What's A Woodgrain Soap?
The first time I saw a woodgrain soap, I thought there was sorcery involved. Woodgrain soap is just as it sounds…a soap made with a beautiful woodgrain design. This tutorial will show you how to do it (or how I did it…and what I would do differently next time)!
Having made cold processed soap before, I still couldn’t wrap my head around how someone could produce such an intricate pattern in soap, but it’s actually not so hard. The two important things that produce this pattern are:
1. the way you pour the soap
2. the way you cut the soap
Aside from those 2 things, it’s just like any other cold processed soap project. So let’s go through the process!
Stop and Get Up to Speed on Safety...
I did a post a few months ago about the basics of cold processed soap. In that postw I go into all of the main elements to make a cold processed soap with a fairly simple design. It’s of the utmost importance that you make sure that you are using safe handling procedures with lye.
One of my favorite soap YouTubers, Katie Carson at Royalty Soaps did an entire video on lye safety, which I suggest you watch if you are a newbie!
With this in mind, my woodgrain project begins with my safety gear!
My Chosen Safety Gear
As you can see from the photo above, I prefer to use long-sleeved dish gloves instead of plain rubber or nitrile gloves when I’m mixing my lye. It’s totally a personal preference, but I like how thick these gloves are. I don’t tend to use them when I’m working on the actual soap pouring and designing because I need the dexterity provided by nitrile gloves. But to mix my lye, this is where I start.
My safety goggles are from Bramblerry.com. I love them because they have a nice foam liner on the inside, which you can see above. They are comfy!
I also wear a mask when mixing my lye because I have asthma and I’m sensitive to the fumes. They aren’t in the video because it’s already on my face… but you can’t tell me that right now in summer of 2020 you don’t have a face mask or two that would do the trick 🙂
Also, if you are sensitive to the fumes, try substituting some of your distilled water with frozen distilled water. That will help cut down on the fumes big-time!
Mix Your Batch Oils and Lye Water Solution
I’m going to breeze through this somewhat because there would easily be a blog post for each of these things.
Instead, I will tell you that my go-to batch oils recipe is the one used by Royalty Soaps (mentioned above), and in all of her videos she includes the recipe for her batch oils. I’ve found it to be a very easy recipe to work with. It can also be found on her website here: https://www.royaltysoaps.com/pages/product-and-soap-making-faqs
She uses a 35.2% lye concentration and a 5% superfat. I have done that with this woodgrain soap recipe as well. If you want to tinker with your recipe, I recommend using soapcalc.net. It will allow you to enter your oils, select your superfat and lye concentration percentages and help you swap out ingredients if you want to avoid any particular type of oil.
While your lye water solution is cooling, prepare your colorants!
Prepare Your Colorants
A lesson learned in this process for me was to pick less colors! In my mind, I was thinking about how beautiful wood was and how many different shades of wood there are. For some reason I thought I need them all to be in this one soap. 🙂
When I make this project next time, I will likely choose one shade of brown and then lighten it and darken it and go with a MUCH more simple color scheme. But, if you want to know what I chose for this particular soap, the products photos are below.
Disperse Your Pigments
Since I used largely non-micas, I made sure to disperse my pigments in oil. You can either use a lightweight carrier oil like apricot seed oil, or you can grab some batch oils and use those. If you don’t want to change the superfat of your soap, you should just use your batch oils, which is what I have done below.
I used a rate of about a teaspoon of pigment to a tablespoon of batch oils, and made kind of a thin paste to disperse the color.
Below are the colorants and the fragrance oil I used. For this project I chose the natural pigments from Earth Pigments because they are such, well, natural colors!
In truth, they were lovely, I just used too many of them. 🙂
A quick note about the fragrance from Brambleberry, it was really nice. It had a great scent in the bottle, and smelled even better after the cure. I measured out the appropriate amount of fragrance for my batch size (brambleberry.com has a fragrance calculator that can help you with this for any fragrance they sell, so that’s how I determined the appropriate amount to use).
It really is a lovely mix of wood and rum that doesn’t make you feel like you’re washing yourself with bark or bathing in a distillery. 🙂 It also behaved really well in cold processed soap. It didn’t accelerate trace and it stayed nice and fluid for my woodgrain soap pour, which is key.
Mix Lye Water and Batch Oils Together...
Here again I could include an entire additional blog post because there are a lot of schools of thought on what temperature you should use to soap.
I started my soaping journey a little warm (in my current opinion) when my lye water was at about 130 degrees. As I soap more and more, I have found that I’m getting closer and closer to soaping at room temperature.
In the case of this soap, I got my lye water down to about 100 degrees, and my batch oils were around 95, which was fine.
Again, it’s a personal choice, but whatever you choose, I wouldn’t go higher than 130 degrees or lower than a reasonable room temperature in the upper 70’s, and you’ll want to make sure your oils and lye water solution are within 10 degrees of one another.
