DIY

Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

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3/4/2016

Repurposing home décor is a great way to add character to your space. Do-it-yourself projects are good for the soul, and when incorporating recycled materials, it can be good for the earth too! As I walk through the miss-matched shelves of the home goods section in thrift stores, I see some pretty quality items that desperately need a facelift. With some paint and decoupage glue, you can transform almost anything. As a gal in need of some surface storage, I transformed an off-white 99 cent wooden tray into a chic jewelry or perfume tray.

diy decorative decoupage tray

When I work on these types of projects I like to figure out how many things I already own before I start the project—as in, can I create this DIY without buying anything?

Luckily you’ll just need a few key tools, most which I guarantee either you or your neighbor already own. Need a bit of sandpaper? Ask the retired handy-man down the road if he can spare any. Don't have a sponge brush? Perhaps ask your sister if she minds if you borrow hers. Sharing and borrowing is such a selfless, sustainable way to live, financially and environmentally. This craft is a fun sustainable way to make something new and valuable by upcycling something old.

How to Upcycle a Decorative Tray

Materials:

• An old tray (try thrift stores or garage sales)
• Magazines or scrap paper
• Nontoxic paint
• Mod Podge
• Paintbrush
• Spongebrush
• Gold oro (optional)

diy decorative decoupage tray

Directions:

1. First, thumb though magazine, scrap paper, or anything you have to find images you’d like decoupage onto your tray. I used magazines which were left behind from an old roommate and cut out butterflies from an advertisement.

diy decorative decoupage tray

2. Sand the tray down. In this case, to help remove the sticky part of the adhesive, wet the bottom with a damp cloth to loosen the glued bind. I used a spray bottle to occasionally mist the tray during the process. Continue sanding until you have a smooth surface to paint.

diy decorative decoupage tray

3. Next, use a nontoxic paint to paint the tray to a color of your choice. I’m using a wood-friendly acrylic paint.

diy decorative decoupage tray

4. Place your recycled cut-outs in the design you wish on your tray. Glue the pieces down using Mod Podge.

diy decorative decoupage tray

5. Feel free to add any additional gold detailing. I used gold oro and my paintbrush to add detailing around the rim and to enhance the handles.

diy decorative decoupage tray

6. Next, using your sponge brush, cover the tray with Mod Podge to adhere everything together and give it a final smooth polish. 

diy decorative decoupage tray

6. Enjoy your decorative masterpiece!

diy decorative decoupage tray

Until next time, you can find more eco-friendly DIYs and sustainable fashion tips on Sustainable Daisy.

Karen Housel is a fashion designer and DIY enthusiast. If you create this DIy and share on social media, use #sustainabledaisy so she can take a look. Follow Karen on Instagram, or subscribe to her blog at Sustainable Daisy for more eco-friendly lifestyle tips! Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/2/2016

 

Everyone has a list, either secret or public, of things that they would like. Obviously these things will change and vary depending on who you are dealing with. Sometimes these wished-for items will forever remain outside of our grasp for a myriad of reasons.

But, sometimes, you have a few awesome sons who decide that it’s time to give you something that you have been wanting for a very long time — a wood-fired pizza oven.

The person that wanted this magical creation so very, very badly was my dear mother, and one of the sons that swooped in out of the clouds to grant her this wish was…well…me. My brothers also did their fair share of swooping, and shall receive their fair share of credit.

So here we are, it’s a couple weeks before Christmas and I have yet to buy something for my mother. What does she want? The list is simple and I could easily fill a box with a pot, pan, pair of knitting needles, or a handmade knick-knack and she would be very pleased. But something that she wanted seemingly forever was a wood fired pizza oven. Now, I’m not quite clear when this obsession first started, but it’s been years and the stars have never fully aligned to make this dream a reality.

So, I thought it was time.

Now, to be fair, this wasn’t just “step out in the dark” when it came to the construction of this beast. My brothers and I often work for a distributor for Forno Bravo (a company that builds wood-fired pizza ovens), and we assemble his prefabbed pizza oven on trailers for him which he then sells. This has helped my brothers and I become somewhat familiar with the layout and general construction of these delightful ovens.

