I have used different types of stone; Chlorite, Pyrophyllite, BC Soapstone, Brazilian soapstone, African Kisii stone, and Quebec Serpentine. The soapstone has a hardness of one on the Mohs scale and damages easily. I prefer to use Kisii stone and serpentine. The Kisii stone has a hardness of only two but it’s fine grain takes detail very well. Serpentine has a hardness of three/four and cannot be scratched by fingernails like soapstone can. I also like how this stone has a fleshy appearance. The finer the grain of the serpentine the harder it is and the better it is for fine detail. I hope to try marble next. It has a hardness of four/five. Diamond has a hardness of ten.
I buy the stone from Bedrock Supply in Edmonton or get it shipped from Neolithic Stone in Vancouver, British Columbia. It comes in cut blocks or irregular chunks. I choose the stone for its color and shape when I have a piece in mind but for birds I buy random shapes and let the stone tell me what it is. Sometimes a chunk of stone shows me the whole sculpture at once or I might only see a neck or beak to start with and the rest of the piece reveals itself as I work. There are times when I can’t let the bird out of the stone fast enough.
The equipment that I use consists of an air compressor with a 90 gallon tank and a seven horsepower motor, air chisel, die grinder, dremel, coarse and fine files, wood carving knives, saws, and sand paper. I sand the stone with 80 grit then 100 grit dry sand paper then use 220, 320, 400, and 600 grit wet paper. When all scratches are gone, I wax the piece (Kisii stone), oil it with tung oil and then wax it (Brazilian soapstone and serpentine).
It is hard to say how long a piece takes. Some pieces are inspired and only take a very short time and others I have to labor over. Sometimes I think about a piece for a year before I start to carve the stone and sometimes I get stuck on a problem half way through and have to leave it until I figure it out. So to answer the question, it can take me anywhere from one day to two months to a year. It all depends on the size and hardness of the stone, the depth of detail and the artistic inspiration.
I have been sculpting since 1987, full time since 1997. I was given a piece of Jade jewelry when I was little and I remember thinking, this is what I want to do when I grow up. Jade is very hard and I would need different (costly) equipment than I have now but it’s on the wish/goal list.