Part 1 – Silver Fox Shaving Soap – The Beginning

Who is “Silver Fox?”

Francis Clark Bussy was born March 21st, 1928 to Beatrice Bussy in Manhattan, New York.  He was a veteran of the U.S. Navy during World War II and settled in Amityville, NY after his service.  While walking down the street in the Village one day he stopped Ed Lowe, an Amityville policeman and told him, “Hey, I want to be a cop.” Thus a career in law enforcement was born.  Ed Lowe became Chief of Police in Amityville and he and my father were life-long friends.  Francis, called “Frank” despite it not being a favorite nickname, eventually went on to be a Detective Sergeant, and then a Special Investigator for the State Attorneys General of New York and Utah.

I remember Dad as a crafty man.  He was always making something of nothing.  It was not unheard of for him to stop on the Long Island Expressway (using the lights on the Police car if he was driving one at the time of course) to pick up a piece of wood to be later crafted into some piece or another.  “Hey I can make something from this!” was a common utterance.  He was a painter of houses (every cop moonlighted) and of canvas.  I remember him painting the pictures found in National Geographic; these pictures later decorated our house.  The National Geographics of course were occasionally repurposed by this then-adolescent male.

Dad had a van he used for painting houses and this was occasionally borrowed by my older brother and his friend (and my all-but-adopted brother) George “Chick” Brenner for surfing trips to Gilgo Beach.  As I remember the story they got the van stuck at the beach and a state trooper helped them get it unstuck.  Despite the population in New York and the large number of policemen who protect it, things like that always have a way of getting back to the father through the “cop grapevine.” “I see you got most of the sand out of the van” Dad said in an offhand way.  “Yeah!” my brother said and then realized he’d been caught.  Chick said “Damn, you’re like a fox!” and from that time on dad’s nickname was “the Fox.” Inevitably, as a man who was prematurely silver since his late 20’s, “Silver Fox” evolved.  His silver hair helped him land several modeling shots and even a couple of non-speaking parts as “the esteemed Gentleman from Kentucky” and “the experienced surgeon” in made for TV movies.

Over the years, and especially in his retirement, Dad would do crafts and send those to all the kids as presents.  Sadly I’ve lost track of a lot of them over the years.  Dad passed on Christmas Day, 2010, with us all at his bedside.  His remains rest in a veterans’ cemetery in Florida.  It is marked by a plaque with his name, rank while in the service, and the phrase “family man, artist.”

I am sad to report that since I started working on this article, George “Chick” Brenner passed away in his sleep the night of October 20th, 2014.  Chick was as much a brother to me as my two biological brothers.  We didn’t always talk, families are like that, but I will miss him dearly.


Silver Fox 1.0 was inspired by a lot of places.  John at Los Angeles Shaving Soaps (LASS) started a lot of folks thinking about soaps in general in a thread on Badger and Blade.  John was also great about answering questions for me.  David Foulkrod (dfoulk on Badger & Blade) got me going with a lot of soap samples and I took inspiration from each vendor represented.  Dave Smith (dosco on Badger & Blade) and I had some discussions and exchanged some soaps as well.  Initially I looked to emulate what I got from my JabonMan and Tabac soaps; I distilled that down into wanting a certain type of performance.  I also need to especially thank DeeAnna Weed (DeeAnna on The Soap Making Forum) for her assistance in editing and reviewing this first and arguably most important part of my articles.

Going Open Source

As a serial hobbyist I make a lot of stuff.  I craft pyrotechnics (legally), brew beer, make wine and mead, and now make soap.  Each of these, when labeled, bear the brand “Silver Fox” as homage to the man who gave me my gift of creativity and experimentation.  Since I also tend towards extremes (some call it OCD tendencies) even the things that never leave my possession – wine in my basement, beer, pyrotechnic shells, and of course shaving soap in my own bathroom – all are labeled.

Some folks believe that means I’m planning to go into commerce.  I am not.  I’m just weird like that.  I think a hobby becomes less enjoyable when you “have to” do it.

Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” visited an acquaintance of mine in the Pyro industry.  That person went pro and they were talking about all the long hours and hard work.  Mike said “when your avocation becomes your vocation you get no vacation” and that really sums it up for me.  I do this for fun and don’t want to be obliged to do anything.