My brother and sister have also, at one time or another, managed the wood-fired pizza restaurant that this distributor owns and operates. In doing this, they have become very much familiar with a classical way of creating and cooking these delicious pizzas.

All in all, I thought going into this project that it would be an all-around great gift, and that we would be able to use it for much more than cooking a few pizzas now and then for our family. This could prove to be a wonderful avenue of bringing a diversity of what we can offer at our farm. Images of utilizing a pizza oven as a way to culminate a farm tour filled my mind.

Then, I pictured the sauce being made from the tomatoes from our garden and topping it with some of the sausage made from the pigs that I’m raising and selling.

Then I got really, really excited. It’s a beautiful picture. So it was decided. A pizza oven for Mom. Merry Christmas (and happy birthday, anniversary and Mother’s Day…).

Now, there are many different forums, chatrooms, and instruction manuals that can be easily found online describing the step-by-step procedures of how to build an oven. I’m not going to go into crazy detail about the different nuances of the different styles of ovens, or try to lecture you on what size it should be or what materials you should use. I’m just going to let you see what we did, and if you are inspired, than awesome! Use this as a stepping stone to begin your pizza oven dreams.

Construction started with the base. There are many different designs and thoughts on how a base should be sized and what a base should consist of. We just decided what would work best for us, and in our situation we wanted something that was semi-permanent and could (once in a blue moon) be moved if the need arise.

We chose to mount the base on skids. Even though it would be extremely heavy once finished, we could potentially drag it to another location by hooking it up to a tractor. We followed (roughly) the building steps outlined on Forno Bravo’s website designated for building a pizza oven at home. Our dad is a mechanical engineer, so we had him go over our plans to make sure that the base would be strong enough to hold up the massive weight of the oven.

This was our first time building a pizza oven from scratch. As I said before, the ovens that we normally build were pre-fabricated and shipped to us in pieces to assemble. The hard work that goes into building a domed shape was already done for us! But this time around we needed to do all of that ourselves. Easier said than done.

I sourced the materials from local businesses when possible, and Home Depot for items that I couldn’t find other places. So once the base was done, we laid out the floor, and started building up the walls. I didn’t realize how long it was going to take to cut all of the fire bricks in half (a step that’s needed to give the right size bricks to form the dome). It took a while.

We laid them out, created a wedge that would give us the right spacing to attain the shape we wanted, and then started mortaring away! The mortar also proved to be a little tricky, as it needs to be able to withstand very high heats (up to a thousand degrees). In the end I did some research and calling around and borrowed a recipe that I had found online that mixed different parts lime, sand, Portland cement, and fire clay. It worked great!

The majority of the dome we were able to do just by free stacking it, but towards the top of the dome we found it necessary to build a mold on the interior using thin lattice slats that could support the bricks until the mortar firmed up.

The next step was to wrap the whole oven in three inches of a ceramic insulation blanket from Alpha Bravo, then cover it with chicken wire. Normally we would then put stucco over the whole sucker and call it good, but since this was our baby (and we don’t intend to make another for ourselves) we decided to make it extra fancy and do some custom stonework on the outside. This meant that we used some standard mortar on the chicken wire and then placed on it native rock that we gathered from our farm. We used a mortar dye when mortaring the rocks in place, and we were supper jazzed with the results.

 

All in all, construction took several weeks due to the added complexity of this specific oven as well as some inclement weather. One of the main draws to building it ourselves was the ability to save some money. Building it ourselves took much longer (we can build a prefabricated oven in a day) but we saved a lot of money. Purchasing an oven can run thousands of dollars, while ours ended up costing right around $1200.

So now it is finished.  It’s a good size (42 inches interior diameter) and has a footprint of 6x6.5 feet. I have no idea how much it weighs, but it is constructed of over 200 bricks, close to 20 bags of stucco, plenty of 4x4 beams, and Hardie Plank siding….let’s just say I hope we don’t need to move it anytime soon.

