Miller's Homemade Soap Pages:

How I do things now...



This was my first trusty and carrot-stained stick blender! All the soapmaking lifted some of the beta carotene out of it over time. I'm now on my second model.


Modern Procedures and Tips

The instructions on the Traditional Methods page were developed from the old lye company leaflet that I used when first getting started with this back in the 70's. If you are hand stirring or making soap from tallow and salvaged kitchen fats... it's a good place to start. I've put these on their own page for those of you who get confused bouncing back and forth between the old and new. This is how I'm making soap now... whether all-vegetable or with animal fats in the recipe. The most revolutionizing thing in these steps is the use of a stick blender. I will never go back to the old way unless I have to. Some of you like the feeling of hand stirring your soap, but after doing it for as long as I did, I don't mind the speed and reliability of stick blending. Have I said this before? :-)

Also, I've gotten my husband, Ron, to make some wooden soap molds since I'm making so much now. It is wonderful to have straight sides on the soap bars and not as much trimming is necessary. I will show you how I cut the bars and you can see the mold I'm using. There are lots of possibilities out there... this is just what works for me at this time.

-Kathy Miller-

In response to the most frequently asked question! This banner was generously and humorously contributed by Chris McClusky! :-) For a more detailed explanation, go to the MOST Frequently Asked Questions page.

Contents of this Page:


NOTE (September 2005): After receiving a couple of emails, I've finally come to believe that it's true... the company that markets Lewis Red Devil Lye has pulled it from the market and has replaced it with a liquid drain opener that contains no lye. My suspicions are that it's due to its use in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamines. This is very sad for the home soaper! :-( I've been buying my lye in bulk for quite awhile now, but for the average person that wants to make one or two batches and has gotten accustomed to buying it locally... this will need to be addressed. Here is a helpful link sent by Nancy M., whose email comment is underneath:

When I bought the two remaining containers from the local Albertsons, I was told it's popular in this community in the production of meth. When I mentioned it to a clerk at the JoAnn's fabric store, where I was fruitlessly trying to find any kind of other soapmaking stuff, I found out she's a soapmaker and that she got her lye at the local Grocery Outlet, in bulk. They don't have it out where anybody can see it, but if you ask and show ID, you can buy it.
Anyway, I'm having fun, that's the point and thanks again for all of your help :-)
Nancy M.
from the dry side, Clarkston, Washington

[No more lye!]

Graphic courtesy of from
Soapmaking article by David Fisher

USA Today...

The "Miller's Homemade Soap Information" page received mention at the end of an article in USA Today that ran from July 9-12, 1999. I have received permission to post the article since it was taken off the USA Today site. While it is old, much of the information is still helpful to novices. You can now view it by clicking here.

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[Stick Blender-Hand Held Turbo]

Life in the FAST lane!

Using a "Stick" Blender



Since I've done more reading about soapmaking on the Internet, I've heard of using a stick blender for mixing soap instead of stirring by hand. This was said to speed up the saponification process and save lots of time. When I realized that I actually owned a "stick" blender that I hardly ever use except for pureeing carrot soup (to which the picture will testify), I was thrilled to try it! At the time of this writing (December 4, 1998) I've used it to make eight batches of soap (mostly all-vegetable). Each veggie batch has traced within 5 minutes or less and the batch with lard took only a few minutes longer with a spoon to finish stirring! I have heard from a couple of people that they don't use the stick blender until they've already stirred in the lye for a bit with a spoon, but I just use it from the start, and instead of pouring the lye in a slow steady stream, I dump it in rather quickly while swirling it all around with the blender. If you pour it in slowly, the soap could be at trace before you have time to put in the fragrance oils!

On top of drastically cutting down the trace time, using the hand held blender makes a soap that is a lot less prone to separation problems! Quite frankly, I would be surprised to see any batch separate that is mixed this way. You are more likely to have a problem with it setting up too quickly on you! All the batches were smooth and easy to cut with no breaking whatsoever. I suspect that mixing this way probably cuts down on the curing time as well, but I would still wait four weeks before use to be sure. I don't think I'll ever go back to the old way of standing in front of the stove stirring away!