So, Silver Fox soaps are not for sale, but I have given them away to friends and acquaintances.  People generally seem to like it.  I have not taken a dime for this soap; I have not even accepted reimbursement for shipping.  It is an effort I make because I like it and I am doing it to honor my father.  Life changes – tomorrow I may find out I’ve lost my job and maybe I need to find an income stream.  I won’t ever say never; but for now this is what this is.  I work as a leader in Healthcare IT and anyone around the industry knows there’s no lack of work; my spare time is reserved for leisure, not more work.

Release of “Source”

I think anyone is so inclined can make this soap.  Most of all I think if people know how a shaving soap is made they can be an informed consumer.  So I am releasing this soap recipe as “Open Source” using a model started by Open Cola in 2001:

I therefore release Silver Fox Shaving Soap 1.0 to the public.  This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  To view a copy of this license, visit

Overview of License

As a quick guide, not to be taken as a replacement for or a complete portrayal of the license listed above, here are some important points.  You are free to:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

Under the following terms:

  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
  • ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

Basically I am giving this freely to the community, and I intend for it to stay that way.  Make money on it if you like, I’d be tickled and flattered if you did, just remember who took the time to write it all down (and why).

The Recipe

Developing the Recipe

I wanted tallow soap because whether it adds a quality I like or it makes better soaps, I tend to favor soaps with tallow.  I also wanted to have a certain conditioning I found in a couple of JabonMan soaps.  Manual Garcia who makes JabonMan indicates he uses lanolin in some of his soaps so that’s what I wanted to use for the skin feel.  I read everything I could, found some people on The Soap Making Forum ( who were very educated and very sharing, and I got to work.

The Fat

Stearic acid makes a dense creamy lather and coconut oil makes a very light and quick lather.  The combination is well known and is used in Martin de Candre, LASS, and a good number of other vegan soaps.  Stearic acid is a fatty acid found in tallow and palm oil.

To get a high amount of stearic acid, one could use different oils and fats that contain high percentage of stearic, but the levels I wanted would limit me in other ways if I went that route.  The goal was over 50% stearic acid in the finished product.  When used in soap the stearic acid (no matter if it comes from palm trees or cows) reacts with the lye to create sodium or potassium stearate.

Coconut oil is high in Lauric acid and my goal was to get about 10% in the finished soap.  Coconut oil can be drying on the skin because it is a very efficient cleanser and can remove oils easily.  I wanted to keep the coconut oils down but get my Lauric acid up 10% or greater.

Tallow brings a high level of Oleic acid to the table.  In tallow, Oleic is followed in predominance by Palmitic and Stearic acids.  Oleic acid is reported to have conditioning and moisturizing properties, and maybe this is the part I like about tallow soaps.  After some monkeying around I discovered that very high tallow contents make a soap that does not lather as I like.  I set my goal for Oleic acid at about 10%.

Experimenting with a spreadsheet, some old books, SoapCalc (an online soap recipe calculator at and a lot of coffee, I ended up with a main fat profile of:

  • 53% Stearic Acid
  • 26% Coconut Oil
  • 21% Tallow

This gives me a fatty acid profile of:

  • 58% Stearic Acid
  • 13% Lauric Acid
  • 10% Oleic Acid
  • 19% Other

Good so far.

The “Super” Fat

There is a concept called “superfat” which means adding more fat than is required by the lye.  This is done so the soap is not drying and hopefully provides some moisturizing and conditioning properties.  It is also a safety buffer that ensures there is enough fat to react with all of the lye.  Without this safety buffer, the soap could be harsh and irritating to the skin.  A number I just stuck with from the beginning is 5% superfat and that has worked well for me.

I could have just added more of the fats and oils listed for the superfat but remember I also wanted that lanolin.  Early experiments left me a little unimpressed with plain lanolin, it ended up a bit too greasy feeling.  At the time I was also making some body butters and lip balm for my wife and had some shea available.  Experiments with just shea likewise left me wanting more.  Half shea and half lanolin really seemed to do the trick of moisturizing my skin without being greasy or heavy.

