Soapstone DIY finally complete!

don_chuwishMarch 23, 2008

Friday night I was amazed to find myself putting the final piece of backsplash on. Saturday was spent mostly cleaning up and putting things away.

Thanks to everyone who has posted info that I read or answered direct questions, this forum has been invaluable. Now it's my turn to reciprocate. I don't pretend to be a pro or any kind of expert, but I hope this helps from a DIY standpoint.

I'll link a few pictures in this posting, but you can see the whole gallery on Photobucket, each picture has comments and between them they pretty much tell the story. Album is here:

http://s58.photobucket.com/albums/g267/d_roady/DIY%20Soapstone/

Some teaser images:

Various parts of my story in progress have been posted in other threads, but I'll try to mention some key points here.

We were very interested in keeping cost down, so the DIY option with soapstone was wonderful to discover. A quality granite or Silestone install would have been triple the cost.

We went to M. Teixeira in N.J. and picked our slabs. If I had it to do over I would NOT have chosen two side by side slabs. The vein patterns are too similar and end up repeating each other in our kitchen. Out of 4-5 side by side slabs I'd take the 1st and last, for example.

When planning how the slabs will be cut, I'd suggest the backsplash pieces be taken from exactly the same spot as the counter they will sit on later, so that the veins and everything match.

Black epoxy was best for 99% of the seams in our install, but where it crossed a white vein I had to make some corrections - digging the black out with a Dremel and replacing with "Instant Install 29" epoxy, which cures to a translucent white. The Instant Install 29 is great to work with, 14 minute working time and then it suddenly hardens up, locking things into place. You can sand it 15 minutes later (thus the name, 14+15=29). It can be tinted to match the stone too. 5 minute epoxies are too fast for big seams I think.

Make sure your cabinet tops are a perfectly even plain, 6' long levels help. Shim any and all gaps - none of mine were more than 1/16". Then get a bead of caulk on the cabinet tops before resting the stone on them. This just makes for perfectly even support all around. We used bottle jacks to lift the stone up a few inches, caulk under it, then set it back down gently.

Doing the caulk and a seam at the same time is daunting, but the caulk has a long setup time, so it works out OK. You can slide the stone over an inch to close the seam after buttering on the epoxy. Jam it as tight as possible to make a thin seam. Most important for a good looking seam is to have the two stones perfectly aligned - any height difference will have to be fixed by sanding one down to match the other.

Diamond cutting and shaping tools are great. They cut the harder parts of the stone just as well as the soft parts, which makes for nice straight lines and even surfaces. A diamond grit drum on an angle grinder is great for shaping the edge of a sink cutout, for example. Regular sandpaper drums don't do as well.

The dust from cutting and shaping is amazing, wait till it's warm and do as much outside as possible. If you can't, like me, then get a good fine particle dust filter for your shop-vac and always attach a collection hose to the tool, or have someone hold the hose right at your cut. It makes a huge difference.

When cutting you need to support the stone underneath, so it won't fall away and break off before the cut is done. I had 1/2" thick styrofoam sheets available, but thick rubber mats from Costco would work too. The photo album shows a good example of this in practice.

For final sanding I tried a million things. What worked best on the flat areas (to clean up seams) was a 5" wet sanding pad on a dual action polisher at its lowest speed. I used a Porter-Cable 7336. Sanding pads were 240 and 400 grit. For a backer pad I used a flexible one made for car buffing, rigid pads were too hard to handle. For product specifics, see my other post on this topic. Edges can be sanded with a good hand block and wet sandpaper. The highest grit with any benefit I found to be 400. Others may stop at 220 or 340 - just a matter of preference.

I feel like there's a million things to say but this has rambled on enough. Happy to answer questions and add details in follow up posts. But if you're looking for tips, please do check out the full Photo bucket album. There's 80 images covering every step of the way.

Thanks again everyone and happy Easter!

