabs and hearth liners.
Soapstone Uses Today
Soapstone remains a “material of choice” for a wide variety of purposes and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes it as a suitable surface material for contact with food. The most popular uses include:
Countertops in kitchens, bathrooms, laboratories, etc.
Ornamental Carvings & Sculptures
Sinks in kitchens, bathrooms, laboratories, etc.
Wall & Floor Tiles
Bowls, plates, cookware, cooking slabs, boiling stones, etc.
Indoor & Outdoor Bar & Cooktops