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Making lye from wood ash?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 12
Location: Missouri
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Anybody have experience making lye from wood ash?  This lye would be for the purpose of making soap.  I've been making soap for about a year, and I'm wondering how feasible it would be to make my own lye.  I do know you need hardwood ash (for making bar soap).  I've heard of the egg test, but I wanted to hear from somebody with experience.  Also, what about saponification numbers?  Every soap recipe I have seen relies on calculating different lye concentrations depending on the saponification number of the oils used.  How can this be done if you are making your own lye?  Can you test it for concentration (beyond the egg test)?
 
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Just had a friend asking about this... would love to hear the answer
 
Posts: 39
Location: Alabama
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I used to help my grandfather do it. It was many years ago. We took a big galvanized funnel and stuffed the bottom with course steel wool. Filled the funnel with a mixture of oak and maple ashes. My grandfather said that maple had a lot of lye but we burned more oak. We had the funnel mounted with a glass bowl under it and had a hose mounted above the funnel. The hose was left dripping, steady drip, but not running. We would adjust the water flow so that it stayed very wet, but never overflowed. The liquid that came out of the bottom was strained through old burlap sacks and then used in the soap.

I have no idea the lye content or anything like that. I do know the liquid would burn my hands if I got any on them and didn't wash it off quickly, but that was 40 years ago. I hope that helps at least some.
 
Alicia Donathan
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Location: Missouri
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Gregg, thanks.  That is helpful.  This project (making lye from hardwood ash) is on my "to-do" list.  Maybe someday I'll post results here on permies.  
 
Gregg Carter
Posts: 39
Location: Alabama
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That would be good. I have thought about doing this myself, but just not real high on the priorities list right now.
 
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I like Greg's method.  I use a slightly slanted wood trough with a small hole and wood "straw" that ends over a heavy plastic pail. I fill the trough with the ashes and set up a hose to drip water into the upper end. I have a piece of old cotton T-shirt covering the down hill hole inside.
Once you get the pail full, you have your lye, just strain it as Greg mentioned. Lye made this way is a very powerful caustic, don't get it splashed on you, it will eat clothing and skin. My last batch came out at 10 molar (Most strong acids are 12 molar, so the lye will be very strong).
 
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