Don

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faeriedust

OMG! What a treasure you are!!
Your stone is beautiful and you did a wonderful job from the little I've looked at so far. Now, I'm off to digest all of your pictures and information. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm going to have questions later.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 5:37PM
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raehelen

Thanks Don,

Looks perfectly yummy!

I'm going to save your tips. With three bathrooms to do still, maybe one of them will be getting soapstone! :>)

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 6:27PM
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vjrnts

Lovely! What kind of soapstone is it? I ask because it is similar to mine, and I got Santa Rita Venata from MT. You have the same splashes of jade-like stone that a geologist friend assures me is Bowenite Serpentine. Looking at the picture on Wikipedia, I have to agree.

I just love soapstone.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wikipedia on Bowenite

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 6:39PM
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don_chuwish

Aw thanks faeriedust! You can come over and fondle my stone over a glass of wine anytime. ;-)
Thanks vjrnts, I did forget to mention the variety in the OP didn't I! It's the Piracema at MT, the DIY deal they have going. Pick out the slab(s) and they do a free cut to size and edging. Delivery to southern CT was only $175.

- D

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 7:15PM
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polie

Amazing! I can't even imagine doing that on my own. Your kitchen countertops certainly look every bit as good as a "professionally" installed unit would be. Wonderful.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 8:14PM
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neeter3148

Don,
Love what you did with the backsplash... and the whole thing! Wow. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 8:17PM
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don_chuwish

Thanks neeter! I wish I could take credit for being so creative on the design of the backsplash/window sill. But my wife found a picture on the web she loved and that's what gave us the basic idea. Credit where it's due, this guy's stuff is fantastic:

http://picasaweb.google.com/CounterStoneCreations/Soapstone/photo#5075592297174900290

- D

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 9:06PM
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cat_mom

What a terrific job you did! I am so in awe of talented people like you!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 9:20PM
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mommycooks

Whoowoo! Looks wonderful - first backsplash with counter material that has sung to me. Perhaps if you had done yours and posted earlier (like 6 months ago, LOL)we'd have soapstone instead of granite.

What a fabulous source of info for the DIY set here. You have paid back in spades!

Enjoy your beautiful space, and thanks so much for sharing it with us.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 10:25PM
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emmie9999

That is stunning! The detail you put into the work is incredible. I've never seen a backsplash like that behind a freestanding range, and I think it's a fantastic look.

You and your DW should be very, VERY proud of your vision, and your ability to execute it! I think there are pros who would envy you. Congratulations!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 1:55AM
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faeriedust

Tempting, don, veeeery tempting....but "Old Dom" and I have a standing date for cool sushi, warm sake and mineral oil! ;>+

Gorgeous job on Piracema and that backsplash takes your breath away - I've never seen anything like it!! Amazing work, not only on the soapstone, but on the documentation of it all as well. Your info is going to be referenced frequently. Thank you for that.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 7:43AM
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bob_cville

Even if someone else gets the design credit for the backsplash/window sill details, you deserve major kudos for flawlessly executing such a complex pattern. I've done enough finish carpentry to know that just doing that out of wood, and having it turn out so perfectly, would be a major accomplishment. I have to imagine that out of soapstone it would be even more difficult.

Bravo. Very nice.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 10:26AM
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bellsrus

Beautiful job, Don! I'm very impressed with your shaped backsplashes and the way the pieces matched up. And I'm sure other DIYers will appreciate all your wonderful tips!

Patti

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 10:42AM
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amck2

Amazing job - beautiful result! Congratulations!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 12:26PM
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jill_h

THAT IS AMAZING - INCREDIBLE JOB!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 12:31PM
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bayareafrancy

WHOA!

I am totally blown away! Those window sills/backsplashes are amazing! It looks like once the "have to" stuff of the counters was done, and you had extra material, you really began to have fun with the stone.

This is a great example of how a DIY job will include great time and effort to do better than the average "granite guy" would probably do (note: I said "average." I know that granite guys with high standards--like Kevin--can do fabulous soapstone installations.)

You so-called bad seam is every bit as good (or better) as my professional seam.