Try to minimize the amount of air bubbles you get in your batter by pouring the lye water down the shaft of your stick blender.
Next, combine your lye water solution with you batch oils using a stick blender. I wanted to get this just past emulsion, so I knew the two were combined, but I didn’t blend too long and thicken my batter. You want NICE runny batter.
Pour your batter off into your various color containers. I used a lot of small containers since I thought I had accent colors (lots of them). 😉
And then I added the fragrance to each color and mixed with a mini whisk to blend.
Set Up Your Woodgrain Pour!
Here’s where the fun really starts. For my woodgrain soap, I set up the pouring container by pouring the different colors of batter down the side of my pour container like this:
Alternate your colors pouring each down the side of the container. I did not use any pattern here. I tried to use more of the medium shade of brown since I had a larger bowl of that, and then tried to just mix in the others willy-nilly in whatever order struck me. Less formulaic would mean more natural-looking, right? Who knows…but it looked nice.
When you’re done, you have this beautiful pour container ready to go!
It's Go Time - Pour the Woodgrain Soap!
To start the woodgrain pour, put some towels down on your work surface. I stacked 2 on top of one another, so I could put my loaf mold down on an incline.
Grab your pour container and start pouring down the side of the mold, back and forth lengthwise.
As you move back and forth with the pour, you’ll see a lovely pattern starting to form.
And then you do this little movement where you jiggle the container a little back and forth as you pour, which creates the knots in your woodgrain soap!
I have a video tutorial as well (as usual) and it’s likely easier to see how subtle that little jiggle is. But you can see the knots start to form below.
As Your Mold Starts to Fill...
As you start getting full, remove the towels from underneath the mold so it slowly flattens.
You’ll keep pouring your woodgrain soap until you fill the mold. You won’t really have the side of the mold to use anymore since it’s filling up, so you’ll just do the same back and forth pattern on the top instead.
Don’t panic with this next photo, I realize it’s confusing. The pattern you see on the top of the soap is not your woodgrain.
If you think about it, you’d have to slice off the top layer of the mold over and over again to see that pattern. What you are seeing on top is actually the side of the bars, and because of that, I just empty out the rest of the containers at the end so I didn’t waste any soap!
Trust me, your hard work pouring a beautiful woodgrain soap will all be realized when you go to cut it.
I did swirl it around a little, just so the sides would be pretty too. Then I left it to set for 24 hours before unmolding.
Unmolding Your Woodgrain Soap
Once your soap is firm enough to unmold, umold it! You will know it’s ready to unmold because it won’t be too squishy that you dent it with your fingers, but it won’t be so firm that it’s hard to cut…typically 24 hours or so.
If you want an easier time unmolding your soap, you can add sodium lactate into your lye water solution at a rate of one teaspoon per pound of batch oils. I did this for this project (which you will see in the video) because I wanted to play it safe, but it’s totally an optional step. I didn’t want to go to all of the trouble of doing the woodgrain pour only to have it stuck in the mold. That blog post would have sucked!
When you unmold the woodgrain loaf, you can see some of the pattern on the SIDE of the loaf…I told you it wasn’t sitting on top!
Cut Your Beautiful Woodgrain Soap
When you put the loaf in your cutter and slice off the end, it’s going to look CRAZY.
Like you’re-going-to-start-cursing-me-under-your-breath-for-having-led-you-astray kind of crazy…
You get this weird feathery-looking pattern. THIS IS NORMAL AND GOOD. DO NOT PANIC.
What you do is cut the loaf into chunks that are as wide as the height of your finished bars. For example, my soap boxes are about 3.5 inches tall, so I cut a chunk of the loaf 3.5 inches wide.
I used the Brambleberry 10 inch loaf mold, so I ended up with 2 3.5 inch chunks and a bunch of leftover that was the wrong direction for the woodgrain effect, but I used it in another soap as an embed so it wasn’t wasted!
Now that you have your bar length chunk of soap, turn it 90 degrees. Do you see it now? The woodgrain was hiding on the side!
Each slice is really unique and has it’s own distinct pattern. But do you see how nice the little jiggly knots look? I love them!
When I do this woodgrain soap in the future I will do two things differently:
#1 – I will make a bigger batch! I didn’t know it would be so much fun.
#2 – I will use less colors so it’s a little more subtle.
Here's A Video Tutorial for You!
Whenever possible, I like to give you a YouTube tutorial because I know I personally learn best by watching actual action vs. photos. If that’s you too, you’re in luck!
There are no affiliate links in this post (just the link to my own shop, but I’m proud of my little start up!), nor in the original DIY cold processed soap video, but the basic supplies are listed at the end of that post for you. Earth Pigments were listed above in the post for you.
Please enjoy and drop me a line if you have any questions or comments.