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Homemade Shaving Soap - An Illustrated Guide to a Test Batch - LONG POST

I'm a hobbyist soapmaker, and in the process of developing a solid shaving soap recipe. Before I get into developing my own and incorporating a wide variety of possibly controversial oils and scents and whatnot, I decided it might be best to start with my take on a solid existing product to get a baseline soap.

Given that you all seem to enjoy soap at least as much if not more than I do, I thought you all might enjoy watching the process. (If not, please click back at this point, I don't want to waste anybody's time.)

My first step was to find a soap that seems to be well regarded.

Next, google it and note that the unscented version has only 5 ingredients, in the following order:

Stearic Acid
Coconut Acid
Potassium Hydroxide

Then you buy the ingredients. In this case, I'm swapping coconut oil for coconut acid, a) because I already have a pretty substantial supply, and b) I'm not a huge fan of overly refined oils.

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(Since I am, in essence, reverse engineering an existing soap, it'd be a little tacky to claim any proprietary rights over this recipe, so the full instructions / recipe I came up with will follow.)

You pull up soapcalc.net and see what you need to do to make a recipe with the ingredients in that order.

With soapcalc.net's help, plus a few educated guesses, for this starter recipe I'll be using 52% stearic acid and 48% coconut oil, as that keeps the oils reasonably balanced, and 52% stearic acid is pretty high already. I'm using a 3% superfat as you don't need too much extra oil for a shaving bar, but I wanted a little superfatting as I haven't worked with potassium hydroxide lye before.

Since this is a test batch, I'm only going to use about a pound of oil, and the general rule of thumb for adding glycerin is to use about a tablespoon per pound of oils (in terms of added glycerin, there is also glycerin created as part of the soapmaking process, and it is not generally processed out in small batch soapmaking, which is one of the reasons why handmade / artisanal soap tends to be so nice.)

With that in mind, once you punch the numbers into soapcalc.net, you get the following recipe.

Stearic Acid - 8 1/3 oz.
Aqua - 8 oz.
Coconut Oil - 7 2/3 oz.
Potassium Hydroxide - 3 1/2 oz
Glycerin - 1 tbsp.

Then you try to avoid getting distracted by "A Practical Treatise on the Manufacture of Soap and Candles" from 1888, which you found on google books.

You flip on your trusty crockpot,

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make sure your safety gloves and goggles are close at hand (keep a bottle of vinegar handy, also, as it helps to neutralize the caustic bases in the lye if you spill it),

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and you're ready to get started.

Using a postal scale or a food scale, measure the stearic acid and coconut oil and dump them into the crockpot

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Stearic acid is almost like wax at room temperature, and coconut oil is also solid, so these will take a little while to melt down. Let them melt for a little bit, and when they're about 2/3 melted, and if you haven't done so already, don your goggles and gloves, then go ahead and measure out your water in a jug, and in a separate container, measure out your potassium hydrdoxide lye. Then carry the lye and water under the exhaust fan in your stove hood, or outside, and exercising a reasonable amount of caution, slowly pour the lye into the water. (Don't be careless here, as lye mixed with water becomes caustic and can cause chemical burns, but don't be paranoid either, as boiling water can cause serious burns as well, but that probably doesn't make you panic when heating up pasta.) Pour the lye into the water (not vice versa, as apparently this can create an unpleasant "volcano effect"l which is best avoided), and swirl / stir gently, until the lye is completely dissolved. (You may want to use a container with a handle, as the reaction of lye and water causes the liquid to get very hot.)

To be continued in the next post, as I've maxed this one out.
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Then you go back to your crockpot, and by this time all of your oils should have melted

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Now, still wearing your protective goggles and gloves, you pour the lye/water mixture into the oils

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Note the chemical reaction that begins occurring immediately as the caustic alkaline lye/water mixture begins reacting with the fatty acids of the oils.

Typically, when making soap, you have to stir the mixture vigorously, or use a stick blender, for several minutes, in order to get the soap to thicken and reach a consistency called "trace", where the traces left by your stirrer / stick blender don't immediately dissolve back into the liquid soap. In soaps with a high stearic acid content, trace occurs almost immediately. I had heard about this, but it was still surprising how quickly it happened.

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I then added a tablespoon of glycerin

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and let it cook.

If I were doing cold process soapmaking, I could have stopped right here, without further cooking, poured the soap into molds, and let it sit for a month or so to "cure" and let the fat react with the lye over time to become safe to use. I am not a particularly patient man, so the hot process method, in which heat is applied to accelerate the reaction and make a usable soap in a matter of a couple of days rather than several weeks, appeals to me.)

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To be continued in the next post...
The general rule of thumb for hot process soapmaking is that you let the soap cook until it goes through a stage of looking more or less like Vaseline, and cooks for a while until it looks like mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, for this recipe, the soap pretty much looked like mashed potatoes from trace right on through to the end. So I let it cook for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally, and finally gave it the "zap test" (which is where you put a little of the soap on a finger tip or a spoon (careful, it may be hot) and touch the tip of your tongue to it - if it "zaps" like you touched your tongue to a 9 volt battery, it's still reacting and needs to cook longer). The soap did not zap, it just tasted like soap (I should probably buy some PH strips or a PH meter). If you're going to do this at home, exercise your own good judgment, and maybe give it a little extra time.

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Once the soap was cooked, I dumped it out into a mold, and will let it cool overnight before cutting it into bars.

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Will this test batch offer a rich thick yogurty lather full of slickness and cushion, or will it be a total disaster not even fit for a bath bar?

Stay tuned.
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Fascinating. I'm looking forward to following this.

On a side note, I've tested a number of artisan "prototype" shaving soaps over the years, so if you're looking for volunteers I'd be happy offer my thoughts.
That is super awesome. I have always wanted pics of how it works. And never seen any. Really cool thread. Thanks for posting! Let us know how the soap turns out!
Great reporting and thanks for posting your project!!! It looks like you're going to have a lot of curious subscribers (me too) who can't wait to hear about your results.
Just when I though I was reaching the end of my frivolous purchases... now I have to buy a crock pot!!!
OK, quick follow-up before I head off to work.

I couldn't wait to try the soap this morning, as the appeal of cooking up a batch of shaving soap and having it ready to use the next morning was too strong.

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so I popped it out of the mold this morning and cut it up into bars.

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It could definitely use a little more drying time, as parts were white and parts were still translucent, but I'm impatient, so I grabbed a bar and headed for the morning shave.

I'm still working on my lathering technique, but this soap definitely seemed to hold up a lot better than the bath bar and the name brand shave cream I'd been playing with.

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That's all well and good, but the real question is "How does it shave?"

Quite well. I was pretty impressed. Even with my minimal pre-shave technique (splash hot water on face, dip brush in hot water, lather up), and my still overly aggressive shave technique, I was able to get near BBS in 2 passes (WTG/ATG). My face felt pretty good after the shave as well, which is probably a +1 for a little added glycerin.

I'm fairly pleased with the results. I highly encourage you all to purchase a crockpot, as waking up to fresh soap is pretty cool.
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