Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Things to learn...

Two posts in one day! Oh, I'm feeling chatty...

There are two things I want to learn this summer...

1.) How to make soap using lye and oils. And how to mill it and add things to it. Yes, this is a very necessary endeavor.

2.) How to shoot... like, a gun... Jason told Susan and I last week that he thinks we should do that. Susan, of course, already knows how to shoot, but I don't. I've never shot a gun. I don't even think I've ever really held one either. And the only ones I've ever seen up close are Jason's rifles and shotguns and my mom's revolver. I don't even know what kind my mom's is. I saw it when I was a little kid, and I, being a good little girl, stayed away from it as I was told. (I just went and asked her about it. It's a .38 Special Official Police Colt. A friend of hers bought it for her at a gun show back in the 70s and she bought it from them. She still has it. It desperately needs to be cleaned and she hasn't fired it in 15+ years. But she took it out and showed it to me. My dad had a bit of a mini-fit over it. LOL!) So, yeah, I think it's an important skill to have... as an American... revolution, rebellion, purpose of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution and all that... to at least know the mechanics of the process. How to handle it, load it, aim, fire, hit what you're trying to hit and not something else, and to clean it...

I told my dad my intentions and he vehemently grumbled about it. He hates guns, as they are for killing and that's about it. Reminding him that he eats meat that has to be killed by someone before he eats it doesn't help. He doesn't see getting steak or chicken from the grocery store and hunting and killing a deer for food as the same freaking kind of thing. Even though, you know, it kind of is... To him, one is okay and perfectly acceptable for civilized human beings, and the other is not something he particularly approves of or would ever participate in... I can't say why he thinks this way and it makes no sense to me. The only thing I can figure is that it's because he's a baby boomer from a Yankee and city-fied family and has an overall gentle demeanor. And that's all well and true, but I still think it's an important skill and one I'd like to add to my repertoire.

I will now go back to watching John Adams for the 50th time since Sunday. This miniseries is kickass! I highly recommend checking it out.

13 comments:

La Duchesse said...

Making soap isn't as intimidating as it seems. Just make sure you have chem-lab type goggles, rubber gloves, and STAINLESS STEEL (wooden spoons get eaten, aluminum reacts with the lye and makes smoke, and plastic might melt under the high heat from the lye reacting with the oils). Check out Susan Miller Cavitch's "The Soapmaker's Companion"; it's both a reference and recipe book. When you're ready, let me know and I'll share some of my supersecret recipes with you. ;) Bear in mind that you can use just about any liquid to make the lye solution: beer, fruit juice, vegetable juice, milk, or plain old water. I've heard tales of people using WINE to do it, too, but I've never seen such a beast before. How exciting! :D

Rachael said...

Yeah, I had gotten all the supplies at one point several years ago now. I'm going to have to get a different container for measuring the lye though because the one I got is plastic, and also different spoons cause the one's I have are wood and silicone... For some reason I thought that would work at one point. And, I realize, no... it will not work. Would something glass work for measuring the lye out? If not, what would you recommend?

Goggles, check, rubber gloves, check... Also, would an enameled pot work, or does it have to be stainless steel? The difference is like $30 and the enameled pots are made in the US, so I'd rather get that if it will work just as well...

I actually have that book somewhere around here...

Very exciting!! :D

La Duchesse said...

I'm not sure about enameled pots, actually. O.O Stainless steel is safe, though, because it's non-reactive. Miller Cavitch probably can give you an answer, or you could ask on a Yahoo forum. Glass measuring cups are good, especially if you can find a big one holding four cups and more. Just make sure it's pyrex! A wire whisk (definitely stainless steel) is also an excelent tool, both for mixing the lye solution and for mixing the solution into the fats. Also, consider an imersion blender, which is invaluable if you don't want to stand around for five hours stirring the raw soap. These can be modestly priced and there are models available which are stainless steel from stem to stern.

The other thing I meant to mention was the idea of milling. Milling is usually, as far as I've read, something done by machine. Triple milled soap simply means (and please pardon me if you've already found this somewhere) that the soap has been cured, shredded, and compressed, and then shredded and compressed twice more. The idea is to get a longer lasting, harder bar of soap by compressing it under enormous pressure. Since most people don't *have* a hydraulic press designed for use in a soapworks in their basement, curing usually removes any remaining moisture left after the initial reaction takes place. And there I go pontificating again.

Have you got old blankets or towels to insulate the mold with? And some kind of little scale to weigh things with? Liquids are fine with measuring cups, but if you're using any solid fats like *shudder* lard, and the lye itself (assuming it's the granulated kind), a little postal scale is important. Nag, nag, nag, nag! :P

I always hate the four week curing period after I make a batch of soap I've never made before, but the longer it sits on an open shelf or table to cure, the harder it gets and the longer it lasts because the longer it sits, the more moisture it loses.

If you need help, I promise not to nag and pontificate; please do feel free to e-mail or whatever. I wish you much luck and I hope you're more patient than I am. ;)

Rachael said...

I'll have to check on the enameled pots then... Not a problem. There's a site I found where a woman does a how to video on how to make soap... I should track that down again...

Pyrex, check! *nods* I've got a stainless wisk with all the other stuff I bought several years ago, so that's good...

Yeah, I've been thinking about tracking down a stick blender. Will have to do that...

Yeah, I read about milling in that soap book and how to do it by hand with a cheese grater and double-boiler. Looks interesting... :D Don't worry about pontificating. I appreciate your pontificating...

