January 2009: D.I.Y Diary

January 2009: D.I.Y Diary

Where once there was a wall, we had a gap in the flooring. We put down a plywood subfloor (top) and then laid slabs of soapstone, sanded and polished (bottom).

We dubbed our latest endeavor the Thanksgiving Challenge because of the rush we felt to get it done before a dozen turkeys—er, loved ones—arrived for the holiday. The project: to lay two thresholds made of soapstone.

Last month, I wrote about how we’d replaced two load-bearing walls with big oak beams. Very nice, but it left gaps in the hardwood flooring where those walls had been. We could have tried to fill these with matching tongue-and-groove planks, but we doubted our ability to get it just right and anyway, we thought soapstone would be more interesting. A visit to the Alberene quarry in Schuyler is always fun; we picked out a 220-pound slab, 3/4" thick, from which to cut our thresholds.

Soapstone is soft enough to cut and sand with wood tools, which is exactly what we did. After rounding the corners with a file, and a lot of power- and hand-sanding, we finished polishing the pieces to a deep black with steel wool and towels—very satisfying work. We cut 1/4" plywood for an even subfloor layer, put down a vapor barrier, and mortared our stones into place. Then we grouted with hand-mixed sand and Portland cement.

The floors look much more finished now, and we got rave reviews from the turkeys.