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Mold Making

Last week I went to visit a friend in Albuquerque and pick his brain about how to make molds for soap and resin casting.  There was a LOT of information all at once and I’m still organizing it in my mind.  Here are some of the photos I took during the workshop.

I have workshop envy

This is the shop where he makes his molds.  Lately he’s been moving more into metal casting than resin, and one March (this year or next) I may come to a metal-casting workshop.  In the back notice the very large mold of the very, very large horny-toad.  I loved that sculpture.  On the back wall there is also a nice mold of the classic archaeopteryx fossil.  I would have taken a casting of that if I’d had space for it in my luggage.  As it was, I barely fit the molds I made myself plus the LARGE quantity of hot green chili I brought back.






Platsil 73-25 2-part mold silicone. And Nathan’s cool tray to allow it to pour more easily.
Vacuum de-gasser. We only used this once but I think it did reduce bubbles in the silicone
Some molds poured, other forms waiting to be set up.
Shapes glued down and ready for the mold form to go around it. I used cups or PVC for the round ones and foam-core board and hot glue for the rectangular one.
Lizard on a bed of clay ready for mold material to be painted on. This will be a 2-part mold.



Completed molds are trimmed and dusted with talc so they don’t pick up dust and dog hair.
Nathans epic $100 variable temperature glue gun. The glue sticks are a foot long and 1cm wide.


Completed chess mold after the 3D printed original was removed.
Heating wax to pour a shape that can be sculpted more
The final array. Everything I brought back with me: molds, originals, casts in resin, wax and plaster, extra wax and some new sculpting tools.
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3-D printing

I’m getting ready to make some silicone molds for soaps and here are my first prototypes for the designs I want to use.  A trilobite, a ‘white lotus’ from Avatar the Last Airbender and the BAT SIGNAL.  The last one is because I’ve really wanted to make a menthol-peppermint soap and call it “HOLY MENTHOL, BATMAN!!”


Trilobite (Girl Genius) and White Lotus (Avatar: the Last Airbender)
Trilobite on a plaster cast of a 4oz round soap.
The bat signal!
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Funnel Pour Test

Just a quick post today.  My first attempt at a “funnel pour” using one of my standard recipes and Frankincense and Myrrh fragrance oil.  The black is activated charcoal while the yellow is the natural color of the soap.  I expect it to morph into a tan as it cures.

Also check out my new silicone molds from Brambleberry.

Update – the soap is now cut

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Sunday Soaps – Experiments

I ordered new supplies recently and got new things to experiment with!  When the rest of the order comes in I will try a hand at making solid conditioner bars, a syndet* shampoo and some oil cleanser.

But first, here’s what I tried today.

I got a free sample of a nice floral fragrance called “Midnight Waters”, just enough for a 1 pound batch.  I made a simple coconut soap with coconut milk and tried to color it purple.  The fragrance discolored a bit tan so my base purple was crowded out, but since things were moving slowly I tried to add a purple line and colored the top pale green.  I’m quite pleased with the result

This glorious purple mica was overwhelmed by the FO discoloration
Bars after unmolding and cut. The purple line looks great. I’ve never tried one before.

Then I tried two shampoo bars.  One is my favorite coconut recipe but I wanted to try it again with the addition of apple cider vinegar and citric acid.  The next was a very different recipe with 6-oils that also includes apple cider vinegar.

Cider vinegar in the lye does not make for an attractive color.

I scented one with ylang-ylang and bergamot essential oils and the other with a green tea fragrance oil.

Coconut shampoo on the left, 6-oil shampoo on the right.

*But wait, I hear you say.  What is a syndet bar? The shampoo bars I’ve made so far are all true soaps.  That means they are made by reacting lye with fatty acids from plants or animals and you get a high-pH solid soap at the end. Your hair has a natural pH on the acid side and some (but not all) shampoos you can buy commercially make a big deal out of matching the pH of the shampoo to your hair.  It’s unclear to me if this is really beneficial or a marketing ploy (I suspect the latter), but I do notice that when I use my soap-shampoo that every week or two I like to use a cider vinegar rinse that seems to remove some build up.  (It will also de-scum your bathtub!)

If you try to add acid to soap to lower the pH below around 8, you will undo the chemical reaction that makes it soap and be left with a pile of fatty acids.

Enter ‘synthetic detergents’.  This is what nearly all commercial shampoos are made of.  They can have a pH anywhere from about 4 to 8 or 9 but they stay detergents, and will still clean, even with a lower pH.

Lush makes shampoo bars by pressing detergent noodles into a mold along with some other ingredients and I’m going to have a go at that and see if like it any better than my soap-based shampoo.

