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(Musings of a Stone Designer)
Thursday, April 07 2011
It was about ten years ago when I got my first soapstone counter top. It was my husband’s idea. I remember how much I loved it when I saw it for the first time…and continued to love it during the years to follow. I remember the transformation after the first time I oiled it.
What I don’t remember is all the other stuff that people always want to know.
…How often did you have to oil it when you first installed it?
…How long did it take before you could oil it less often?
…How quickly did the “patina” develop?
…When did you get the first scratch?
About a month and a half ago, I got a new Black Minas soapstone island top installed in my kitchen. This time I decided to pay attention to all those details, and take notes!
So far, this has been my experience:
I oiled the new island for the first time early in the afternoon. It went from looking like a plain gray concrete slab to a beautiful dark natural stone top with white veins.
I put the oil on a little heavy at first, so the stone top had a bit of a wet, greasy look:
(Oily look after first application of mineral oil)
Still, by late that evening it began to dry out—especially around the veins. So I oiled it again, but this time I dried with a paper towel to remove the excess oil—afterward it looked much better.
Soapstone really looks great if you wipe it with one of those microfiber cloths after applying the oil, but I suspect it will need oiled more often with this method.
I checked out the island first thing in the morning. It looked a tiny bit dry around the veins. I oiled once and dried it very well—IT LOOKED BEAUTIFUL!
Actually, maybe it looks a little too perfect…like a brand new pair of jeans, or the first day of a fresh hair cut.
Today the island looked a little dry in only one place. It is the most heavily used area and the area that has the most prominent vein. I’m not sure which factor is contributing more to the dryness. I’m just leaving it alone today—the stone looks pretty good without doing anything.
First, I cleaned up a big ice cream drip dried on the surface of my counter top from the night before. After cleaning, there was a visible spot where the spill had removed the oil. I re-oiled the entire surface…BEAUTIFUL! (After skipping a day, the oil application seemed to make a more dramatic difference)
Very busy day…I won’t be oiling today.
My stone looks a little dry, but I can live with it.
(These photos show the soapstone surface when it is a little dry)
Except for the very first day, I have been applying oil once per day, at the most. This whole process seems speedier than I remembered or expected. My first time around with soapstone, it seemed like it took a lot longer than a week to get to this point. The finish on my new soapstone is a little different than what was on the old. It’s a little more honed and seems to hold the oil better. Everything about this counter top is a big improvement over the old DIY one. (check out blog post, "Rock Star" from April 2010)
I have gone all day without applying any oil to my counter top. Now it is the end of the 7th day and I decided to apply a heavy coat of mineral oil without wiping dry to see how it looks in the morning.
It was just as “wet” this morning as it had been when I went to bed last night. (Guess that is proof that it really is non-porous) So without adding any additional oil, I wiped it dry and it looked great.
I haven’t been recording comments for the last several days because there is really nothing new to report. The counter top looks pretty much the same. Occasionally, it dries out a bit, then I oil it and it looks great again.
I’ve continued to oil the soapstone every couple of days. It looks good without it, but the oiling process is kind of enjoyable…like polishing wooden furniture or leather shoes. The stone seems to look better each day. (The “patina” must be starting to reveal itself)
I find myself obsessing less about the new soapstone. It’s like it’s always been here. I oil it only on cleaning day (I won’t mention how often cleaning day comes around!) I must confess, I still love soapstone, after all these years!
This morning I filled my crock-pot with a big batch of soup and let it cook all day. After dinner, when I removed the crock-pot from the soapstone surface, I noticed gray spots where the “feet” had been. After my initial reaction of alarm, I dabbed a little oil on the spots and they disappeared. I guess the rubber and/or the heat lifted the oil right off the stone. The fix was very easy and I haven’t seen any sign of the spots since.
Today I made homemade pizza. You know, the kind with the super chewy crust. As my family and I were about to enjoy the meal, I calmly watched my 14 year old son working hard at cutting the hot pizza into pieces for us all to share. Then, in slow motion (as if I were dreaming) I heard my own muffled voice yell to stop him… as I could see he was continuing to cut even as he was running out of cutting board. Stooooooop!
Too late. The damage was done.
My first scratch happened on day 42.
(The scratch is dead center in this picture--if you look carefully, you can see it)
It left a small white gouge…too deep to be covered by the dab of mineral oil.
I would have to forget about the scratch for now as I needed to rush off to a meeting for which I was already late.
When I returned later that night, there were still dirty dishes and pizza crumbs covering the island. I searched for the scratch but was unable to locate it. Maybe it really was a dream. I later asked my husband if the oil made the scratch disappear. It wasn’t the oil, he told me. It was the black sharpee marker.
I had temporarily forgotten about the secret weapon we have used many times over the years. When the scratch is too deep for the oil, the marker always works.
I just love this counter top. It no longer looks like stiff jeans that desperately need a good washing. It looks serene, at home with its subtle patina. It looks timeless and ageless, historic and fresh.
I have a theory: soapstone owners don’t really begin to enjoy their soapstone until after the first scratch. That’s when they can quit worrying about actually using their kitchen. The first scratch marks the moment when they realize that their soapstone actually looks better when it is used.
It is a very freeing moment—This time around, I don’t think I’ll forget it for a long time!
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