I wanted the shea and lanolin to be the superfat which as I mentioned can also serve as a buffer to consume any excess lye.  If I had too little lye however I was most likely going to have unreacted tallow.  The stearic acid reacts nearly instantly and the coconut is quick as well so that would leave some of my tallow lying around with nothing to do with a lye discount.  I needed a buffer there to make sure I wasn’t smearing tallow on my face.  I would use the superfat choices there as well, 5% on either side of “100%” as a buffer.  That would tend to force more complete saponification of the tallow because shea and lanolin do not convert as fast as the tallow does.  This is tough to describe so consider the following illustration:

Almond Marzipan Tallow Oil Profile

The lye “splits” our lanolin and shea component.  If there’s a little less lye, the arrow moves to the left and the unreacted components are still lanolin and shea.  If we have a touch too much lye, the excess is used by reacting the part that was intended to be the superfat.  We end up with less moisturizing but that is far preferable to unreacted lye.

  • 52% Stearic Acid
  • 12% Lauric Acid
  • 12% Oleic Acid
  • 24% Other

It’s like it was meant to be, almost spot on to my goals.

The Lye

Some folks know Lye as a drain cleaner; it chemically reacts with oils and fats in a slow draining sink.  This chemical reaction – saponification – converts the fats into water soluble soap so the plug can be washed away.  Saponification is a process that produces soap.  In a very basic sense (sorry for the bad lye pun), triglycerides have an ester bond which is broken by the lye, releasing three fatty acids and glycerin.  The sodium or potassium ion from the lye joins the fatty acid and that makes the soap.

I’ve mentioned sodium or potassium in conjunction with lye a few times.  Lye is a generic term and may be sodium or potassium hydroxide (and some other things in historical contexts).  Common household lye is sodium hydroxide and this makes a harder soap, generally speaking.  Traditional/historical soap was made using wood ashes and this produced a potassium-rich product and a softer soap.  Potassium hydroxide contributes potassium similar to how wood ash did historically.

Among soap makers and Internet forums, the shorthand/molecular formula KOH is used for Potassium Hydroxide and NaOH is used for Sodium Hydroxide.

I have a love for the Italian cream soaps (“croaps”) and my goal was to create a soap similar to these.  I also wanted the soap to load easily.  KOH makes soap that is softer and more water soluble than NaOH, so KOH is a better choice for a croap.  So long as the soap was not too soft that it prevented effective loading I would likely be happy.  A straight KOH lye approach seemed the obvious choice.

Going into how much lye to use is beyond what I want to include here.  Each fat or oil has a saponification value that relates to how much lye it needs.  There are spreadsheets, downloadable software, and longhand methods.  For this project and since I was using a simple single lye formula, I used SoapCalc.

The Water

I use distilled water since I don’t want to worry about what’s in my water as it relates to the soap.  A gallon will cost around a dollar and will last you a good many batches of soap.  The water is used to dissolve the lye and is done with its job after it is all mixed.  As soap cures, water is lost.  We are using a hot process here which will accelerate the loss of water.  I use a very common 33% lye concentration which means the lye weight is 33% of the total of the lye + water weight.  This is also well supported in most calculators.

The Glycerin

Glycerin is a lubricant and a humectant (holds moisture) so its contribution to a shaving soap is valuable.  I mentioned previously that the saponification process starts with separation of a triglyceride into three fatty acids and glycerin.

If you recall we have pure stearic acid in this soap as well.  That pure stearic acid will add no glycerin to the mix.  I already knew from the differences I saw and felt in artisanal soaps that I wanted “full” glycerin in my soap so I wanted to make up for that which was “lost” by using pure stearic acid.

We can figure this out from the saponification value of the fats/oils.  For each triglyceride molecule we will need one molecule of lye and we will get a molecule of glycerin.  Oils with a higher saponification number (the factor used to calculated lye needed) have more molecules by weight and so there is more glycerin produced by weight.  In this way we can determine how much glycerin will be added to the soap by each fat by knowing how much lye we used for the batch.  About 0.77 grams of glycerin is produced for every 1 gram of NaOH used.  About 0.55 gram of glycerin is produced for every 1 gram of 100% pure KOH used.  KOH is commonly sold as 90% pure because of manufacturing limitations, so 1 gram of 90% pure KOH would produce 0.495 gram of glycerin.

