This is where I got my first starter recipe from. A good overall description of the sourdough making process too. This is an Australian site with a starter recipe, where I found the description of filling jars educational, but the recipe itself was too wet. I also thought Wikibooks did a great write-up on sourdough too.
The above is where I began my education on sourdough starters, but there's nothing like jumping in and trying it yourself. I tweaked a little with both recipies and here's what I did:
DAY 1: Mix 1/2 cup flour to 3/4 cup warm water, into a glass bowl. Cover with a tea towel and stir 3 to 4 times during the day (don't use steel utensils).
DAYS 2 & 3: Add 1 tablespoon of warm water and 1 tablespoon of flour, continue to cover and stir during the day.
DAY 4-5: Put half the mixture into a clean glass bowl and discard or cook with the other half. (Pancakes make a good use of the left overs). To the glass bowl, add 1/2 cup warm water and 1/2 cup flour. Mix in and stir several times during the day.
DAY 6-7: Repeat day 4-5, only increase the flour and water mixture to 1 cup each.
**You only need to change containers on day 3, 5 and 7**
By day seven the starter should be ready to use. A good indicator, is after feeding it on day 7, mark the jar with a rubber band (see picture below) and if it doubles within a few hours, then you've got a working leaven.
It more than doubled on day 7 after feeding, so it's alive!!
Now remember, you'll come across all sorts of starter recipies. This is just the one I began with and it worked for me - in autumn. Seasonal and climate differences, may call for altering the recipe somewhat. The consistency of your starter should be like thick custard, but light enough to stir without breaking utensils.
When it comes to making the bread with your starter, I like to use the "sponge" method, which I'll explain in another post.
Some important points to note about making your "starter" though, is to avoid plastic and metal if you can. I try to use glass containers and bowls, but I stir with a plastic whisk and spatula.
They say metal can taint the taste of sourdough starter, and in some cases effect the biological reaction required for an active culture. One of the reasons to avoid plastic if you can too. As long as they're clean and at room temperature however, I can't see the harm in using plastic for stirring for short periods. Wooden spoons can harbour bad bacteria if not thoroughly cleaned, so to me at least, plastic utensils are the lessor evil.
A basic tool kit for making your starter is:
2 large glass or ceramic bowls
a plastic whisk and/or plastic spatula
measuring cups and spoons
a clean tea towel
a large glass (or 2) jar for the final product
It's easier if you work with two bowls, so you can transfer the mix easily. The glass jar is for after you've made your starter and want to keep it on the bench (or fridge) for feeding. You will need to either puncture a hole in the lid of your jar, or do as I do, and put cling-wrap on top, held in place with a rubber band, with fine holes punched through the top.
You can do all of the mixing in jars if you don't have bowls, but I just find the bowls are easier to use when you're doing all that mixing to get the leaven working. The reason you have to stir consistently, is to stop the flour from settling on the bottom, and introduce as much oxygen to the mix as possible.
A note on water - try to use clean, filtered, rain water if available. If you are going to use town cholrinated water, boil it and let it come to room temperature - which should generally be 24 hours. I like to use warm water when mixing, but not boiling. You should be able to keep your finger in the water for a minute, without removing it, to know you've gotten the right temperature. Excessive heat will kill off all your hard work.
One more important note about making starter which bears mentioning - try to avoid chemicals when cleaning your jars, bowls and utensils. Plain, warm water and vigorous rubbing with a cloth, should be enough. If rinsing with town water and using the bowl immediately, try swishing some boiled water in it first - to remove any residues.
If it all sounds too hard for making bread, just remember it's only for a week! Once you have your starter activated, you only need to feed it and change jars every now and then.
I feed my starter daily, as I'm using it daily - plus I leave it at room temperature so it will feed more during the day, than say if I kept it in the fridge where the activity is significantly reduced.
Anyway, I hope that helps simplify the process a little more. I was intimidated at first, but found in autum at least - very little, if anything, went wrong. If I was making my starter in winter, maybe I'd have to extend it to 10 days before using. I've read you can keep it warm in an esky with a warm wheat-pack though. So just tweak and see what works for you.