But now that we have it, we have big plans for it. We have already enjoyed several pizza parties, and as I said before we plan on utilizing it with agritourism. It’s hard not to enjoy yourself when you are sitting by a campfire eating a fresh cooked pizza right out of the oven. The stars are above and the sparks from the fire seem to want to dance up and join them to create new constellations. Food brings people together, and we are happy to help further that tradition here at our farm.

If you would like to see a short video created while our oven was under construction, click here and enjoy a glimpse of the joy that this creation has already brought to us.

Happy pizza eating and oven building to all. And Merry Christmas, Mom!

Interested in seeing more of what Tim Rohrer does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username FullBarnFarms, or on Facebook at Full Barn Farms. And read all of Tim's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/12/2016

In the late winter months, when nighttime and daytime temperatures oscillate from deep-freezing to above-freezing, an imperceptible shift begins to take place in the trees around us. This huge variation in temperature is a signal that spring is coming, and in preparation for leaf growth, sap begins to rise up within the tree. Like a hydraulic pulse pumping within the tree, this sap—a watery fluid rich with nutrients and sugars—ascends from roots to branches, marking the beginning of a very sweet season.

Though sap flow occurs in a wide variety of trees, there is one variety that produces a sap sweeter than them all: The Sugar Maple. For a six-week window of time before the break of spring, the sugar maple flows. The sap can be tapped, and then boiled down to make golden, luscious homemade maple syrup.  

Maple syrup made from sugar and red maple trees. Photo courtesy of Waterfall Farm

A Shifting Season

The maple-tapping season as a whole is subject to location and has different parameters depending on your location, changing the further north you travel, notes Wheeler Munroe, who has been tapping maple trees on her family farm in Ashe County, North Carolina, since 2012. “Around here, in the South,” continues Munroe, “we look at when the maple trees are going to break bud and bloom. That first little pop of bud-break marks the end of our sap season, because the chemistry of the sap changes. So you estimate when the bud-break is going to be, and then you back up 6 weeks, and that's when you tap your trees.”

On Waterfall Farm, where she works with her father, Doug Munroe, the tapping season begins on the first of February and runs through through mid March, when the trees begin to bud. But it’s a shifting season, once that tracks the path to spring. “For my brother and his wife who produce maple syrup in New York state,” says Munroe, “they're making their first syrup as we're making our last.”

Tapping for All

“Tapping a maple tree is something that anyone can do,” says Natalie Bogwalker, a tree-tapping hobbyist and the founder of Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering. “And,” she adds, “it’s especially magical for children.”

Bogwalker started tapping when she noticed three healthy sugar maples growing in the forest next to a house that she lived in years ago in Barnardsville, North Carolina. She and her housemates at the time tapped the trees using homemade sumac taps (sumac wood is hollow, and functions as an excellent alternative to steel taps).

The maple sap itself, describes Bogwalker, is very different from what you buy in a bottle when you purchase maple syrup from a store. “The raw sap that comes directly from the tree is a dilute thing,” she says. “It’s subtle, light, slightly sweet, and tinted very slightly tan. Also, it often sours within three days, so you want to process it right away.” 

After harvesting the watery sap from buckets hanging below the sumac taps, Bogwalker then cooked the sap down on her wood burning stove, which was always lit and functioned as the house’s only heat source. From the few trees she tapped in her backyard, Bogwalker extracted about 30 gallons of sap in all, and that boiled down to about 3 quarts of sticky, golden maple syrup.

“Down here in the Southern Appalachians, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup,” says Bogwalker. “Sugar maples have the highest sugar content in their sap, but you can also tap red maples, black walnut trees, box elders, and tulip poplars—but then the ratio of sugar [to sap] changes, and you might need up to 80 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, that is too much work for me!”

“What you want,” continue Bogwalker, “is to drill through the bark and into the cambium layer of the tree, where xylem is coming up from the ground and feeding the leaves of the tree, so you’re only [diverting sap] from that little section of the tree that you're tapping, and a tree can be tapped for many many years as long as you remove the taps when you're done so the tree can heal over.”