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This soap turned out beautifully, and I think the name is funny AND I’ve been spending way too much time trying to think of labels for it.

Now the fragrance is called “blue sugar” which I gather is a famous fragrance but the name mostly reminds me of this:

If I had to describe it, I’d say it smells like “masculine cotton candy”.  With that description in mind, my friend started calling it “man candy” and that name ALSO amuses me, but makes me think of this:

Alas, I cannot use either of those on a soap label, so my next thought was to follow-up on that theme.  Maybe the statue of Leonidas?  Or maybe this?

But then, my best Man Candy fan came through with a suggestion and the labels will look like this:




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Shampoo Bar Thoughts & Review

My experimental musing have turned toward shampoo bars and I’d like to share some of my experiences with using a ‘hair soap’ or ‘solid shampoo bar’ or whatever you’d like to call it.

Advantages: The main advantage for me, is that a solid bar doesn’t have to be stored in a bottle.  It can’t leak, I can take it on the airplane and I’m not generating more plastic waste that will wind up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I  have complete control over the ingredients so I can test out the advantages of avoiding silicones or detergents. And in my case there is also a bit of “what kind of sucker am I, buying shampoo when I have ALL THE SOAP MAKING OILS right here in my house??”

Thus, I took the plunge.   For my first recipe I made one that was designated for ‘normal to dry hair’, the fatty acid profile looked like it would have lather, high conditioning and contained a high proportion of shea butter, avocado oil and sweet almond oil.  It looks fantastic.  I made that one, and at the same time I saw a positive review of a soap made with 100% coconut oil and a slightly higher-than-normal superfat*.  I tried that one too, tossing in a mix of essential oils and fragrance oils that were leftover from a previous soap batch.


Avocado-almond-shea (square) from the original batch and a later, round batch. I think this looks like a lego face with big hair.

Avocado-Almond: I’d never used a ‘hair soap’ before so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I used the Almond-avocado bar first, working up a lather in my hand first and then rubbing it on my head. I knew not to expect the same ‘squeaky’ feel that I get from regular shampoo.  It generated a reasonable lather, and I used it twice, leaving behind a feel that I’d call ‘moderately grippy’. I didn’t feel like I could leave it at that, so I used some conditioner as usual.  And… I liked it.  My hair felt soft, everything seemed clean. Except for the feel in the shower it seemed identical to using any random shampoo.  I used it about 3-4 times.  After the first wash, the grippy feel lessened.

Coconut shampoo bar with accidental “froot loops” scent. I will never be able to duplicate this.

All Coconut: I admit – I expected this to be too drying.  I make 100% coconut bars with a 20% superfat and they lather like crazy, but I find them a bit drying on my skin in the winter.  This bar, with a lower superfat percentage, I was sure would be drying.   I was wrong!  I was so wrong.  It was amazing – it lather felt just like my favorite shampoo, it rinsed out cleaner, and while I still needed conditioner, my hair felt soft and amazing.

After two weeks of use my hair felt a bit ‘stiff’ for want of a better word, and on the next wash, I used a cider vinegar rinse. That cleared everything up and gave a much ‘slicker’ feel in the shower when I was rinsing off.  (It can also make the shower floor slick, so be careful).

I’ve been using nothing else except these two shampoo bars for months now and I’m very pleased with the results.  My hair is very straight and fine, neither dry nor oily (I think) but starting to turn gray.  Now that it’s getting gray I’ve noticed it’s been less ‘sleek’ for some time now.  My shampoo didn’t fix that, nor did it make it worse.

80-20 unscented coconut that was sitting on my kitchen sink

80/20 Coconut  Today I thought – I wonder if that roughness I’ve noticed is because it’s too dry.  I considered trying a deep oil treatment (did I mention I have all the oils?), but I’m lazy and instead I decided to try one of my regular 20% coconut bars and a vinegar rinse and see what happens.


It was FANTASTIC!  Why have I not tried this before? It lathered just as much as the lower superfat, that ‘grippy’ feeling in my hair was more noticeable, but after the vinegar rinse and just a bit of conditioner there’s a noticeable improvement/reduction in ‘flyaway’ factor.

Other experiences: I handed out samples of both shampoo bars to friends.  Most preferred the coconut bar to the avocado-almond.  The exception was someone who has very fine, dry hair, who is happy with the avocado-almond.  I am still getting more feedback from testers with different hair types.

Final thoughts: I wonder now if I was too quick to dismiss the Avocado bar.  The grippy feeling that I didn’t like so much might be retained oils and could be contributing to what I liked so much about the 80/20 bar.  Clearly more research is needed.