If you are new to soapmaking and don't know what "trace" looks like yet, I would suggest you do it the traditional way with a spoon or hand mixer first (the usual kind). After you get used to how soap changes and recognize the difference between early trace and when you need to go into panic mode (!!!), then you will probably enjoy the time-saving qualities of using a stick blender. I bought mine at Costco in 1990 for about $25. Another soaper, Michelle, told me that they now cost $10-$20 at her local K-Mart and Walmart Stores.

Remember, when using the stick blender, you can switch to a spoon at any time to slow down the saponification process (or just stir with the stick blender when it's off). Once the soap starts to get smooth and glossy (light trace), you can keep the stick blender off and use it like a spoon to blend in your additives. [See more specific instructions on stick blender technique below] Then I turn it back on and whip it all around a bit more before pouring. Sometimes the coloring agents, organics or oils will clump a bit when added and it does a great job of making it all smooth. Just don't take too long to get it into the molds when trace happens! Another tip...if you are mixing in a wide shallow container, you will run a higher risk of incorporating air into your soap with the blender. It works better if you mix your soap in a container that is taller than wide, so you get some depth and can get the blender way below the surface for most of the stirring. I periodically bring it to a shallower depth in order to pull in the soap on top, but don't raise it enough to pull air.

I have used the stick blender on all the recipes on the all-vegetable page. Something that helps if you are going to use it is to use lower temperatures before blending... in the 90-100 degree range. This gives you a greater latitude when working with the blender and your soap will not trace quite as quickly. Sounds silly, but you will appreciate it taking longer...unlike when you are stirring with a spoon and want the shortest trace time possible!

Cleaning: I find the easiest way to clean the stick blender (after wiping off the excess globs of soap as much as possible with a paper towel...when it is UNPLUGGED) is to fill the soapmaking pot above the halfway point with hot soapy water (this is wiped out first with paper towels also and those are tossed in the garbage). Then I blend and mix it around with the stick blender like you would a batch of soap. Doing this for a minute does a great job of cleaning out the inside parts of the blender...around the blade and under the guard. It's easy to wash the outside the rest of the way in the sink (I can't submerge mine).


Here's a great idea from Pat Prenty, who has contributed quite a bit to the "Soapy Success" pages:

"When I make soap I add the lye to the water, then when all is ready I add the lye to the fats and stir by hand for about 20-30 min.... then, when I can't stand it anymore, I whip out the stick blender. Sometimes I will separate some of the soap and blend it until a light trace, and add fragrance oil and dried herbs (or what ever strikes my fancy) and pour into molds. Then I pour more out and blend it, add a different fragrance oil and what ever. Meanwhile, my husband is reading his book and absently swishing the big pot of soap. It is really too much... I love being in control of the soap. "

More specifics on stick blending (March 2009) ...

After receiving periodic emails such as the excerpt below, I realized I needed to be more specific on the stick blender information...

I bought the $10 stick blender from Walmart and have killed 3 of them so far... They all make a grinding sound, a pop and then stop working by the time I get to light trace. The first time was my fault as I mixed for 45 minutes straight before I killed the stick blender. The next two gave it up after about 10 minutes, even though I was turning them off every 5 minutes for the second blender and every 2 minutes for the third one and using them for about 3-5 minutes as a spoon and hand stirring. Any ideas on how to get my blenders to last longer? Or do you think I got them from a bad shipment?

On the stick blender... probably a combination of having a low end model and running it much too long. I never keep my motor going five minutes at a time. That alone could burn out a motor. Since your soap was too light on lye in the first place... part of the problem in it not getting thick was in not having enough lye. So... it put extra strain on your blender trying to make that happen. ...I think I only run mine at one minute, longest... before turning it off and stirring for a bit before turning it on again. Often it might only be 15-30 seconds at a time that I'm running the motor. The soap is ready to pour within five to 7 minutes of mixing... and much of that time is with the blender off. [This can vary depending on the base oils in a recipe.]

