How to Get Stuff
In the first part of my guide I explained what Silver Fox Shaving Soap is, how it came to be, and explained the ingredients. If you are a new soaper, or maybe a shaving enthusiast who wants to give this a try, you will be wondering where to get all these strange sounding things. I’ll share where I get my raw materials, and what hardware I use. This part of my guide assumes you have never made soap before and need to be helped along with what to procure. If this does not describe you then skip ahead.
I will be including a few suppliers that represent places I have worked with and brands I have used. I have no interest in their business, nor do they mine. I received no compensation from them for including them here; none of them know I have even done so. None of the links in this document contain any sort of affiliate program links or other tracking as far as I am able to check (and I am an IT person by trade). The links may also change after the publication of this so you may still need to do some searching. Use these links, or not, at your discretion.
The fine folks at The Soap Making Forum (soapmakingforum.com) have really been instrumental in helping me find my way through sourcing raw materials for soap making. There will never be consensus on which are the “right” tools for making soap, but the people on the forums have been great about sharing their experiences – both good and bad. Special thanks for this part of the series go to IrishLass from The Soap Making Forum for wading through my typos and grammatical errors, in addition to helping refine a few things.
First we’ll discuss the raw materials that will go into making this soap. Our recipe looks like this:
- 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
- 17.0 grams Fragrance Oil
- 201.8 grams Distilled Water
- 99.4 grams KOH
Some of these things may be familiar to you, some not. In what follows I will share where I get my raw materials.
Before I tell you where to get your stearic acid, I need to explain that there’s stearic acid and then there’s stearic acid. A few different products are sold as stearic acid and while all will make soap, there is a difference in the finished product – not so much a better or worse product – but since we are going to the trouble to follow a working recipe, we owe it to ourselves to use the same ingredients.
One source of stearic acid (the one we have actually chosen to use in this recipe) is the one which bears the CAS number 57-11-4, which is solely octadecanoic acid. I specify “solely” here instead of “100%” because there are always impurities, but as you will see this is a distinct description. At this point, a slight diversion to explain what a CAS number is may be of help. A CAS number is a unique identifier assigned to a specific chemical substance or molecular structure by the CAS Registry (a division of the American Chemical Society) to help one be able to differentiate between any number of substances which may bear the same name, but are different at the chemical or molecular level, as is the case with our stearic acid.
Another substance in commerce bearing the name “stearic acid” is stearin, which bears the CAS number 555-43-1. Stearin is a triglyceride. That means it contains the potential to split into three molecules of stearic acid and one of glycerin per molecule of stearin. While this is very close to actual stearic acid, the recipe we are using has been created assuming CAS number 57-11-4 stearic acid which does not carry the potential of any glycerin being produced during the saponification process. Substituting CAS 555-43-1 stearin for CAS 57-11-4 stearic acid will create a product that has more glycerin than you expect or may want.
Finally there is a product sold as stearic acid by a few soap supply companies that is a combination of stearic acid and palmitic acid, with the CAS number 67701-03-5. As with Stearin, substituting this may make a fine soap, and many people do use palmitic acid and palm oil in their soaps, but our recipe calls for CAS 57-11-4 stearic acid, and that’s what we’re looking for.
When you look for a supplier, look for one that seems to have a clear idea what they are selling. Some places include CAS numbers, certificates of analysis, and MSDS sheets. While you can’t be sure without a chemical analysis, I’ve found that starting with a place that at least has an MSDS for their product is a good sign. A related not so good sign is if they have an MSDS with the company’s name that they “borrowed” the MSDS from. One place I do know of that sells the correct stearic acid is Lotioncrafter®. Here is a link to their product:
You may find other good sources now that you know what to look for.
UPDATE 05/27/15: The information about Stearic Acid has changed. Please see the notes in “A New Wrinkle”.
Coconut oil is a ubiquitous product these days. It is used for frying, cooking, baking, massage oil, as a sexual lubricant, and as raw stock for biodiesel. Those of a certain age may remember that coconut oil used to be the oil movie theaters used when making popcorn. Some people believe it was the best oil for that purpose and use it at home to make their own.
Despite some suppliers using terms like “virgin”, there is no regulated classification for coconut oil. You can buy it in health food stores, in supermarkets, in boutiques. You can spend a little or a lot on it depending on how much people think their customers are willing to pay.