Photo courtesy of Waterfall Farm

Home versus large scale production (in the home: wood burning stove or bust)

Syrup production using an electric or propane stove is not recommended, since, in addition to a tremendous energy bill and use of non-renewable resources, you’d be adding a large amount of moisture to the air in your home (which could cause all sorts of issues on its own). Since sap needs to be intensely reduced, small-scale syrup production only makes sense if you have a wood burning stove that’s already being used to heat your home. A wood burning stove naturally robs moisture from the air, so wetness resulting from sap reduction will not become a problem.  This only works effectively with wood stoves that do not have firebricks in the top of the stove. Firebricks absorb heat, which makes the stove better at holding and slowly releasing heat into the room, making them ineffective at heating liquid placed on the surface of the stove.

Bogwalker used a medium scale set-up when living with her partner outside of Boone, NC, years ago. They set up a homemade, ramshackle boiler outside with cinderblocks stacked about 3 feet high with a giant stainless steel tray from a salad bar used as the boiling pan.  

Processing on a larger scale, however, requires a sugar shack or sap house, where sap can be boiled down to syrup in large open vats that are heated with wood. On Waterfall Farm, all the maple trees are connected by network of plastic tubing that carries the sap from the trees and ushers it directly to the outdoor sugarhouse for processing. Wheeler and her father tap both sugar and red maple trees. “Our syrup is a blend,” says Munroe, “and the red maple sap lowers our sugar concentration a little, so we get 1.5-1.7 percent sugar in the sap. In places like Vermont, sugar ratios in the raw sap can be as high as 2.5 percent, but we haven't seen that here.” For their production process, it takes about 50 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. The industry standard is 66 percent sugar content for the final product.

Tree assessment before tapping

Before you get started, here are some considerations that Munroe suggests to ensure that best practices are implemented prior to tapping:

• Assess the health of the tree first. Look at the tree's truck and make sure there aren't any scars or wounds that the tree’s trying to heal from. Look at the crown of the tree, and make sure it is robust and healthy and that there's not any dead wood up there.

• If the tree is at least six inches in diameter at the truck at waist height, it’s safe to tap. Any smaller then that means it’s not ready.

• If you reach your arms around a maple tree, and if you can't touch your fingers on the other side, then the tree’s big enough for two taps. Anything smaller than that is a one-tap tree, and Munroe suggests never putting in more than two taps per tree.

• If you do have more than one tap in a tree, you want those taps to be as far away from each other as possible, so they're not competing with each other.

• The largest, oldest maple trees, contrary to what you might think, actually produce less syrup than younger big trees. Old trees, when you tap them, are not as productive. Like people, young trees that have reached maturity are bursting with life, while older ones begin to slow down. 

To tap trees in your backyard, you’ll need:

• A stainless steel tap (which can be purchased online for about $4, and be sure to order a tap that comes with a metal hook for the bucket to hang from)

• A 2-gallon bucket to hang from the taps

• An electric drill

• A 5/16th drill bit (make sure the size corresponds with the tap we're using)

• A wooden mallet for driving in the tap

• A wood burning stove or a homemade boiler outside made to accommodate hotel pans or other deep stainless steel trays. Stainless steel hotel pans or mini hotel pan, or as many pots as will fit on your wood stove!

How to Tap

With your electric drill and 5/16th bit (or bit that corresponds to the tap you’re using), drill a 1 ½ inch hole into the maple at either waist or shoulder height. You want to drill straight in and straight out as best you can (you don’t want the hole to be oval or uneven, and you don’t want the drill to wobble in your hands).

Once you’ve drilled the hole, make sure it’s clean of any sawdust left behind (flick the sawdust completely). 

Then drive in your tap with a wooden mallet.

Leave the tap open, and hang your bucket below it.

Check your buckets 1-3 times a day (more if it’s warm, as wider temperature fluctuation can increase the sap flow, and sap spoils more quickly when it warmer outside).

Keep your wood burning stove cranking and reduce, reduce, reduce. Enjoy!

All photos provided by Water Fall Farm.

For more information on Wild Abundance or to join a weeklong or weekend intensive like the Wild Food Foraging Adventure, the Ancestral Foods Cooking Class, and the Tiny House and Natural Building Class, check out Wild Abundance and click on the school or class titles.

