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Similar to carpenters needing pencils for their work, welders need ways of marking their metal in an efficient way.
Doing layouts and cutting steel requires precise markings. Pencils aren’t going to cut it – they don’t mark steel very well. Paint markers are generally too thick for an accurate marking. Sharpies can work for marking metal, but they tend do wear out fast due the abrasiveness of the steel.
Soapstone is the primary choice for welders and metal workers. This article will explain the benefits of soapstone and why it has remained so popular over the years.
Soapstone has been the primary marking tool for welders for a long time. It shows up really well and the markings stay put even during high heat applications. When you are welding, you can still see soapstone marks through your shaded lens.
This makes soapstone ideal for welders in many different industries.
Even though it shows up well on steel, soapstone is very easy to erase. Simply wiping it with your glove will remove most of it. If you make an incorrect marking, you can erase it easily without having to worry about it.
It is available in several forms. Our favorite is 1/4″ soapstone paired with a holder. This allows you to sharpen the stone and use it like a pencil. The holder lets you remove the soapstone and re sharpen it whenever it’s necessary.
The thinner your line, the more accurate it will be. When making marks for cutting steel, you don’t want to be inaccurate. Getting the cut right within 1/16″ will require your soapstone to be sharp. With the 1/4″ style, you can use a regular pencil sharpener to get it down to a fine point.
Making marks with thick soapstones greatly reduces your accuracy. If your cut mark is 1/8″ wide, your cut won’t be accurate.
As opposed to sharpies or paint pens, soapstone is way more affordable. It doesn’t cost much to manufacture, so you can get refills for less. For welders on a budget, this makes it a no brainer. The holder is economical, and will last for a long time.
If you drop a soapstone refill, it is going to break or shatter. For this reason, having extra refills on hand is a good idea . The holder allows the soapstone to be protected, thus creating a “sheath” for your refills.
What Is Soapstone Made Of?
It is made mostly of Talc, which is a mineral that has lots of magnesium. Essentially a metamorphic rock, this simple stone is extremely heat resistant.
The high content of Talc allows it to be soft enough to make markings with. Since it is a natural material, there is rarely a shortage of soapstone on the market. For larger jobs or mass quantities of soapstone, it does get expensive. However, welders use such small amounts of it that the cost doesn’t add up to much.
Soapstone has been used by carvers and artists for centuries. Its softness allows it to be made into works of art, countertops, and even tiles.
Alternatives To Soapstone
Although it is the most popular marking tool for welders, there are some alternatives. Grease pencils are another way to mark your metals.
Grease pencils tend to make a more permanent mark than soapstone. Using a grease pencil allows the mark to stay put without being wiped away easily. This is a great choice if you are worried about accidentally erasing your markings.
The grease pencils we use are significantly more expensive than soapstone. The pencil alone costs more, and the refills are pricey as well.
We use Markals version which is the industry standard. It can be found in welding supply shops and online- hardware stores usually don’t have them – since the grease pencils tend to favor metal workers only.
The Markal Silver Streak works just like a mechanical pencil. Push the button on the top and it will release more of your grease refill. This is nice because soapstone holders must be manually loosened to release more stone.
Grease pencils are also very heat resistant. It is very hard to remove their marks by using heat alone. If you want to erase a grease pencil marking, acetone is a great choice. You must use a liquid agent if you want to erase the grease mark completely.
Having both a soapstone and a grease pencil will be necessary for most fabrication jobs. Keep in mind that the grease pencil refills aren’t sharpened as easily, so the markings will be wider. For ultimate precision markings, soapstone is the best bet. Keeping a pencil sharpener around will keep your stone nice and sharp.
The grease pencils like the Markal have a flatter point, so it is best for non critical markings.
What types of marks do welders have to make? Cut marks are an obvious answer. Cutting steel and aluminum accurately is essential for fabricators. Making a good mark and knowing how to line up the saw is necessary for fabrication projects.
Layout markings are also a good skill to have. For fabricating hand rails and larger projects, welders must do a layout on their table. This allows them to lineup their parts and tack everything up. A straight edge is generally used to get precise layout markings.
By using little welds or “tacks”, things can still be changed before the project is completely welded. Soapstone is a great choice for doing layout since most fabrication tables are made of steel. Once you complete your project, simply wipe the markings off.
Soapstone does come in flat rectangular refills. These are best used for wider lines and less critical work. Usually welding schools will have students use these, but many people will find that they prefer the round refills instead.
It is a personal preference – round or flat soapstone. Play around with each and see what you prefer.
Featured image credit : Wikimedia Commons/Robert – (Tulikivi)