While not regulated, suppliers use a few designations that do have some importance for us. These are “fractionated,” “76 degree,” and “92 degree.” Fractionated has gone through a distillation process which changes the nature of the oil and removes some of the fatty acids. It contains only the medium-chain triglycerides and is liquid at room temperature. It is used in cosmetics for its unique properties, but we do not want this particular type of coconut oil for our purpose. The 76 and 92 degree varieties are separated by their melting points. The 92 degree oil is subjected to a process which may include partial hydrogenation. This increases the melting point and makes it easier to work with as a solid.
76 degree is the oil we want. It is the type upon which this recipe was formulated. Unless an oil says it is fractionated (or is liquid at room temp,) or says 92 degree, it is likely 76 degree. I’ve not seen a huge difference in the coconut oils I’ve used so far from different suppliers. I use this Coconut oil from Amazon lately, with Prime shipping it is the least expensive I have found:
You use .25# of this per batch and there’s 7.7# of oil more or less in a gallon, so you may choose to buy a smaller quantity at first. For instance if you are purchasing other items so you can spread out the shipping costs; a quart size like this one may make sense to start out with:
Part I of this series figured pricing based on this product. You may also be able to find this in a local discount retail or big box store for less.
The tallow does not make up the largest fraction of the soap, but I believe it is one of the more important ingredients. The same soap using a different fat has a very different quality. Historically, fat is called tallow only if it is rendered from suet; the hard fat found around the kidneys of cows and sheep. In present industry, tallow refers to animal fat that has a certain melting point among other criteria. It may be made from other animals. If you buy commercial tallow, the contemporary definition of tallow applies. There are also vendors who specialize in smaller batches of hand-prepared tallow. I found such a person who sells on eBay and seems to value tallow for the same reasons I do. Here is her store:
In small quantities and so prepared, tallow is a little pricey. There are several places to purchase commercial forms of tallow. I understand there is restaurant supply chain called “Smart & Final” who sells it in 50# cubes. These are located in the western US states and it would be worth a look to see if they or a similar chain are within driving distance. There is an online vendor of oils for soap making named Columbus Foods/Soaper’s Choice which sells tallow in 50# cubes:
Tallow is a perishable product so buying 50# at $0.86/lb. may or may not be a great deal – it all depends on how much you plan to use.
Finally, a product that is what it says it is. I buy glycerin in the drug store. It’s easier for me to just swing by and pick some up. A smaller bottle is fine for our purposes. If you really get into soaping you may find yourself buying it in larger quantities. Liquid soaps for instance use a lot more of this product. I figured my prices in Part I on a 6 oz. bottle, but you can get 16 oz. bottles as well in most stores. If you wand to order online there’s a couple decent choices:
Amazon has it pretty cheaply as an “add-on item” which means free shipping for it if you are buying other stuff:
They also sell a few things for Essentials Depot and offer free shipping:
You can also pick it up by the gallon at Soaper’s Choice:
We use lanolin in relatively small amounts for its moisturizing and protective contributions to the soap. There are a good many sources of lanolin; look for one that you know is pure. Lanolin can contribute a distinctive, and some feel, an undesirable odor to soaps. Again we use it in very small quantities and I have not found any of the various lanolin suppliers’ products to be offensive at all. One supplier that seems to be good and available from Amazon is from Now Foods:
You may also be able to purchase this at your local drug or health store. Since we use 22 grams of this per batch, (around ¾ of an ounce) you will get quite a few batches from a 7 ounce tub. Do be aware that this is a product sold by the fluid ounce so 7 fluid ounces is around 7 ½ ounces (213 grams) by weight. That’s just shy of 10 batches.
Some soapers that I’ve come into contact with and trust have recommended HPA® lanolin as a good choice. It is ultra-pure, and used by breastfeeding mothers to help heal and protect their nipples. I have been told it has much less of a scent than the regular lanolin so if you are concerned about this at all, or find the small amount of regular lanolin contributes a disagreeable odor, this may be a good choice for you. Lanolin is sometimes a source of skin allergies, and the HPA® lanolin is hypoallergenic. It is quite a bit more expensive. Regular lanolin was roughly $1 an ounce the last time I bought it. HPA® lanolin is around $6.41 an ounce:
Choose whatever one makes you happy.
