February 19, 2010

Cutting soapstone tiles



I am back to working on the fireplace. It has a lot of soapstone elements to it. For the apron of the fireplace I needed a few tiles that will be inset into the flooring. Like any fireplace hot wood cinders can come flying out and one needs a fireproof apron in front of the fireplace.


Making the stone tiles involved a number of steps. First I had to thickness the stone. I had previously cut some stone slabs on the band saw. I then made a smooth surface on the slabs with a drill press into which I mounted a diamond coated burr with a flat bottom. That milled off all the bandsaw marks on both sides and gave me a flat piece of stone to work with. Then I made the side edges square, the first long side was sanded smooth, the second side ripped square on the table saw and then it was rotated and I used the tablesaw on that first sanded side. I did not care that the narrow ends of my slab were irregular although I could have used the crosscut miter to square them off. I am stingy with my stone and keep the leftover pieces as large as possible for future use.



Now comes ripping it into thin strips. Relatively thin, too thin and the stone breaks apart. I will rout out some of the wood flooring to inset these stones and hide some of that extra thickness in the final installation.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010


I wanted to rip the thin strips on the outside of the saw blade. If I had tried to rip them between the blade and the fence they would have shattered from the stress. To get all the strips the same thickness I created a quick and easy to make gauge.


My jig is just a piece of scrap plywood and a piece of scrap lumber that is double back taped to the bottom side of my purpose made jig. To use it you index it to the side of the table saw top, push your wood or in this case stone against it, then move the fence over to your material and lock the fence in place. Then remove the jig, rip the strip and repeat the indexing sequence for the next strip. You will see that underneath indexing position in a photo lower on the page.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010


It takes next to no time or any special skill to make one of these jigs. I simply set the material I was cutting into the correct position for the strip width, locked the fence down. Then I butted the plywood against the material and reached underneath and stuck the taped wood under the plywood overhang making sure I had the strip right against the edge of the saw's table top. No measuring needed to make this jig other than making sure you have the right width for your strip. You can make this jig for any of the miniature saws. On the Proxxon or Microlux tilting arbor saws be sure to move over the plastic table  top extension so you can index to the metal table top. The miniature saw in my photos is from Byrnes Model Machines. Soapstone turns to talcum powder during cutting, it won't hurt the table saw or the blade.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

Once I had my long strips made I cut them into the right length using my miter box. Use a stop block so all your tiles turn out the same size. I dressed any ragged edges on the stones with a small file before cutting the next tile from the strip. If I had a projection of ragged stone or any saw dust against my stop block then my tiles would not have been the same size. One of my tiles cracked right after I cut it, that was lovely since old stone tiles do get cracked. Perhaps someone dropped a pot on it or a chunk of firewood.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010
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