I hope this helps! :-) Good luck on the next batch and with the next blender. Get a good one, treat it with kindness and it will serve you long and well. I finally had to retire my first one because the shaft would loosen during the mixing and let air get into the soap. I've done hundreds of batches with that blender. Bought it at Costco years ago for about $25 (it was a Moulinex). I think the one I have now is a Braun. Even those will die if you run them too long at a time. They are designed for short bursts of runtime... not long and continuous. Your warning sign is when you feel too much heat in the blender as you hold it. If mine starts heating up as I'm breaking up lumps of oatmeal, for example... I'll turn it OFF for a bit and give it time to cool down as I just use it as a stirring spoon...

Here's another response on the Walmart stick blender... came in March 2009...

I want to echo one of your other reader's comments. I bought a Durabrand stick blender from Walmart. It failed before I got to a light trace on the it's first batch. "Dura" it is not! ~Robert Henkel


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Soapmaking Routine Using the Stick Blender

1. Take out all the soapmaking utensils, premeasure any herbs or additives and place near the soapmaking area (my stove).

2. Dissolve premeasured lye by stirring it into the determined amount of cold water (I buy lye in bulk so weigh it on a postal scale). I am now doing this in a one quart size Pyrex (heat resistant) glass measuring cup. This is placed on the stove top under the exhaust fan while being mixed. (This will heat up a lot in a matter of seconds... be aware that it will get really hot.) I usually crack open the kitchen window slightly for added ventilation and avert my face while the lye is first being mixed in. It will produce fumes during the first minute or two. After that... the solution turns clear from its original milky appearance and there will no longer be fumes present. If you happen to catch a bit of the fumes, your body will do its best to make sure those don't get into your lungs (this is translated as coughing and wheezing!)... if that happens, I just quickly step into the next room while holding my breath and get some good cleansing breaths before going back to the lye mixing. Not very scientific, but it seems to work just fine so far! :-) When you stir in the lye, be sure to keep the crystals moving around during the first 30 seconds or so, in order to prevent them from forming hard clumps in the bottom of the mixing container. While I often use heat resistant glass, you can also mix your lye solution in a stainless steel pan or a really stout, heat tolerant plastic container. Remember... start with COLD WATER! :-) If you don't want to do your mixing inside the house, you can also take this process outside... but be sure you are in an area where you will not impact children or animals and do NOT leave your lye solution unattended outside after mixing it up. As soon as the fumes have dissipated... bring it carefully into the house. (I stress carefully after receiving a horror story from a fellow who tripped on the porch step with a whole pan of lye solution in hand... what a mess! He recovered okay, but it was an experience I'm sure he would not care to repeat!)

All recipes are based on WEIGHTS, not volume. You will need to weigh oils and lye with a good scale. Water can be measured with a liquid measuring cup with no problems.

3. In a stainless steel spaghetti cooker, I weigh out the hard fats (palm, coconut, etc.) in the soapmaking pan and sometimes part of the liquid oils. I leave part of the liquid oils out to be added after melting the harder fats. Any wax candle color, crayon or beeswax goes in at this point also, unless I'm swirling or doing something unusual with the batch.

4. While the fats are melting I line the mold with freezer paper, if I haven't done it already. I currently use two overlapping sheets of freezer paper, arranged perpendicular to one another and creased into the corners of the mold. These sheets are cut slightly wider than the width of the box to that they will overlap and cover the corners to reduce leaking.

5. Melt the above hard fats on a low setting on the stove, stirring periodically. After they have melted, I put the pot back on the scale (on top of a heat resistant pad) and measure in the remaining room temperature oil (usually between 24 and 32 ounces). This cools it off faster.

6. When the temperature of the fats is close to 110 degrees, I speed the cooling of the lye solution if necessary by setting the Pyrex cup in a sink of cold water (halfway up the side). I stir the water around and watch the thermometer until it drops to the temperature I want. The thermometer and stirring spoon are rinsed of lye water and placed in the sink to await washing.