Shea butter is available in many places, so pick a convenient source for yourself and go with it. Be aware that sometimes the shea butter sold is 100% pure and unrefined or filtered. That butter can contain flecks of shells and other natural bits. I have a batch of that, and while it makes a fine soap, I occasionally have to fish out a small spot of something when I melt it. Here is one I have used successfully:
When you do get it, just take a little dab and work it into your hands. Wonderful stuff!
Lye (Potassium Hydroxide or KOH)
If you remember nothing else, please remember that the lye we use for this shaving soap is not the same as the kind you use to make hard bar soap. That particular lye is called Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), and we will be using Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) for this shaving soap. Many soap related supply companies sell lye, just be sure to choose the right type. Essential Depot, for instance, sometimes has an offer of free lye when you purchase oils. That free lye is sodium hydroxide, not what we need. You can use that for some other soapy things but not this.
Here’s a place to buy it:
Pay attention to the prices including shipping when you shop for this. Sometimes there is free shipping on smaller amounts, but the base price is slightly higher. Shipping this item is regulated and the prices can vary widely depending on the method, the vendor, and the amount purchased. Get a pen and paper out and do some homework on this one. Another vendor that is very competitive on price is The Lye Guy:
At certain weights he’s cheaper for me. Like I said, get out a pen and paper and see what’s better for you.
This is a very personal thing and I encourage you to experiment. I explained why I chose this fragrance oil in the first installment. I went through a few different suppliers, each having more than a couple different “almond” scents. I finally tried “Almond Silk” from Soapalooza and knew I had it. You don’t have to use this one, but I know it works:
If you are familiar with the traditional Italian Soap smell, this is it.
Yes I really mean distilled water. No, your fancy Unicorn Tears water gathered by Wood Nymphs will not suffice. Shaving soap is sensitive to the water used and we do not want to start out with any chemicals in the soap that will just make it worse. Use only distilled water, not purified, not spring water – distilled. A gallon will last you through approximately 18 batches of this soap. Just do it.
There is a lot of leeway in the selection of the equipment you will use for this. I’ll try to help you understand what I use and why, but do feel free to experiment and modify as needed.
Let us list safety equipment first among our tools and utensils. We are working with a caustic material: lye. Believe me when I say you do not want to splash this on your skin, get it in your eyes, or inhale the fumes. We don’t need to get crazy about protection, but do attend to the basics:
- Eye protection. Safety glasses are cheap and just fine; goggles are even better
- Rubber gloves will protect your hands; you will be more protected if they extend up your arms.
- A mask to help protect against the fumes is highly recommended. Most inexpensive masks will not stop the actual vapors from getting in your lungs, but will protect against the suspended mist you can get from the steam. A mask will also help protect some of your face against splashes.
There is what I would consider optional safety items you may want to consider:
- Full face shield. A plastic shield that covers your whole face is going to provide more protection than a mask and goggles. Following reasonable precautions, you are unlikely to need this. The problem is that once you realize you do need it, it is just about a second too late to put one on.
- Hair cap. This may help protect the hair from a stray splash; it will also prevent stray hairs from getting in your soap. I think we all agree your hair in a product that is for someone else would be rather disgusting.
- Apron or other full-body protection. Such protection can help protect your clothes in the event a small splash happens. Tyvek coveralls are cheap and disposable.
Think about what you are doing, and make the choices that are right for you.
We’re doing hot-process soap, so you need a hot place in which to process the soap. While you may, as I have done, fashion a Bain Marie (double-boiler), you will find a crockpot makes things much easier. A crockpot will get the mixture a little hotter than a double-boiler, which will help with the process I have developed. The Bain Marie will not get your mixture to the boiling point, but if it is all you have, it’s enough to start.
Most soapers will use a regular sized crock pot, roughly 3 or 4 quarts in size. Since we are making what is considered a small batch for a regular soaper, we can really get better use and control out of a smaller crockpot. I happened to have a 1.5 quart crockpot and that works very well. It’s also great for making Queso so you can definitely use it for more than soap. A removable liner is almost standard on these, but I’m not going to discount the possibility there may be some out there without this feature. You want it to be removable, trust me. Here is one such crockpot:
Unless you are in a rural area, I am quite sure you can find one that would be suitable on the shelf at your local discount retail store.
