This blog entry is a bit out of the ordinary however it still involves the garage and building things. Today’s project involves a mission I have been on for almost a year and a half and it involves introducing the love I have for metal, building, and mechanical things, into other parts of my life. As the title suggests it was a lesson that came at a price however that is of little concern to me. It was a project worth completing.
It all started with the exposure to the unlimited amount of “body” products, and soaps, designed, and available, for women. It’s endless! I personally do not have a desire to have the same products available to me however I thought that if something was available that was to my liking I would potentially appreciate it. There is always a small line of men’s soap products available but it is limited plus I would never take the time to actually purchase it.
So like I said I wouldn’t take the time however I have no problem spending countless hours designing and making my own soap that I would consider worthy of being used. And so this brings us to the current blog posting. Soap making 101 gordsgarage style.
Of course with any project there is always research and planning involved. Since I had no idea how to make soap from scratch I decided that would be a good place to start. Flipping through the course catalog advertising adult weekend classes I found the course I needed which would teach me the basic skills of soap making. Turned out this class is not all that popular with the guys as I was the only one. Didn’t matter to me, I was on a mission and had a bigger plan then just leaving a class with a few bars of scented soap in the shape of flowers.
So the training course was very good and in approximately 6 hours I had a decent understanding of the process, equipment, and supplies required to turn out all natural soap. I tooled up and made a few batches at home to ensure I could produce a decent result on my own. No problem. Now it was time to put the project into motion. The plan was to turn out handmade, all natural, gear shaped soap made to look like machined metal.
I admit this is not the usual type of garage project I share mostly because it doesn’t actually involve metal however it does involve the garage, fabrication, R&D, and most importantly the learning of a new skill. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
The start of the gear soap required coming up with a blank that I could create a soap mold from. I had created a 2D model of what I wanted and then got in touch with my friend Jason over at The Gahooa Perspective. Jason just happens to have a very nicely equipped shop which includes a CAMaster CNC router table. Jason had agreed to help me out by routering out a blank from some High Density Polyethylene. The photo is a screen shot from the CAM program used to generate the G-code for the CNC.
Jason managed to cut a couple of samples for me. They worked out fantastic, the cut quality was perfect for molding.
The following video shows the CNC table set up Jason has in his shop. The CAMaster Cobra is a work horse of a machine and is fascinating to watch. I would highly recommend you all visit Jason’s blog, The Gahooa Perspective, to check out his cool projects.
So here are the mold blanks. 2 of them Jason cut out of HDPE and the 3rd one (blue) was done on a 3D printer by a friend of his. The 3D printed one had fairly precise lines however the finish, to make a mold from, was not as good as the CNC routered ones.
So now comes my time to put some effort into the project. I need to create silicone molds of the gear and therefore need someway to house the blank in order to pour silicone. I decided to build a housing out of a toilet flange since it was cheap, easy to machine, water proof, and had a great finish to release the mold from. The flange required some clean up on the lathe prior to building the rest of the housing.
I required a method of securing the gear into the center of my mold housing. On the back side of the gear I drilled and installed a metal 1/4 x 20 threaded insert.
Here is my completed mold housing. It is fairly simple. The gear and the flange both get bolted onto the base plate. The only change I made that is not shown in this picture is that I applied some white vinyl to the steel backing plate in order to allow for clean release of the silicone.
And here we go for the first run of mold making 101. I have never done it so I am not completely sure what to expect. I am using Mold Star 16 Fast which is a 2 part silicone that sets up in approximately 30 minutes.
Ready to go! I am doing this in the house since the silicone is fairly temperature sensitive to ensure proper set up. The garage is just a bit on the cooler side.
Mixed up and pouring. In 30 minutes I unbolt the housing and remove the mold.
I spray the mold with a mold release prior to pouring. This is a shot of the base plate removed. Everything slides apart nicely.
This is a completed mold. The detail is fantastic! I made sure to build the mold walls thick enough the ensure good support of the liquid soap.
Although this is only a single picture in a blog posting of 30+ shots it represents where most of my time on the project was spent. What you are looking at is a run of soap in its natural color. I performed many test batches of soap to ensure I would be able to get the detail from the mold into the soap. I struggled, a lot. Although I could achieve good results in the teeth and body of the soap I could never get the “GG” and “bolt holes” to consistently release from the mold and produce good consistent results.
