We are living a life committed to self reliance, which means lots of gardening, and therefore weeding and at this time of year watering and more weeding, then mulching and more watering. Did I mention weeding? This is all to secure our supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. We are conscious that because we live in an advanced economy, should our efforts fail, we can always go to the supermarket. No Problem! I am mindful of all the others in the world who are not so lucky as to have a local supermarket, or if they do, they don’t have the money to go there. Our life is very easy here compared to that situation. I recognise and appreciate this social safety net that our advanced western economy provides. We might have a drought here sometimes, but we have the facility to buy in drinking water if we need to. We’ve never had to, but it is there as a safety net, as long as you have the cash. Something that we don’t have to deal with is civil unrest or political turmoil. We are so lucky to be here and I am grateful for that luck of my birth.
In between doing all of this on-site manual gardening/farming/produce work here, I also have to earn a living to find the cash to pay the rent. Even though we own our own home, we need to pay all the various institutions that govern our lives for the privilege of living here. So there are the council rates, the home insurance and business insurance, the car registration and its insurance, land tax and public risk, the electricity and all the other minor bills that all add up to a significant sum over the year. I haven’t worked it out recently, but the last time I did, I shocked myself. It’s about 1/3rd of my income. It’s a good thing that I don’t have to pay real rent as well. I’ve worked hard to avoid that.
So I’m in the kiln shed this last few weeks, finishing off this great big, beautiful, electric kiln. It’s a gorgeous thing. I wouldn’t mind owning it myself, but I wouldn’t be able to afford it! I want it to be the best that it can be. I have sourced 3 different kinds of refractory bricks to line it. Each one has different properties. I do the same sort of thing with my gas kilns, but I use different bricks, because the demands are different. Buying bricks used to be simple. There were several different suppliers, but now, with international trade the way it is, and a global economy. There is now more or less only one source, and that’s China, and there is really only one supplier left in Sydney to source them from, so for this last kiln, I have been ringing around to buy up all of the last remaining RI bricks that will suit my needs from other places for this job.
It’s a complex situation, because as all the manufacturing enterprises have left or shut down in Australia, all the support systems that went along with a manufacturing industry have also disappeared. We are now a post-industrial nation.
Now, as a post industrial society, we have an amazing choice of all manner of imported, cheap, plastic crap. If that is what you want, and apparently the majority of Australians do? Because that is what is selling, so that is what shops are stocking. However, it has left us so much poorer in choice for any kind of quality product. The growth industry in Australia, it seems, is land fill.
I want the things that I make to last a lifetime, or at least as long as possible. I want to, if not defeat entropy, then at least delay it as long as possible. I want to make and sell the sort of products that I would want to buy myself. I want the things that I make to last as long as possible without any maintenance. To this end, I make almost everything here myself. I make all my own heating elements. I only use the very best quality wire to make my elements. I use Kanthal A1 wire from Sweden. A few months ago, I ordered the Kanthal wire for this kiln from the local distributor, only to discover that there is none of this highest grade wire in the country. Apparently no one else uses this A1 grade in Australia any more. I’m the only customer, so they don’t stock it as a regular item. Probably because it’s the most expensive wire, it’s rated up to 1,400oC and this makes it the longest lasting, most reliable, heavy duty wire. I’m prepared to wait the time and pay the extra money to get it, because I know, from my 30 years of experience of using it, that it will last. So I do.
It will cost me just under $2,000 wholesale to buy the bare wire. Then I have to spend a few days winding it on the lathe to make it into coiled elements, followed by some oxy-torch work to anneal it and soften it so that I can bend it and re-configure it into dual hair-pin elements. It’s a lot of work, it requires a lot of expensive equipment and dexterous hand skills. No wonder quality, hand made, custom built product is expensive. I’m amazed that there is still a market for my kilns. I thought that I would retire when I reached 65, but apparently not, as I’m booked out well into next year with kiln orders.
If I’m going to work on a kiln like this for 6 to 8 weeks, from start to finish. I want it to be the best that I can make it. I don’t ever want to have to do any service calls or repairs if it can be avoided. I really hate the concept of built-in obsolescence. So I spend quite a bit of time thinking and planning how to make the things that I create, to be the best and most reliable that they can be. I look very carefully at my older kilns when I get to re-visit them on occasions when I go the the Art Schools and potteries where they are. I take notice of parts that get extra wear and tear and try and strengthen, or design out, or around issues that might need repair work in the future.
So I pay the extra money and wait the extra time. I put in the extra hours. I want my kilns to be a marriage of good workmanship and quality material.
If I want to build out obsolescence, I have to be diligent and really apply myself.