That’s a lot of numbers so let’s get to brass tacks.  I’m going to use Tallow as the standard for how much glycerin I want just because that sounds right as a standard.  Again using SoapCalc, I can see that 1000 grams of tallow requires 211.11 grams of 90% pure KOH.  If I multiply those 100 grams of KOH by 0.495, my value from above, we see that I should be able to count on 104.5 grams of glycerin being released.  I now know that I want to add 104.5 grams of glycerin per kilogram of stearic acid to this recipe.  This works out to an additional 10.5% of the amount of stearic acid in the recipe.

And a Confession

Having explained so carefully how I arrived at my numbers for glycerin additions; I need to share an embarrassing secret.  Soapers commonly create and share information using a term called “PPO” or “Per Pound of Oil.” Recipes are commonly scaled with this approach.  The astute reader may notice that I use grams.  Since this all starts with molecular reactions and chemists use the metric system, the “source of truth” is metric so I believe this is the most accurate method.  Being decimal based, I believe the metric system is easier to use for this at least.

When I began crafting this recipe I created it for a pound of oils so I began working in terms of PPO, converted to grams.  I came up with 49.4 grams of glycerin PPO and since I was using a pound of oil for this scaling of my recipe, that’s what I used.  That mixed measuring system rightfully sent a few reviewers of this article into apoplectic fits, so I converted it all to grams.  Through all that I forgot that I wasn’t using a full pound of stearic acid in this recipe, for which the glycerin calculation was made.  I used that amount anyway which was almost twice the glycerin I intended.  After I did a batch with the “correct” amount I decided I liked the higher amount of glycerin anyway so I stuck with it.  Math will only get you so far, after that you need to test.

Bringing it All Together

The recipe is complete now; we have all of the ingredients figured for a proper soap.  We make recipes “PPO” so for a pound of oils we get the following recipe:

  • 204.1 grams Stearic Acid
  • 113.4 grams Coconut Oil
  • 90.7 grams Beef Tallow
  • 49.9 grams Glycerin
  • 22.7 grams Lanolin
  • 22.7 grams Shea Butter
  • 201.8 grams Distilled Water
  • 99.4 grams KOH

This makes 771.8 grams before cook or cure.  It yields three 200 gram tins which I give away and one tin of a little less than 200 grams which I keep for myself.  Alternatively, here is a more standard recipe that can be plugged into most soap calculators and scaled as you see fit:

  • 45% Stearic Acid
  • 25% Coconut Oil
  • 20% Beef Tallow
  • 5% Lanolin
  • 5% Shea Butter
  • 5% Superfat
  • Additional Glycerin at 11% of the total oil weight
  • Distilled Water
  • KOH 90%
  • 33% Lye concentration

UPDATE 05/27/15:  The information about Stearic Acid has changed.  Please see the notes in “A New Wrinkle”.

The Cost

As Mel Brooks said in the all-time best movie “Blazing Saddles,” “What will it cost man, what will it cost?”

Buying in bulk is cheaper than smaller quantities but for a hobby soaper not much is needed.  For a soaper in commerce it means one has money “tied up” not making money for a longer period of time.  In quantities that have been right for me, I priced out all of my ingredients for a batch (1 lb oil) of shaving soap.

 Price/lbPPOPrice PPO
Stearic Acid$8.950.45$4.03
Coconut Oil$2.910.25$0.73
Shea Butter$13.480.05$0.67
Fragrance Oil$23.000.038$0.87

For a batch, the ingredients cost $12.37.  If I pack 200 grams per container, then 1 lb oil creates 1.7 lbs of product before cooking or cure.  I get three containers per batch plus “the angel’s share” – the part I keep for myself – so that works out to $4.12 per container of soap.

Containers! They’re yet another cost – $1.46 each for the tins (shipped), $0.40 each for the sealers, $0.10 for the labels – adding up to a total of $1.96 for packaging.  Now we’re at $6.08 per tin.  If commerce is your goal, this is your cost per (roughly) 7 ounce tin of shaving soap.  Yes this can be made much more inexpensively in larger quantities and/or careful sourcing of raw materials in bulk.  I intend to show what some guy will likely be looking at in his kitchen.  This is also a generous amount of soap compared to some vendors so there’s that to consider.

Since I give these away, I’m looking at $15.75 to ship three small flat rate boxes.  So, each tin I use (which is one out of four) costs me $40.07 (factoring what I give away).  That seems like a lot, but it’s still cheaper than buying Martin de Candre.  Plus it makes me happy to do it.

I present you all with Silver Fox Shaving Soap 1.0.