Starting a soapstone carving hobby is surprisingly affordable, as you only need a few essential tools, and you might have some lying around your house. So what do you need to carve soapstone?
To carve soapstone, you will need tools that allow you to alter the shape of the stone with precision, such as a saw, chisel, file, rasp, and sandpaper. You will also need protective equipment such as goggles, face masks, and gloves. Lastly, you may need some stone finishes such as linseed oil or wax to finish the stone.
This post discusses what you will require to start carving soapstones. I also discuss where you can go to get some soapstone blocks to begin carving.
Where Do You Get Soapstone for Carving?
You can get soapstone from your local art supply store, especially those that have sculpting supplies. You can also check out local quarries or stoneworks to see if they have any for sale. You may also try to see if they have scraps you can take away and do small carving projects. Finally, you may also purchase soapstones online.
Depending on your locality, you may purchase your soapstone locally or online.
You may be able to locate art stores that have sculpting supplies near you. These stores may have soapstones that you can buy to carve. The stones could be pre-cut into set sizes, with the smaller cheaper options. Larger blocks may be more expensive and slightly cumbersome to transport, so you want to come prepared to lift and move them to and from your vehicle.
If you live close to a quarry or stoneworks, you may be able to drop by and ask if they have any soapstone for sale. Some stoneworks may even have leftover soapstone end cuts that they cut out. You may try your luck and ask if you can have those, they might just give it to you for free.
If you fail to find any soapstones locally, you always have Amazon and Etsy. You may be able to purchase blank soapstones and soaptstone carving kits and have them shipped to you for your carving project.
What Tools Do You Need To Carve Soapstone?
You will need a saw, soft hammer, chisels, rasps, files, and sandpaper to start carving soapstone. These are the essential tools to shape the soapstone at varying degrees of precision. The key is to invest in tools you will only use for stone carving as they wear out quickly and need special care or need to be replaced every now and then.
When it comes to carving soapstones, you are in luck. Soapstones are soft and easy to work with, so you do not need high-end, expensive tools. You can rely on simple tools to get the job done, even a simple pocket knife!
Handsaw: Saws are probably your first tool to shape your soapstone, as they can cut through it to form the basic outline. If you are working on a larger stone, you may also use a basic wood saw or hacksaw to create a flat and steady surface for you to rest your stone while carving. You only need a standard handsaw to start, although you can always upgrade to a power saw or cutting wheel later.
Soft Iron Hammer: The hammer’s job is to drive the chisel while providing controllable pressure and cutting edge control. This is a better option than a wood carving hammer or mallet as it provides more weight behind the tool. You can also use the lighter wood carving mallets for precise cuts. It isn’t advisable to use a standard carpenters hammer as they have a really small impact surface which can miss the tool you are hitting easier and the nail hooks on the back may just get in the way.
Instead, get one with two flat faces or round carving mallets for striking chisels. Look around for a smaller-sized hammer, about 1.5 – 2 lb (680 – 900gm). You may invest in a heavier hammer in the future if you wish to work on larger projects..
Chisels: Chisels will be your primary tool for major carving tasks, as you will use them to roughly shape the soapstone into the desired shape. Several flat chisels with multiple widths would serve you very well here. Again, the suggestion is to get simple chisels with a two-sided tip. You do not need any other types of chisels for now.
Files and Rasps: You will rely on files and rasps for secondary adjustments that may be too small for chisels to perform. It helps to start with at least several chisels of different widths. My favourite tool that I always use is a simple 4 way rasp and file combo that offers a flat and round surface with both a file and rasp options.
Sandpaper: Sandpaper is for finishing and smoothening the stone surface once you are satisfied with the carving. You may need a collection of coarse and fine grit sandpaper, as you will need them for different purposes. I have found wet/dry sandpaper to work best as I can submerge smaller carvings in water and sand them under water to reduce dust.
