Don’t know exactly how it happened (I guess I must have walked into something with it in my pocket), but my old cell phone’s screen got smashed on Monday, with the surprisingly pretty result shown above. Alas, it was not nearly as practical as it was beautiful, and so I went off to check CNet‘s reviews and then to the Verizon store to upgrade to the LG VX8300. I was thinking I’d change carriers, but a thread on the Metblog a while ago seemed to reach a consensus that Verizon had the best reception in SF, and I wanted to get a new phone as soon as possible. It’s been working out fairly well. My main complaint is one endemic to all Verizon gear–they lock out a whole bunch of interesting and useful stuff, with technologies like BREW and crippled Bluetooth implementations. But there is hope for the tinkerer who wanders in the strange land of CDMA: BitPim.
BitPim gives you read/write access to all the data on the phone, letting you transfer pictures, add ringtones, add contacts, and browse the filesystem, all via USB or Bluetooth. I’ve only started playing around with it, but it looks very promising indeed. Now all somebody needs to do is hack BREW so anyone can write apps for it.
I did an experiment today! I also made a video of it in iMovie, which was a bit of an experiment in itself. Making videos is surprisingly hard, especially if your camera isn’t exactly designed for it and the thing you’re shooting is really small.
I decided to make a video of this as a warm-up for making an instructional video on soapmaking. I might still do that, but I might also just write a longer blog post about it with video annotations. Anyway, please enjoy learning Why Lye and Aluminum Do Not Mix:
It was a bit late, but I wanted to get done with the soapmaking so I could start concentrating on posting this story. Only three oils remained. The first was jojoba:
Jojoba oil is weird. It’s a liquid, and not a particularly viscous one (I think this has to do with the degree of saturation), but the molecules are ridiculously long–about forty carbons each. For perspective, most oils are somewhere in the mid-teens; forty is more typical of a wax than an oil.
The saponification number is also a tiny 0.069, which stands to reason: if the molecules are so huge, then there will be fewer of them to saponify, right? Blah blah blah molar blah blah blah concentration blah blah blah molecular mass blah blah blah stochiometry. BRILLIANT! Oh, man, it is a great mystery of life why I do not have a Nobel and a Pulitzer on my wall.
I only used 80 grams of jojoba oil, because I wanted to have some left over. So the recipe was:
80 g jojoba oil
30 g water
5.5 g of lye
The soap had hardly thickened at all. I poured it into the trays, hoping for the best.
My next victim was Crisco.
Crisco is odd because it’s really a mixture of oils:
The webpage I saw recommended using a factor of .136, so that’s what I’m using:
100 g Crisco
38 g water
13.6 g lye
The Crisco soap was watery when I poured it, but I’d heard it made a fairly hard bar. We’ll see.
Now it was time for the oil that got me into this mess in the first place: Trader Joe’s Lavender Body Oil.
This is another mixture of oils:
As MOTD surmised, this isn’t really lavender oil–"lavender-scented oil" would be more accurate, as the (non-saponifiable) compounds from the lavender are dissolved in a much larger quantity of so-called "carrier oils." Happily, the first two carrier oils on the list (safflower and sweet almond) have identical saponification values of 0.136, and the third (sesame) is only fractionally lower at 0.133.
100 g oil
38 g water
13.6 g lye.
Generally, fragrances and colorants are added to soap at the end of the process (when they trace) because the lye tends to react with them and destroy whatever property you hoped they would lend. I didn’t notice that here, although I think the smell was subtly different.
The Crisco was starting to set up nicely. I poured the lavender into the molds, and doffed my goggles.
It was time for a soap family portrait:
(If you click on the photo, you can see the annotated version at Flickr.)
The jojoba looked very discouraging–to be honest, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for it, which is another reason I didn’t do as much of it. Perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but soap and students work in different ways. I think I was just too close to the margin of error on my scale when I was making it. It’s probably only in the saponification tables to let people know they need to take it into account when they add 5 or 10% of it to a relatively large batch.
I decided to fix the blender with epoxy resin. Epoxy is really interesting stuff, almost like a plastic analog of concrete (which is my nominee for Most Underappreciated Material, but that’s another story). This page has a nice explanation of how they work.
I mixed the resins together and glopped it onto the housing. I knew I’d have to sand it a bit so the blades could rotate again, but that wouldn’t be too difficult.