When I was developing this recipe, I used a Bain Marie type setup. I made several 100 gram batches at a time, each with slightly different ingredients, which I put in separate Glad® LockWare™ storage containers. The small ones hold about 2 cups, which was a perfect size, and they have a secure screw on lid. I put a large saucepan on the stove, placed a round cake cooling rack in it and added enough water to allow about an inch of water around each container when at a boil. Consider that adding additional containers will raise the level of the water. The rack keeps the plastic off the bottom and reduces the chance of overheating and melting it. Using these does change the final soap’s consistency slightly because it will cut down on water loss during the cook. After the soap is processed the containers may double as a storage container for the soap. They are wide enough to allow me to get a brush in and get a good load of soap.
The quality of your soap depends in a large part on how accurate you are able to measure your ingredients. A digital scale is a must have. We don’t do teaspoons and cups, we do grams. Some features you absolutely want in a scale for this are:
- Displays in grams (most display many different measures)
- Readability to the 1/10 (0.1) of a gram
- Accurate; most of these types of scales are accurate to 0.05 gram
- Tare function
Some things I have found I greatly appreciate in scales are:
- Uses normal AA/AAA batteries and/or has an AC adapter
- Large, Lighted display
- At least 1 kilogram capacity
The scale I currently use is a 2000×0.1 scale which means 2 kilogram (2000 gram) capacity, in 0.1 gram increments on the display. This is a large enough capacity that I can use this scale for most of my larger batches of soap as well; I make bar soap in 4 pound batches. I purchased this scale on eBay, Amazon has the same one:
In the same vein, the scale is useless if it is not calibrated correctly. Most digital scales have a calibration function which allows you to use one (better is two) known weight to set the calibration. You can purchase calibration weights and they are not expensive. Alternatively, many people find using known weights they have laying around a very effective means of calibration, or at least spot checking the accuracy of the scale. Coins are ubiquitous and are quite uniform in weight. U.S coins are what I use since I am in the US. A nickel is 5 grams and I can always remember that. Others are:
- Cent (since 1983) – 2.500 gram
- Nickel (since 1866) – 5.000 gram
- Dime (since 1965) – 2.268 gram
- Quarter (since 1965) – 5.670 gram
If you are in Canada, these will be slightly different. A quick Google of your local currency weight should fix you up.
I won’t say I always do it, but it is probably a good idea to at least throw a couple nickels on the scale before every session. If you take care of the scale it is rare for it to go out of calibration, but when the batteries start going the accuracy changes.
A brief note about the level of accuracy required. I have no doubt some people will scoff at accuracy to a tenth of a gram for this. When I measure fragrance which has the lowest weight per batch, this accuracy gets me +- 0.6%. A scale that measures to the gram will only allow measurements +- 6%. That’s too much for me to accept. Also consider that I did more than a few 100 gram batches when I was developing this recipe, and that the relative accuracy goes down as the batch size decreases. For that I measured to 0.01 grams (on a different scale) which is the same level of accuracy as 0.1 grams is for a 1000g batch.
I am pretty comfortable measuring in these small quantities because of some of my other hobbies. It may be tricky for someone who has never tried to measure a tenth of a gram of water (and to be completely honest I am perfectly fine fudging a few tenths or even grams on the water part). Practice before it counts. A dosing syringe, which is available at almost all drug stores, makes this quite a bit easier.
You can absolutely get away without using a thermometer, but consistent results demand consistent process and this is one of your variables. You need one that can measure between 60° and 220° Fahrenheit. I know I have previously said I use the metric system for this project. I admit my flaws, I can’t think in Celsius. If you are so inclined or only understand metric this would be 15° to 100° Celsius.
You may choose an analog thermometer and there are many to choose from like this low cost option:
A step up in convenience is an instant-read digital thermometer. For about $2.00 more than the analog you can get the convenience and speed of a digital:
I opted for an infrared thermometer for my soap making. While they are arguable less precise, for what we are doing here getting within a few degrees is absolutely close enough. They are nearly instant, and I do not have to touch the material I am measuring. That becomes a consideration when you are measuring the temp of your lye solution. A tiny amount will remain on a probe thermometer and that can cause burns or damage to your kitchen counter when you take it out and set it aside.
I purchased the one I use on eBay from one of the overseas vendors which saved me a couple bucks. Since I have been using Amazon a lot for the examples, and because I really do think their Prime program is great to save on shipping costs, here’s a low cost option from them:
These will measure a larger area the further away they are held, the beam spreading as a flashlight does. Different materials also vary slightly in a property called emissivity which affects how they measure. I get best results in my soap when I use the thermometer consistently, but these cheaper ones are still only accurate within a few degrees. For this they are great, but I would not trust one for critical uses such as health or safety.
