09-25-2014, 12:12 PM
#1
  • LORDBISHOP
  • Lover of the Wet Shaving way of Life
  • Westchester, NY
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Have others noticed any inconsistencies so far with some Artisan soaps(No need to mention names of artisans). Excluding major formulation changes with companies like Proraso, Trumpers, D.R. Harris, MDC, Tabac ect., the "classics" all seem very consistent year after year. Conversely when it comes to a few different soap brands made by artisans, I've been finding noticeably different results between samples and/or scents from the same companies that are supposed to have identical formulations excluding the essential oils/fragrances.
I can't imagine that the fragrances have anything to do with it, but I'm still surprised at the different lather results I achieve while controlling the other variables involved(brush, H2O, lather method ect.). Either I'm crazy (totally possible) or there is some sort of batch variance going on with some artisan soap maker's (or maybe slight formulation changes that aren't mentioned). Any ideas, experiences Gentleman?

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 09-25-2014, 01:03 PM
#2
  • blzrfn
  • Butterscotch Bandit
  • Vancouver USA
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It wouldn't surprise me, but I haven't paid close enough attention and don't use that many artisan products as I just gravitate towards vintage and mainstream soaps for some reason. The artisan is much more subject to quality variances in the supply line than a mass produced soap, for instance if an artisan can't get a certain ingredient from their usual source they may be forced to get it somewhere else which may have a side effect to the end product. I have tried several artisan soaps and many of them are great, but none have really caused me to make the switch to all-artisan soaps which seems to be the trend on the forums these days.

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 09-25-2014, 01:12 PM
#3
  • LORDBISHOP
  • Lover of the Wet Shaving way of Life
  • Westchester, NY
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(09-25-2014, 01:03 PM)blzrfn Wrote: It wouldn't surprise me, but I haven't paid close enough attention and don't use that many artisan products as I just gravitate towards vintage and mainstream soaps for some reason. The artisan is much more subject to quality variances in the supply line than a mass produced soap, for instance if an artisan can't get a certain ingredient from their usual source they may be forced to get it somewhere else which may have a side effect to the end product. I have tried several artisan soaps and many of them are great, but none have really caused me to make the switch to all-artisan soaps which seems to be the trend on the forums these days.

Certainly makes sense, nice point regarding replacement of ingredients due to given availability of ingredients.

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 09-25-2014, 01:19 PM
#4
  • Giorgio
  • Senior Member
  • Pennsylvania, US
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Here's my high level answer: The processes to make commercial versus artisan are very different. Commercial soaps are much easier to keep consistent due to the overall manufacturing process. Same ingredients, same exact quantities, same machinery same everything... Day after day (keeping planned reformulations out of the picture). Not not mention the QC checkpoints along the process that are there to ENSURE consistency.

Artisans make each small batch of soap by hand... Things can vary slightly from batch to batch. Artisans have flexibility to change/improve their formula regularly and with each batch if they choose, and that may account for the variations we see. I believe many new artisans do exactly that. Also artisans don't have corporate dollars to keep buying the same exact ingredient from the same supplier. The supply chain that may have worked for an artisan when they were small and only putting out 20 pucks a week, may not necessarily make sense to scale up once they start putting out 200 pucks a week. For example, they may need to seek a different supplier for stearic acid as they get bigger due to shipping costs, which in turn can mean a slight variation in the product because the new stearic acid is a little different.

I wouldn't expect all artisans to maintain consistency all the time... I think that's part of being an artisan. I think in most cases, I've seen artisan products only improve as time goes on, as they continue to fine tune their formulas or come up with new, better ones. Unfortunately, you do see it go the other way sometimes.

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 09-25-2014, 03:12 PM
#5
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I'll start by saying that we do strive for consistency, but there can absolutely be some small variations when compared to commercial manufacturers.

A lot of these reasons have been mentioned already - mechanized production processes, fine tuning of recipes, etc. I'd add that large batch sizes mean that there will be consistency over a larger quantity of finished product, and I have to imagine that commercial producers are able to test raw ingredients for consistency, whereas artisans are not as able to. With agricultural raw ingredients, there will be some variation. I also think that large manufacturers may buy ingredients higher up the chain of distribution. Whereas we buy from a wholesaler, perhaps larger manufacturers buy direct from growers, and are assured more consistency because of the large quantities in which they buy.