Natalie Bogwalker and Wheeler Munroe team up every year to lead a Ladies Basic Carpentry Class outside of Asheville North Carolina in July, 2016.  

To learn more about the work of Wheeler & Doug Munroe, check out Waterfall Farm.

In addition to farming maple syrup, Wheeler Munroe produces handcrafted leather tool belts tailored to the tools and skills of farmers, florists, and woodworkers. Check out her leather belts at Wheeler Munroe Leather Company

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is an organic top bar beekeeper, a mead maker, herbalist and organic gardener. Since moving to Asheville, N.C., she has worked as a contributing writer for the Mountain Xpress, Asheville’s alternative weekly newspaper, focusing on matters of sustainability, food security, waste and community activism. Read Aiyanna’s recent publications here, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/26/2016

The Talaheim Lodge

In 1976, my youthful dream started to unfold as I began building my remote fishing lodge, The Talaheim Lodge, in the wilderness of Alaska. Most of the state can’t be reached by road, so many Alaskan fishing lodges, like mine, have to be reached by either helicopter or plane. Everything from a toothpick to a gallon of gasoline has to be flown in to our site.

During my younger days we built stockades with local timbers. Large cargo, single-engine aircrafts on skis are expensive to charter, so most of my lumber was cut on-site with a chainsaw mill. Our first crude building was built from logs and chainsaw cut lumber and went up like a kid building a tree fort. For the next 30 years, I used a chainsaw to cut as much lumber as possible in order to keep costs down when building miles away from roads. We only averaged about one board an hour but most of our lumber didn’t have to be flown in which saved us money.

Skidding Logs by Snowmobile

All our logs are skidded to our site by snowmobile in March and April when the snow is deep and settled. Everything out here comes by air except our snow machines that we drive out in the winter - a 50-mile journey from the nearest road system. In 2006, I purchased a very large wide-tracked snowmobile, which was capable of pulling in much larger logs than I was able to in the past. Glaring at my log deck of about 100, 12’ long and 16” diameter logs, I suddenly started to tense up thinking about all that back breaking chainsaw milling I would have to do.

Log Deck

Cutting timber with chainsaws is slow, tedious and a backbreaking chore from being bent over for long periods of time. Not to mention chainsaws burn up gallons of fuel and oil, and the 3/8” wide kerf produce piles of sawdust that could be used as lumber instead. There had to be a better way. Shortly after, I found a Wood-Mizer LT10 bandsaw mill featured in a local outdoor magazine. It caught my eye as it was lightweight and could easily fit onto a ski plane. The local dealer 100 miles away had one on display that I could try. Seeing the mill in action secured the sale.

After the snow left, we had a running sawmill in one day and a friend and I cut those 100 logs into lumber in about five days. With my LT10 sawmill and a small tractor rigged with a forklift attachment, we weren’t just in the fishing business, we were also in the lumber business. My mill paid for itself in the first season with savings on lumber cut on site instead of flying it in. Most of our timbers are cut and used “green” with the exception of our hardwood cuts. We cut primarily slow growth spruce for building and “house dry” birch for flooring.

Wood-Mizer LT10 Sawmill

Since having the bandmill, I’ve built five new buildings from three-sided logs and timbers cut from our mill and cut in excess of 40,000 board foot. The sawmill has saved me thousands of dollars on lumber and has allowed me to cut huge beautiful beams that would be impossible to fly out. I’ve had great factory and local Wood-Mizer support from Anchorage, Alaska and with about all my buildings completed for my lifetime, I am now focusing on the fun stuff like birch flooring and birch and spruce furniture!

The Talaheim Lodge Building

I still love living in the wilderness and building with materials I’ve gathered locally. Today I manage with my band sawmill, a tractor with a front-end lift, and snow machines capable of bringing in large logs over the snow. Not only do I save money, but also I enjoy working the land. Robert Service once wrote, “It’s not the gold we seek, but the seeking of it”. For the past 38 years, my fishing lodge has given me the opportunity of “living off the land” in the Alaskan wilderness.