You will use all sorts of containers and you really have to experiment to find what works best for you. Consider what you are putting in there and choose handy sizes. Plastic bowls are great, I use small disposable cups for dry measures, and you will almost assuredly have enough containers in your kitchen to make it through this without a purchase. We are making soap and soap cleans up with hot water, so I never think twice about using what I have around. The only exception is mixing lye.
Lye can damage some materials as the pH is very high. When it is mixed in water it will also generate quite a bit of heat. It is not out of the question that the liquid could boil. We must find a container in which to mix our lye that will minimize splashing, be heat resistant, and resist the actions of a strong base chemical.
You will see and hear people on the Internet and elsewhere advising you to use a Pyrex® style measuring cup. Brand new this is a fine choice, but there is more than a little evidence among groups of experienced soapers that Pyrex® can shatter when used for this purpose. The exact reason is not authoritatively known. It may be that the Pyrex® develops micro-scratches over time that weakens the surface. It may be that mixing the lye in the water can create small areas of intense heat that causes expansion in those small areas. It may be a combination of both. No matter what it is I recommend you leave the Pyrex® to the uses for which it was intended.
I use a stainless steel frothing pitcher, the type in which you see Baristas create steamed and frothed milk for lattes. The stainless steel will not react with the lye as aluminum will – never use aluminum containers or vessels. These pitchers will not crack and will stand up to heat. They will of course get hot themselves so you need to be careful of the sides for a bit after mixing.
We are using just under 7 ounces of water for this recipe, so you want enough to hold that, plus a good margin for swirling, mixing, and to contain any splashes or boiling. I have a 12 ounce and a 20 ounce pitcher I use for my soaping, similar to this one:
I happened to have these lying around; you may be able to come up with other appropriate vessels in which to mix the lye. Just remember: no aluminum and it must be heat resistant. Nalgene is safe as is polypropylene (plastics with a “5” on the recycle triangle.)
Spoons, spatulas, all sorts of things will be brought to bear. Any kitchen is likely to have all that you need. Just remember to use things that are not going to be harmed by a caustic material. I use my stainless steel table utensils for a lot of things without even thinking twice. Caustic is used in most automatic dishwasher detergent to help cleaning; it’s not going to harm a stainless steel teaspoon. I have a few rubber and silicone spatulas and scrapers that I use. You will quickly develop your own list of your favorite utensils. Wood will be attacked by the lye and it will splinter and crack over time. While I have a favorite wooden spatula that I use for stirring the soap as it cooks, I do keep an eye on it and know its life is limited.
Molds or Packaging
Now that your soap is made you need to put it somewhere. The previously mentioned Glad® LockWare™ storage containers can work as a place to keep it. Some will want to mold their soap into pucks for storage and use. When it comes to unmolding, some degree of flexibility is very helpful. When using a wood or a PVC-type mold a liner such as parchment paper or freezer paper should be used. For a liner-less option, any silicone mold such as this one would be a good choice:
Some prefer to form their soap into a log and cut pucks when it is hard. A piece of PVC pipe can serve for this, or some have used empty Pringles® cans as a quick and disposable choice. You snip off the end and peel off the cardboard when you are ready.
It is important to remember that while my process does produce a relatively hard and moldable result when I do it, we are technically making a softer soap – a croap. This means that you might want to consider using a suitable tub or other container to contain the soap and from which to load your shaving brush. Any of these works nicely if you want to be fancy about it:
- Tin: http://www.specialtybottle.com/tinflatcontainer8ozwcover.aspx
- Plastic: http://www.specialtybottle.com/bluepetheavywall8ozplasticjarwwhitedomelid.aspx
- Plastic: http://www.specialtybottle.com/doublewall8ozwhiteplasticjarwdomelid.aspx
I use four of these 8 ounce containers per batch. Specialty Bottle is one of my favorite websites to look for jars, bottles and other containers. It’s a little added cost but we’re not really doing this to save money.
Remember these are recommendations and are the things I use. You will undoubtedly develop your own style and your own toolbox of things you use. Where it does not present a safety issue feel free to experiment and use what seems right.