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 09-25-2014, 06:30 PM
#6
  • LORDBISHOP
  • Lover of the Wet Shaving way of Life
  • Westchester, NY
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Well stated Gent's, all are sound and valid points according to my noodle brains Lightbulb I still think artisan soaps are more appealing in many ways, and are indeed pushing the envelope more than the classics...but I can't deny some days I need a old reliable classic...call it "Proraso Expectation", "Taylor's Treat", even "Martin D's Dollar Menu" Tongue

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 09-25-2014, 08:09 PM
#7
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(09-25-2014, 06:30 PM)LORDBISHOP Wrote: ..but I can't deny some days I need a old reliable classic...call it "Proraso Expectation", "Taylor's Treat", even "Martin D's Dollar Menu" Tongue

* No harm, whatsoever, in doing this as variation is a very good thing if you enjoy the Classics! Just enjoy your shaves with whichever soap you are using! Biggrin

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 09-25-2014, 09:04 PM
#8
  • evnpar
  • Emeritus
  • Portland, Oregon
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(09-25-2014, 08:09 PM)celestino Wrote:
(09-25-2014, 06:30 PM)LORDBISHOP Wrote: ..but I can't deny some days I need a old reliable classic...call it "Proraso Expectation", "Taylor's Treat", even "Martin D's Dollar Menu" Tongue

* No harm, whatsoever, in doing this as variation is a very good thing if you enjoy the Classics! Just enjoy your shaves with whichever soap you are using! Biggrin

+1

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 09-26-2014, 12:48 AM
#9
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Well... I see you are mentioning MdC as a "Classic" as if it was an industrial soap made by a big company of some sort.

MdC is an artisan soap - and it is always very consistent Smile





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 09-26-2014, 02:42 AM
#10
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+1 Emanuel. ..Biggrin


is the reference for many handmade soapsCool

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 09-26-2014, 04:42 AM
#11
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(09-25-2014, 01:19 PM)Giorgio Wrote: Here's my high level answer: The processes to make commercial versus artisan are very different. Commercial soaps are much easier to keep consistent due to the overall manufacturing process. Same ingredients, same exact quantities, same machinery same everything... Day after day (keeping planned reformulations out of the picture). Not not mention the QC checkpoints along the process that are there to ENSURE consistency.

Artisans make each small batch of soap by hand... Things can vary slightly from batch to batch. Artisans have flexibility to change/improve their formula regularly and with each batch if they choose, and that may account for the variations we see. I believe many new artisans do exactly that. Also artisans don't have corporate dollars to keep buying the same exact ingredient from the same supplier. The supply chain that may have worked for an artisan when they were small and only putting out 20 pucks a week, may not necessarily make sense to scale up once they start putting out 200 pucks a week. For example, they may need to seek a different supplier for stearic acid as they get bigger due to shipping costs, which in turn can mean a slight variation in the product because the new stearic acid is a little different.

I wouldn't expect all artisans to maintain consistency all the time... I think that's part of being an artisan. I think in most cases, I've seen artisan products only improve as time goes on, as they continue to fine tune their formulas or come up with new, better ones. Unfortunately, you do see it go the other way sometimes.

Small batches are much more susceptible to the slightest variances.

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 09-26-2014, 06:22 AM
#12
  • refles
  • Senior Member
  • New York
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But the slight fluctuation in the consistency though I think adds that small batch character of knowing someone mixed that themselves or is working on something constantly to strive to improve it. Personally I would believe a entrant into wet shaving may not indulge into these yet but the more experienced will want variation and selection along with performance and scent

I view the artisans as more nimble in the marketplace able to craft new scents while the commercial ones are fairly fixed in their scents and when they do come out with a new scent they have to throw marketing at it just to make people aware it exists. Not to mention the artisans have the ability to continually improve and try and we reap the benefits or become their lab rats, while the commercial most likely are playing with focus groups so time to market for them is significantly longer. Admittedly there are sometimes a bad soap here caused by the consistency but its all part of the experience that each of us are enjoying.

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 09-26-2014, 06:37 AM
#13
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Martin de Candre is about as "artisan" as I desire to go. I admire their process and the results and rabid following are a testament to their success. Lately however I have been stuck in an Italian Barbershop mentality and swirl a dab of C.O. Bigelow (Proraso) shaving cream from a repurposed tub that previously contained Santa Maria Novella Crema da Barba. I know it is Autumn now and I should be using something a little more in season but the fresh menthol wake up call greets me daily lately.

