More and more people are discovering the hobby of stone carving, but are unsure how to get started. Many are also not too sure on the best type of stone for beginner stone carvers. So, what is the best type of stone to start stone carving?
Because of its high talc content, soapstone is very easy to carve by hand with basic hand tools. Using the Mohs Hardness Scale, soapstone has a hardness between 1 and 3 depending on the type of soapstone and is easily scratched with your fingernail.
This article discusses the suitable stone for beginner stone carvers, and the tools you need to start stone carving. We also discuss some tips to help you start the hobby well.
What Stone Is The Best For Beginning Stone Carvers?
The best stone for beginner stone carvers are soapstones. They are one of the softest stones around, with hardness at 2 Mohs only. This made the stone easy to shape, with only basic tools needed. You can even use fingernails to scratch it.
Soapstones have a texture resembling a dry bar of soap and are easily carved and shaped without needing any large force. This makes it an excellent option for beginner stone carvers, who may not have advanced tools to shape harder stones.
Soapstones can, however, be a little fragile, which means you do not want to work on projects with too many fine details.
What Tools Do You Need To Start Soapstone Carving?
You may need at least a soft hammer, chisels, and files of different sizes to start soapstone carving. Depending on your rock size, you may also need a sandbag. Consider safety equipment such as breathing masks, eye goggles, and gloves.
To start soapstone carving, you may want to consider preparing the essential tools below. These tools are often sold together as a stone carver’s starter kit, but you may also buy them separately if you prefer.
Soft Hammer: You do not need a carpenter’s hammer for soapstone carving. Instead, get one with two flat faces for striking chisels. A 1.5 – 2 lb (680 – 900gm) hammer would usually do as a start. You can always purchase better and heavier hammers in the future.
Chisels: You will need flat chisels to shape the stone. Get those with a simple, two-sided tip. Aim to get several chisels in different widths to make your carving work easier to manage. You may not need toothed chisels for the time being.
Files: Files are used for finer adjustments that chisels cannot perform. You may need chisels of multiple sizes but start with smaller widths as a starter.
Sandpaper: Sandpapers are used to finish the carvings by making them smooth to the touch. Rougher sandpapers at say 80grit may sand away a lot of papers quickly. You may also want finer sandpapers at say 200 grit and above if you are just smoothening your work.
Saw: Saws allow you to perform the initial shaping of the soapstone by cutting right through it. You can also use a saw to create a flat surface to rest your stone on while you work. A handsaw should be fine here for a start.
The following tools are optional, but having them ensures a better stone carving experience and better safety overall.
Face Masks: Soapstone can be pretty soft, and when you chisel, file, and sand them, they can get dusty and sandy. A face mask keeps you protected from breathing in these nasties, keeping your lungs clean. You do not need a full-on breathing mask, but a simple face mask should do well. Working outdoors also reduces the amount of dust you breathe in.
Eye Goggles: When you chisel, some stone parts may chip and fly, and the last thing you want is for these stone chips to land in your eyes or scratch your prescription glasses. A simple wear-on protective goggles should be ok.
Gloves: When stone carving, you will be working with a hammer and chisels most of the time and handling abrasive tools like files and sandpaper. A pair of gloves may protect your hands in mishaps and keep your hands clean and soft.
Sand Bag: If you work on unstable stone surfaces, you may want to rest the stone on a sandbag to get a steady and sturdy base. Stones that move around when being worked on may be dangerous.
Soapstone Carving Tips
Some tips to consider when starting out with soapstone carving are to start with smaller projects with softer stones, to check for cracked stones before starting any work, and to draw and plan out designs before starting any work. These tips may help ensure a smooth and enjoyable carving experience.
Start with smaller projects: You may be excited to try a new hobby, but you must make sure you do not bite off more than you can chew.
For soapstone carving, start with something smaller and simpler, for example, a palm-sized chubby seal. This keeps the activity manageable, and you actually enjoy the carving instead of stressing out because you struggle to finish the job.
Start with softer stones: Avoid hard stones such as granite or marble as a beginner. These rocks are hard to work on and shape, even for a seasoned stone carver at times. Start with soapstones instead, since they are much softer and easier to work on.
You may consider alabasters or limestones if you prefer something sturdier than soapstones but still not too hard.
Check for cracked stones: One of the worst things that can happen to you while stone carving is to suddenly crack the stone. Not because you caused it, but because the stone had already cracked before you started any work.
Before starting any project, inspect the stone for any cracks. You can try to spray some water on the rock and see if there are any cracks. If there are, place a chisel on the crap and hammer it. If you hear a soft thud, it means the cracks might be deep. The crack is not too deep if it still gives a louder ‘ringing’ sound.
Draw designs before starting: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The same adage applies to stone carving as well. Planning and drawing out the designs you want to carve out is always advisable before starting any work on the stone.
The reason is that planning gives you a solid direction and gives you a clear idea of what you want before you start carving. This reduces the likelihood of you making mistakes or doing too many design changes along the way, which may not produce the final results you like.