7. It's time to start up the blending. I turn on the stick blender and pour the lye solution quickly into the fat (while I'm blending I set this cup into the sink and overrun it with water to rinse and wait for washing). The soap is mixed for about a minute until it starts to smooth out and glisten. Sometimes, I'll turn on the burner under the pot for just a minute to warm the soap slightly if it's looking grainy to start. You are striving for a good mix, but not little globs of fat in the mix. The soap ideally should look smooth and develop a "satin" finish as you blend and stop to check it.

8. During the above process, I frequently turn OFF the stick blender and use it as if it were a spoon to stir the soap. This works well on mine since the guard does an effective stirring job. I alternate blending with it ON and stirring with it OFF until it starts to thicken slightly (the surface appearance will change and develop some dullness...patterns can be seen in the wake of the blender). If you don't give the motor rest periods during blending, you can burn out your blender. My "ON" periods are probably only about 15 - 30 seconds at a time... and OFF periods at least that long, or sometimes longer. Also, you want to make sure you have true trace... not just something that has emulsified and appears thicker than it really is. Stirring for a minute with the blender off will "stir down" a false trace, but not a true one. I lift the blender (in the OFF position) out of the soap to check how well the soap coats the guard. It should be like thin to medium pudding before pouring. Some fragrance oils will really speed up this thickening process, but most essential oils do not. The whole process doesn't normally take more than 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the recipe. How thick you want the soap before putting in the additives will depend on what kind of fragrance you will be using. Most essential oils behave pretty well... many fragrance oils can cause rapid thickening or other problems. Read the notes on fragrance oils below before making your soap.

9. It's time to stir in the additives, fragrance or essential oils. This is better done with the blender off, but I turn it on briefly after stirring to make sure the fragrance/essential oils are smooth and completely incorporated. Sometimes they will clump slightly and I want to break those up. Any other ingredients can be added at light trace also, like superfatting oils that weren't put in at the start, natural colorants like paprika, herbs, etc. Save the fragrance for last* in case you get one of those fragrance oils that accelerates trace and forces you to pour quickly! =:-O

Suggestion from Anne Watson, author of Smart Soapmaking (Shepard Publications, 2007):

Using an instant-read digital thermometer, I take the temperature of my mixture after I've stirred the lye solution into the fats. When I've stick blended for a short time, I take the temperature again. I've found that a 2-3 degree temperature rise is a reliable predictor of readiness to pour, whether I can see a visible trace or not. At five degrees, visible trace was always present. At ten degrees, I was about to get setup in the pot.

I checked with a chemist and he told me my results are valid. The temperature *change* is what's important, not whether the mixture gets to any specific temperature.

This works for my small batches (30 oz. oils). A friend who makes batches ten times the size of mine finds that the temperature rise is greater for her.

*Tips for Using Fragrance Oils

If you think a fragrance oil might give you trouble or have not used it before, mix it with about a cup of your base oils before you mix up your soap. It will dilute it somewhat and reduce the tendency to clump and seize... you may still have to work fast, but are less likely to develop those little annoying pockets of FO in your soap if something goes wrong. This was shared on a forum by Toni. You can also warm it up before adding it into the soap (to about the same temp, but it doesn't have to be precise).

Another thing that effects the success of fragrance oils is the mixing temperatures. Most of the fragrance oils from Sweet Cakes prefer a lower mixing temperature (maybe around 100 to 110). If you get some of them too high, they will tend to curdle. A few other temperamental ones actually do better with higher temps... an example is one I bought in bulk from Lebermuth, Peach-Gardenia. It made a horrible mess... like Cream of Wheat with an oil slick on top until I heated it to nearly 130 degrees. With some stick blending and higher temperatures, it smoothed out and I could use the soap. Most FOs prefer the lower temperatures however, if you've purchased them from a reputable supplier of fragrance for cold process soaps.

