Recently I carved a little pig out of soapstone and made him look like he was hairy (pigs are covered in bristly hair, you know).

Now, I found a wonderful article about how to polish soapstone, and so I oiled the stone with linseed oil. The pig's nose polishes up really nicely, but all the indentations where I scratched in the hairs dried white.
How can I polish the scratches, too?

I'm beginning to wish it was a smooth pig instead of a hairy one.

enter image description here

Here are a few more images on my imgur.

I tried using a buffing wheel with my Dremel, but it removes material instead of polishing. I tried several different ones, too.

  • Any chance you could add a picture, maybe including a ruler for scale? Roughly how wide and deep are the hair scratches? What tool did you use to make them? – fixer1234 Nov 30 '19 at 6:47
  • Yeah, I know - I need a photo, for sure. I was being lazy.... I'll get one. – bgmCoder Nov 30 '19 at 16:37

Personal opinion: it looks good as-is. The hair gouges stand out, providing good contrast. If you try to polish the scratches and are successful, it will become just a textured surface that won't have enough gouges to be good-looking hair texture. Also, the polished snout contrasts with the hair, making it more realistic. I think trying to polish the hair will degrade the appearance rather than improve it. But that's just me; it's your pig. :-)

The closeup pictures in the link show some of the detail in the gouges.

enter image description here

They look white because the surface of the gouges is very irregular and grainy. That won't be fixed by buffing, it would require smoothing the surface of each gouge, which would be really difficult and very time consuming.

A more practical approach would be to fill the gouges to create a smooth outer surface on the pig. If the filler is translucent or a color that contrasts with the stone, the hair lines will be visible, but the surface will look polished. A material like a hard wax might be good (paraffin or even colored wax pencils used for filling wood scratches). Apply it as you would if you were filling wood scratches. You can warm the soapstone with a heat gun on a low setting to melt the wax and it will self-level in the gouges. When the pig is cold (room temperature), you can buff the surface.

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  • I do want it all the same colour - I don't like the white lines - I think it makes it harder to discern the shapes. (and I think the nose needs better polishing). This is the first thing I've ever carved from soapstone. I'm used to carving wood. But you say that waxing it would turn the white areas to the stone colour? If I do that, it will be hard to go backwards... – bgmCoder Nov 30 '19 at 18:50
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    Wax wouldn't make everything a uniform color. If you use translucent candle wax, I would expect the gouges to still be whiter-looking than the surface (less contrast than you have now, but still visible), but the whole surface would become smooth and could be buffed. So you would get a shiny surface with visible hair lines. If you didn't like the result, you could probably remove almost all the wax by putting the pig in the freezer (the wax will become brittle), then go over it with a Dremel nylon brush wheel to knock off the wax. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Nov 30 '19 at 19:16
  • One thing you could try if you want to smooth the gouges, which would make them much less visible, would be a Dremel wire wheel (maybe start with a brass one; they have finer and softer wires), and try it in an inconspicuous place, like the underside or a scrap piece. It might leave a brushed texture on the surface, which may or may not help the hair effect. Start with a very light touch to see how aggressively it affects the surface. – fixer1234 Nov 30 '19 at 19:16
  • I finally used some high-polish buffing wax-varnish compound that you normally use for wood on lathe. If you add that to your answer I'll mark it and try to post an after-photo. By the way, the wire brushes are a no-no, and even the plastic ones are too abrasive for soapstone! – bgmCoder Dec 10 '19 at 5:55
  • @bgmCoder, good to know about the brush wheels. It would be better for other readers if you post an answer with your actual solution (specific compound and how you applied it). That would also be a great place for a picture of the result. – fixer1234 Dec 10 '19 at 6:05

Welcome to lapidary!

You can purchase rubber burs, polishing wheels and rods from the likes of Otto Frei, Cooksongold, HarbourFreight and many other suppliers. Some come pre-charged, with the polishing medium in the rubber and you will have to charge others, such as felt wheels, bonnets or pads with compounds that have various "grit" or "mesh", with higher numbers indicating a higher degree of polish. To achieve a high level of polish you will need to go through the grades, that is, use one grade of polish to completely remove any lines from the previous grade. Skipping grades can be done at the risk of ending up with a collection of finely polished scratches, which appears to be the effect you are looking to achieve.

Polishing compounds are often proprietary, but combine an abrasive such as silicon carbide, carborundum, emery, pumice or diamond in a binding agents or matrix such as wax and oil. Different grades are often provided as different colours to distinguish which is which and so you will soon learn which colour to use next (within the same proprietary range).

Different materials may be used in the final polishes, such as Tin Oxide, Cerium Oxide or Diamond frequently achieve good polish on some materials, better than others. Finally, no doubt polishing is probably a science but there are different theories about what it is and achieving the ultimate polish, whilst science may underlie it, is definitely an art.

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  • Yes, I am quite aware all of these things exist, and have many of them. But your solution is a general description of simply working with stone - it doesn't answer my particular question, which is a precise question regarding technique and how-to. – bgmCoder Dec 5 '19 at 16:40
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    From the above "Skipping grades can be done at the risk of ending up with a collection of finely polished scratches, which appears to be the effect you are looking to achieve." – Chasm Dec 11 '19 at 12:30

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