Such a great job! Jack is very lucky to have a husband like you!!

Now I'm wondering what the timeline is for getting the garage clean again. When my husband tackles a project, it typically takes at least twice as long to do the clean-up as it did to do the actual job.

:-)

Francy

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 12:42PM
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jscout

Excellent job! But I'm not too keen on that piece behind the stove. It looks too much like a tombstone. Maybe it's just me. Please don't be offended, because I don't mean to. It was just the first thing that hit me when I saw it.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 12:56PM
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don_chuwish

Wow, thanks everyone for the wonderful comments! I think I may have blushed a little.

jscout, no problem. I'd insert a joke about DW's cooking and the 'tombstone' look but it would be too far off base - she's really quite talented. Actually we played with many shapes and heights, really agonized over it, and that came out the winner. Part of the problem is that the range opening isn't quite centered under that hood, so going higher, square or closer to the upper cabinets made the misalignment very obvious to the eye. That curve doesn't. Making it shorter would sacrifice too much of that vein. It's all a compromise!

- D

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 1:26PM
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luckyj

Amazing!! I'm speechless, actually. I had no idea that it was even possible to do a DIY job with soapstone. It's stunning.

Is it too tacky to ask about the final price tag on a job like this? I'm starting to get some quotes in from fabricators, but I'm just curious to see how it all breaks down compared to a DIY job....except that I can see my DH having a heart attack if I even mentioned this alternative seriously to him.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 1:52PM
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don_chuwish

NP luckyj. I've posted the price in another thread, so I don't mind. If you check the M. Teixeira website they have certain deals going. The deal on Piracema that we used is still on: "Piracema Soapstone FREE CUT TO SIZE* AND EDGE FINISH(Any Edge you Choose !) (Yes, order the slabs we'll cut it and polish the edges for FREE)"
I had to buy 2 slabs for the job, 86sqft total at $26/sqft. I only needed 62sqft including the 4" backsplash tho, so that's where all the extra stone came from. I still have a lot of good sized scraps.

- D

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 4:46PM
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gam51

Thank you for all your helpful pointers on soapstone. We have looked at ordering from this company and are wondering about the logistics of unloading when the truck arrives. Any helpful hints?

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 6:19PM
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bethv

Wowzha!! Fantistic job!!! You guys must be so proud of yourselves!! My mouth literally dropped open when I saw your pictures. I thought it would look nice based on the earlier pictures you had sent me, but this is beyound anyting I thought was possible with a DYI back splash. I am soooo tempted to copy that window sill detail. Amazing. And the fanastic slide show and DYI tips.. you're so generous. Thank you, thank you, thank you! When ours is done, you'll have to come on up to Boston and do an inspection!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 6:34PM
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hmsweethm

Wow. That is so humbling to see your beautiful work. You should be very very proud.

Your counters are a work of art.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 6:44PM
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ricklish

Wow!! Beautiful job on your counters!! They look fantastic. All your hours and effort really paid off! Nicely done!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 10:27PM
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don_chuwish

gam51, I'd meant to mention more on the unloading in the original OP, but felt it was running on a bit long already!
I have to admit I was surprised when one guy got out of the truck, alone. It was just me and him. The three largest pieces were around 250lbs to 300lbs each. Manageable with two strong guys but just barely. Three would have been nice. Some other things to prepare:
- rubber coated cloth gloves, both protects your hands and helps get a good grip. I used the gloves whenever I had to pick up any pieces, large or small.
- steel toed boots, if you drop one of these on your toe...
- prepare a space to rest the stones, 2x4s covered with something soft for example. You don't want to ding up the edges and it's easier to set them down on a 2x4 so you don't crush your fingers in the process. Whatever they lean up against has to be strong.
- bring them in as close to where they'll be installed as possible, just to minimize the distance you have to travel with them later. My garage is right through the wall where the range is, so that was fine for us.

- D

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 10:34PM
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bayareafrancy

I think I saw a little girl in one of your photos...