Really important... is the water addition rate in the soap. Most of the recipes I've posted on this site use a lower addition rate... this makes a nice firm bar in 24 hours that will harden up quicker during cure time. When using a problematic fragrance oil (one that accelerates trace) or an unknown one, it is better to use more water. I still don't like to put in the full amount recommended by Majestic Mountain Sage, but go with about 28 to 30 oz. for the size batches that use 12 oz. of lye. This helps a lot to make sure the soap stays smooth and workable. One last tip... when using a fragrance oil in a batch that is to be swirled, it would probably be wise to NOT put the fragrance oil in the small amount of swirling color. Take out the soap that will be colored for swirling, get that prepared, and then add the FO to the largest part of the batch that will be the base color. Adding the fragrance oil is generally the last thing I do just in case. Some of them can go either way, but when in doubt, play it safe! ;-)

Something I've noticed is that some fragrance oils change the character of the finished bar and tend to "soften" it. I think that some of that may be due to the fact that part of the fragrance oil makeup is carrier oil that actually has a SAP value (unlike essential oils). If I'm using more than 2 ounces of fragrance oil in a batch, I reduce the base oils by an ounce or so to compensate (such as when I'm using 3 to 4 ounces of fragrance oil in a batch that uses 12 oz. of lye). The oil I reduce is usually the olive or whatever I can "pour" ... never the coconut or palm, etc.

These suggestions are only that. I'm still working out the bugs with fragrance oils. Essential oils as a lot are much better behaved, but I think they fade more quickly in storage than many of the better fragrance oils. There are exceptions of course, like patchouli! =:o If you have hit on some things that work well for you in the use of fragrance oils, please email me and I'll share them with others here.

You might wonder why it's even worth fussing with some of these fragrance oils if they are going to cause problems... my answer is the latitude it provides in the scents you can make and create by mixing some yourself. There are some great copies of perfumes and flowers that you cannot get from using essential oils alone. Certain fragrances have a reputation for being difficult to work with. Offhand, I can tell you that some of the most notorious problem children can be: gardenia, carnation, some rose fragrances (these usually get thick quickly, but you can still work with them). Formulations can vary, so it's worth getting fragrance oils that have been cold process tested. When using temperamental FOs, go with a higher water addition rate. Some of my fellow soapmakers sometimes even add the FO to their base oils at the beginning. In a desperate case like that, a bit more FO will probably be needed to get the same end result.


10. When the soap is getting slightly thicker but not to the pudding stage yet, I pour it into the mold. If you are doing confetti soap or adding heavy substances to your soap, you will wait for medium thick pudding to pour. Use a spatula to clean off the outside and guard of the stick blender first (inside too the best you can...unplug it first ... there is danger of bumping the switch while cleaning) and then use it to scrape all the soap out of the pan into the mold. The spatula also works well for marbling if you're doing that.

11. In a cool room, set the box with poured soap into a pasteboard box and cover that with another pasteboard box which fits over the bottom one. I will open this at gel stage and allow some heat to escape before I cover it back up for the long haul (of course, I peek!). When the soap shows signs of cooling down by becoming opaque at the edges, it's time to put the cover back on. A heavy towel can go over all this if the room is cool. In summer, I only cover the soap until it reaches gel to the corners of the mold... then uncover it until it cools down and becomes opaque on top.

12. CLEAN UP! :-) Wipe out the pan, utensils and outside of the stick blender (and as much around the blade as you can safely get) with paper towels and dump those in the garbage. Fill the soapmaking pan half to 2/3rds full with hot soapy water, set back on the stove and stick blend the water until the inside of the blender is completely cleaned (about a minute). The water will look like skim milk by the time you're done. The water is poured out of the pan and everything (all your soapmaking paraphernalia) is washed with hot soapy water, rinsed and dried until next time.

All this can be done in the space of ONE HOUR. :-)

P.S. ... from a fellow soaper...

Thanks for much for your website! I made my first batch this weekend, using "Rachael's Tried and True" recipe (and a stick blender), and it was a complete success. There was one part of the process that caused me a few anxious moments, and I wanted to share it other "first-timers:" I poured the traced soap into my shoebox mold, wrapped it in a towel for insulation, and then peeked after about 15 minutes. The soap appeared to be hardening. I peeked again after 30 minutes or so (patience is not one of my natural traits) and there was a dark, gel-looking spot in the middle of the mold which spread before my eyes to cover the entire box of soap. I thought I had ruined it all. I did notice that there was quite a bit of heat coming from the soap, so I removed the towel, opened the lid, and let the heat escape. Convinced that my first attempt was not so good, I went to bed. When I went down in the morning, there was my beautiful, hardened soap.

