The Solstice Approaches

Here we are almost at the solstice. It’s dark until late in the morning and dark early in the evening. A few months ago, I booked one of my best friends, Warren, to come and help me do a lot of work. Now, the appointed weekend is here and it is pissing down. We can’t change the dates, we are both fully committed in other work for months ahead. We have to do it now – in this weather! We had the flood last week and have almost finished clearing up from that heavy rain and now it is raining again, almost constant drizzle to annoy us while we work.

Warren has come to help me build a wood shed for the kiln wood. We have a small shed for the house wood for the kitchen stove and heater, but the kiln wood is so much bigger and there is a lot of it when we do the weekend workshops. So, we have needed another woodshed for some years now. Last year was terrible for us. So stressful, as it always seemed to rain the week before the firing and we spent the year trying to work with wet wood. Sometimes I could store the wood in the kiln shed/factory. But if I was building a kiln in there at the time as well, there just wasn’t room for both. So, the wood was out in the rain. We tried tarping it, but there was loads of condensation under the tarp in the prolonged wet weather and sometimes it would blow off in the really heavy storms.

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So, we’re building a dedicated shed to store the long lengths of bourry box hob wood. At least that is the plan. The rain comes down in waves, so its jackets on for a while and then we start to steam inside them as we work hard, digging holes and ramming in the poles, lifting beams and climbing ladders, so then it’s jackets off until the rain comes back again. We are cold and damp by the end of the weekend, all our clothes are saturated with either sweat or rain. We finish off the shed by screwing the wall sheets on the outside, while the rain trickles off the new roof down our necks. We just happen to be working directly below the drip line. Who designed this thing?

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To make it worse, by the end of the weekend, with us two tramping about in the rain, all the ground is mushed up into a slippery slide quagmire. We find it hard to keep our balance towards the end. We finally finish in the dark, using the LED focussed torch beam on the battery drills to find the correct places for the last few screws.


It’s lovely to be able to strip off and have a steaming hot shower heated with our own firewood and the wood fired kitchen stove. We change into a clean set of dry clothes. It’s such a luxury, I’m so lucky to live here. I’m suddenly thinking of Syrian refugees transmigrating across Europe from one country to another. displaced by war and nobody wants them. They have no hot showers or warm house. I really am so lucky to be here.  The Lovely has got the fires going and the house is toasty and warm. We enjoy an amazing bowl of Janine’s warming ossobuco and a glass of red wine. We are all ready for an early bed.


The next day it’s the pump house on the dam bank. It has been there keeping the rain off the old electric pump for 40 years now. I built it out of scrap everything on a zero budget in 1976 when we first arrived here with few prospects and no money, with a double mortgage to support. I built that first shed out of scrounged material. It was rough as guts, just designed to last a short while until I could get around to building a ‘proper’ one. It’s finally falling over and the posts have rotted off at ground level and the dry stone wall is slowly pushing it over with the unbalanced weight of the moving stones. We demolish it in a few minutes and find that the eucalupt hard wood timbers from above ground, are still in excellent condition, even though they were salvaged 2nd hand 40 years ago. So is the roofing iron for that matter. It was worn out and rusty, and dumped at the local tip back in 1976, where there was no supervision at the dump. I saw it there abandoned, all bent and rusty looking. It went onto the roof the next week and has been there ever since. It’s still all bent and buggered, but no more rusty than it was and is still OK for re-use.


I check out what we have to work with and everything is in good nik, except the hard wood poles in the ground that have rotted off, broken and are falling over. I get 4 poles that  have been re-cycled from grape-vine trellises. We remake the old shed just as it was, but just a bit higher, using the taller poles. I need to put walls on this little shed, to keep the  rain off the electric pump, but that can wait. I put a plastic tarp over it for now. It may end up lasting another 40 years? Temporary things have a habit of doing that around here.

We discover through necessity, that it is OK to use electric power tools in the rain if you put them inside a plastic bag, with just the chuck sticking out. It works really well.

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The next job is the  verandah on the kiln shed to store the kiln wood when I have both a planned firing weekend and a new kiln job on the go in the kiln shed. There isn’t really room for both very comfortably. So we add an extension to the shed very quickly in just one day using what we have. A lot of 2nd hand timber and roofing iron. The common denominator for all the sheds is new poles in the ground. This time around I’m using ‘green treated’ poles to deter the white ants and the damp soil rot. Almost everything else is recycled. I have even found a bucket of pre-loved roofing screws, that I have salvaged from somewhere. It was so long ago, that I can’t even remember collecting, sorting and cleaning them. But there they are in my salvaged screws and bolts section of the shed, just waiting  to be called on for a second life.


I have no idea how much it would cost to pay to have all this work done. Obviously, quite a lot. Even the cost of materials would be excessive, never mind the labour cost. I’ve made all my own galvanised steel plate ‘triple-grip’ hardware fasteners. I have all the machines in the kiln factory sitting waiting to be used. We knock out a few hundred of these home-made brackets and then get to work framing the sheds. Everything is held together with roofing ‘TEK’ screws and these steel brackets. It makes for a very quick and seriously strong series of joints.

All of the 100mm. x 75mm. (4×3″) hardwood timber used in the roof trusses was salvaged from the old pottery tank stand. It stood out in the weather for over 30 years with a 13,500 litre (3,000 gallon) galvanised water tank on it, until the tank rusted out. Now it has been de-nailed and cleaned up and has found a new lease of life as roof trusses. I’m amazed how good the local hardwood from Mr. Blatch’s Mittagong saw mill was. It just doesn’t rot. I’ve bought hardwood since, obtained from down the coast, that only lasted 4 years out in the weather, before it rotted. It was largely sap wood. Very disappointing. I re-cycle all the large size 2.4m. x 1.2 m. (8′ x 4′) pallets that the stainless steel sheeting used in the kiln factory comes on. I use this wood for all the knee braces inside. It’s a very valuable resource, and much too good to burn.


We clad each of these three sheds with recycled galvanised iron that we have been given or scrounged over the years. I never turn down a pile of old roofing iron if it is offered. You never know when you might need it. Today we do need it and we manage to work our way through half of our reserve stack. It’s a great feeling to make very good use of someone else’s cast-offs. Giving them a new useful life, forestalling waste and avoiding earning a lot of extra money to buy these otherwise very expensive building products. I’m so pleased to be able to live this thrifty life of re-imagined waste.

Recycled wood, recycled roofing iron, recycled bolts and screws. It’s a triumph of frugality and re-purposing. I’m very proud of it all. These new old sheds have some of that hard to describe special quality of wabi/sabi. The old, lonely, quiet, rusty, well used, weathered quality of use and nostalgia.

A shiny new, zincalume clad, metal framed, mecano-set-style, farm shed, just wouldn’t do here. It wouldn’t fit in. I love the patina of age of these re-cycled building materials and constructing my sheds so that they have this special ‘weathered’ quality is important to me. They look just right in this setting that we are creating here.

I’m tired now. Actually, I’m a bit wabi/sabi myself – I’m old, well-used, rusted out and weathered, but otherwise very pleased.

Now for a big sleep.