The Wood-Mizer Team includes a diverse group of individuals including woodworkers, farmers, homesteaders, arborists, entrepreneurs and more who are excited to share their knowledge and experiences of working with wood from forest to final form. Read all of The Wood-Mizer Team's posts HERE.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/11/2016

With the chilly winds and cold air sweeping against our skin, it's time to give some extra tender loving care to your body's largest organ. And believe me, your skin will thank you.

Just a month ago I tried a sugar scrub for the first time. I massaged it into my legs and arms and rinsed it off with water before shaving. Not only did my skin feel tingly and clean as if it could finally breathe, I did not receive as much shaving burn due to my newly smooth, exfoliated skin.

As someone who's been on a mission to try out all-natural beauty products in hopes to transition into a green beauty routine, I've found that making your own toxin-free, environmentally friendly products is super easy. Additionally, it's likely that you already have most of these ingredients in your home!

homemade lavender salt scrub

The epsom salts in this scrub exfoliate the skin while the coconut oil nourishes and moisturizes. Epsom salts have also been known to soothe aching muscles. Lavender essential oil is known to be a calming agent in aromatherapy that can help with stress and anxiety. This homemade scrub is perfect gift for a loved one to enjoy a relaxing at-home spa-day.

Here's how to make your own Homemade Lavender Salt Scrub:

Materials:

• Epsom salts or organic granulated sugar
• Organic coconut oil
• Sprigs of fresh lavender
• Lavender essential oil
• Recycled jar

Directions:

1. Spoon out about two tablespoons of organic coconut oil into a microwave safe dish. I like to use Trader Joe's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, but any oil such as olive oil will do.

homemade lavender salt scrub

2. Microwave the coconut oil for 2-3 ten second intervals stirring each time until the oil is translucent. The oil gets hot very quickly, so remove the dish carefully.

homemade lavender salt scrub

3. Next, spoon about a half cup of epsom salts into the coconut oil and mix well. Depending how wet and conditioning you want your scrub, you can add more melted coconut oil.

homemade lavender salt scrub

4. Take a couple springs of lavender and chop into small bits. I picked my lavender from my backyard, but you can also find lavender at most herbal and natural food stores.

homemade lavender salt scrub

5. Place the lavender bits into the oil and salt mix. Add 5-10 drops (depending on preference) of lavender essential oil.

homemade lavender salt scrub

6. Spoon your scrub into a small jar. I tied a bow from some twine for an extra touch. Enjoy!

homemade lavender salt scrub

homemade lavender salt scrub

Until next time, you can find more eco-friendly DIYs and sustainable fashion tips on Sustainable Daisy.

Karen Housel is a fashion designer and DIY enthusiast. She would love to see what types of trinkets you repurpose into cheery magnets! If you share on social media, use #sustainabledaisy so she can take look. Follow Karen on Twitter, Instagram, or subscribe to her blog at Sustainable Daisy for more eco-friendly lifestyle tips! Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/30/2015

 

I made my first batch of soap about 15 years ago. It was a big deal since I decided to render beef tallow myself, just for the experience. It added a lot of work and time to the soap making process, but for me was worth the experience. The soap turned out nice­—but not terribly exciting. Next I tried a recipe that used olive oil. The soap turned out nice, but again, not terribly exciting. Then, after years of thinking my soap making days were over, I found a recipe that had a combination of rich, emollient nut and vegetable fats, plus coconut milk. This is a very creamy, fine-bubbled moisturizing soap and also doubles as a shaving bar. I'll share the recipe below, but first a little history, science and basics about soap making.

History

An excavation of ancient Babylon turned up evidence of intentional soap making around 5,000 years ago. It was made from fats boiled with ashes and the resulting soap was used for cleaning fibers used in textile manufacturing.  More history of soap can be found on the Today I Found Out web site. Trivia: Ever wonder how soap operas got the name? It's tied to the excessive amounts of money Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers spent advertising their soaps on such TV programs. They had the perfect audience!