J-B Weld takes about 24 hours to set up. I didn’t feel like waiting that long, and I didn’t want to do the Shake-N-Bake thing I did last night, so I looked around my apartment for something else I could use. Cookwares came to my rescue yet again–I had a one-pint Pyrex measuring cup that was just the thing.
But first I wanted to get out of my apartment for a while to let the epoxy set, because the vapors are kinda nasty. I went to Progressive Grounds, in the Mission, and found material for a blog entry on the way.
By the time I got back, I was kinda tired, and I didn’t want to deal with making soap again. I had the next day off, and I figured I’d be able to give my new soapmaking apparatus a workout then, along with finishing up my blender repair. So, the next day, I made sesame-oil soap.
I used TJ’s Toasted Sesame Oil. It had a strong, robust, nutty smell.
The saponification factor was 0.133. Using the hand mixer was harder than the blender, but I think the soap thickened. We’ll see.
The cells in the blue ice cube trays I had moved to were much smaller than those in the white ones I was using before. That’s the sesame oil in the middle; the four rightmost ones have the tail end of the flax soap.
Curiously, while butyric acid itself smells vile, butyric acid esters smell pretty nice–in the case I linked to, like Juicy Fruit gum. (Such nice scents are fairly typical of esters; they’re a very large and versatile part of the artificial-flavoring artist’s arsenal.)
As long as I’m on a food-science tear, let me recommend a book: Harold McGee’sOn Food and Cooking. McGee has the heart of a gourmet, the mind of a scientist, the knowledge of a pedant, the curiosity of a toddler, and the expository power of a popular-science writer of the first water. If you dig food or science, you should get a copy; if you dig food and science, you must get a copy. :-)
Actually, he also looks a great deal like my Contracts professor, now that I think about it. Hmm. Anyway, he also has a blog with nice little food-science tidbits–thanks to my little bro’ Jase (who’s quite a good writer himself, come to that) for pointing it out.
What was this series of blog entries about again? Oh, right! Soap! Made from butter!
So I decided I’d use plain butter, and then try clarified butter, or ghee. (When I mentioned this to Dinah, she said "Ghee soap! That sounds interesting!")
Butter is the first soapmaking material I used that wasn’t almost pure fat. There are other significant components, chiefly water and protein.
14 grams of butter had 11 grams of fat in it, so for 100 grams of fat, I’d need to use 100 * 14 / 11 = 127 grams of butter. The remainder would be mostly water, with some proteins (USDA rounding rules let them say zero grams on the label, I guess), cholesterol, and whatnot. (Do you think the label should say things like "WhatnotNg"? I do.) Anyway, the melted butter looked like this:
, the process of mixing the soap looked like this:
, and the final soap looked like this:
By the way, I got a tripod at Goodwill this weekend, so I’ll be able to make videos of soapmaking–I’ve got a notion in my head about making a short, three-minute instructional piece in iMovie. I haven’t used iMovie before, but hey, gotta learn somehow. Anyway, ghee.
Ghee is clarified butter; butter without those other components I mentioned above. You can buy jars of it at many stores, especially Indian grocery stores, but making it yourself from any old butter is easy. First you melt the butter (driving off the water in the process):
Quite simple, really. The advantage of using ghee is that it has a much higher smoke point (no milk solids or proteins to burn), which means you can fry foods at much hotter temperatures without burning your frying medium. Grapeseed oil is also known for having a high smoke point.
Happily, I had made almost exactly 100 g of ghee. I didn’t record the starting mass, but I used one whole stick and most of another, which would be just under 200 g. I don’t know whether this yield is typical; it seems a little low to me, but then again, I hadn’t made ghee before. Skimming off the solids was the hardest part; I lost a lot of fat there. The best technique turned out to be "herding" the solids to one side of the container so I could scoop up more of it at a time. Here’s the finished product:
Unsurprisingly, the ghee soap looked and poured a lot like the butter did. I put some ghee soap in the upper left of the top tray, with the butter soap in the right part. In the blue tray, from left to right, it’s ghee, sesame, and flax (remember flax?).
The next night I took some of the soaps out of the trays. The lard soap was nice and hard:
whereas the canola oil was doughy:
The peanut oil was much softer underneath the surface; it had developed a sort of crust:
The grapeseed oil had an even more pronounced crust:
Oh, and there’s the bit of the blender I lost last time!
