Tag Archives: soap making

A Little Autumn Update

The Soap

We got a big box of fragrance oils in, and amongst them were some holiday scents that we hope to get out before next spring. There’s some pretty nice ones, so we have been smelling bottle caps for a week or so. Nobody has passed out from the fumes yet, so that’s good.

We also had the fall fair last weekend, where we entered Wildfire, the shampoo bar, and Gerri put in some red pepper jelly.

The soap and shampoo got first place and the jelly got third, so we were pretty proud and happy while we manned the Dirty Bird booth there.

Next year we hope that someone else will put in some soap and shampoo to go up against us.

Oh yeah, our friend Sarah made us a shelf and a bunch of soap holders. These are them.

The holders are teak and the shelf is reclaimed pallet wood.
The holders are teak and the shelf is reclaimed pallet wood.

The Chickens

So the last update told you that Red was laying, but now Henny P is laying too!

She also uses the nesting box, which pleases me to no end, but the really cool news is that I noticed a trend that I hope keeps happening.

Red started eating earthworms and ants, and a few days later she was pumping out eggs. Same thing for Henny P, so when I was digging out the slabs of stone in the walkway, I was pleased as punch to see one of the Barred Rocks steal a worm from Red’s beak and gobble it down. Then she started actually standing her ground with the Rhode Islands and digging up her own worms. Yahoooo!

I am guessing that it has to do with them knowing that their bodies need protein to keep up with the egg laying, just like the oyster shell that I see them peck at now and then. I will probably look that up, but not right now, as I want to see if I’m right about the trend on my own.

This is either Oreo or Pepper. They're identical twins to me.
This is either Oreo or Pepper. They’re identical twins to me.

We are starting to get the amount of eggs that we use, so it shouldn’t be long before we are getting abundant in them. I hope that leads to more cakes and other treats being baked, but I would settle for just knowing we have enough food for us and maybe a friend.

It’s a pretty good feeling when things work out.

The Harvest

I told you about the apricot and plum trees, but I had no idea at the time about how amazing the plums were going to be. We didn’t think they would amount to much at all.

This is what we shook off today.

The egg was harvested at the same time. Good old Henny P.
The egg was harvested at the same time. Good old Henny P.

Altogether we have taken about three gallons of plums from what we thought was a waste of a tree. I don’t know what kind of plum they are, but they are very sweet and juicy. I am going to try rooting a few cuttings from it, and planting a few seeds, because if it is hardy for this area, then I want to keep it going.

It is also pretty diseased now, so in case this is a last hurrah, I want to have some sort of stock for the future. I would hate to think that it will last for years, only to lose it in the winter.

The Boy

Since Blue got away in the spring, and decided to run rampant through the mountains, he has slowed down considerably. He did go for a little toot through the neighbourhood last weekend, but other than that he sticks pretty close to his folks.

Sometimes he gets tired after a few chases of a toy.
Sometimes he gets tired after a few chases of a toy.

We aren’t quite sure what he tangled with, but his slight limp hasn’t gone away, and he doesn’t like running for much more than a kilometre or two any more. We are okay with that.

One thing that I was worried about when we got the chickens, is that he would always try to chase them, but after a bit of gentle correcting, he is actually more timid with them than they are with him. Unless he’s running towards them, then they get out of the way.

I actually think that he would make a pretty good farm dog, and we hope that he makes it long enough to see that. He’s slowing down a lot, but I like to think that he’s just pacing himself for when he has acres to roam leisurely about.

Here’s hoping, Boy.

Chris

DIY Natural Laundry Soap

Now, if there’s one thing that soap making has gotten us into, it’s researching better ways to do things. That leads us to several different forums and websites about soap and soaping.

A while back, we (I) ruined a batch of lard soap with too much lye or something. It became brittle almost overnight, and was breaking into pieces when I tried to cut it in 24 hours. We put it in a box and stuffed it away until our litmus strips came in, several months later.

It turned out that the pH was well within the safe range, so we went on some soap making forums looking for how to rebatch the soap into something useful.

While looking through other threads on the same topic, we noticed a lot of people giving their recipes for laundry soap, and recommending that the doomed loaves get turned into that.

Huh. We remembered that our friend Jane had said that she turned her lard soap into laundry bars and grated it into the wash with a cheese grater.

