Dan's Kitchen: Countertops!

Dan's Kitchen: Countertops!

Feb 25, 2014
Countertop installation in progress.

Name: Dan Bailey
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: East Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Type of building: 2nd Floor Condo in a Greek-Revival Row House

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The soapstone fabricators showed up one morning this week with my new countertop packed in the back of their truck in four pieces. The largest of these four pieces was a beastly, 5-foot long slab of stone weighing in at over 300 pounds. The two fabricators clamped the slab between four metal poles, which ran along the top and bottom of the slab, to prevent it from cracking as they moved it. When they reached the front stairwell, they paused, gathering their strength and carefully considering their next move. And then, with a little strategic planning, a great deal of effort, and a flurry of curses, they began to haul the massive soapstone slab upstairs.

The raw soapstone, without mineral oil.

Luckily, my contractor, Gregg, showed up just in time to help the fabricators carry the slab upstairs. I was at work at the time, but if I had been home I probably would've been drawn into helping as well – although I'm not sure my contribution would've made much difference. After some careful maneuvering, they managed to hoist the countertop slab to the top of the stairs and through my front door. But the heavy lifting didn't end there. Once they had moved the slab into the kitchen, they had to carefully position it on top of the cabinets. They couldn't place one edge of the slab on the cabinets and slide it into place since the friction and uneven weight could crush the cabinet boxes. Instead, they lifted the slab and gently and evenly placed it on top of the cabinets.

The biggest slab, installed. The sink hole is outlined in pencil here.

Although soapstone is very dense, it's also very soft. This means that, unlike most other stone countertop materials, it can be cut with woodworking tools. And since it's so easy to work with, soapstone can be cut on site. With this in mind, the fabricators installed my countertop without holes for the sink and faucet, which reduced the risk of the slab cracking during transportation and installation. Once the largest slab was in place, the fabricators drilled a hole for the faucet and cut a hole for the undermount sink using a drill and a jigsaw. Once everything was in place, they sanded all of the rough edges and the entire surface of the countertop. All of the cutting and sanding created a lot more dust than I had anticipated, so every surface in the kitchen is once again coated in a fine layer of dust.

A close-up of one of the seams in the countertop – you have to look carefully to see it.

Since the countertop was installed in four pieces, there are two seams where the pieces meet. The fabricators used stone adhesive to join the slabs, and after they sanded the finished countertops, the seams became almost invisible. We decided to wait to oil the countertop until the dust situation is under control. But when we eventually wipe the countertop down with mineral oil, the color of the stone will become darker and more even, and the seams will be even less noticeable.

New soapstone countertops!

I couldn't be happier with how the countertop turned out. The stone looks fantastic. It's a great color, with just enough variation and veining to make it interesting. I think it will play nicely off the marble mantel in the dining room. It’s sort of a negative version of the marble – black with white veining rather than white with black veining. And the natural look of of the soapstone works well with the architecture of the building. Soapstone gets its name from its texture, which supposedly feels a lot like a dry bar of soap. And although this might sound unappealing at first, it's actually a really inviting texture – soft, and smooth. I’m looking forward to actually using it as a surface for baking and food prep.

Estimated time for project: 28+ weeks
Time remaining: 1+ weeks

Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us next week for installment #31 of Dan's Kitchen Renovation.

(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)

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