Between college, renovating the production space, and moving www.alabu.com over to a new web server (more on that later), I haven’t had very much spare time lately. I know you all probably miss me (yes, I miss you, too), but don’t be too sad; I’ve brought pictures!
I wouldn’t say the new production space is quite finished, but it’s coming along quite nicely. There are just a couple of details left before I can call it done. I’ve been using it though, and I am quite happy with how it is turning out. Here are a few pictures of what’s been happening.
On the left, you’ll see the soap extractor. The narrow shelves hold the tools needed for soap extraction while keeping as much useful counter space as possible. On the far right are three giant sinks with an industrial stainless steel sprayer and a linoleum back-splash. The pegs are to hold the soap mold gaskets while they are drying (you will see those later).
Here is another shot of the sinks. If you look closely on the bottom of the sink structure are three valve handles. This allows us open and close the drain for each sink without reaching our hands in there. Not only are they very deep sinks, but they often have very hot water in them.
This is the new cutting area. You can see the two rectangular frames hanging on the wall. Those are used to cut the soap logs into individual bars.
This is the R&D corner. It has a centigram balance, microscope, pH meter, soap chemistry reference book, and other tools we use to make and evaluate very small test batches. Once we are happy with the new product, we let it sit for several months to see how it ages. After that it is ready to go into regular production.
This is me checking the temperature of the oils before I mix them into the batch. The temperature of the ingredients at mix-time is one of many factors that is crucial to getting top-quality soap.
Here I am using the newly installed (and invented) electric hoist system. We had to do a lot of creative thinking to get this system to work because of the low ceiling clearance. I am certainly glad to have it, as that pot has 70 lbs of hot oil in it.
After I lower it into the pot tipper, a latch flips down (though you can’t see it in this picture) and keeps the pot secure while I tip it.
Here I am mixing the goat milk and oils together. This takes about 10-20 minutes of mixing depending on the type of batch I am making.
This batch is oatmeal and honey. The light powder I am adding is oatmeal that I ground up earlier that day.
Here is the fun part. After the batch reaches the appropriate thickness (called a trace) it is ready to be poured into the molds. This is the most difficult part of the soap-making process as far as timing is concerned. I don’t have a very big window (though it depends on the type of soap I am making). If I pour it before it traces, the soap will separate in the molds, and I will have to throw the whole batch away. If I wait too long then the soap turns solid in the pot (called seizing) and then I have one giant bar of soap. The wooden tray I am pouring the soap into is acting like a funnel. It directs the soap into each of the 20 mold tubes. If you look closely you can see the red gasket through the holes in the tray.