We hit the thrift store and bought a cheese grater, but it turned out to be way more bloody and labour intensive than either of us was comfortable with. I mean, knuckles aren’t vital to staying alive, but we have grown attached to ours, so we decided that maybe homemade, natural laundry soap wasn’t for us.

But, wait. We had already purchased the washing soda and Borax from Amazon, so we had to find a way to do this. We try to not be wasteful, and we really don’t have a use for two kilograms of both washing soda and Borax.

Earlier this year our blender calved and we found this baby at the thrift store, so we got it out to give it a try.

bullet

I threw a few of the brittle chunks in and it completely powdered it, so I threw a bunch more in with some soda and Borax.

Not so good with more than two cups in it. I’m glad we didn’t buy it at full price, because it just can’t handle the job. It does work amazingly well at small batches though, so we keep it for finishing off the powder and mixing.

Enter the Ninja

ninja

This baby has a ton of soap busting power, plus Gerri loves it for actual cooking related work. We picked it up off of our local buy and sell group on Facebook, and we totally agree that it is worth the full price that we would have had to pay RIGHT HERE. If you look, there is/was a refurbished model that is less than we paid for a used one.

Anyhow, this machine is amazing for a lot of things, but busting soap into powder isn’t one of them. I think it’s because of the round blade/square hole situation, but it just doesn’t do the job very well. It does this though, which, if you have ever thrown a bunch of soap bars and chunks into a blender, should impress you.

ninjachunks

It’s now time to start throwing it into the Bullet with the washing soda and the Borax, to create this fine example of our latest batch of natural laundry soap.

bulletpowder

We found that a great mix is to use 1/3 soap, 1/3 washing soda, and 1/3 Borax blended together as evenly as you can. It cleans just as well, or better than any commercial detergent we have tried.

From what I have read, you can pretty much use any kind of bar soap for this, so we used a whole bunch of different soaps in this one. There were trimmings from probably every batch we’ve made, plus some whole bars of the plain lard soap and messed up batches. Next time we will probably use the bowl full of endsies that is in the washroom, and whatever other scraps we have by then.

All in all, we had five cups of bar soap which made 15 cups of laundry soap. We use between two and three tablespoons per load, so this batch should last us for 90 or so loads.

Not bad for a couple of hours work and maybe $5 in material.

For us, because it was all soap that would have been written off as bad batches.

If you have to buy the soap, then you need to factor in that cost as well, but even if you bought some bars of lard soap out of our cheap bin for $3, (or better yet, make your own) it would probably still work out cheaper than Tide and at least you know what you’re using.

Anyways, we have really enjoyed switching over, and thought we would share something that has really changed our lives for the better. I hadn’t really thought of writing this, but then our eldest was throwing her things in the wash the other day and asked if this was our own laundry soap.

Gerri replied “Yes it is.” then added “That’s all we will be using from now on.”

I was expecting to hear a groan, but she just said “Cool!”.

That’s when I knew we were on the right track, and that the track needed to be shared.

Chris

What A Year

Yeah, it’s been a year since we packed up the Cool Bus and moved to Hudson’s Hope, BC.

A year ago, our yard looked like this.

Minus the swing set
Minus the swing set

Note the lack of garden, chickens, and big composter. We were really starting off our homestead with bare bones. There were two black compost units there when we bought the place, but one was missing a lid and both were dried out ant condos. We started composting everything, and with some heat, weeds, and a garden hose, we got them to producing some nice, dark compost by the fall.

This is what the backyard looks like today.

yard2016

Yeah, there’s some brown patches from where I left the trailer for too long, but I’m hoping that the chickens will help to  get things green again.

Speaking of the chickens, here they are.

Upgrades for the tractor are coming.
Yeah, I ended up getting two more. They seemed lonely as a pair.

I’m going to add a couple of nesting boxes on one side and keep the main box as a roosting/dining area. I added wheels from an old lawn mower at The Share Shed and a handle, because I think dragging it was going to start wrecking things.

We also built some raised bed garden boxes, and there’s stuff in them now.

It's not well planned, but we threw in whatever was free or cheap that we came across.
It’s not well planned, but we threw in whatever was free or cheap that we came across.

