Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cold Process

The title of this blog couldn't be more fitting as it not only describes the technique of soap making that I have been experimenting with, but it also sums up our winter so far—a very cold process.

This Friday we got about three more inches of snow, adding to the four to five left from the last winter event. So I took to the outdoors to shovel the walkway, stairs and driveway and even hauled out the snow rake to remove as much snow as possible from the edge of the roof. I'd like to think that the chore of wrestling the snow rake's 16 foot extension to essentially pull the snow off the roof will lessen the chance of ice dams. Truth be told, I already have ice dams along the gutters from previous snow melts. I'm surprised that no one has come up with a removable gutter; one that would enable you to take down gutters for winter and re-install them come spring.

So, as I watched the outdoor thermometer hover 10 degrees both sides of zero, I turned to soap making. I removed last weekend's batch from the milk carton mold and, despite its sad appearance (right), discovered it produced another good result— well formed and consistent in color throughout. Cut into bars and trimmed, the soap will be fine for testing purposes (below).

I made another one-pound batch today using yet another recipe and will be anxious to see which of the last three batches will become my primary soap recipe. I've also lined the milk carton with freezer paper which should resolve removal issues and appearance. The batter for this last batch was amazing: rich, thick and velvety. We may have a winner!

Monday, January 17, 2011

More Soap

If you have been following this blog, you know that I have been working on perfecting my Trout House Soap recipe. The batches that I've made so far have all been good enough to use—a soft, creamy lather and subtle, clean scent. But, there has been a slight discoloration in the bars that I want to resolve before actually marketing the soap for sale.

Since I am a stickler for measuring the ingredients and making certain that the temperature for the oil and lye solution are equal before mixing, I believe the discoloration is a result of one of two things: either I'm not achieving the necessary state of trace or something is happening during the cooling/hardening process in the mold.

I have three new recipes that I am testing. Each one offers a slightly different mix of oils, water and lye (all adjusted with the help of the Majestic Mountain Sage lye calculator). I have also invested in a Hamilton Beach hand-stick blender to aid—and speed up—the trace-making process. And, perhaps my smartest move to date, is to experiment with one-pound recipes rather than four-pound batches. It will save me both money and time. I've even gotten creative in "make-do" molds. My new batch is curing in a milk carton as we speak.

The sample bars shown below are from a new recipe I tried last weekend. I just removed them from the mold yesterday and have them out to air dry. I won't know for a couple more weeks, but from all accounts the coloration looks consistent and the bar quality firm and nicely formed. I'll let you know how the experiments progress.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Did I do that?

A couple years ago I found this great solid wood table left for trash on the street. I remember the discovery as if it were yesterday. I was rounding the corner where I live in New York City and there, huddled with mounds of plastic bags, boxes, and other discarded furniture was this amazing solid wood table. I eased the car to the curb, looked the table over, determined it was salvageable and quickly heaved it into the back of our Subaru Outback. (I can't tell you how many times I wished that I had a pick-up truck just to tool around the city to pick up lucky finds just like this one.)

About a month ago I decided to pitch a wood refinishing story to AOL's DIYlife. I completed the project this weekend and am so proud of the results that I wanted to give you a glimpse of the "before" and "after" here. Once the story posts, I'll provide a DIYlife link with the step-by-step details.

Now, I don't want to allude to the fact that stripping and refinishing wood furniture is a fun or easy project. It takes patience, muscle and perseverance. But, if you put the time into doing the job right you too can achieve some amazing results. I am already looking for something else to strip and refinish.