Friday, March 5, 2010

Making Soap and Candles

Homemade candles! Soy candles in purple, melted beeswax tea lights, and rolled beeswax candles plus some of the beeswax 'foundation' sheets awaiting the next project.

This past winter, we signed up for a couple of classes at the bee supply place that we use. They were offering both soap making and candle making as ways of utilizing beeswax. We signed up for both and learned so much!!

The first class was soapmaking. We brought our own 'safety equipment' like goggles, aprons and old towels, but the class provided the lye, the fats, the scents and a basic soap mold. We had so much fun! We opted to make two different batches of soap from our mix. Both had the same oil/fat mix and the same lye, but when we got to 'trace' we split them up and scented them different. To over simplify, when you make soap from lye and fat (and beeswax in our case), you mix them together in very precise quantities (using a digital scale), stir until you get to the 'trace' stage, and then add scents or additives. Then you pour the mixture into a mould of some type and let it dry. You need to keep it warm (the reason for the towels) so that it sets properly and doesn't crack or bubble.

Soap cooling in the homemade mould (piece of pipe with a cap on one end). Once hardened, we slid it out of the mold and sliced it with a sharp knife.

This is the other 'scent' of soap - also hardening (usually takes 24 - 48 hours).

Once set, you slice it up and let it dry further. There is no need to let it sit for months and there is no danger of burning your skin IF you use the correct formulas. In the old days, when lye came from wood ash stirred over a fire, it was a very inprecise science. Soapmakers had to basically guess the strength and estimate the mixing quantities. Today's lye is so pure and regulated that it is very easy to calculate the right mixture and avoid creating soap that takes off more than dirt!

Soaps sitting on parchment paper to further harden. It is useable immediately, but it will last longer under water if allowed to harden up some (otherwise it disolves really quickly).

The two types we made are pictured above. The yellow colored soap is scented with zucchini flower and the browner looking one is scented with a mixture of scents including sandalwood and also has cranberry fiber added for a slight exfoliating effect.

We are both looking forward to formulating our own soaps at home soon. We are particularly interested in making goats milk soap that has it's own challenges and rewards.

After the soap class, we had the candle making class. This was a bit more difficult for my husband who now was the only 'boy' in attendence. He is secure enough in his manhood to laugh it off and I think he ended up having a good time. We made a couple of beeswax candles as a group (and took home some of the tea lights), a soy candle and we learned how to roll candles out of the beeswax sheets that are often used as foundation in hives. Of course, when they are used in hives, they aren't tinted such pretty colors!

I enjoyed all of it and even purchased extra sheets to make some roll candles as gifts, but I think the most helpful part will be the melted beeswax candles. I cannot wait until we get to harvest honey and an start saving up that beeswax for our own projects. Beeswax is wonderfully versatile and when used as a candle, burns steady and clean. It's really an amazing product and I'm thrilled that we have our own source for it.

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