We have been hitting Walker Greenhouses for their half price vegetables, and we also got some plants from The Rustic and the Social Responsibility club at the school. Everything is growing well, except for the jalapenos, but I think I planted them in too much shade.

This is part of the front garden. We dug up and sifted out a whole bunch of lilies from it, and next year the rest are going.

Most of these were free from Jane, our egg lady.
A lot of these were free from Jane, our egg lady.

We moved one of the composters from the back to the front, because it’s nice and sunny in the afternoons there. In the spot we moved it from, we put in our soap drying rack that we don’t need anymore and wrapped some chicken wire around the open spots.

Waste not, want not.
Waste not, want not.

I was getting tired of throwing the spruce needles and dog poop over the fence, and saw that the David Suzuki Foundation says we should compost it, so this will be used for yard rakings; dog, chicken, and hamster poop; and any dead animals or birds that we come across. We just can’t use the compost for any edibles, but that’s okay, we can spread it around the yard to replenish the soil and work it’s way back into nature.

We have also started a soap making company; started breeding Red Wigglers, European Night Crawlers, and mealworms; and adopted a second dog named Dover.

Before and after losing a much needed twenty pounds.
Before and after losing a much needed twenty pounds. A lot of that was grey matter.

When we got Dover, we knew he was a sweet dog, but we didn’t know that it was his only redeeming quality. He is quite possibly the least intelligent dog that I have ever met, and we have to rub antiseptic on his gums once a week to prevent his teeth from falling out. I think he was pretty badly neglected, health-wise, and I’d say from his head shyness, he’s been booted around a bit.

I mean, when it takes a month to learn how to sit, there may have been a few hits to the brain. Nevertheless, we still love the poor wretch, and we will keep putting up with his incontinence until it ruins the floors.

Also, we both found gainful employment and there have been some academic accolades for the kids, so all in all, I think we have had a pretty productive year of semi granola-ism.

Next year we will maybe start scoping out some property.

Chris

It’s Really Happening

(This is a split post. I’m going first, because I’m the man. When she lets me.)

We are really doing it.

The soap, I mean. It’s only been a couple of months, but our fun and hard work is starting to pay off.

Maybe.

We are putting in a tableold desk at the local farmer’s market here in Hudson’s Hope on Tuesdays starting this week. It looks like this now.

Pretty nice after a good waxing.
Pretty nice after a good waxing.

We were just on our way home when I mentioned that we needed to get a table for the market. You can rent them for $10, but we don’t even know if we are going to sell the three bars necessary to afford that.

I looked at Gerri and asked, “Do you want to go home, or the Share Shed?”

“Oh, Share Shed for sure!” She said, smiling.

We got there and found the dark, 70s desk with the huge round knobs on the drawers, a couple of old toolboxes, and an end table.

The drawers are inside getting filled up for Tuesday.
The drawers are inside getting filled up for Tuesday.

Huge score. I love the Share Shed for always giving us what we need, when we need it. This is better than a cheap, fold-up table any day. We created a homemade beeswax wood polish out of ingredients we had for the soap (Maybe another new product line?), and my beautiful wife stripped, sanded and polished those castoffs into satiny smooth new pieces of furniture.

She also found a handful of these gems that were leftover from the kitchen.
She also found a handful of these gems that were leftover from the kitchen.

The toolbox is going to be for the uncured soap, so people can see what’s coming up, and the end table will hold a small display as well. We were going to have a friend’s kids sell the soap for us, as we are working every Tuesday, but our eldest has volunteered to man the booth for us, so that will really help out. She also labelled over a hundred bars for us as we were trying to pull this circus together over the last three days.

We got our PH test strips this week, so we were able to test out our levels before we put anything up for sale. We’ve been giving bars away to friends, but only ones that we have used ourselves. This way we can be sure that there is no lye left in them, and everything is safe to use.

Created on Shaun "Savvy" Savoy's birthday. Hence the name.
Created on Shaun “Savvy” Savoy’s birthday with spruce from our yard. Hence the name.