Cider Vinegar Rinse:  1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup hot/warm water.  Optional – instead of using plain water, make a peppermint & nettle tea (or use the herbs of your choice)



*A typical superfat is 5%, and the number represents how much ‘extra’ oils are added to the recipe over what is needed to fully react with the lye (and convert all the oils to soap).

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Random musings and even more soap

I’ve been doing all sorts of exciting outdoor adventures, but I haven’t brought the camera so, alas, I cannot share.

I got my kayak out to a new lake and did a 6 mile loop at a leisurely pace (and got a sunburn because of that classic reason: it was cloudy out).  And for my birthday I got some kayak toys – hully rollers to put the kayak on top of the car (which I can now do by myself!) and this cool deck compass.  It’s probably overkill, but I have ideas about leading some short expeditions between islands and it seems like a good thing to have for that.  Right now I’m just playing with it.

My youngest daughter has been afraid to ride her bicycle ever since she fell onto the bar hard a year ago. In the last week, she went with her dad to a bicycle repair shop, where, apparently, they worked some sort of magic by showing her how bicycles work and letting her ‘repair’ one.  She is now super enthusiastic about riding. She still will only try to ride her own, older bike, that’s too small for her, but she completed an 11 mile ride with the family WITHOUT COMPLAINING.

This warranted an ice cream reward and we’re going to plan more small and easy trips with fun things at the end to encourage more.

The mango-lassi soap cured out somewhat tan in the ‘white’ areas – apparently it contains some vanilla – but it still looks good and is ready to ship out.

And then yesterday I made a new soap “Man Candy”!  The scent is actually called “Blue Sugar” and is described as “masculine cotton candy” but that was too much for my friends to remember and so it is now Man Candy.  I did another in-the-pot swirl and I really like the way it turned out.

And I cleared some space in the chaos that is my garage – so now I can mostly walk through it.  That’s progress.

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Sunday Soaps

Blackberry-Basil, aka “Fantasy Berry” is officially ready to ship out!

I also have a small batch of my unscented, uncolored, shea & cocoa butter soap that is ready to ship out, but I haven’t figured out what to call it.  I typically name the soaps after the fragrance and/or a notable ingredient.  I could call it “shea & cocoa” but in this case I think the “unscented” part is a selling point for people with allergies. I’ve seen these called “Plain Jane” or “Minimalist”, but nothing is grabbing me.

Even without scent, I find I like this one rather a lot.  The pure soap cured out and smells vaguely of graham crackers to me.  I’d noticed this before in an oatmeal-honey soap, but I thought it was coming from the honey.

Now I’m just thinking of ridiculous names.  “Sin Nombre” sounds rather dangerous, doesn’t it?  It’s also what they called one of the Hanta Virus outbreaks in the 90’s, so maybe not. My husband is suggesting a marketing campaign around “I rode through the desert with a soap with no name.”  Or something using this guy:

No Face

I probably need to work on marketing skills.

Today’s plan is for me to make a decision about the name and then make one or two batches of Manly soaps that should be ready for Father’s Day.

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Round bars and solid lotion

I intended to make two soaps today but I wound up not having the time.  Instead I’ve been working on packaging and tried making a few solid lotion bars as a test.  First, the new label pattern.

This may be a little dark, but I wanted something “citrus” themed for the label background for the “Tropical Citrus” soap.  I like the almost glass-like look of the cut fruit.  (My printer only does black and white).

Then I moved on to wrapping and labeling the round shampoo bars.  These are my first label mockups. I learned that I have to put the label on the flat side (the top is bumpier than the bottom).  Below that are my 4 tiny solid lotion bars to test out.  They are made with shea butter, beeswax, coconut oil and sweet almond oil.

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Coffee & Cocoa results

I cut the soaps that I made yesterday.  Overall good news!   Like all new soaps they smell of lye but I can also get a bit of coffee and chocolate in the coffee soap and the warm ‘graham cracker’ scent that I like in the oatmeal honey.

Now for the science!

Both batches have some vanillin powder in them which will turn soap dark brown.  I mixed it in uniformly in the coffee soap, but I made a swirl of it in the oatmeal.  Today the swirl has already started to darken.  The dark specks in the brown patches are vanillin, the dark specks in the light part are oats.

I expect the dark swirls to go much darker than they are right now.



Unexpected results: The coffee half heated up more than the oatmeal and the areas that fully gelled have this ‘crackle’ effect. I’ve never seen that happen before in a soap that didn’t have titanium dioxide and I wonder if I have just managed to create something new. In a soap with oxides, this is called ‘glycerin river’ it’s harmless, but rather interesting.