I've got a scale that measures up to 9 pounds, I think, and also old blankets... Tons of old blankets and towels in fact that just need desperately to go to a rag pile, so I'll put them to good use.

I will try to be patient. And I will let you know if I have any questions.

I was thinking of doing a simple Castille soap to begin with. What can you tell me about that?

La Duchesse said...

I've never done pure Castille, but I've read that it takes closer to six weeks to cure than the usual four. It's a good way to start, though, since it's just three ingredients!

Hee! I'm so tickled! It really is fascinating to watch... if alchemy were science, this would be pretty darned close to acheiving the Sorcerer's Stone. *grins* Are you going to take lots of pictures along the way?

May I also suggest looking at online lye calculators; I've got one linked on the Cauldron, which has an excellent reputation for accuracy. It's easier than doing it all on paper. ;)

Rachael said...

I saw that lye calculator you have linked there... Is it necessary to double check the lye calculations if one has a recipe?

I was wrong about the book I have. I actually have one called "The Complete Soapmaker" by Norma Coney... not the one you mentioned... I haven't looked at it in a while. But there's a recipe in it for Castile soap. It's says: 52 ounces olive oil, 7 ounces lye and 20 ounces of water.

I will definitely take pictures as much as I can... especially now that I have use of my mom's digital camera.

La Duchesse said...

It's generally a good idea to double check, just in case there's an error the publisher didn't catch.

That actually sounds a bit high for lye. You might want to double check, just in case. *hug* Good luck!

Rachael said...

Hmm... Thanks for letting me know that. I'll be sure to double-check it then. And thanks! *hugs* :D

Rachael said...

k... I double-checked the amount with the lye calculator. It says that to have 0% excess fat, use 7.04 ounces of lye. 1% - 6.97 ounces. 5% - 6.69 ounces...

The book also says that because this is a soap recipe that does not use any solid fats, only liquid that during the cooling process it must be unwrapped twice a day and the oil must be stirred back in, as it will rise to the top, until the oil ceases to do that... Could that maybe be why the amount of lye in the recipe is on the high side?

La Duchesse said...

I usually aim for between 5 and 6% excess fat when I make soap; you definitely want to have some excess fat because the less excess there is, the more caustic the soap will be. If you REALLY want to be nitpicky, you can buy litmus paper to test the pH; I never have, but that doesn't mean other people shouldn't.

I don't know. O.O I'll go downstairs and root through my bookshelf for you. Chances are that it hasn't reached full trace if it's separating... does the author say anything about this?

Rachael said...

She says: "because this recipe includes only liquid oils, the wrapped primary mold must be checked twice a day. To do this, carefully unwrap the mold and uncover the soap. You are likely to notice a thin layer of oil on top. Using your wooden spoon, carefully stir this layer of oil back into the soap, then replace the lid and rewrap the mold. Repeat this process once every 12 hours or so until the layer of oil no longer forms. Then proceed as usual."

She also says that trace is difficult to see with this soap, but that it "sets up and dries quickly," and it "may be milled and remelted when moist or dry."

I also checked to see what this book says about enamel pots. It says that they will work, but must be unchipped of course. I'm a bit confused. It also says to use plastic "dishwasher safe" pitchers for the lye solution, as "metals may react with the lye" and "glass is likely to crack when it's subjected to the high temperatures of lye solutions." What do you think about all this?

La Duchesse said...

Aluminum reacts with lye and makes smelly black smoke, so that's probably not a good way to go. Stainless steel is nonreactive (that's what I use as my pot for mixing the lye solution into the oils and for heating the oils so all the solids and liquids incorporate). Glass for mixing the raw soap probably isn't a good thing, though I don't know why pyrex wouldn't work; I've used an old pyrex measuring cup to mix lye and never had any problems, but maybe she has. DISHWASHER SAFE?! Lye is only neutralized by acids, so it's best to wash them with white vingear (again, this is what *I* do because that's how I learned, but I'm not omniscient). Lye is a corrosive, which is why it's sold as drain cleaner.
It shouldn't be too hard to find stainless steel mixing bowls for a reasonable price; I confess I got mine at Hellmart *cringe* and it's worked beautifully for me. But if enamel works as long as it's not chipped or cracked, then by all means, do it! Just remember that once it's used for soap, you won't want to use it for cooking. :P

I *think* that's another term for rebatching. I've had bad luck rebatching, but I think I'm just weird that way because I don't know anyone else who's had bad luck! I posted a question on the Yahoo soap group I'm on and hopefully someone will be able to offer more advice.

YES! She's right. It takes a long time to get to trace, so an immersion blender will make it easier to get there--and faster.

Rachael said...

She says, plastic things that are dishwasher and microwave safe are resistant to high heat and so won't melt from the lye being mixed into water. So she says to use plastic pitchers that are "dishwasher safe" to mix the lye... not to wash them in the dishwasher... because they aren't slippery like glass can be and are usually easier to pick up, and they have lids that come with them to reduce the chance of spashes and spills when the lye solution is combined with the oils. So I'm really wondering about this now...

I've got some stainless steel mixing bowls in my kit. I can't remember why I got them in particular, but I know they're in there. I think I got them at Hellmart as well.

Oh, of course, all this that's used for making soap can't be used for anything else again... just like all the stuff I've got for dyeing things...

Please do pass along anything you find out from the yahoo group.