Soapstone is a famous stone with many carvers, as it is soft and easy to manipulate. Made from magnesium, talc, and silicate, soapstone is also non-porous, making it excellent for long-term keeping. However, after carving your soapstone, how do you clean and protect your soapstone?
To clean your soapstone, lightly rub it down with a wet cloth and some mild detergent. Then wipe the stone with a damp cloth with water to remove soap residue. Allow the stone to air dry and apply a small amount of stone sealant, like soapstone wax or linseed oil on the stone. Repeat until all the stone is covered well.
In this article, I discuss how you can clean and also protect your soapstone sculpture. I also discuss if there are additional tips to protect your soapstone. I also discuss other questions you might have about soapstone protection.
How To Clean A Soapstone Sculpture
You can clean a soapstone sculpture with a wet cloth and some mild detergent. First, rub the stone down to remove dust and any fine particles. Wipe again with another damp cloth, but just with water. Once done, let the soapstone air dry.
Once you have finished your soapstone carving, it’s time to clean it up. The following guide assumes that you have finished carving and sanding down the soapstone to smoothen it.
Start by preparing the following:
- At least two microfibre, lint-free cloths.
- Some cotton tips.
- Mild detergent. Plant-based detergents are best.
- Two bowls of warm water.
- Mix a few drops of detergent into your first bowl of warm water. Stir evenly for an even mix.
- Dip your first cloth into the water, getting it wet. Wring to remove excess water.
- Lightly rub on the soapstone to remove dust or other fine particles. Feel free to rinse the cloth, wring and rub again until you are satisfied that all dirt is removed.
- While rubbing, ensure not to use excessive force, as soapstones are soft and may break.
- Dip your cotton tips into your bowl of detergent water, and use it to clean the more delicate edges of your stone.
- Now, use a fresh cloth, and dip it into another bowl of warm water. Wring the cloth to remove excess water.
- Now give the stone a wipe-down to remove any detergent residue from the stone. By that time, your stone should be smooth to the touch and not have dust or fine particles on it.
- Place the stone somewhere dry and with good ventilation to air dry. Depending on your stone size and ventilation, your stone may need at least a few hours to dry.
How To Protect Your Soapstone Sculpture
You usually apply a layer of wax or linseed oil to your soapstone. The wax and oil protects the stone against uneven darkening, usually from exposure, and minor scuffs. Doing this also allows the natural colors of the stone to come alive and be more vibrant, which is often desired by many carvers.
You may also consider leaving the stone unprotected and just show the natural stone. This is also fine but the stone will eventually darken over time from handling and touching due to the natural oils on your skin.
Leaving the stone without a finish is fine as your stone may retain the natural aesthetics of soapstone. However, you may need to accept that your stone may darken or get scuffed over time, and the darkening may not be even.
Some see that as ‘patina,’ but if you prefer to keep a more even marketing, you may consider oiling or waxing your stone instead.
You may use different types of oils and waxes to oil your stone. Linseed oil is the standard option, although some carvers use tung oil, polyurethane, beeswax, or even carnauba wax.
To oil the stone, you may prepare the following:
- A piece of microfiber, lint-free cloth.
- Some oil of your choice
- Start by placing several drops of oil on your piece of cloth. Try to place the oil drops close to each other.
- Rub the stone with the cloth. Avoid using excessive force as it may scratch or break the rock.
- Whenever the cloth feels slightly dry, continue to add a few more drops of oil to the fabric and continue rubbing.
- Your stone should not feel coated or full of oil, but lightly oiled to be smooth to the touch and has developed a level of shine. Another way to tell that you have oiled your stone enough is that the sanding lines on your rock have become less visible and the stone looks more saturated.
Additional Tips To Protect Your Soapstone Carvings
When protecting your soapstone, ensure to be gentle and to handle the stone with care, as soapstones can scratch easily. You may also consider tung oil of polyurethane for a glossier finish and use finer grit sandstone to sand away minor scratches or marks.
Handle With Care: There is a reason soapstone is popular with carvers. They are softer and easier to work with. You can even carve into it with only your fingernails. This means they may be scratched if not handled well during cleaning. When cleaning the rocks, consider doing it slowly, and support the stone with a sandbag when you need to.
Use Tung Oil or Polyurethane For Glossier Finish: Suppose you want to achieve a higher gloss or shine on your stone after carving. In that case, you may consider finishing your stone with tung oil or polyurethane. This is because these oils and coatings can improve the stone’s color. They also protect the carvings from scratches as they create a hardened protective barrier and give the stone a more saturated shine.
Scratches: If your stone develops scratches throughout the cleaning process, you may consider buffing the scratches away using fine grit sandpaper. Start with 400 and gradually move up until you manage to remove the scratches. Also, try wet sanding for a more refined, smoother result with 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper.
Broken Stone: You may have broken your store by dropping it or rubbed a sensitive part of the stone too hard. If you are unlucky to break your stone, there are ways to fix it, although you may have to bear with joint lines. Use epoxy to join the parts of the stone together, sand it smooth and apply some oil to lessen the joint lines.
What Happens If You Do Not Oil Soapstone?
If you leave your soapstone in a natural finish, your stone may retain its natural color. However, over time, the stone may darken unevenly. This can be either aesthetically pleasing to some as a patina or an annoyance to others.
Soapstones are normally oiled after carving as a way to protect them. This is because soapstones, if left to be exposed to nature, may darken unevenly.
This is a particular problem if your soapstone carvings would be handled and touched regularly. Those regularly touched areas may darken faster. As a result, many people eventually treat their soapstone with at least some mineral oil.
Can You Use Olive Oil On Soapstone?
Using olive oil to treat soapstone may not be a good idea. This is because olive oil is food grade and may deteriorate and leave a rancid smell. Consider non-food-based oils such as mineral or tung oil.
There is a rising trend of environmentalism, in that people try to take care of the environment. This eventually led to the attempt to replace mineral oil to treat soapstone with natural, food-grade oil.
Some soapstone carvers use walnut oil, as that oil is suitable as a finisher for wood. Some also use olive oil since it is abundant around the house. However, these oils may not work well with stones.
There is a likelihood that these oils may leave a greasy surface with a blotched look. These oils may also deteriorate and turn rancid and smelly.
Therefore, it may still be better to use mineral oil since it has been proven to work very well. If you still insist on using natural oil, consider grapeseed, elderberry, or safflower oil, as they are likely to be better than walnut or olive oil.