After a bit more reading, I think what I saw was the "GEL STAGE" you refer to in a couple of places. Somehow, I had missed reading about that stage on the first pass.

In your directions for beginners, could you pass along a little more detail on this stage... in case anyone else peeks!

Thanks again for a wonderful website. -Leanne Frank

I just did! :-)

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Coloring with Alkanet Root Infusion

Jim. A. from the Latherings Forum generously sent me a sampling of alkanet root powder. I had read about how fascinating it was as a coloring agent for soap. It changes color much like litmus paper... ranging from pink to blue, depending on the pH of the soap. This means in real soaping terms, that you will likely get some shade of lavender, depending on the amount of alkanet used. For the soap you see here, I infused 4 T. of alkanet root powder in two cups of olive oil (at Jim's recommendation). The olive oil was placed into a pint sized canning jar and heated in the microwave until toasty warm but not dangerously hot. The powder was stirred in, covered and left to stand over night. The resulting oil (which looked like red wine... not that I drink it! :-) was used in the soap recipe as part of the base oils... for this batch all two cups. If you want a lighter shade of color, you can use less powder or less of the oil infusion in your recipe. When you add this to the soap pot, pour it through a small strainer to prevent the root particles from going into the soap and leave the dregs behind in the jar as much as possible. They will have settled to the bottom anyway by the time you use it. Stirring periodically during the time it steeps in the jar will help to release more of the color.

I hated to toss all that alkanet powder out... even though it looked terrible and had a rather different smell (which was not the least bit noticable in the soap), so I infused it a second time for a mid-range lavender color. I tried my best to get good scans of soap from the two batches but it was difficult to get the colors to look exactly like they do in person. The first is a muted, mysterious dark blackish purple which is very appealing with licorice scent, and the second a muted lavender shade. Your soap could vary slightly in color, depending on the finished pH of the soap, which will be more base if you have less superfatting in it. As you can see... when the soap was swimming with free lye, the color was a bright French blue. As it aged and the saponification process progressed, it became more purple. Fascinating!

You can infuse other natural substances to color soap... such as annatto seeds for yellow, but this is the only one I've tried to date.


[Alkanet Soap - Poured]

This is really the color this appeared when first poured! Wouldn't it be great if it had stayed that gorgeous shade of blue? It's almost enough to distract you from the very messy kitchen table!

[Alkanet Soap - Gel]

The same batch a bit later as it was heating up to gel stage... I usually keep it covered until gel reaches the corners, then uncover it for a bit until the top begins to become opaque on the surface... then put the cardboard cover back on. When the kitchen gets colder in the winter, I might insulate a bit more than this.

[Licorice Batch - Alkanet]

This is the first batch with alkanet. Getting an accurate rendering of this color was so frustrating. This was as close as I managed after tinkering in Photoshop... it looked much too bright from the glare of the scanner light and I had to keep darkening the image. This is close, but the real bar has more of a purplish cast and is much prettier... in a murky mysterious sort of way. I scented this batch with 1.5 oz. of anise eo and one T. magnolia FO to sweeten it (at Rachael's suggestion... some kind of less distinct floral she said would do it). It smells GREAT! Makes me crave Good and Plenty candies and I don't even like them that well! ;-) Lots of folks like licorice scent... men and women alike.

[Lavender Batch - Alkanet]

This is the result of the second infusion from the same powder. They look a bit lighter and brighter in person than this scan for sure... but the lavender has a muted grayness to it. After doing this batch, I pitched out the dregs. Maybe you could do it thrice, but I was concerned about getting more gray than color.

I don't know how these will look in your browser... I fear they will look like two shades of gray!

