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Book Review: Basic Soap Making by Stackpole Books

Reported By: Jessica Ripley

I had never really considered soap making when it came to something I wanted to do as a craft. While I loved the thought of all natural ingredients going into something I used daily, it seemed like it was just as easy to seek out these kinds of products in stores, and I was one that did (and spent the extra hard earned cash for them). However, the more and more I ran across some adorable hand made soap items on Etsy, the more and more I became intrigued into the process of soap making, and decided to seek out a good beginner’s book to teach me the basics and give it a try. One day while perusing an online site, I ran across a book that seemed it would be just the ticket for getting me started, Basic Soap Making by Stackpole Books.

Published in 2009, Basic Soap Making is part of Stackpole Books Basic Series of instructional books for crafters (other titles include Basic Candle Making and Basic Fish Carving of all things). It’s main contributor is Patsy Buck who according to the back cover operates her own soap making business called Handmade Soap by Patsy in Pennsylvania. Her brief forward in the book explains that she began making homemade soap as a solution to her sensitivity to “hypoallergenic” products on the market to which she still experienced some irritation, something I can most definitely relate to. By the time I had flipped through the book full of excellent step by step photographs (taken by Alan Wychek) I was quite excited to get to work and make my own batch of all natural soap.

This book covers what seemed to me was literally everything I needed to get started, plus a few bonus chapters on how to expand on the soap making experience without the need to purchase additional books down the road. This made it worth the $22.95 list price most definitely (and of course with a little bargain shopping you can find it at a price lower than that online).

Explanation of Ingredients and Equipment:

This book does more than just give you a list of everything you’ll need to get started. It provides both pictures of even common items such as oils, containers, and safety equipment (like goggles, gloves, etc) for easy reference when you go shopping to purchase them (or even confirm they are already in your kitchen cupboard), as well as easy to understand explanations of why these items are needed in soap making. For example, I wouldn’t have thought that it was necessary to use distilled water only, until it was explained that tap water can most definitely contain chemicals such as chlorine.

As Patsy mentioned in the book, I was able to find most everything I needed to create the first basic recipe in the book at my regular grocery store (though the cashier wondered what I was up to, but she was quite intrigued herself when I explained):


Along with the basic ingredient list an equipment list is provided. Items I couldn’t find at my local grocery store were easily found or improvised on at the hardware store. All in all to get started with items I didn’t already have on hand, it took me about $75 to gather up everything I needed (and this was enough for several batches of soap in the future).


The Instructions:

For my first batch I followed the instructions to create a basic four-oil soap recipe using the cold process method. My absolute favorite aspect of this particular book is that there is a photo for almost every single step I needed to take to complete my first batch of soap. I happen to be a very visual learner, so this method is quite perfect for me when I’m learning something new. It was almost as if the author herself was there helping me through the process. The book also has a spiral binding, making it easy to lay flat and reference while working.

Of course it is not only photos that guide through the process, but easy to understand instructions that accompany every 3 or 4 photos as necessary to advise what step to take next. The instructions are numbered and organized into a logical and non-intimidating format, with a few safety notes along the way when it comes to handling Lye and microwaving the solid oils to melt them down.

I found the photos that the book contains (514 total) not only helpful but also quite encouraging! It was easy to see I was on the right track when what I was making so closely resembled what was in the book. Again I found it easier to have a visual of what should be happening rather than just a description.


It was at this point in the process I did lack for a little help however. In the beginning of the book where equipment is listed, an immersion blender is called an “optional” item to make the stirring process easier. After stirring my solution for a good 20 minutes, and my husband stepping in to take a turn as well, I just couldn’t get my solution to match the white color of Patsy’s in the book. She does use an immersion blender (which to be fair she highly recommends) and so I had no reference point of how long I needed to hand stir to achieve that effect, other than the term “several minutes”. So did I measure incorrectly? Or not let the lye cool enough? Not a clue. I finally gave up stirring and decided to try and mold my solution as is. It’s currently undergoing the drying process (30 days) and we shall see what we get when it’s done. I’d really like a little more instruction for those who choose not to make the appliance purchase of an immersion blender at first. (However now that I’ve tried stirring by hand, I can also very much appreciate the suggestion, and plan to purchase an inexpensive one for my next batch.)

