Soapstone Care And Maintenance

TOPIC: Soapstone Cure/Clean

Soapstone Cure/Clean 5 months 3 weeks ago #2482

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A 1143: We have a soap stone hearth on our fireplace. It was badly stained and rough. I have sanded it smooth. What do you recommend for a sealer and finish. I would like to have some gloss on it if possible, without changing the color to a great extent. Thanks - bob, USA, Oct 13. Reply
R3: Two ways to go about getting the gloss. More and more sanding/polishing with finer and finer grits, or using a color enhancing sealer. Test a small area first to see how the sealer is going to take to the stone. JVC, USA, Expert Panelist. Reply
R2: Dear bob: First off, just forget about the gloss. You can't get it out of soapstone. Forget about a sealer, too. Soapstone is too dense and won't absorb it. Just treat it with mineral spirit on a regular basis. Ciao and good luck, Maurizio, USA, Expert Panelist. Reply

R1: Hi, Forget about polishing. Seal with 511 porous plus. Pini, USA, Expert Panelist. Reply

A 1118: We have a false fireplace surround in our 120 year old Victorian House. We didn't know what was underneath the 3-4 layers of old enamel paint that was on it. I say false fireplace surround in that there is no firebox, although it did have a grate and vent system to an old hot air system that must have been closed up years ago. I only make that point because it apparently was never subjected to the heat of a fireplace (I don't even know it that matters...I just thought I should mention it.)

Anyway...after removing the paint, the mantle and the surround were a uniform black. I started hand sanding the mantle with 150 grit paper. I uncovered a lovely green stone, across the entire mantle top.

I then started sanding the surround (the vertical surfaces) by hand, then with an orbital sander with 60 grit paper. It remained black but small spots (maybe 1/4 inch across) of green similar to the mantle began to
appear. I switched to 36 grit paper and more "spots" appeared. Finally I switched to a belt sander with 36 grit paper. The spots are getting larger and in some areas there are patches where the black is getting lighter and
with a strong light, I can see a green tint appearing.

So, unlike the mantle, which turns green very quickly after sanding with fine paper, the surround is requiring mush more aggressive grit with power equipment and a lot more time and effort. Climbing into the false fireplace
and looking at it from the back, large sections of the surround are green on the back, but as I said, not on the front. My questions....

Do you think it's soapstone? We were hoping it would turn out to be uniformly green, but I'm concerned
that I'm sanding and sanding and that it'll turn out to be black (or more brownish) stone with green highlights? I.e. I don't want to ruin it. I've read that with soapstone, people used to "oil" it which would darken it. Would that make "green" stone black? Might we be lucky and once I get through this black layer, it's uniformly green?

If so, how deep might I have to go? And there anything faster than sanding? I know this was lengthy, but I tried to be detailed...anything advice you can provide would be highly appreciated!!! Thank You, Tom, USA, Oct. 1, Reply
R3: Dear Tom: I have no idea what kind of stone it could be. I can't be sure, but I don't remember having ever seen any green soapstone. Furthermore, I believe that only recently soapstone started being quarried
and processed into slabs (but then again, I could be wrong: I really don't know much about soapstone).
Nobody can tell you how deep you can keep grinding into the stone until you get to a uniform green, but unless it's getting real thin, you can keep going. Using 35 grit sandpaper with a power-tool sounds to me like as fast as you can go. Using 30 grit grinding diamond pads with a professional right-angle grinder could increase (marginally) the speed, but the cost for the equipment and material would not justify the improvement.
Finally, as far as the mineral oil treatment is concerned, try in a small, incospicuous spot with some "baby oil" and see what happens (baby oil will eventually evaporate). Ciao and good luck, Maurizio, USA, Expert Panelist, Reply
R2: It is so hard to advise people on this question. Practices for mantles and surrounds were quite varied on original installations. Lets see. 1st all the sand paper you are using is quite aggressive. This means that the coarse sandpaper itself can cause you not to see a finished color. Try approaching this by focusing on removing the paint. Try not to get to the green yet. When that is all done call a local stone expert to come over & look at the surround. Soapstone has been a dark gray green when oiled. On another note do not try to convert this surround to a wood burning fire unit as it has never been installed to serve that function. Good luck, Steven, USA, Expert Panelist, Reply
R1: Well Tom, without actually seeing what you have, any suggestions or answers can only be guess work. First off, soapstone is a really soft stone, and the dust from sanding will have a soapy, slippery feel to it. The coarse grit papers you are using should be cutting the stone away rather quickly if it is in fact soapstone. Have you tried to go back up to the finer grit over an area that you have coarse sanded? What is the resulting look if you do that Go back to the 60, then 100, then 150, and see what the color is then. Wetting a small area will give you an indication as to what you will get. It is entirely possible that the surround is of a different stone than the mantle top. Green soapstone can be more expensive to buy, and the original owners may have been cutting cost. Might be why it was painted in the first place. Or it might be the same stone only sawed in a different direction. Soapstone is a very dense stone, and not very porous, so the oiling would not have penetrated very deep into the stone. Don't know what else to suggest other than sanding, except to use wet/dry paper like they use in body shops. be careful with the coarse grit on the belt sander, those machines can take alot of stone away real fast, and can do some unrepairable damage before you realize it. And please wear a good particle mask/ respirator as soapstone does contain minerals that you don't want in your lungs. Good luck, JVC, USA, Expert Panelist, Reply