Here is the result of many failed attempts at building “GG” soap. I felt after performing multiple different techniques to get the soap to release properly I hade no choice but modify the design. It pained me to chuck up the blank in the lathe a machine off the face of the gear. My deepest apologies Jason, if there was any other way to solve the issue I wouldn’t have cut up your work.
And here you can see the result of what 5 minutes on the lathe turned out. No more “GG”
Back to running new molds. I had previously made 3 molds of the “GG” design. This time I am going all in and doing a run of 7 molds feeling fairly confident that this design will work.
And here is the new, simpler, design.
So now a word, or 2, about the actual soap. Since this is “garage” soap it is being made in the garage all from raw ingredients. I use a basic soap recipe that produces a good cleaning, scentless, and lathering, soap. Because this is gordsgarage soap I felt it was appropriate to add my own signature to it. I wanted something that you wouldn’t be able to find in someone else’s soap and wanted it to be distinguished from others therefore making it truly garage soap. Although cleaning your body with engine oil and cutting fluid would be considered unhealthy I opt to put 1 drop of Relton cutting fluid and 1 drop of Mobil 1 engine oil into every batch of soap I make. This way when you are singing in the shower you can feel connected to that part of your life that brings you so much joy. A batch of soap produces 7 gears and therefore 2 drops of oil is hardly enough to cause any issues. I have been way more exposed to the stuff just working in the garage.
It was also time to start adding the color to my soap. My initial plan was to find a color combination that would look like freshly machined 6061 aluminum. This was harder then I expected. I ordered up some powered mica in various colors that would allow me to experiment with colors. Here I weighed out some Polished Silver for a base color and then some Pearl Basics to give it some sparkle. It’ll take many batches before I find the color I like.
With all my fats and oils weighed out it was time to add the drop of cutting fluid and engine oil. I should probably mention that I’m not going to cover the actual soap making process, there are a bazillion websites out there that already cover this and I probably couldn’t do it any better.
With everything, but the lye, added into the pot it was time to start heating things up. I use the same hotplate for soap making as I do for anodizing.
With everything brought to within 100 degrees Fahrenheit it was time to bring it all together and start mixing. The lye gets added to my fat/oil solution, mixed, and then my color is introduced.
Soap is then poured into 7 molds and allowed to set up for 24 hours.
Once the 24 hours have passed, after pouring the soap, the gears get removed from the molds and then set aside for 30 days to allow for the saponification process to occur. After 30 days the soap firms up and is ready for use.
Here is an example of where R&D went wrong. In my quest to find some aluminum looking mica to dye the soap with I had ordered some mica that actually contained aluminum in it. As I know from my anodizing experiences that lye (caustic soda) and aluminum do not get along. There are always warnings that you are not to clean aluminum with caustic soda. I use it on aluminum to remove anodizing simply because it eats into the aluminum. In the case of my soap making the aluminum mica reacted with my lye solution and turned my soap into a huge foaming failure. Took me awhile to clean all the molds out. Lesson learned.
So with the soap making under control I figured the finished product should get some packaging. This is were I get my brother, Brian, involved as he it the guy you want to know when it comes to graphic design. I asked for his help to get a label design built. Between the two of use we were able to come up with the following.
This is the computer generated sample of the soap label. This is what I will be supplying to the label manufacturer to have printed up on 2.250″ circular vinyl.
I sent the file off to the printers and in a couple weeks I had myself some professional looking labels.
With the label created and printed I needed to come up with a protective packaging material. Initially I had wanted to use brown paper tool wrap with wax paper on one side. This stuff is known as VCI Paper (Vapour Corrosion Inhibitor). I think it looks totally old school and would suit the project well. The down side is that it hides the beauty of the gear shape. I settled on using a heat shrink type of plastic that snugs up around the soap using a heat gun. This way the soap is protected yet still visible.
So with most of the hurdles hurdled it was time to start cranking out production. Still not sure what color I will officially settle on. I continue to make each batch different. I think I am liking the darker ones more and more.