There have been some rumors out there about companies who own quarries, who mine different varieties of soapstone, etc. As a native of the soapstone region of Brazil and a current part-time resident of the area, I would like to clarify a few issues that are causing “confusion” in the market.
First of all, I can assure you that the soapstone importers/distributors in this country (including ourselves) do not own any quarries in Brazil. Although you may hear false claims like ” we are the quarry,” or “we are the only company that quarries and imports from its own quarries,” this is simply not true. I personally know most of the quarry owners (not brokers) in Brazil and know for fact that none of the quarries there are owned by any US-based company. The most serious soapstone producers in Brazil (such as OPPS, QTZ, and Rinoldi Soapstone) simply supply slabs to their clients (including us) in the USA. Now, if being a US representative of a certain quarrier in Brazil entitles you to ownership, then we own many quarries there.
I myself was a partner at a soapstone quarry in the region back in 2003 and 2004, but it did not take me very long to realize that it was not for me. I am in the business of importing, fabricating, and distributing quality soapstone in the USA, definitely not mining it. Mining is a totally different ball game.
I consider my company to be a “soapstone boutique.” My job is to travel the area, visit the quarries, spend time with the producers, and select what I feel meets the quality standards that I have set.
One might wonder how we have such a broad variety of soapstone with so many different names. Well, the simple answer is that we like to offer our clients a variety of looks, instead of only just one. To accomplish this, we have access to a variety of soapstone quarries. If we import soapstone from Barroca quarry and Santa Rita quarry, these stones cannot be just called “soapstone,” or the “original” soapstone. We call them Santa Rita Soapstone and Barroca Soapstone because that is what the locals call them. This also lets us differentiate the unique features of each quarry. As an example, the Santa Rita quarry produces a heavily veined soapstone and the Barroca quarry blocks are much less veined.
I also enjoy traveling and exploring new boundaries. This is why I migrated from Brazil at the age of 17, by myself. My love for travel, business, and soapstone has taken me to many places on this globe. We even offer a few varieties of soapstone from India in addition to our Brazilian varieties. I feel Brazil is a very blessed nation, but mother nature did not assign Brazil as the exclusive soapstone source of the world. Finland and India also have a lot of nice soapstone and I am very proud to be able to offer soapstone from different continents. The US also has its share of soapstone quarries (yes, we have everything in this beautiful country), but cost, quality, and environmental/political issues have brought any production in this country to very negligible amounts.
Thanks for reading.
Soapstone is naturally a softer stone, since it is made up mostly by Talc, among other minerals. What makes soapstone softer or harder, is basically how much Talc is in it.
Average architectural grade soapstone , used for countertops, wood burning stoves , sinks, tiles, etc. will have around 50% of Talc, the harder ones, perhaps only 30%. Soapstone that is used for carvings, and the art industry will usually have around 80% of Talc.
Some of these really hard stones out there, have no Talc in them and in petrological terms cannot be called a soapstone, they are serpentinites. A serpentinite is what soapstone used to be, a metamorphism of serpentinite became soapstone. Basically if a “soapstone” is so hard that it cannot be scratched by a knife, chances are it is not soapstone, it is a serpentinite. What does that mean? Well as an example, one cannot use serpentinite in an application to deal with extreme heat, because it does not have the thermal properties that soapstone does. In a kitchen environment, serpentinite will probably work just fine.
I have heard terms like “the new generation” of soapstone being harder, which I get a kick out of. In geological terms, these serpentinites are actually the “old generation”, since the harder serpentintite metamorphised into soapstone, which is softer.
About the Moh’s Hardness Scale
Although the Moh’s scale was created with and classified using 10 basic minerals, not rocks or stones (which are not minerals) it actually can be used as a guideline to determine hardness of all materials, including stones.
To determine where any material (not only stones or minerals) falls on the Moh’s scale of hardness, we would need to see if it gets scratched by a mineral listed on the Moh’s scale(or another material that hardness has been pre determined). As an example, a fingernail cannot scratch Calcite(3) but it will scratch Gypsum(2), so it is considered that a fingernail is 2.5 or so on the Moh’s scale of hardness.
With that being said, if we take something that we already know it’s hardness and try to scratch a soapstone, and it does, we will know that the soapstone is at least softer than what scratched it. So if a fingernail scratches it, it can be assumed that, that soapstone is a 2.5 or less on the Moh’s scale of hardness.
If knowing the Moh’s value of a giving material is important to you, you can actually figure this out by yourself by trying to scratch it with the following materials of already known hardness:
fingernail = 2.5
a copper penny = 3.5
knife blade = 5.5 (Anything harder than this, is definitly a serpentinite and not a soapstone).
About Scratching Soapstone
What happens if you get your soapstone scratched? While most scratches will occur if one purposely tries to scratch their stone, if you get a scratch, the beauty of soapstone is that you can easily sand it off, with a regular sandpaper or even just a dab of mineral oil or soapstone wax will hide it.
Thanks for reading,
Rogerio M. Teixeira
Whether you are considering soapstone for your countertops or floors you’ll want to know all about this beautiful stone.
Soapstone is a metamorphic rock. There are two different materials popularly called soapstone. The first being Talc, the softest mineral on earth, mostly used in the manufacturing of cosmetics, refractory materials, sculptures, and everyday items such as toothpaste, baby powder and even chewing gum. What we manufacture at M. Teixeira Soapstone is an alternate material known as steatite.
The rock steatite (also called soapstone) is the material we use for our countertops, sinks, masonry heaters, flooring, and many other architectural applications. Steatite was also used to “coat” the famous “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Steatite is composed of several minerals, but the most abundant is talc. Steatite, because of its additives, is harder than talc, and hence suitable for the applications cited above. Soapstone (steatite) in its initial state only comes in shades of gray, unlike talc, which is available in a variety of colors.
This naturally quarried stone is softer than most other naturally occurring minerals. Although soft, soapstone is a very dense (non-porous) stone; more so than marble, slate, limestone and even granite. Since soapstone is impenetrable, it will not stain, no liquid will permeate its surface. Other stones, including granite, have a propensity to soil; this is why soapstone (steatite) is widely used in chemistry lab countertops and acid rooms.
Soapstone is used for sculpture, tile, and kitchen countertops, sinks, wall tile and even for woodstoves and fireplaces.