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Wooden Box Mold and Cutting with a Miter Box

[Box Mold, Hinged]
[Box Mold, Side Open]

This is the second box mold that Ron built out of our old bathroom counter tops and cupboards (this is out of the old cupboard doors). The wood was lined with formica and he has placed that side on the inside of the box. The first box had no hinges and works, but it is a bit more tedious wiggling the block of soap out of the mold... even makes cute noises sometimes! [Update... my oldest son drilled five holes in the bottom for me... no more noise!] This one is a snap to remove...

I've opened the clasps on the sides and dropped down the hinged side. You can put your hand under this block and just lift it right out! The soap is rather boring (sorry)... cucumber tinted a very pale green. Not a good color for scanning! This box, by the way, is about 8" X 8.5" X 4" tall (inside dimensions). It yields around 32 3.5-oz. bars OR 28 4-oz. bars (depending on how much trimming is necessary) and is perfect for the recipes that are posted on this site. The bars are approximately 3" long X 2" wide X 1" deep.

This box has three stationary sides that are attached to the bottom with wood screws and attached to each other at the two back corners by same. The front side is hinged with a couple of small hinges but a piano type hinge would probably work well also. My husband put two "latches" on each side that work much like the ones found on older suitcases. Looking at the picture above left is probably helpful in recognizing the type.

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[Scoring Soap Block]

Scored lines have been made with a straight edge to separate the four rows that will come from this block. Don't know if you can see them or not.

[Cutting Towers]

After marking the cutting lines on the top, I set the block on edge and cut the rows apart. Before doing this, I score the top and make sure the bars will end up being "square" after making the long cut.

[Cutting with Miter Box]

This nice inexpensive miter box was purchased at the local Home Depot and is really handy for making uniform bars. I have made a mark on the bottom of the miter box so I can sight on it before cutting down through the groove you see here. After each cut, I remove the bar and slide the tower to the black mark, then cut the next bar. The bars are about 1 inch thick.

[Straightening Bars]

After cutting and separating the bars, the ends (what was the top in the mold) usually need trimming. I save the trimmings and often recycle them as chips to accent other batches. You can also grate them up and make soap balls (below). Nothing is wasted.

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How to Make Soap Balls

I just do this with my scraps and trimmings, but you could do this with a whole batch if you prefer. You grate up the soap you want to make soap balls from, either by hand with a cheese grater or you can use an electric device used for making salads (in the U.S. there's something called a "Salad Shooter"). Put your grated soap in a bowl, with some room to spare and sprinkle with just enough water to help you mix it all together and have the shavings stick when you press them into a ball. If your soap is fresh, just wetting your hands should be enough. I mix with my fingers until all the shavings are slightly moistened and then pick some up and start squeezing it with my hands and turning it over and over until it's as round as I can get it. Slightly moistening my palms at the end and smoothing the ball will give it a nice finish. Then I set them on racks or on a table top to dry and turn them in a day or two to expose the down side to more air. If you want them to all be the same size, you might want to measure your shavings with something while they are still loose and moistened and after squeezing they should be fairly uniform (a plastic ice-cream scoop might work well for this).

[Soap Balls]

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Swirling Suggestions

Swirling is not for the faint of heart, especially if you are using fragrance oils to scent your soap! I'm not an expert on this technique, but thought I'd pass on a few ideas for you. There are different types of swirls you can obtain...often by accident, but hopefully by design. The thinner your soap is when swirled, the finer the feathering of the swirl will be. Part of this has to do with starting at a thin trace, but also some recipes lend themselves to it better than others. I found that recipes using a fair amount of soybean oil didn't get as thick at trace as the ones heavy on olive. Don't know why. They made a nice feather swirl for me. If the soap gets too thick when you are swirling (sometimes because of a fragrance accelerating trace) you may end up with more of a two-toned soap that doesn't have a swirl throughout. Anyway... there are three basic ways you can swirl (and probably more):

[Iris Soap]

A swirling fiasco! Things always go awry when you are doing something for someone else. This was a special order and I had hoped for swirling like the batch below this one. The iris fragrance oil accelerated trace when it had not the last time I used it and the swirling color was watery thin by comparison to the banana cream pie texture of the base color. On top of that... I had to doctor the purple swirl color just before combining them because it looked like it was going to be royal blue. The end result was far from what I wanted, but interesting nonetheless! This is what will happen when the base soap is too thick to allow the swirling color to penetrate. You can look at these bars and tell which side was on top when they were in the mold.