We are starting off a bit on the less expensive side, you know, so we can get people addicted, and we will play it by ear for a while. We are still playing around with recipes and trying new things, so until everything is perfect, we will be happy to recoup our costs for materials, etc…

This was our own recipe, and it turned out great, but I think we will try it again with a coffee fragrance oil as well.
This was our own recipe, and it turned out great, but I think we will try it again with a coffee fragrance oil as well. It kind of smells like brownies.

We have been pretty lucky in the fact that we haven’t had many batches go so far that they couldn’t be salvaged. For the ones that just weren’t quite right, we are selling those of in the bargain drawer. They are still great soap, but maybe just have a bit too bright a colour, or possibly a little light on scent. You can still get clean, and save a couple of bucks in the meantime.

We dreamed these suckers up during the fire scare of '16. They are Gerri's favourite, so far.
We dreamed these suckers up during the fire scare of ’16. They are Gerri’s favourite, so far.

So that about does it. If you are in the area, stop by the Hudson’s Hope Farmer’s Market.

In July they have it on Saturdays too.
In July they have it on Saturdays too. I’m all over that.

Chris

Hello.  It’s me.  

It's not really her. It's me. Gerri.
It’s not really her. It’s me. Gerri.

I’m in Hudson’s Hope dreaming of soaps yet to be…

Oh the soapmaking…so much love.  The process of each batch of soap is different and means something different to me.  I love that we have found something to do together that is really fun and keeps us giggling.  It’s also totally exciting to work with chemicals and avoid toxic mishaps.  Safety first, Kids!

Several of our batches have originated from trying new things.  We keep venturing further into the art of soap making, and discover that we are making beautiful, lathery soap that smells amazing and has no carcinogens in it.   We are creating a high-quality alternative that has none of the additives typically found in consumer cosmetics.  This alternative is luxurious, affordable, good for me, and I like using it.  There isn’t a downside here.

It may surprise people to find out that a small percentage of our soaps are made with animal fats as well as vegetable fat. { If you are a vegetarian or vegan, we have lots of vegetable-based soaps, and a large selection of scents.  You will want to be specific when you inquire about soap. } For us, it’s a question of wanting to use a resource that would have been tossed into the trash.  If an animal has died, it does not make sense to waste parts that could be turned into useful products.  It’s a pain in the a** to render lard, let me be clear.  This isn’t the easiest way to get an ingredient for your soap making projects, but it’s very satisfying to save useful product from going into the garbage, and it makes beautiful soap.

Anyway, it’s getting late, and I’ve had a full weekend of soaping, so I’m going to bed.

Gerri

If We Had This Soap When I Was A Kid…

…I would have done a lot more swearing in front of my mom.

Except the one on the left. That's just laundry soap.
Except the one on the left. That’s just laundry soap.

Well, until I tasted them. No matter how good they look and smell, they are still soap.

We had a great weekend of soap making and wax rendering. It really was amazing, partially because it was wet and we really needed some rain, but also because we banged out seven batches of soap and rendered down a bunch of honeycombs that a wonderful local apiarist had dropped off for us.

After rendering all the dead bees,honey, and beetles out of it, we got this handsome specimen.

That was the first render. We got another decent disc from the second as well.
That was the first render. We got another decent disc from the second as well.

We then turned all of our beeswax into these.

And they pop out of the cups without ripping them. It's recycle time.
And they pop out of the cups, so we can reuse them.

Many of our recipes call for beeswax to harden up the bar, so we portioned them out for each recipe. It was a huge pain, but will totally be worth it in the end. It sucks to be hacking and grating the wax from the block to come up with a certain weight. This way you just plop it in with your oils as they heat up and wait for it to melt.

You could chop it into pieces if you are too impatient to let it melt slowly, or somehow make your wax into pastilles when it’s melted. They look like a great way to melt wax fast.

Anyhow, we have enough beeswax to last us for a while, which is good, because we have a Farmer’s Market meeting this week, and hopefully we will be selling a lot of soap soon. I really hope so, because we are going broke on ingredients for this stuff. It’s like an addiction to heroin, except better for you, and I could make a batch before work in the morning, and still drive all day with no problems.

We are noticing that our comfort level is growing, because we are straying from the recipes and trying to create our own signature soaps. I really like trying new things, especially when they work out like they did this weekend.