For minor adjustments that may be too fine for chisels to perform, you may experiment with coarse grit sandpaper, such as 80 grit. Finer sandpapers, say at 200 grit, may help to smoothen your work. Extra fine sandpaper, such as 600 or higher, can be used to refinish minor scratches or marks on the stone.
You may be wowed away by some fancier, more excellent tools out there to help you carve your sandstone, but the key is to keep your investment small. You can always invest in bigger, better, more excellent tools when you are deeper into the hobby later.
Microfiber Cloths: The primary purpose of microfiber cloths is to help you clean up and apply finishing to your soapstone. Microfiber cloths are better than regular ones as they do not leave lint, which may stick to your stone as you clean it. Prepare at least two pieces of microfiber cloth, one for cleaning and one for applying the finishing.
The list of tools and equipment here is mostly optional and greatly increases the quality of life while carving. You do not need to purchase most of them, but it is highly advisable to purchase something to prevent you from breathing in the stone dust. The other equipment here is also for your safety, as soapstone carving involves you handling some tools that can hurt pretty bad if accidents happen.
Face Masks and Respirators: Facemasks and respirators are important to use to protecting your lungs from the stone particles. When you chisel, file, and sand soapstones, your work area may get messy with stone crumbs and dust flying around. Sometimes these stones contains minerals that can have adverse effects on your lungs or even asbestos in small amounts depending on where it was sourced.
A face mask avoids you from inhaling these nasties, keeping your lungs clean. You do not need a full-on respirator if you are only using hand tools, but once you start using power tools I highly recommend that you protect your lungs better as more dust will be in the air. If you are starting get yourself a pack of disposable N95 masks that will protect you adequately without being too expensive.
Eye Goggles: If the facemasks protect your lungs, the eye goggles protect your eyes. As you chisel away, there is a likelihood that some stone chips may fly in unexpected directions. The last thing you need is one of these stone chips to get right in your eye.
If they do, at least your eye goggles protect you from possible physical injury. Simple wear-on protective goggles should be ok as a start.
Gloves: Stone carving involves you frequently working with a hammer, chisels, saws, and sandpaper. A pair of work gloves may protect your hands and fingers if you mistime your hammering or are handling a rasp. The work gloves may also prevent your hands from becoming dry and coarse since your skin will not be touching the sandpaper or stones directly.
Sand Bag: A sand bag’s major function is to provide a stable surface to rest your stone and absorb impact and stress on the stone. This makes the carving process easier since the stone is not moving when you are working on it. A steady stone absorbs impact better, making it easier to shape and safer for you, as your chisel would not bounce unexpectedly.
Consumables are the things that you use while carving and may need to be replenished once a while. These are things like linseed oil or soapstone wax, cotton tips, and some mild liquid detergent. These consumables are used to help clean and finish your soapstone carvings.
Linseed Oil: Similar to how raw wood gets some finishing treatment, your soapstone carving also will need some finishing treatment to protect it. The common practice is to use linseed oil, as they are affordable, relatively easy to work with, and do not turn rancid.
Linseed oil also helps to protect the stone against darkening, as well as to make scratch lines less visible. You would typically apply the linseed oil to your soapstone after cleaning it with a piece of cloth.
Soapstone Wax: Alternatively you can use soapstone wax to protect your carvings as it can be a little easier to apply and dries quickly. However, they don’t protect the stone for as long or as well as linseed oil, but is a great alternative.
Cotton Tips: Cotton tips help you clean areas your microfiber cloth could not reach. These could be folds or deeper holes you carved out from your soapstones. A pack of common cotton tips would be an excellent place to start.
Mild Liquid Detergent: Mild liquid detergents help clean the soapstone after you have carved it. Typically while cleaning your carvings, you need to use a few drops and mix it into a bowl of lukewarm water. This means you just need a small bottle to start.
Epoxy: If you broke your soapstone, you might use epoxy to reattach the parts. You may not be able to hide the attachment lines completely. Still, you may conceal it slightly with a proper application of linseed oil. You prepare this in hand, but you should always hope never to use it.