[Mint Swirl]

A nice swirl done at thin trace with a base recipe rich in soybean oil.


[Sweet Grass and Clary Sage]

Here's another batch that was thicker than I'd wanted when the swirling was attempted... although not as bad as the batch to the left. Since there was a higher degree of contrasting color, I didn't really mind how this looked in the end, even though it was not the desired effect.

[Lavender Mint Swirl]

I wish all soaps would swirl like this one. Using essential oil for fragrance helped. This is lavender mint made with all EOs. They will not thicken the soap when added.


[Almond Swirl]

Another successful swirl using cocoa as the coloring agent. This batch again had a fair amount of soybean in addition to the olive and coconut.

[Apple-Pear Swirl]

Here's an example of "swirling in the pot"... my first time. The scent is apple-pear.

[Pikaki Swirl]

Another swirl in the pot with some BRIGHT colors! The scent was pikaki and the base soap had yellow corn popping coconut oil in it. Wax color was used to color the red.


[Strawberry-Kiwi Almost Swirl]

This is what happens when your base color is quite intense and the swirling soap is thinner than the base... the swirl was mostly swallowed up by the base color. Still smells great though! It is strawberry-kiwi.


[Apricot-Freesia Swirl]

I loved how this batch turned out. The base color was mostly beta carotene. The swirl color was tinted with paprika. The scent ... apricot-freesia. It's long gone now! Went pretty fast.


[Jule's Tuberose Soap]

This lovely subtle swirl was done by Jules, from the Latherings Forum. She scented it with Tuberose Deluxe FO (Sweet Cakes) and was striving for the soft colors found in the actual flower (gardeners like authenticity in their floral reproductions!). This is so beautiful "in the flesh"... the swirls are fine and feathery and the colors yummy. This kind of swirl can be done when you are working in a single layer (like a larger mold or kitty litter pan). You can see exactly what you're doing and the swirls look the way they will be on the side of the bar when cut. If you are pouring in a deep mold, the bars are usually on end and going the other direction and cutting them gives you a different angle on the swirl than what you saw on the top when doing it. Am I making any sense?

[Mint-Chocolate Swirl]

This batch was made to order and I was so happy with the outcome. It's a cocoa butter recipe that is scented with peppermint EO. Part of the soap was taken out and mixed with cocoa that had been premoistened with oil and mixed until smooth. Part of the base soap (green) was poured into the mold, then part of the swirl color, and repeated. I scraped the rest of the green soap out on the top and ran a knife back and forth through it one time. I would not try this if using a FO... too much risk of accelerated trace. Just hope I can do this again! ;-) Next time I'll add just a touch more green color.

The batch to the right was my first time of using the technique of coloring in different areas of the pot and mixing carefully with the stick blender so as not to incorporate the color into more than a small area. The soap needs to be fairly thick to do this or you need a blender with a low setting, which mine does not have. Then when you pour the soap into the mold, the colors mix and blend in very interesting ways (thanks goes to Rachael for suggesting this coloring method). This batch was scented with a "Summer Sorbet" fragrance oil so I was striving for sherbet tones. I like how the bars are all so different with different colors being represented as the dominant shade.

[Summer Sorbet Soaps]

This page last updated on 20 March 2009.
If you still have questions, please read through the information on the Troubleshooting Help page, MOST Frequently Asked Questions and Modern Procedures. More can also be learned through the Botched Batches and Soapy Success pages. Many common problems have already been addressed on the site and it's difficult for me to keep up with emails these days and get anything else done. If your question involves my looking up information that you can also research, or going over numbers and recipe calculations, I might not respond if in the middle of a project around our home and garden. I apologize for this, since I've enjoyed my correspondence with people and don't like to ignore emails of any kind. Thanks! :-)