Hello Carey. Well, potassium hydroxide (KOH) is different from sodium
hydroxide (NaOH), which is lye. I have been making soap with sodium hydroxide, which is pretty cheap and available online (http://www.aaa-chemicals.com
hydroxide is what you can get by letting water run slowly through hardwood ash (so sez teh intertubes). I want to experiment a bit with the wood ash method because wood is a readily available local material, whereas FedEx boxes are not an indigenous species.
Soap making is fun and pretty easy. As for the caustic nature of lye water, I personally like the mad scientist feeling I get every time I don my rubber gloves and goggles. Makes me cackle madly a bit, scares the shit out of the cats. Definitely not something you can do with kids. Unless you're making soap with
kids, which would get two birds stoned at once. Maybe a basement with a locked door or a garage? As long as there is plenty of ventilation---the lye + water reaction releases toxic vapor, as well as quite a bit of heat. I splashed some lye water on my skin a couple of times and lived to tell the tale. The first time it happened I had white vinegar ready just in case, and the second time I just rinsed my arm under some running water. Both times it left a little redness which went away in a day or so. I think the only real danger would be getting the stuff in your eyes.
My two main sources of fat have been unbaptized orphans and my wife's ass...........
I am a cook, so large chunks of beef fat are an occasional windfall. Chopped up into teeny bits, into the big ole stock pot, boil the b'jesus out of it, strain it, cool it, refrigerate it, and voila! lovely white-chocolate-looking pure tallow! I have also used olive oil and coconut oil mixed with a touch of rosemary essential oil. Lovely stuff.
I am currently washing a herd of hippies in New York's Hudson Valley in order to fulfill my community service obligations as mandated by the Judicious Auspices of Virtuous Endeavor of Her Majesty's Royal Mounting Inquest of the Most Ancient Order of the Crooked Sabre's Brigadier Court, so Illinois would be a bit far for a swap. Here are a few sites which were helpful to me:http://www.soapguild.orghttp://www.teachsoap.comhttp://www.brambleberry.com
(best lye calculator, IMO)http://www.thesage.com
YouTube has a pretty good selection of instructional videos.