Friday 17 February 2012


Soap has been on my project list for a long time now.
It is supposed to be among the easiest products to make yourself at home.
Even without being in a homestead or farm environment, the materials are at hand.
Ideally, you keep all of your fat drippings from the kitchen.
Not only does this prevent fat build-up in the septic tank, it is soap in the making.
If you have a woodstove, or fireplace, or firepit, then you can make lye.
Lye is the chemical that turns fat to soap.

Now that we have a surplus of lard available, we are able to make soap in abundance.
All we need now is the lye.
I was just going to buy it from the store.  I figured it would be cheap and buying it would save me some work and fooling around.
It turns out that lye is not as easy as it once was to buy.  We didn't look too hard though.
Not finding it easily in town made the decision to make it here much easier.

Note the melting snow.  Soft water is best.

The methods I have seen in the books are straightforward but requires some tricky equipment.
Building a wedge shaped hopper out of oak planks sounded like too much work for something so simple.
When I woke up this morning, I set my brain to work.
What could I use to make lye?
The basic premise is that you dissolve the mineral salts out of wood ash; easy enough.
I needed something to use as a hopper, some rags to use as a filter, and some containers that could handle the lye, which is caustic.

We have a riding lawnmower that once belonged to Kira's parents.  It had the grass collection bag contraption on it.  When we used the lawnmower, we didn't use the bags so the apparatus just hung out in a heap of other junk that I hadn't committed to purging just yet.  
I checked out the lid this morning to see if it would do as the hopper.  It turned out that it would work and it even had a screen built into it.  Perfect!
A quick search through my clean shop rags brought an old towel into the activity.
An enameled pot, a utility pail, a old plastic ladle, and I was just about ready.
I needed a frame of some sort.  So, the frame that supported the meat-saw and the thickness planer was available since it was between jobs.
That's great!  In less than an hour, I had just about everything going.

Salt Water
One more thing though.  This is pretty cool.
In order to determine if the lye is strong enough, you need to check the specific gravity.
I don't have a proper tester but I found something fun online.
The lye and water in the right proportion is the same specific gravity as a fully saturated brine.
You simply dissolve salt into water until it won't dissolve any more.
Then, you take a stick with a weight on the end and float it in the salt water.
Just mark the waterline on the stick and you then have the reference point for the lye.

Just Melted Snow

Once you are set up, you put the wood ashes in the hopper and then slowly pour water through the ash where it is filtered by the towel and drips through some drilled holes into a bucket underneath.
The resulting liquid is the lye.
Check the lye with the specific gravity tester and if it is not there yet, run the water through the ashes again.
At the moment, I have run the water through three times.  If it's not ready by morning, then I'll add some more ash to the hopper.

If you are going to do this then you may already know that the lye is corrosive.  I really don't know how corrosive it gets when it's done but I've done some testing and you won't want it in your eyes.

Once the lye is ready then we are ready to make some soap.
Kira is eager to make some specialty bars, but we're going to start out with plain soap.
I should say that I am just as excited to experiment with soap making.
It is an everyday item that we can make here.
It is a product that we can make into something special, something that is ours, by augmenting the soap with natural herbs and other ingredients such as beeswax and honey.
It is another tether cut from corporate manufacturing.

First Pour


  1. Can't wait to see the final product!!

    1. Good or bad, there will be some product by the end of tomorrow.

  2. I just made my first batch of soap last week, I was so glad it turned out. It was very rewarding and I'm looking forward to trying more complex recipes. I bought my lye (we were able to order it from our Home Hardware it was a special order though so we had to wait for it to come in), very interesting too see how you're making your own though.

    1. Hi Meghan,
      I'm glad your soap worked out. The lye that we're making is turning out to be a little tricky. I'm having troubles getting the concentration high enough.
      Let us know what soap variations you try out.

  3. I used this recipe...

    I had tried making soap years ago and it didn't work (used the wrong oil I think) so I wanted to try something really simple this time around. It's a very plain soap, it's only been curing a couple of weeks but we're suing it already. It produced about 22 bars of soap, I cut them similar in size to a manufactured bar soap.