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 09-26-2014, 06:42 AM
#14
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(09-25-2014, 12:12 PM)LORDBISHOP Wrote: I can't imagine that the fragrances have anything to do with it, but I'm still surprised at the different lather results I achieve while controlling the other variables involved(brush, H2O, lather method ect.). Either I'm crazy (totally possible) or there is some sort of batch variance going on with some artisan soap maker's (or maybe slight formulation changes that aren't mentioned). Any ideas, experiences Gentleman?

What sort of lathering differences are you seeing?

Personally, I haven't had multiple soaps from too many artisans, just Barrister & Mann and Catie's Bubbles. From those two, my experience has remained consistent.

Small batch variances shouldn't produce a major difference in soap performance, I wouldn't think. My own observed variables are generally on the order of an extra .05oz of one oil or other, or maybe a little extra glycerin or sodium lactate - all spread out over a 5lb batch of soap. The difference in each tub turns out to be tiny, and should have no real impact on the lather.

Formula changes seem more likely. While I personally wouldn't change my soap formulas without making a note of it for the users' sake, I could also see someone changing an amount by 5% or 10% here or there without feeling the need to make an announcement.

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 09-26-2014, 08:51 AM
#15
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Variance is introduced through: human error (measuring or cooking too long), agricultural crop differences, and purity of the lye used.

In large batches, a difference of 1 gram can represent only 1/1000th of a percent off or even less. In a 5 puck batch, that can represent 1-2%. Extreme ends of the spectrum, but it puts that into perspective.

We can't control for crop differences, I doubt many small time soap makers have the ability or inclination to test the SAP value every time, nor would it be time effective unless buying in 100lb bags. That said, there shouldn't be too much difference there.

Lye purity decreases every time it is exposed to air. But again, unless the container is left open, we're talking very small percentages.

So, in summary, the smaller the batch, the greater the variance. MdC makes very large batches compared to Eric (Songwind).

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 09-27-2014, 11:19 AM
#16
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(09-25-2014, 01:03 PM)blzrfn Wrote: It wouldn't surprise me, but I haven't paid close enough attention and don't use that many artisan products as I just gravitate towards vintage and mainstream soaps for some reason. The artisan is much more subject to quality variances in the supply line than a mass produced soap, for instance if an artisan can't get a certain ingredient from their usual source they may be forced to get it somewhere else which may have a side effect to the end product. I have tried several artisan soaps and many of them are great, but none have really caused me to make the switch to all-artisan soaps which seems to be the trend on the forums these days.

Agreed.

It seems on the forums and YouTube they all rave about the artisan products now.
I have tested a few - samples from Caties Bubbles, B&M, TIKI and Dapper Dragon - and while I do find they are very well made soaps, for some reason the whole idea of soaps being made in front of the kitchen sink and on the stove turns me a bit off.

I still prefer the good old factory mass distributed products like Martin De Candre, Penhaligon, Castle Forbes, Acqua di Parma, Xpec, Floris, Czech & Speak, DR Harris, Musgo Real & Santa Maria Novella and even consider RazorRock to be a kinf of factory made cream/soap as I have a feeling it's made by the rather big shaving cream and soap company TFS.

But I salute all the new Artisan makers as they seem to do a fantastic job at making high quality products, at fair prices. They also seem to be putting their soaps in better looking containers that present itself better in the bathroom.

To defend the artisan makers, I have also owned several DR Harris shaving creams that had quite a bit of different consistency. My Arlington was more like a hard croap, very hard. My Almond and Windsor both were extremely soft, like a soft cream. My Eucalyptus was just like a perfect croap.
Haven't experienced the same degree of variency in any of my other 100+ creams and soaps as with the DR Harris creams.

All my 6 TF&H creams and my 8 TOBS and my 4 Trumper creams have all pretty much been like medium soft creams........

(09-26-2014, 12:48 AM)oversaturn Wrote: Well... I see you are mentioning MdC as a "Classic" as if it was an industrial soap made by a big company of some sort.

MdC is an artisan soap - and it is always very consistent Smile


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxjOBsZR4aU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTEOhcR7tFU

Agreed and understood.

BUT MDC have a high level of professionalism in their production, so much that I would call it more of a small production plant than an artisan homecooking a soap in his/her kitchen Biggrin

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 09-27-2014, 11:27 AM
#17
  • LORDBISHOP
  • Lover of the Wet Shaving way of Life
  • Westchester, NY
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Refles, you summed up and noted the advantages and "character" of many artisan's soaps very well...I too agree those are many of the reasons I enjoy the artisan soaps too!

