Rock Out with a Soapstone Finish

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This article is from Issue 79 of Woodcraft Magazine.

It only looks expensive. Tabletops and countertops are great candidates for a faux soapstone finish. To build the coffee table shown at right, see p. 23.

Add to your faux finishing skills with a technique that transforms wood into stone.

Six years ago, I stumbled on a passion for painting furniture. It started with old furniture, then I began working on custom pieces that my husband made for our home. For tabletops and countertops, I love mimicking the natural world with paint, and this faux soapstone finish has become one of my favorites. A metamorphic rock composed primarily of talc, soapstone has long been used for all kinds of tabletops, countertops and other work surfaces. I’ve noticed that soapstone can warm up a space immediately, and its unique blend of black and blue adds earthiness. Since it presents a neutral tone, a soapstone top can be suitable for just about any decor. But real soapstone is expensive and very heavy,  so it’s a great material to imitate. The finishing technique I’ll show you here will enable you to turn wood into soapstone, creating beautiful tabletops and countertops for a fraction of what you’d pay for the real thing. 

Prep and prime, then begin with a base coat

MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is a great material to use for a tabletop that will get a faux finish, but it’s important to prepare it correctly. After cutting a panel to size, I round all sharp corners with sandpaper and apply two coats of all-purpose primer. Make sure to coat both sides and edges. Your base coat comes next. I prefer to use chalk-style paint because it dries to a smooth, flat finish. Natural soapstone doesn’t have a shiny surface, so it’s best to avoid paints that leave a glossy finish.  

Stone-making materials. Who needs a genuine soapstone tabletop, when you can create your own version with paint, varnish and a few basic supplies? (See Buyer’s Guide, p. 64)

Black over white. Cover the primed panel with an equally smooth and thorough application of flat black paint. I use a roller with a medium nap to coat both sides of my panel. Then I do the edges with a foam brush.

Thin it first. Add a little tap water to your light blue, chalk-style paint and stir thoroughly. Diluting the paint creates a lighter-bodied wash that improves the workability of the paint for the next steps.

When the wash coat goes on, the fun begins

The goal here is to imitate the random blue swirls and spots that Mother Nature puts into the basic black background of real soapstone. On a panel this size, I start by applying a 3-4"-wide wash coat of slightly watered-down blue paint. As soon as the glaze is on, I manipulate it with paper towels and by light spritzes of water from a spray bottle. Work quickly; it’s important to apply the next strip of glaze before the previous application starts to dry. Re-wet the glaze if you want to modify your faux effects.

Blue over black. Use a foam brush to apply a wash coat between 3-4" wide across the width of your panel. The paint dries quickly, so it’s important to work in small areas at a time. Immediately spritz the light blue wash with water.

Blot and dab for texture. Blot wet areas with a paper towel. Keep turning the towel, so you’re always blotting with dry (or nearly dry) paper. Aim to create a random pattern, allowing black to shine through more in some areas than in others. Don’t blot away all the blue!

Work your way across the panel. Once an area is done, move to the next section. Step back to examine your work and make sure that no application lines remain. To remove lines or rework an area, spritz with water, add more glaze, and repeat your blotting process. 

Spray to spread the blue. A spray bottle full of water will help you create swirls and patterns to mimic the look of the metamorphic rock. Combine spritzing with more blotting as necessary to eliminate application lines and maintain a natural appearance. 

Work the edges. For the faux finish to be believable, you’ll need to treat the edges of your panel to the same technique used on the top. Apply the blue wash, then hold the paper towel under the edge to catch drips as you spritz the edge with your spray bottle. Finish up by blotting with the towel.  

Protect with a flat topcoat. Once dry, your faux finish needs several coats of clear finish. I apply several light coats of General Finishes HP clear finish to seal and protect the surface. A final GF Flat Out Flat coat dries to a matte finish that simulates the look of real soapstone.

Keys to success

  • Make sure to prime and base-coat the MDF panel on both sides and all edges. 
  • When applying glaze, work in sections. Don’t try to coat and treat the entire surface all at once.
  • Keep plenty of paper towels on hand.
  • As you work from one glazed section to another, take care to eliminate any lines between sections.
  • Remember that the blue glaze will lighten as it dries.
  • Protect the faux finish with 3 coats of flat varnish. Sand between coats with 220-grit sandpaper.


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