A 1107: Hi... I'm in NJ. I appreciate any advice you can offer... We have a 120 years old victorian home that we're rehabilitating. There's a fireplace surround/mantle that had 2-3 old coats of enamel trim paint on it. We used peel-away to get the paint off and think it might be soapstone. Now the soapstone is a flat, haze dark grey color... I started hand sanding the top of the mantle with 150 grit paper and pretty quickly went through the black to a beautiful emerald green stone, with veining, etc, we were thrilled. I'm guessing it's soapstone. Then I took an orbital sander to the front of the surround with 60 grit paper and although I created a nice layer of dust on the floor, didn't get to any green. I then went to 36 grit paper and now the finish is a chocolate brown, not black and I can see some detail and veining, it's much, much tougher going than the mantle top was. Some places are seeming to lighten a bit to green, but I've spent over 1/2 hour on about a 1 foot square section with 36 grit paper on an orbital sander. I'll be days and days at this rate, not to mention the areas that are detailed, where I'll have to hand sand. I'm wondering why the stone is so different than the mantle top? Does heat darken the finish, because the section I'm on is closer to the fireplace opening than the mantle top? Does it darken throughout? Might I be sanding for weeks and weeks only to consistently see brown? I'm wondering is there is any other way to get through to the lighter stone? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks, Tom, USA, Sept 24. Reply
R3: Dear Tom: First off, we don't even know what the heck of a stone you have. Soapstone, you guess. I doubt highly, because, to the best of my knowledge, soapstone was not processed into slabs some 100 years ago. Not that I am crazy about soapstone, anyway! If it were up to me, they would have never started to make slabs out of it! Second, very possibly, all the different colors you're pulling out are probably the very reason that prompted the previous owners to paint over the whole ugly thing! Ciao and good luck, Maurizio, USA, Expert Panelist, Reply

R2: I think that the problem is that you are going the wrong direction with your sandpaper grits. To get to the rich deep color of the stone, you need to go to finer and finer grit paper. With soapstone, get some wet/dry paper (the gray-black stuff). If you started with 150 grit, and got results, do all of the surface with that grit, and then continue through with 220, 320, and 400. The coarse grits you have been using (ie 36) are not going to give any clue as to what the stone will look like once it is honed and polished out. Make sure that you wear a particle mask while working on this stone as the dust contains minerals that you really don't want in your lungs. Dry sanding is ok, but if you can wet sand, the process will be simpler. And yes, the heat from the firebox can have some effect on the stone, and the jambs may not come back to the color of the mantle top. Good luck, JVC, USA, Expert Panelist, Reply

R1: The mantle is probably a different stone then the rest its common. Pini, USA, Expert Panelist, Reply
Q 954: Is there a way to restore an old soapstone sink? Laura, USA, April 23. Reply
R1: Laura, Tell me what you see. but elbow grease and a scrub brush is probably the place to start. Good luck, Steven, USA, Expert Panelist, Reply
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