Here is something fun to do with scraps: my little boys LOVE LOVE LOVE to paint on them with water. They can make great designs, and then when it evaporates, they start over. Only problem is the weight of this "paint stone." Mine is about 30lbs. I wish I could get a thinner slab.

Francy

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 10:53PM
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don_chuwish

Hey great idea Francy! She already loves playing with some small scraps I've sanded smooth for her. This evening I was gathering up a bunch of tiny pieces from the floor, little chunky 1" - 2" squares and rectangles from cutting curves small bites at a time. I'm considering sanding them all smooth to make 'blocks' for really little kids. Guess I'm officially obsessed, I can't throw out any of it!

- D

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 11:18PM
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luckyj

Thanks for the $$ info! I faxed my stuff to M.Tex yesterday afternoon and got some great numbers back from them this morning. And thanks to all of your detailed installation info, my DH is actually entertaining this idea!!! I owe you a drink for sure.

Many, many thanks. And again, well done on a really beautiful job.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 3:47PM
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vwhippiechick

Very, very nice job. Congratulations. Aren't you proud everytime you look at it?

    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 8:26PM
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don_chuwish

Excellent luckyj, just great. Now when he's a few weeks into it with a sore back and dry cracked hands from the dust and making yet another trip to the hardware store while mumbling incoherently it'll be MY fault! ;-) Just kidding - it certainly wasn't an EASY DIY but worth it if you're confident in your/his abilities.
Thanks hippiechick! That means a lot after seeing yours. Yep, I'm pretty happy with it and would do it again in another kitchen someday.

- D

    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 8:53PM
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abejadulce_z9b

Wow - I'm in love. This company has a distributor in SW Florida - I never dreamed that I might be able to afford soapstone. I'm going to check them out.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience and expertise.

Beatrice

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 9:27PM
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don_chuwish

Glad to help, good luck with the hunt!

- D

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 10:48PM
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kevinb_flyguy

You did a great job. Nothing quite as rewarding as doing your own.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2008 at 8:51AM
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don_chuwish

Thanks Kevin, that means a lot! Even my worst mistakes are pretty well hidden, only I have to live with them in my head.

- D

    Bookmark   April 8, 2008 at 9:38AM
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ricklish

don_chuwish - I just looked at your pics again today and am so impressed with your DIY job! So now that is's been three weeks or so, what is it like to live with soapstone? Any surprises? How often have you oiled; mineral oil or beeswax? My soapstone is scheduled to be installed this week so I'm very eager to hear how your experience has been! Thanks!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 10:55AM
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don_chuwish

Thanks ricklish. We're still loving it.

I've only done two full oilings so far, about 2 weeks apart. The 2nd one is 2 weeks old now too, come to think of it. It has settled in to a nice balance of dark and light. When freshly oiled a lot of the stone's interesting details get lost. A week or more later it looks better. It'll probably be another week before I do it again, more out of convenience than because it's gone too light.
I found bee's oil too difficult to be worth the effort and just use a light butcher's block mineral oil from Williams-Sonoma. The heavy drug store stuff was kinda tough to spread around too but may have more holding power.
So far we have no problems with scratches and have pretty much stopped worrying about it. No suprises or regrets!

I hope your install went well, we were away on vacation so I'm just now getting back to GW.

- D

    Bookmark   April 22, 2008 at 2:53PM
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rogerteixeira

Beautiful creativity and workmanship, Congrats!
Looking for a job?
Just kidding.

Enjoy your beautiful countertops and thanks again for your business.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 3:31PM
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don_chuwish

LOL!

Thanks Roger, and kidding or not, no I don't want a job. I work too slow to make a living at it!

- D

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 10:17PM
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lazy_gardens

Don - I love the window sill detailing. It's awesome.

BTW: soapstone makes great baking stones too. If you have a veinless chunk, round it off and use it for baking bread or pizza. You might be able to make enough trivets and pizza stones out of the scrap to pay for the countertops.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 4:11PM
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