Songwind , I really don't want to mention any artisan's names specifically unless it's for positive purposes...For instance I have tried a few of your Dapper Dragon soaps graciously given to me by another member, and find the performance top notch, never noticed any consistency changes. I haven't tried any of "Shannon's soaps" (although I will soon enough, as my Sister's name is Shannon I feel it my duty Tongue) or "WSP soaps" - also another yet to try, but certainly on my acquisition list. Anyway I have two artisans in mind that I feel are not very consistent. At their best they are great soaps...at their worst I just get plain poor results from some scents, or comparing a sample of one scent to a full container or puck is just night and day differing results...one in particular I can mix from sun up to sun down and I still have dead lather compared to many of the Artisan's other soaps...This thread has convinced me of how or why this is possible.

ASHARPERRAZOR, You bring up a great point along with other Gents comments, that some artisan's are truly starting out with very small batches compared to other artisans like MDC (minimalist, you are definitely correct MDC = artisan...woops) that are certainly artisan by nature/definition, but pump out many times more product compared with the newer or smaller batch makers.

Again I like both Classics and Artisan soaps, just for different reasons. I also see how batch size, ingredient variation and evolving formulas are likely are the biggest culprits for my observations...

CHSeifert
, just read your post after posting my own follow up...You just about mentioned ALL the classics that I too enjoy...and I understand your sentiment and mental image of "Breaking Bad - soap maker's Tongue ", but the performance, awesome scent variations/even custom scents and of course price are all reasons to like and respect those home cookers Lightbulb

Thank you all for helping enlighten me to what goes on behind the soap making scenes Lightbulb

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 09-27-2014, 11:36 AM
#18
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(09-26-2014, 06:37 AM)minimalist Wrote: Martin de Candre is about as "artisan" as I desire to go. I admire their process and the results and rabid following are a testament to their success. Lately however I have been stuck in an Italian Barbershop mentality and swirl a dab of C.O. Bigelow (Proraso) shaving cream from a repurposed tub that previously contained Santa Maria Novella Crema da Barba. I know it is Autumn now and I should be using something a little more in season but the fresh menthol wake up call greets me daily lately.

I agree.
MDC is pretty much the most artisan I would like to go, when it comes to massaging a cream/soap into my face area.

MDC is made of very few ingredients, 4 or 5 I believe, and they buy their ingredients from reliable sources with a steady stable flow of stock of the products they need to make their soap.
If - for some reason - a certain ingredient is not available, Martin de Candre will take the soap out of production until they get fresh high quality back in stock of that missing ingredient.

You could think this is just marketing, but the same consistently high quality all MDC soaps seem to have, indicates they are telling the truth.

I came close to buying two pots of LPL, but it's a bit too much artisane for me.........

MDC is as artisane as I'm whilling to go at the moment.
This might change, but I don't think so.

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 09-27-2014, 03:00 PM
#19
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Uh...

It doesn't matter whether you're small or large, the people making and growing the base products are the same. The only advantage of being large is that your turnover of product is much faster so there's a smaller chance of oils going rancid.

That said, a home soaper buying oils from a redistributor (rather than from the distributor) may possibly buy older stock, but that's rather unlikely given the very small number of redistributors and the fact that they'd go out of business if they sold people rancid oils.

So, yes, MdC uses only fresh oils and whatnot, but so does everyone else unless they sit on something for a year in their basement.

Also, MdC is just as artisan as Mitchell's based on size of their "manufacturing plants", ie a converted cottage/house for Mitchell's (no idea what the outside of MdC actually looks like, could be a warehouse for all I know).

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 09-27-2014, 06:33 PM
#20
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There are a lot of artisans making shaving soap out there. Some are good, and some are not so good. Some are extremely professional about their craft, and I imagine that some are not. I can say from personal experience that when my wife makes soap, it's like a chemistry lab over here (it's in her background after all). The artisans I see posting here have excellent reputations. I've used some of their products and have been extremely satisfied.

That said, there may be less risk involved in buying a big-name brand. Sure, they can reformulate their products into mediocrity, but big brands generally become big brands because they're good at what they do. And as stated above, they have the means to precisely test their raw materials and whatnot. With an artisan, there's probably a bit more of a gamble.

The cool thing about a community like this one though, is that the wheat gets separated from the chaff. You'll hear about the artisans that are turning out good, quality, consistent product, so there's a lot less risk buying these products.

It's great that there's room for both types of manufacturers. Everyone here seems to be in agreement that it's about the experience. If you get an enjoyable shave from a big brand or from an artisan's product, I don't think anyone's going to fault you for your choice.

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