Chemistry

You must be very specific when measuring soap making ingredients: saponification is a chemical process that requires the correct balance of fats and alkali. Fats (vegetable/nut oils and animal fats) are triglycerides. When triglycerides come in contact with a strong base (e.g. lye), the molecules are split and fatty acid salts and glycerol are released, making what was once oily fat into a water-soluble hygroscope (attracts and holds water molecules from the surrounding environment).

Soap-making Basics

Melted oils and fats are combined with an alkali (sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye, mixed in water or other liquids). The lye has a chemical reaction with the fats, called saponification. The resulting mixture is placed in a container for 24-48 hours to harden (incubation), then removed and cut into bars and set out to air-cure. The lye eventually deactivates during this time and the fats/oils are turned into soap. The curing process takes about 4-6 weeks to complete.

Tools You’ll Need to Make Soap

• Digital scale
• Non-reactive pot, spoon and spatula
• Bowls of various sizes (for ingredient measuring and lye mixing)
• Plastic or cardboard shoebox, wax paper & tape
• Sandwich baggie
• Hand-mixer or submersible blender
• Thermometer (digital is best; 2 are even better)
• Towels for incubation
• Some sort of drying rack

Warnings - ALL Are Very Important!

1. Soap recipes are generally given in weights, not volumes (as stated above, this is chemistry so proportions have to be specific). A scale is necessary.

2. Use only non-reactive containers, pots and utensils when making soap. Glass, stainless steel and plastic are all fine.

3. Lye can be scary. If the crystals become damp, they will burn through anything. Safety glasses and dishwashing gloves are recommended. ALWAYS pour the lye into the water, not the other way around, to avoid damp lye particles from being disbursed. It's best to mix the lye and liquids outdoors if possible‑there's a gas given off by active lye that you don't want to inhale. Finally, the lye will heat the water to about 200 degrees F.

4. Both the melted fats/oils and the lye/water need to be as close to 100 degrees as possible to get them to emulsify properly when mixed together. Any additional ingredients (fragrances, essential oils, abrasives, oatmeal, spices) are added after the fats/lye/liquids are emulsified.

 

This is tracing, see 6 below.

Making Soap

1. Prepare your soap mold by lining with wax paper (tape helps)

2. Weigh all ingredients carefully (even liquids!) and set aside. Place the weighed lye into a sandwich bag. 

3. Place weighed liquids in a non-reactive container (Pyrex works fine), take it outdoors if possible, and gently pour the lye into the water being careful not to splash. Mix gently with spoon. Do not inhale the fumes! The mixture will get very HOT. Throw out the empty bag. 

4. Place fats/oils (not fragrance or essential oils though) in a pot and melt, then remove from heat.

5. Check the temperatures of both the melted fats and lye/water mix. When they are both as close to 100 degrees as you can get them (it may take a little juggling back and forth to get them to both the same temp at the same time), carefully pour the lye mixture into the pot of melted fats. Mix together with a non-reactive spoon.

6. Blend with the hand mixer or blender for about 5 minutes, then stir by hand for 5 minutes, back and forth until "trace" is reached (the contents will thicken like pudding and eventually you will be able to make traces of the mixture onto itself. (See photo.) You can stir in your fragrances, etc. now.

7. Pour/scrape the mixture into your mold. Wrap the mold with towels and keep for 24-48 hours in a temperate place. 

8. Pop the soap block out of the mold, peel off the wax paper and slice with your favorite cutting tool. Place bars of soap on a rack and let them air-cure for 4-6 weeks. You MUST do this since some lye will still be active. Bars may lighten in color over time.

 

Soap bars on a cookie rack for curing.

Enjoy! The printable recipe for my favorite moisturizing soap can be found here.

Deb Tejada is an urban farmer, foodie, do-it-yourselfer, graphic designer, illustrator and web developer living in sunny Colorado. When she’s not in the kitchen or garden, you can find her at The Herban FarmerRead all of Deb's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/16/2015

 

One of the great joys I have in gardening edibles is preserving them for use during the restful wintertime. Beside the jars of canned goodies (salsa, preserves, butters, and such), the bins of root veggies (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and garlic), the haul in the fridge (carrots and cabbage) and freezer (frozen cilantro and pesto), I dry a variety of herbs.