The flax oil was just kinda weird and grainy:
I also checked in on the other soaps. The olive oil soap was surprisingly hard at this point. The walnut was softer, but it had set up appreciably.
Nothing too crazy to report with respect to everything else. The most–let’s say "distinctive"–one is the sesame oil soap. It reminds me a bit of a lab we had in high school where we dissected squid. As part of this, the teachers prepared calamari over a Bunsen burner. On these days, you’d walk into the science wing and think, "Oh, that smells good." And then about ten minutes later you’d think, "Ok, I don’t want to smell that for a while now." It’s much the same phenomenon with the soap.
The butter and ghee soaps have a slightly buttery smell, and I think it’s a little less pronounced in the ghee soap. We’ll see what happens as they set up.
This peanut oil has vitamin E added to it. No idea how that’s going to change things; I seem to recall something about it acting as a preservative or perhaps accelerating curing. Recipe:
100 g peanut oil
38 g water
13.6 g lye.
By the way, the 0.38 factor I’m using for the water comes from this page on the Walton Feed soapmaking site. People who are more interested in the chemistry of soap should look at this page on that site by James Hershberger, a soapmaker and chemical engineer. Anyway, speaking of that 0.38 factor . . .
I have now twice hit 38 grams on the first try when pouring a glug of water out of my pitcher. This is a little weird.
The soap had a weird sort of greenish cast to it. It was taking forever to firm up . . .
Oh, no! Some kind of weird black goop was seeping out the bottom of the pitcher!
I poured the soap into the tray, hoping it was still good, or at least that I might be able to salvage it later.
It was time for a thorough cleaning of the blender. This is actually the most time-consuming part of the experiment.
I’m not sure what the goop was from. I’m leaning towards soap that somehow leaked out of the blade assembly.
I wanted to get at least one more soap in before I went to bed. I understand that soaps made with grapeseed oil set up faster. A 100% grapeseed oil soap . . . well, we will see.
100 g grapeseed oil
38 g water
12.65 g lye
The grapeseed oil had an aroma between nutty and musty. I’d just bought it a couple days ago, though, so it couldn’t have gone rancid.
The soap did thicken fairly soon for a soap made with such a light oil. It was an encouraging thing to see.
Here it is, at the lower right of the tray. On the left is the lard soap, and then the canola soap, and then the peanut soap:
Substantially less encouraging, though, was more of that black goo:
Most soapmakers who use blenders don’t use the pitcher-based variety I have. They use what they call a "stick blender," which is basically my blender turned upside-down. In retrospect, this makes more sense: you can use the blender in whatever sort of vessel pleases you, and needn’t worry whatever you’re blending befouling the bearings and stuff. "Blinkin’ barnacles! Th’ bloody bearings ‘re befouled wi’ blended beetles!"
I thought I saw a lump of something make its way into the grapeseed soap as I was pouring it into the mold. As I was disassembled the blender pitcher, I saw the source of the lump, and probably, of the goo:
Well, shoot. Maybe I’ll try to do something about that tomorrow. For now, I’d try something different–shaking my soap in a Nalgene bottle. This has something of a modern-hippie aspect to it, but hey, I have something of a modern-hippie aspect myself on good days. And I had a modern-hippie-style oil: flax!
I had a little extra soap, so I poured it into another ice-cube tray after filling up the old one. It was very, very thin, possibly even worse than the peanut.
I believe the idea behind putting bits of flaxseed in the oil was to implement something analogous to "flavor crystals" by introducing an anisotropy into a usually very isotropic product. Some people like their soap slightly anisotropic (bits of herbs and the like floating around in there–the "Additive Type" mentioned in this page on the types of soapers), but as I understand, you usually add those things after the soap has gotten a bit thicker, and you never end up with them sitting around in the jar after you’ve shaken the soap. Then again, if you’re blending your soap by shaking a Nalgene bottle, you’re not exactly an exemplar of the state of the soapmaking art, no matter how cool your blog is:
The next day, the grapeseed soap had developed beads of some sort of clear fluid, which I wasn’t expecting. None of the other soaps did this, and I have no explanation. If you do, I’d be interested:
Katie was in town from Sacramento, so I went to Café du Soleil with her. Afterwards, we went to 826 Valencia and a nifty bookstore in the Mission.
When I returned, I took a closer look at the blade assembly, and hatched a plan for fixing it. More on that soon . . .