Well, we think they worked out. We won’t really know until they are cured and we can make sure that they are all in good working order, but man, oh man do they seem great now. The prettiest, and tastiest looking one is Gerri’s creation. It’s called Berry Vanilla Cheesecake. I bet you can tell which one it is from the photo above. It also smells as good as it looks.

The best one, for a man, is probably the hot process Savvy Woodsman bar. It smells like a forest got it’s butt kicked by a dream. We named it after our friend “Savvy” back home, because we designed it on his birthday after he asked us to send him some soap. First bar is free, Savvy. You know the drill after that. 😉

Another beauty was the Orange Chili Pepper bar. It was the second attempt at hot process soap making (which happens to be Gerri’s new favourite thing), and one where we went outside the box and added ground up chili pepper flakes to the bar after it gelled. It looks and smells fantastic, but we will definitely be testing that one out before selling it. Especially around the eyes and tender bits.

(Free sample bar to whoever wants to guinea pig that experiment. 😉 hehe)

Last but not least is the French Vanilla Cappucino bar. It really excites me, but it still feels pretty soft. I should have maybe put beeswax in instead of avocado or sweet almond oil, but we won’t know for sure until it cures. It is totally coloured and scented by real coffee and some vanilla fragrance. We used a very strong coffee(that we will try freezing next time) with the lye instead of water, and then used the grounds and vanilla in the batter at medium trace. You can’t really smell the vanilla, but the bar still smells so good. It will be like you’re showering in a fancy coffee shop, but you won’t have to deal with the hipsters and the line ups.

That’s a win-win.

We also made a nice sandalwood cold process, my mom’s birthday bar, and a plain lard soap with no fragrance or colour. It will be grated up for an all natural laundry soap that I want to try. I did one before with a really nice fragrance oil, but the bar dried brown, so that might not be cool in someone’s dainties. I will have to check it to see if it discolours fabric when it’s cured.

I am really happy at how well we work together, especially with two people who are creative and are really struggling to figure something out. It is the highlight of my day to see Gerri’s face light up when she goes to “visit the soap”.

It really is.

I absolutely love our new passion, and who knows, it might even make enough money to pay for itself. As good as that would be, it won’t compare to hanging out with your best friend on the weekend, and maybe discovering the next big thing.

Chris

We Rendered Lard!

Yep, that’s right. We bought half a pig from a local farmer, and I asked him to save the fat from it, so we could render it down for soap. I would never have thought of it, but the lady we get our eggs from had mentioned it to us one day this fall, and we decided, after reading several accounts of how nice the soap is, to try a batch or two and check it out for ourselves.

So this morning I started the process. She had told me the basics of putting some water in a pot, then put in the fat. Seemed simple enough, so I took my large hunks of frozen fat and threw them in the pot. Then I started to watch a YouTube video on rendering lard the proper way.

I was quickly running to the pot, pulling the chunks of fat out, and cutting them up into small pieces.

That was a handy tip to know. As it was, the rendering took about ten hours, but apparently it would have taken much longer if I had left them in huge chunks. Everyone on the internet says that it is way better to get it ground up by the butcher, but those people maybe didn’t get one of these when their Nan died.

That old grinder has had a lot of use.
That old grinder has had a lot of use.

She used to grind up everything with that thing. I haven’t used it since it was in her kitchen, but if we end up with a bunch more fat, I am going to pull it down and put it to work. Even if it’s just for nostalgia’s sake.

So after a day of hanging out on the stove we ended up with this.

Apparently, that is good lard. I really don't know lard though.
Apparently, that is good lard. I really don’t know lard though.

and this

We weren't sure about the cracklins, but after a bunch of salt, pepper, and onion powder, we came around.
We weren’t sure about the cracklins, but after a bunch of salt, pepper, and onion powder, we came around.

So this weekend, we will be trying out the lard in soap. There are tons of recipes out there, so we will try a few of them and see. If any of you have tried it before, maybe you could let us know what worked, or didn’t work, for you. We would really appreciate and hints or tricks that you have.

We would also love to hear any scents that really get you going. For me, it’s always been patchouli, but I really love other woodsy scents as well. That’s what perks me up during a morning shower. It makes me feel like I’m in an old Irish Spring commercial.

Except it’s in India.

But with more green, and cleaner water.

I’m maybe not as simple as I think.

