How to Make Soap

If you haven’t noticed in my writing, I’m very much against being wasteful.  At home, I hate making food from a recipe where you only use a part of something and throw the rest out.  When I explained how to make biodiesel I briefly noted that you could use the leftover glycerin to make all sorts of things.  One of those things is soap.  Don’t get me wrong, soap is absolutely a luxury item.  But ideally, for every liter of biodiesel you make, you’ll end up with 200mL of glycerin.  That adds up, so why not make some soap.  You’ll be clean and you can use it to barter with other people.

Bar Soap or Liquid Soap?

Interestingly enough, the procedure for making bar or liquid soap is essentially identical.  The only difference is what type of lye you use.  Something about sodium hydroxide causes the glycerin to crystallize during the saponification process that doesn’t happen with potassium hydroxide (chemists or chemical engineers, feel free to let me know the specifics).  So if you want bar soap use NaOH, otherwise use KOH.

It should also be noted that if you used a different type of lye in the biodiesel process than you are using to make soap, your soap may not turn out exactly how you planned.  If you are making bar soap, you can add more NaOH to help it solidify, but if you do, you need to let it sit for longer afterwards to ensure all the lye has reacted.

Ingredients

  1. Glycerin, and lots of it.  This is the ingredient that all others are keyed off of, so it doesn’t matter how much you use.
  2. Water. You need 200mL of water for every liter of glycerin.
  3. Lye.  If you are using sodium hydroxide (NaOH) you will need 50g per liter of glycerin.  If you are using potassium hydroxide (KOH) you will need 75g per liter of glycerin.
  4. Smelly Stuff.  You don’t really need this, but if you want your soap to smell pretty you’ll need something to make it do so.

The Procedure

  1. First things first, you need to clean your glycerin.  This ensures that you have no particulate matter (dirt, old food, twigs, leaves, zombies, etc.) in your glycerin.  You typically don’t want these things in your final product, so get them out now before your process becomes more complicated.
  2. Remove any alcohol remnants.  Any alcohol left in your soap can be bad for your health, especially methyl alcohol.  You need to bring your glycerin to a temperature of 65C for methyl alcohol or 80C for ethyl alcohol.  FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, be careful when you do this.  What you are doing is boiling of the alcohol and methyl alcohol will sink.  So make sure that you do this in a well ventilated area do everything you can to avoid exposing your flame to the vaporized alcohol.  If your flame turns an odd color or starts to crackle, then disperse your flame and rethink your setup.
  3. Once you are sufficiently sure that there is no alcohol left in your glycerin, begin heating it to 60C.  While you wait you can combine your water and lye.
  4. Add your water and lye to the glycerin.  Stir continuously and heat to boil.
  5. Once at a boil, reduce heat and let simmer.
  6. If you’re making smelly soap, add your smelly stuff at this point.
  7. Once a skin starts to form on the surface of your concoction, check it by ladling out a spoonful and pour back in, if a film is left behind, it is done.
  8. If you are making bar soap, pour into molds.  If you are making liquid soap, pour into the containers you intend to store it in.
  9. Let the soap sit for around 3 weeks.  During this time, the glycerin and lye are reacting and you need to let this reaction complete.  If you try to use the soap and it burns or tingles, it isn’t ready yet and you just gave yourself a lye burn.

As you can see, making soap is really easy and a good use for the glycerin byproduct of biodiesel.

Found on the Internet: Automatically Creating a Vertical Sundial

Part of the problem with making a sundial is accuracy.  You have to take into account your location, elevation, and in the case of a vertical sundial, the direction its facing.  There are ways to make the calculations (which I’m sure I’ll get into at some point), but now there’s no reason to.  Damia.net  has a web app that interfaces with Google Maps to get most of the information you need to make a sundial, but then does all the calculations for you and generates the sundial.  All you have to do is print it out!  Granted, this tool isn’t helpful at all after the society-destroying event finally occurs and there is no more Internet, but it could be helpful to make one in preparation!

Create your vertical sundial [Damia.net]

How to Make a Torch

In an end of the world/limited supplies situation, it can be a benefit to know how to make a torch.  A torch may be used as a long-lasting light source or a small heat source.  In an environment without electricity, a torch is an easy way to light an area.

Makeshift Torch

In a survival situation, you may need to improvise a torch for one reason or another.  In this case you need to use your environment to make a torch.  There are three basic components to a makeshift torch: the handle, the wick, and the fuel.  The handle is the part you hold on to and attach the rest of the torch to.  It is commonly a 3-4 foot long stick that is about 2-3 inches thick, but it can be any material you can find that won’t melt or fall apart.  The wick is the part of the torch that you light on fire.  This can be anything from dry grass to leaves to twigs: as long as its flammable it will work.  In fact, the more flammable the better because that means it will be easier to light.  The fuel is what is doing the “heavy lifting”, so to speak, of the torch fire.  You can use animal fat, wax, tree sap, or (should you be desperate enough) chapstick.

You need to coat the wick completely in the fuel, make sure that everything is covered.  Wrap the wick and fuel around the top of the handle and tie it with something: a strip of cloth, flaky bark, vines, roots, string, wire, etc.  Once you light this, it should last for a fair amount of time, but this depends on how much fuel you put into it.  It should be noted at this time that these torches are not very stable and it is possible that it could begin to fall apart and you may even burn yourself, so be careful!

Birch Bark Torch

There is an even simpler way to construct a torch, though it won’t last nearly as long.  This is a birch bark torch.  To make one of these, you need to pull a sheet of bark off of a tree with papery bark like the birch tree.  Your sheet should be about 2-3 feet long.  Wrap it at an angle to form a cone.  Make sure it is wrapped tightly, but not so tightly that it isn’t hollow in the center.  Tie it in several places down the length with string, wire, vines, etc.  This type of torch will only last a little while, but its a great way to get light quickly.

Permanent Torch

If you need a more permanent torch, you need to use more permanent components.  For the handle, use something like PVC pipe or a metal post.  The best solution for wick and fuel is string and lamp oil.  You can make an oil reservoir using an old soup can and an old tuna can.  Punch a hole in the bottom of the tuna can and feed a string (or actual candle wick) through it, then fill the soup can with lamp oil.  Turn the tuna can upside down and place on top of the soup can.  Duct tape the two can together and attach your reservoir to the top of your handle.  This torch can still be leaky, especially if it isn’t held upright, but it offers a more permanent, reusable solution.

Of course, the best solution is to just scavenge a tiki torch from the Walmart near you.  While chintzy, the $5 tiki torches in the Outdoor department at a Walmart or similar store are better built than most things you can put together “in the wild”.

Further Reading