Sunday, 16 June 2013

Lyer, lyer

This weekend, I attempted to process my first batch of lye.

Lye is a caustic substance and will burn skin if it comes into contact with it, so make sure you take all safety precautions if you decide to try this yourself. 

With the lye bucket raised up, I placed a second bucket underneath to catch the solution. There was a minor problem with this set up, which was that I didn't account for the force of the water coming out from the first bucket, and the very first parts of my solution ended up on the ground. It was at this point I was glad I had taken the proper precautions and it was my latex gloves that got splashed, not my hands.

And the solution that resulted? Well, the colour was about right. But did I have lye?

Another thing to note about lye is that due to possible contamination, you need to use dedicated equipment. That is, once you start using certain equipment for lye, you need to put it to one side and not use it for any other purpose.

So to test if I had lye, I used the old method of testing the density* of the solution. This involved floating an egg or small potato in the solution, and unlike in water where a fresh egg would sink, the item should float with just a small portion floating above the surface. I took a jug full of my solution, and gentled lowered an egg into the liquid.

It sank.

It just sank. Straight to the bottom. It did not even have the courtesy to hesitate or descend slowly to the bottom of the jug, as if something was supporting it. Oh no. Result, I do not have lye yet.

Thankfully, I'd already secured and fired more hardwood, so I added these ashes to the bucket and poured my first leaching back over them. And this time I was rewarded with the slight fizz I've read comes with the successful leaching of lye from ashes. I topped up the bucket with about another pint, to allow for what I'd lost initially, so now I just have to wait another week, and keep my fingers crossed.

*density may not be the correct term. I can't think which one would be. My old science teachers would be ashamed of me.


  1. Boo to sinking. But you're a step closer to getting it than you were.

    I'm almost certain density is the right term.

  2. Despite my lack of interest in soap making, I may end up following your lye instructions after all—I've been looking into papermaking, and depending on how far I want to take it, I may need some lye.