From Carpentry To Toiletries: Weekend Adventures | St. Lawrence University Sustainability Program

From Carpentry To Toiletries: Weekend Adventures

by Heron Hetzler

What do you do on Friday afternoons?  Have dinner with friends?  Watch a movie?  What about make your own green cleaning supplies or insulated curtains?  Our Friday afternoons, originally marked off for homesteading skills, has been designated “Friday fun-time.”  What’s this you may ask?  Well, it’s basically a time for learning new skills and sharing knowledge, but mostly laughing and hanging out.  Some Saturdays also have a planned activity, all of which have been amazing.  So far we have made soap, natural cleaning products, a partially finished rug, exquisite cutting boards, insulated window curtains and a fantastical poster of a goat.

The second weekend after we arrived here was spent mixing up a concoction of various oils, lard, goat’s milk and a container of lye labeled danger!  That’s right, we made soap.  Fighting tooth and nail over the use of a single kitchen scale, we measured and weighed olive, palm and coconut oil, lard, milk, lye and essential oils of lavender, peppermint and pine.  These were heated, beaten and poured into molds where they would harden and cure.  The first impression upon liberating these soapy bars from their molds was barely contained apprehension.  They smelled of pig.  We were told that the smell from the lard would dissipate, but nevertheless we feared for our cleanliness.  After waiting and watching, perched on the edge of our seats for two weeks, the soap, at last, smelled like soap.

In addition to being clean ourselves, we like to keep our house clean. What?! College students LIKE keeping their house clean? It sounds crazy, but we had a blast making green cleaning products during Friday fun time. Products include detergent, counter cleaner, shampoo, and toothpaste. All recipes were surprisingly fast and easy. Only the toothpaste came out a bit funky at first. Pro tip: don’t mistake teaspoons for tablespoons; toothpaste is not actually supposed to taste like baking soda. Fret not, readers; we made a new batch that does taste like toothpaste, and all of our other creations have been put to good use as well.

Once we were sure that both us and our house could become clean we turned our attention to the ever-present draft that filled our living room.  Despite the cozy, cushioned chairs that are liable to put you to sleep if you sit in them for too long, there was something chilling about the room.  Literally chilling.  Heat could practically be seen zooming out through the single paned windows.  It was decided; we needed to make insulated curtains.  The project was scheduled, insulation was purchased and flannel sheets scavenged from the Barn Good Thrift Store.  We set to work with needle, thread and duct tape and soon had three lovely curtains.  The next part got even more exciting, here’s a hint: there were power tools.  Using a hand drill and some thin strips of wood, we mounted our masterpieces.  The benefits were felt immediately; the ambient temperature of the room shot up at least ten degrees.

This past weekend, Everett Smith graciously offered his woodshop where we’d be building cutting boards. We retreated from a bitterly cold winter morning into a magical wonderland full of whimsical curled wood shavings, sawdust glitter, and all manner of dangerously pointy objects. Everett guided us to his “scrap pile” which consisted of beautiful pieces of cherry, mahogany, maple, and walnut…just to name a few. Choosing our wood may have been the most stressful part of our journey here thus far…and that was only half the battle. We still had to put it all together.

So, there’s a big machine called a joiner that we ran the wood along to make the edges flat and smooth. Then there’s another big machine called a planer that we threw (well, more like gently guided) the wood into to make the rest of it flat and smooth. Then we cut it all down to size with yet another big machine called a table saw. No limbs were lost. Some dignity, maybe, when we couldn’t figure out why a machine wasn’t turning on before we realized that it wasn’t plugged in…but no limbs.

After gluing our pieces together, we (sadly) left Everett’s to let our boards dry and lumbered on back the next day to put on the finishing touches. Some cut unique shapes, some simply rounded their edges, and some tried their hands at wood carving. Finally, we coated them all in tung oil and left them to dry while we were treated to fresh baked bread and coffee in Everett’s and his wife’s magnificent home. We all would have liked to stay forever, but alas we had to leave time to learn other skills.  In the future we will be learning how to make cheese, boil sap into maple syrup and, if you keep reading, you may even get to hear about our adventures in “lumberjack skills.”

~Heron and Olivia