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What Is Soapstone?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2014
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Soapstone, also called soaprock or steatite, is a type of metamorphic rock that consists mainly of talc. It is soft and has a soapy feeling surface, and it has been used as a carving medium around the world for thousands of years. Soapstone is also sometimes used to make molds to cast soft metals, like silver and pewter.

Metamorphic rock is one of the three main rock types in geology, along with igneous rock and sedimentary rock. Metamorphic rock is the result of the effects of great heat and pressure upon another rock type, called the protolith. In the case of soapstone, high pressures at the boundaries of the tectonic plates making up the earth's surface transform protoliths including dunite, serpentinite, and dolostone into metamorphic rock. Soaprock is high in magnesium and has varying amounts of other minerals.

Soapstone has many properties that make it desirable for carving, including its softness, which makes it easy to work with. Soapstone is also resistant to heat, making it a good choice for fireplaces, wood stoves, cookware, and pipes. Today, soaprock is most often used in kitchens, especially for countertops. In Alaska and Scandinavia, it is also popular in fireplaces and wood stoves.

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Soapstone's smooth surface makes it ideal for casting metal because the finished product does not stick to the mold. In addition, the hot molten metal will not damage the mold due to its heat resistance. Soapstone is also used by tailors and carpenters, as it can be used to make very visible marks that wash off easily.

Soaprock may come in a variety of colors, based on its mineral content. Over time, it will develop a patina. Often, when soapstone is used in kitchen furnishings, mineral oil is applied in order to darken the stone. The mineral oil does not protect the stone, but simply enhances its color.

Soaprock has been in use as a carving medium since ancient times. It was widely used by many Native American groups, as well as in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Africa, and South Asia. Beads, amulets, and seals made of soaprock have been discovered at the archaeological sites of many ancient cultures. In medieval India, soaprock was used to build large temples. The stone has also been used for tombs and furniture.

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Discuss this Article

anon241515
Post 7

what is the mineral content of soapstone?

wavy58
Post 6

While on vacation in Rio de Janeiro, I stopped to see the enormous Christ the Redeemer statue. I learned that this huge monument is made from reinforced concrete and soapstone. The two sound like an odd combination.

When deciding what to make the statue from, the engineers decided on concrete because it suited the cross shape of the statue better than steel. They chose to use soapstone for the outer layers because it is very durable and easy to carve. They could get the curves and details that they were aiming for better with soapstone than with a hard material.

kylee07drg
Post 5

I am good friends with a Native American man who lives near my parents. We often see him outside, smoking his pipe. He told us that the pipe has been passed down for generations in his tribe.

This pipe is made of soapstone, as were many other Native American pipes. My friend said that the reason for this is that soapstone does not conduct heat much at all, so he can smoke for long periods without the pipe becoming uncomfortably hot and hard to hold.

His tribe wasn’t the only one to use soapstone for pipes. He told me that archeologists have found many of these pipes among other artifacts in a variety of Native American cultures.

OeKc05
Post 4

As an art major, I had to take one of every type of art class offered at my university. In my sculpture class, I remember using soapstone to carve a project.

The artwork had to represent some form of contrast. I always tended to lean toward the abstract, so I just came up with a couple of odd looking creatures in a struggle with each other. I carved the soapstone while looking at my sketch.

The soapstone was somewhat soft and yielded to my carving tool very easily. It's been several years, but I remember a lot of digging and gentle sanding along the way to the finished project.

anon118293
Post 3

the soapstone is found near the tectonic plates.

anon65893
Post 2

Soapstone is also used by welders when cutting with a cutting torch. The lines stay as you cut the metal.

anon65821
Post 1

Where is soapstone found?

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