At the top of the list of dried, must-haves in order to survive the winter, are mint and chamomile for my tea each morning. Also high on the list is sage for those wintertime pork roasts. At the urging of a dear friend, I’ve begun to steep some of my other cooking herbs in my tea. I feel a whole new adventure in next years gardening opening up as I add more herbs to the mix!

Because I want to leave room for instructions below for making a catnip toy, I’ll tell you that my final dried herb for this blog is catnip or catmint (Nepeta Cataria). I’ll admit to having a dickens of a time growing my own. When I tried indoors, the cats nibbled it to death before it grew large enough to dry. Growing it outdoors hasn’t proven any easier since we have a fair amount of wandering neighborhood cats who insist on frequenting our wildlife-friendly garden. I’ll try again, but will have to cage it to keep it safe.

This week, I’m sharing instructions on how to create a furry, catnip Mousie for your cats. This is a fun, quick, and easy project to do with children. I heartily recommend it as a way for them to create something for their own cats or for gifts to others with cat family members. Warning: you should NOT do this with your cats nearby unless you want their undivided attention throughout the process! I have had to track down mousie parts, before they were completed.

I’m sharing the dimensions for two sizes of Mousie. The larger size may be easier for some children. My cats love both sizes, but slightly prefer the smaller version.

Herbal Mousie

Supplies needed:

• pattern (see instructions below)
• 1 piece of faux fur (large: 4-1/2" square, small: 3" square)
• 1 piece of batting (large: 2-1/2” x 5”, small: 1-3/4” x 2-3/4”)
• 1 tail (5” of leather cord, or anything else you think might work and last)
• 1 small lump of fiberfil (you can use a cotton ball)
• 1 pinch of dried catnip
• rattle (large: 2 bottle caps, a rubber band, and a bit of dry rice; small: 1-1/2” piece of plastic drinking straw, tape, and a bit of dry rice)
• needle and thread
• scissors (both paper and fabric)

Instructions:

1. Create your pattern from a piece of card stock. For the large Mousie, draw and cut a 4-1/2” square.

2. Measure the center point on three sides of the square and mark with a dot.

3. Connect the dots so they form a “V” (on either side with the centered dot between the opposing sides) and cut the corners off creating a shape that looks like the silhouette of a house (see photo above). For the small Mousie, follow the same directions given but use a 3” square.

4. Use this pattern to cut a piece from the faux fur.

Prepare rattle

1. For the large Mousie, take one bottle cap and fill about two-thirds of the way with dry rice. (You can use something else, if you prefer. I simply use rice because I always have it and it’s relatively inexpensive. It also rattles nicely.)

2. Place the other bottle cap on top and rubber band them securely together.

3. For the small Mousie, cut a 1-1/2” section of plastic drinking straw (I use the slightly wider-holed variety).

4. Wrap tape around one end of the straw then fill it halfway or less with rice.

5. Tape the other end to contain the rice. (You can test your shaker for your preferred sound before sealing.) When happy, attach tail to the shaker. I tie it on the rubber band, or tape it on the straw.

 

Assembly

1. Flatten and slightly stretch the fiberfil and place the catnip in the center.

2. Wad the fiberfil around the catnip and place on the shaker.

3. Take the piece of batting and wrap it around the shaker and the fiberfil.

4. Sew up the seam and the ends of the batting to encase the shaker (this keeps kitty’s teeth safer). The tail should be sticking out one end.

5. Fold your faux fur (previously cut into the house shape) in half, furry side in, along the long center point.

6. Holding short (non-angled) sides together, sew along that short edge only. This will produce a tube.

7. Turn right side out. Stuff batting Mousie innards into the center of this tube with the tail hanging out the end opposite the point.

8. Fold in edges of each end and whipstitch both openings. For extra padding, you can fold the point up and tuck it in before stitching this end closed.

Your Mousie is now ready for play. Shake, rattle, and throw for your cat to capture! If you’re like me and prefer visual instruction, I have created a page just for you!

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.









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