Chris

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DIY Soap Cutter For Under $20

So I was crying to my buddy, Johnny, about trying to cut the soap straight with a knife, on the chopping block that I bought at the thrift store for $2. I had measured out the inches down either side of it, but it was still coming out all wonky.

I told him that the top is an inch apart, but the bottom could be a quarter inch out either way. I know that it wouldn’t make a huge difference, weight wise, but I lost a bar on each loaf from over compensating. I’d like to make sure that all of the bars are uniform, because if you lost a bar on every loaf, it would be really cutting down on profits.

That’s going on the assumption that we will sell any of the bars. If we don’t, then there will be a lot of misshapen solstice gifts being handed out this winter.

I showed him the picture of my dream cutter. (Only because it looks awesome, not because I have a clue that it even works)

When he saw that it was $259, plus exchange, plus shipping, he said that I could make one for about $75 or $100, after he quit choking on his ramen noodles and cursing with that Cape Breton flair.

Apparently he forgot that you also need some skill in woodworking, and that’s not something I’m known for.

I told him that I would pay him to build one for me, and he said that he would. I was excited about that, but he wasn’t sure when he could get it done by. I explained to him that I needed it right away, because I couldn’t keep cutting the bars the way I was.

That was when he had a brilliant idea.

Plus
Equals
I didn't see the grey one until later. It looks like a better box for the soap, but this one will work.
I didn’t see the grey one until later. It looks like a better box for the soap, but this one will work.

I think the grey one is pretty much the same box, except it might be a tiny bit deeper than the one I got. This one doesn’t leave more than a couple of millimetres above the bar to fit the blade into the guide, so even a little bit would help. The $2 chopping block came in handy, because there is a lip on one side of the mitre box for stabilizing it against the front of the bench.

The chopper isn’t as wide as the Norpro, but it will do until the good one comes in. Either way, for under $20 I can accurately measure and cut my soap bars. That’s all there is to that.

You are probably thinking to yourself, that it’s going to be more than $20 with the shipping, but it isn’t if you get yourself a bunch of beeswax to get the price up over $25 to take advantage of Amazon’s free shipping.

Just a suggestion, you know you’re going to need it. 😉

Chris

P.S. We did cut up a loaf with it, and I have to tell you that it worked so much better than freehand with a knife that I couldn’t stop smiling while I slid and sliced. I’m such a newbie nerd.

We Made Soap!

The back is Blueberry Hill, and the front is Gingerbread.
The back is Blueberry Hill, and the front is Gingerbread.

Yep, we finally did it. Now we will wait five weeks to see how it turned out. We got a really great deal on the soap making tools and ingredients, so we are going to use up the fragrances and dyes that came with it while we are learning.

Oh, and it was really fun. Except for the freehand knife cutting. I really need one of these when I win the lottery:

I ended up having to work, so Gerri got the lesson and made the first batch, but when I got home she was still so excited that she wanted to make another one. I was glad, because I thought I was going to have to wait five weeks until it was cured. That’s when I found out that we were the proud new owners of four moulds, and that you can take them out of the moulds and cut the bars after about a day.

That means that we can make four loaves a day, every day. Do the math.

4 loaves x 15 bars x  = BILLIONAIRES

This should last about three days.
We aren’t sure which one is best, and they were all on sale, so…

I think that if I sell a kidney, we can afford to make soap for about a month, and then a week later we will be able to start selling the first day’s soap. That should give us enough working capital to make another three batches and the circle will begin again.

Dreaming is good.

Not about the kidney. That was a joke. Unless you know a buyer.

I’m talking about a life that’s dedicated to more simple days. Like getting up in the morning, making a bunch of soap, having lunch, sorting some worms and going out to feed and water the animals. I could really get used to that.

It sure beats getting up at 2 am so that you can get your job done before the road bans come on at 10, but still end up chaining up and slopping through the mud for the last hour, because the sun came out too fast on you.

Not that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to do that right now, I’m just dreaming about the future. You know, when I don’t have to jump at those chances anymore.

Anyhow, I should get off of here. I need to go in and watch the soap cure for a while before bed… and maybe bathe, but I really want to make this last bar of the good stuff last until ours is ready. I figure if I wash every fourth night, I should squeek slide by.

Chris