Expanding on the Basics:

As mentioned above this book not only takes you step by step through the basics of soap making to get one started, but also includes lots and lots of info to take that basic recipe and expand or vary it to your tastes. Other chapters in the book include:

  • Soap additives (adding color, fragrance, and fun things like oatmeal and coconut milk)
  • Rebatching (how to use soap bars you’ve made to create smaller molded soaps or fun little soap balls)
  • Creating your own soap recipes, including a very handy basic oil chart for reference:

  • Packaging finished soap, which is a chapter that I absolutely love as a paper crafter.


This chapter even comes complete with a pattern to make a perfectly sized box for your finished bar soap which I used to make the one below:

  • Handmade Equipment (a chapter devoted to more easy step by step photos of how to make your own soap mold, liner, and even soap cutter to ensure your bars are perfectly proportioned each time).

Finally there is also quite the handy resources section in the back of the book listing online sites where one can purchase some not as easy to find items such as fragrant oils.

All in all did I find this book a worthwhile purchase? Yes, most definitely. While it does take some extra cash to get up and running (as it does with any new craft), the basics of this book are just about everything I need to become well practiced, and the bonus info of expanding on those basics with the additional chapters won’t make it necessary for me to purchase any additional instructional books in the foreseeable future. I’m quite happy with the book, and though may not be satisfied with my first batch of soap, am ready to try again!

Pros:

  • Tons and tons of step by step color photos accompany the instructions making the process very easy to follow for complete beginners like myself.
  • Expanded info beyond the basics to take your soap making to the next level once you’ve mastered the basic process.
  • A chapter on packaging your soap, complete with a very cute box template!

Cons:

  • I was missing an explanation of what to do for hand stirring as I hadn’t purchased an immersion blender, which the book described as optional (though recommended).
  • You may be able to find similar instructions that work for you online (i.e. free), though I enjoy having a book to flip through and reference.
  • The start up cost just to try out soap making can be significant for some, some bargain hunting tips would be a great addition for beginners.

How about you? Are you a soap maker or have you considered giving it a try? Do you have any recommendations for getting started? (And do you use an immersion blender?) We’d love to hear your thoughts on this fun and useful craft!

Disclosure

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5 Responses to Book Review: Basic Soap Making by Stackpole Books

  1. nina July 2, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Hi! I enjoyed your book review – I haven’t seen this particular book before so it’s nice to know what’s out there. DEFINITELY use an immersion blender – it speeds trace time considerably (it often takes me 5 min or less to trace). If your mixture did not reach the ‘trace’ stage before you poured it, be careful as it may have not had a chance to saponify… good luck!

  2. Concetta Phillipps July 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi Jessica! I too enjoyed your book review. If you do it again, DEFINITELY use an immersion blender – you can’t match the speed nor the length of time well if you stir by hand.

    I’ve seen many at garage sales for $1-2, so its only a small investment.

    I always use my immersion blender for soap. It doesn’t seem to reach the right consistency without it.

    Anyway, I’m going to check out that book you reviewed. Its always good to have a clear picture guide to what happens when, especially when I have helpers working in the kitchen with me!

  3. Mary Friederichsen July 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Thank you for this review! I have often thought about trying this,but have been afraid. Now with this book out there I think I will give it a try!

  4. Lynda July 4, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    I second Nina in using the immersion blender. Also, when you think of trace, it should look like pudding. Also, I hope you are unmolding your soaps in 24 hours and then letting them cure.

    I’m a newbee at soaping making in that I’ve only made 5 different soaps, but I’ve read numerous books and websites. In one of my latest posts I listed what I’ve learned from making these five batches. One of the biggies is always run your recipe through the soap calculator, regardless if you have gotten it from a “good” source or even from my website. Also, a scale for accurate measurements is a necessity. As for a recommendation for a new soaper, start with a basic soap – 3 oils and just read, read, read. My website has several posts about soap making your readers might find helpful. There is nothing like handmade soap.

  5. Beth May 1, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    I have not seen or heard of this book, but it sounds good.

    How long you stir a batch with or without a stick blender depends upon the oils you use, your temps, etc., so it’s impossible to give an accurate time frame.

    You’ll want to familiarize yourself with an online lye calculator, such as the one at http://www.the-sage.com. (I have no vested interest in this site) It’s accurate and easy to start with. Every formula should be run through a calculator.

    A stick blender is an inexpensive tool to aid in your soapmaking ventures. I had my first $10 SB for 8 years before it was knocked off the counter and broke. I think I got my money’s worth!

    Contact me if you have questions. I’ll be glad to help.