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A soapstone stove is a wood-burning stove sculpted from soapstone. They can be used both to heat a home and to cook and bake with. Soapstone stoves are prized for their ability to create "soft heat" even after the fire has gone out, which makes them useful when heating a house.
Soapstone is one of the softer forms of workable stone. It is in the same geologic family as talc, which is ground into a soft powder for cosmetics. Soapstone is formed from melted volcanic rock, and for this reason, it has a very high tolerance for heat. It won't crack or spit, like bricks or iron sometimes will.
Steel and other materials have traditionally been used to create wood-burning stoves. In the US, people who live in the New England area in the northeast part of the country created theirs out of the native soapstone, discovering that the soft rock had qualities of "soft," ambient heat. Unlike a steel furnace, soapstone evenly radiates heat continuously for many hours. This eliminates the heating problem familiar to anyone who has gone camping, where the only truly hot place is right next to the fire—moving more than a few feet away from it leaves campers exposed to cold.
Using a soapstone stove correctly requires patience. In order for the soapstone to be warmed properly, one to two hours of feeding in fuel and minding the stove's thermometer is required. One it has reached the appropriate temperature, the stove will only need to be fed occasionally. The high heat inside will burn up the wood almost entirely, leaving no coals.
Though a soapstone stove will reportedly only need to be tended twice a day once it is hot, if the stove is allowed to cool completely between firings, it will not heat the house as well, and the chimney will lose its draw. Therefore, a soapstone stove is not a good choice for a vacation cabin. Those who own soapstone stoves usually use them continuously throughout the winter, only allowing the fire to go out in spring.
Several manufacturers have designed their soapstone stoves to have more than one purpose. Besides heating the house, many include a section that can be used as a baking oven, while others have a stovetop added. Some designs incorporate all three, but some warn that because soapstone is cooler than a metal stove, it might not be the best choice for cooking. Soapstone stoves are also much heavier than other wood-burning stoves.