About the time I bought my first MIG welder the welding supply store manager and I were just making conversation and he was relating stories about customers. At one point he remarked that he could spot an old experienced welder when he pulled a piece of soapstone out of his pocket no bigger than his fingernail. This image seemed curious enough to me that I have remembered it probably because I didn’t really understand it at the time. Soapstone came in long sticks and it was inexpensive so why the little piece? It seemed like a frugal oddity.
When I load up my overalls pockets each morning, soapstone is one of the items which goes in. The title phrase jumped out at me when I looked and saw I was putting in several little pieces of soapstone that were approaching finger nail size. If soapstone came in long sticks and was inexpensive, why was I still carrying the nubbins? The answer is because they still work and the smaller they are the easier they are to carry around. So now it didn’t seem so much a matter of frugality as a matter of savvy convenience.
Each marking method has something to recommend it. Back on September 19, 2010 I wrote about how much I like using a presto pen. One of the disadvantages of the correction fluid line is that often I need to use lacquer thinner to remove it so it doesn’t leave a permanent ghost image on the steel after being heated.
I use soapstone a lot. It’s clean, more durable than white chalk, erasable, good for sketching on a rusted sheet but not as good, in my opinion, as charcoal on paper.
I carry a silver pencil too. It’s not as good for sketching as soapstone but easier to draw a clean thin line.
If a really accurate line is needed a scribe is hard to beat but it will often leave a process mark which may be desirable or not. I already spent some time last July 20th writing about witness marks of various kinds so no more here.
The little pieces of soapstone are probably have a permanent home in the bottom of my pocket. I have never been able to adapt to the holders that clip onto a shirt pocket. For me, that is an example of gilding the lily.