South Whidbey ’Renaissance man’ crafts fragrant soap from dining room

From the dining room of his Maxwelton Valley home, Jim Hall spends his fall weekends huddled over pounds of oils that give off a strong, sweet smell.

This is his makeshift seasonal laboratory, where the South Whidbey High School instructional technology mentor has been volunteering his time and effort to hand make soap, the proceeds from which will fundraise for his wife’s ministry.

And his soap is starting to make a name for itself.

“The initial idea was that I had enough weekends in the fall where I could crank out enough soap to be helpful to my wife,” Hall said. “We sold out pretty quickly. The soap is starting to get a reputation.”

These days, autumn means the Hall family’s kitchen is off limits on the weekend as it’s littered with the necessary ingredients to make bars of soap. The kitchen and dining room are Hall’s soap-making stations. Handmade contraptions Hall built surround the dinner table: a labeler, a time efficient soap cutter, a makeshift mixer and a box filled with labels Hall, of course, designed himself. The kitchen is complete with pounds of palm oil, coconut oil and honey stored in jars and bags. The guest house on his property stores the bricks of soap overnight so they can dry. The smell of the soap scents — oranges, tangerines, honey and cloves — exude through the yard of his Maxwelton Valley home tucked in the woods.

His soap-making lair is a makeshift laboratory without the clandestine atmosphere, but it’s all Hall needs to make roughly 1,500 bars of soap within 10 weeks. But for Hall, the money isn’t important, rather the fact he’s doing it to help his wife, Chris Hall, continue her ministry work.

“I’ve seen her program make a difference in the lives of a lot of people, so even though I may not participate in the program, I can certainly do my part huddled over a batch of soap oils,” Hall said.

His wife Chris Hall directs a Quaker ministry retreat called Way of the Spirit. The Halls are both devout quakers who say they try to live by benefitting others with their actions, and Jim Hall says the soap making upholds those Quaker values. The funds raised make the retreat cheaper for participants and pay wages for those who organize it. He’s been indirectly involved with the retreat through his soap bars for six years.

“Jim’s soap making was a really surprising inspiration in the middle of a fall when there wasn’t enough income for the program to continue paying wages,” Chris Hall said. “Soap making is just one of the many things he can do. He’s the definition of a renaissance man.”

In addition to the equipment he hand built to make and package the soap, Jim Hall also has a plethora of other hands on-skills. He’s an avid photographer, has worked as a carpenter in the past and was formerly a radio announcer. These days he trains high school teachers how to use the technology available to them, a far cry from the hands-on work he does at home.

To describe the path his life has taken, Jim Hall uses a reference typically used in his home, Alaska.

“My life has been one braided river where I go off to all these side channels and return to the main channel,” Hall said. “In a way, I’m happy I’ve led my life in that direction.”

Hall has raised a fair amount of funds for his wife’s ministry, and there is opportunity to make more with an increasing demand for his soap. The bars raised $2,000 last year with half of the output he plans to crank out this year. The fruity bricks have made it as far as Alaska, Wisconsin and California, where friends within the Quaker meeting buy large quantities to sell to their friends. Hall’s sales force is made up of those who have gone on his wife’s retreat.

The bars, which come in scents such as lemon honey, tangerine honey and clove honey, cost $5 per bar. Hall said he’s willing to deliver to South Enders who order more than five bars himself, but his soap can also be shipped — 30 bars for an $8 shipping charge. To inquire about soap purchases, Hall can be reached at

“It’s very reasonably priced for hand made soap,” Diane Beebe, a costumer, said. “But as someone who has gone on the retreat, I want to help out in the sale of the soap because I want to support the program.”

Hall’s soap escapade has gone so well, he may have landed on a retirement plan. It’s a matter of wanting to put in the hours it takes to produce soap, but he’s not writing it off as a possibility. Being the renaissance man that he is, soap making is only one of his retirement options.

“It could be a sideline for retirement, but I’ve got a lot of sidelines,” Hall said.

Contributed photo                                Hall cuts through a brick of soap with his hand made soap cutter.

Contributed photo Hall cuts through a brick of soap with his hand made soap cutter.

Kyle Jensen / The Record                                Hall holds a chunk of palm oil, one of the base oils used to make soap.

Kyle Jensen / The Record Hall holds a chunk of palm oil, one of the base oils used to make soap.