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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 19th year of beekeeping in April 2024. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here.Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Soap-making, John Campbell Folk School Style

After a weekend at the Folk School taking a soap making class, I came home with all of this soap.  It has to cure for a month.

You remember how I like to find uses for the queen excluders I bought when I first started beekeeping?  On two occasions in ten years, I have put them on a hive for overnight to solve a problem.  Other than that I use them for cut comb honey draining!  Now I have found a new use: curing soap!

Soap has to sit for four to six weeks to cure before it is in its best shape for use and lather.  You are supposed to turn the bars over occasionally.  My basement smells lovely.

At the school, we learned how to protect ourselves against the danger of being burned by lye.  We wore goggles, rubber gloves, long sleeves.  We were very, very careful.  Everything in making soap has to be measured in a precise way.  Saponification (turning lye and fat into soap) is a chemical reaction and the ingredients have to be controlled exactly. 

We carefully stirred the lye into cold water and then began to melt our precisely measured fats.  By the time the fats had melted the lye would have cooled down.  The teacher had fancy laser thermometers - I ordered one from Amazon the minute I got home.  The lye and the melted fats plus olive oil had to end up with an average temperature of somewhere between 80 and 120 degrees before you could mix them together.

When the magic temperature was reached, the lye solution is gently poured into the fat/oil mix and you begin the thickening process.  We used stick blenders and "trace" occurred rather quickly.  "Trace" is the point in the process when you can see a line on the surface of the soap solution when you pull out the stick blender or make a circular drip with a rubber spatula on the surface of the soap solution.  At that point, you can add fragrance or color.

I made six different quarts of soap.  I think these were the types I made:

1.  Tuscan wine soap with calendula - turned out red and smells divine - shea butter was in that

2.  Apple jack and orange peel with cornmeal was next and I didn't use shea butter for it

3.  Then I think I made a soap with dirt/smoke as the fragrance and I added both activated charcoal and cornmeal for texture.  It turned out black and very masculine in smell

4.  Cucumber with parsley flakes and ground up oatmeal

5.  Vanilla soap with chamomile.  This one was made with shea butter.  The dark places are chamomile flower bits

6.  Lavender swirl soap with only lavender flavoring and no texture, I don't think.  I did almost everything in a quart milk carton and the lavender I made in a half gallon carton.  I tried the swirl technique and although it isn't the way it is supposed to look, I wasn't unhappy with how it turned out.

There's a slide show below (click on it to visit the Picasa web album page) where you can see the process and the teacher at work:


  1. I knew you'd have a great time with the soap. I love making soap and I love how the house and studio smell when it's curing. You can add an ounce of beeswax to your soap batches to make them a bit harder and they add a very subtle smell, too.

    1. My plan is to use beeswax in the soap. Apparently that's a little more advanced so we didn't do it in our class. But I've found recipes on the Internet and will use beeswax when I make soap at home.

    2. It takes longer to melt the beeswax, so I start it melting in the oil pot first, then add the shortening / coconut oil, etc. I add the olive oil last, when I take the other oils off the heat since it's already liquified and it brings the temp back down to closer what you need when you combine the oil and the lye.

    3. Thank you, Robin. That's what we did in the class - held the olive oil for last to add off the stove and help bring the temp of the fats down so that they could be combined with the lye solution. All of it needed to have an average temp of between 80 and 120 degrees F before combining. Beeswax melts best when it melts slowly so I use 110 degree heat to melt beeswax and doing it first and then adding the shortening, etc. makes sense. Thanks for the help.

  2. I love making soaps too ♥ You have some very interesting and beautiful bars there. Enjoy!


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