Overview

overview to installing a soapstone countertop
Photo: Wendell T. Webber
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Most countertop installations require making a template and sending it off to wait for the fabricator to return a perfectly cut piece. The advantage to installing soapstone yourself from a raw slab is that you can dispense with the template as long as your space is relatively square. (Of course, a template is never a bad thing, if you want to be meticulous about your work. To follow the process for making one, check out this How to Install a Solid-Surface Backsplash.)

As with any stone, soapstone needs a lot of support underneath it—the more surface area it rests on, the better. Gaps and voids underneath one section could put undue stress on the stone. So the first task in any soapstone countertop installation is lining up the cabinets so all the tops are even and the stone can lay flat without rocking. This is best done carefully, with shims placed under the cabinet feet.

Working the soapstone is an easy proposition—the stone is surprisingly soft because of its high talc content, so it can be cut with woodworking tools fitted with diamond-impregnated blades. However, that powdery talc makes cutting outside a must, with dust mask and eye protection mandatory. Also, soapstone’s softness means you need to be careful when carrying it, because it could snap at thin points. It’s best to carry a cut slab so the face is vertical, to put the least stress on these places. And since it weighs 20 pounds per square foot, expect to call in a couple of helpers to get your counter in place.

The average countertop will require at least one seam to either join two slabs along a long wall or make a 90-degree corner on an L-shaped counter. It’s best to hide these seams in discreet places, like in front of the sink or cooktop, where the least amount of the joint will be visible. Adhesive joins the two parts together and blends in with the seam. To make the joint even stronger, you need to cut small slits or grooves in the facing edges of two mating slabs. This gives the seam adhesive more surface area on which to stick.

You can shape the edge of your stone by rounding it over or just taking off the sharpness using a sander with a rough-grit paper. If you have a router, you can even create a fancier roundover or ogee edge. But in any case, the edges will soften over time, especially around an undermount sink, adding to the stone’s rustic feel. Although soapstone naturally darkens on its own, rubbing the stone with mineral oil accelerates the process. Oiling also brings out the stone’s natural depth and richness, making it more dramatic.
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    Tools List

    • four-foot level
      4-foot level

    • bar clamps
      Bar Clamps and Spring Clamps

    • hammer
      Hammer

    • drill
      Drill/driver fitted with 2-inch diamond hole saw

    • straightedge guide
      Straighedge

    • circular saw
      Circular saw fitted with diamond blade

    • jigsaw
      Jigsaw fitted with metal-cutting blade

    • random orbit sander
      Random-orbit sander with 100-grit and 220-grit paper

    • angle grinder
      Grinder fitted with diamond blade

    • putty knife
      Putty Knife

    • single edge razor
      Razor Blade

    • caulk gun
      Caulk Gun

    Shopping List

    1. Soapstone. For the best price, buy directly from an importer (most soapstone comes from Brazil or India). You can find them online, and many will send you samples to help you select the right color. Plan ahead, giving yourself as much as six weeks for delivery time.

    2. Shims to level cabinets.

    3. 2x4s to support the slab when cutting it and act as a brace.

    4. 2½-Inch Deck Screws to hold cabinets level and flush to each other.

    5. Masking Tape for protecting the stone as you cut out for sinks and other fixtures.

    6. Painter's Tape for protecting the stone as you create the joints.

    7. 1/4-by-1½-Inch Carriage Bolts to brace an undermount sink.

    8. Undermount Clips to hold an undermount sink in place. Most new sinks come with the clips, or are available at plumbing-supply stores.

    9. Polyester/Acrylic Stone Seam Adhesive (available through stone suppliers) to form an invisible bond between two slabs. This is a two-part product that has to be mixed before use.

    10. Kitchen and Bath Sealant to secure the sink to the stone. Look for a 100 percent silicone product.

    11. Denatured Alcohol to clean the stone.

    12. Mineral Oil to finish and seal the stone.