I bit off more than we could chew

The emphasis is on the “we” in the title.

It all started about a year or so ago when I watched this YouTube video.  The video was uploaded by Soap Perfect.  She made some gingham soap using a mould made out of Lego.  You have just gotta watch it.  She did cheat with her significantly photoshopped final pic, though 🙂  If you check out the video, you will note the difference!

I thought the idea was brilliant.  I was smitten with it, in fact.  When I first watched the video, I smiled to myself at Soap Perfect’s misshapen pattern and the fact that the soap leaked everywhere.  I figured that there must be a better way of making a mould so I searched for gingham soap online.  I got nothing. Of all the soap makers in the world (and there are plenty), only Soap Perfect had made gingham soap.  Wow!  The challenge was on.  I was confident that, with Maus making me a mould, I could do a much better job.  Poor Maus!

Here were my requirements for THE mould:

  • a tower about 33cm tall, the inside measurements being 6cm x 9cm;
  • 12 x 15 mil square pillars needed to be positioned inside the mould, leaving 12 x 15 mil alternate cavities in which I would pour the first batch of soap – the medium shade.  The pillars had to be removeable so I could then make cavities for the white and then the dark soap;
  • made of a non-porous material (therefore, wood was out).  Soap moulds made of wood must be lined with a non-porous material and it would be extremely difficult to line a tower; and
  • totally dismantlable but able to be re-assembled for future applications.

Poor, poor Maus!  She later told me she lay awake night after night trying to work out how she could make it.  I was great telling her what to do but not how to do it.

Our first problem was to work out from what to make the pillars.  We dismissed square metal tubing (it has rounded corners) and Perspex (I am not sure why).  Maus even made a sample out of laminated chip board and covered the edges in melamine trim but that was rejected, too.   Eventually, I decided on polyethylene.  You know, the stuff chopping boards are made of? I thought we could buy a couple of chopping boards and Maus could slice them into 15 mil squares.  The trouble is, chopping boards are not 15 mil thick. I searched online for polyethylene for sale in Perth.  Geez, it is expensive.  The least we could buy was about $700 for a sheet way bigger than we needed.  After several telephone calls, Maus was given the name of a bloke who might sell us an off cut – $50 later, we had a piece of polyethylene 33cm x 20cm x 15mils.

When Maus was buying it she had a chat with the guy to find out what type of blade she needed to cut it – a 80T diamond ground triple chip tungsten carbide blade was the go.

Next question:  how were we going to attached the pillars to the base?  We couldn’t just screw them on as each time I unscrewed them, they would get looser.  We needed something for the screw to turn into.  After several enquiries and visits to fastener/fixings retailers in the industrial suburbs of Perth, Maus was sold a packet of rivet (pop) nuts.  These would be inserted into the base of each pillar.  A screw would then go through the base into the nut, holding the pillar in place.

The rivet nuts are on the left.

The polyethylene sat in the shed for a couple of months.  Every now and again, I would gently remind Maus how much I really wanted to make some gingham soap. Then one day, 12 pillars appeared.   Nothing happened for another month or so whilst Maus worked out how to attach the rivet nuts.  Finally, the pillars were ready, they were numbered and lined up facing the correct way.



Then it was a matter of attaching the pillars to a base.

For the base we decided on wood lined with a thin chopping board.




For the walls, we bought chopping boards.

Slowly, slowly, the masterpiece came together.

We placed little blocks in the cavities to make sure the cavities were square.

In this picture the blocks have been wired together. We haven’t wired the pillars.

To hold the pillars steady, Maus put screws into the top of each pillar and on the frame for me to wire them together.

I always told Maus don’t worry about the wiring, I will do that bit.  It will be easy.  Alas how wrong could I be?  It was virtually impossible to make perfectly square cavities.  And, when I tried to remove the blocks, the wire holding the pillars in place got in the way so I had to move the pillars.

Damn, bugger, bitch bum …….

Da Daaaah!! The final product!!

Maus worked for hours making this mould.  We spent about $200 on it and, unfortunately, it had all the same problems as Soap Perfect’s Lego mould and more.

  • It leaked and it leaked big time.  Just in case it leaked, I had taped up all the sides and the base but the soap just oozed through the tape.  As quickly as I poured the soap in, it came out the bottom and the sides.  Because I had calculated the correct amount of soap to fill the cavities, I had to make another batch.  For the next two colours, I made more soap than I needed, as an insurance against leakage.  Ironically, the first colour had filled in all the gaps so the second and third pours went without a hitch.  Clearly, I need better tape and to pour the soap at a thicker consistency.
  • We could not get the pillars to sit squarely and neatly in place, therefore, the cavities for the first pour were far from square, as it very evident from the top photo.
  • Pulling the pillars out was a nightmare and, virtually, impossible without damaging the soap.  They had to be levered to release them and this tended to move/damage the setting soap.
  • The soap came away from the base easily but had to be cut away from the sides of the mould.  Polyethylene chopping boards was not the best idea.
  • The pillars of soap did not want to stick to the colour next door so I had to stick them back together.

The Lego mould was better as:

  • the bottom could be removed and the pillars pushed out; and
  • the sides came away easily,

whereas in my mould:

  • I had to pull the pillars out; and
  • the soap stuck to the sides and had to be sliced away.

All in all, it was a bloody nightmare no wonder only one other person on-line has attempted this.  But … I can report I did get 10 bars of wonky gingham soap for my effort.  We have decided that we easily spent 50 hours making the mould and I spent several hours on all the batches of soap so we reckon $250 a bar would be a fair price for us to just about break even 🙂

Because I re-assembled the mould for the photo, I am going to try again.  This time, maybe in green.  Poor, poor Maus, she is working on the improvements!!!

Postscript:  We-re assembled the mould for the last photo and I honestly don’t think there is much we can do to improve the positioning of the pillars.  My conclusion is, with refinement, the Lego mould was better.



29 thoughts on “I bit off more than we could chew

  1. Love it! I’m thinking there must be some other children’s toy or contraption that has the shape you want….racking my brains out, I’m going to go through the boys’ old toys and see!

  2. What a palaver. Poor Maus! Having said that, they do look very pretty and I like the fact that they are not perfect and have come out of a machine. I fear you will need to make many more to recoup the initial outlay and wastage. I’m attempting something much more low key – newspaper basket weaving. All I can say is that everyone on you tube should be subject to a liar detector test.

  3. A fantastic effort. The result looks pretty good to me – not uniform and therefore perfect. Next time I need a mould made for my glasswork I will call Maus straight away. Matthew

  4. I don’t know anything about soap making but could you not make logs and join them together like a battenberg cake.

    • Hi Susan. I think maybe you could but it would be really, really hard to cut the logs accurately so they joined up well without any holes. Maybe it is worth a try. Or should I give up? You would have to somehow clamp it together on the sides and weigh it down.

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