More Portable Woodfired Kilns – The Dual Fuel

I have been working on my portable wood fired kiln designs and tweaked it a little bit more. I am up to design variation No.9 now, and working on number 10.  I have designed a way to have these kilns fired by both wood or LP gas, but not at the same time! It’s a simple method of changing the setting so that it can work with either fuel, with just some minor adjustments.

My first kiln building job of this year is to make a number of these little kilns for customers who ordered them at the end of last year. So I’m starting the year running at full speed. For some unknown reason, my year has become booked out right at the start. 11 kilns booked in and deposits paid. My next available slot is in December!. This will be for delivery in Feb 2018! I can’t believe that I could be so booked out, almost a year in advance. It’s crazy.

I heard a lovely little story about a tiny company that makes hand made cars, called ‘Morgan’. They make a small number of individually hand made cars each year. A frustrated customer, when told that he would have to wait a year for delivery,  exclaimed “you don’t sell cars. You ration them!” It seems to be getting a bit that way with hand made kilns.


My small factory space is completely full of these little gems. I must say that I’m really happy with the way that they are turning out. We have been using one of these little kilns ourselves all last year and it works a treat, firing to stoneware in reduction in just 3 1/2 hrs. and using just a wheel barrow full of wood to do it.

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I have so much work to get through that I get my very good friend and righthand man, Warren, to come down and give me a hand for a few days. Warren is an amazing person. He can do almost anything, and he does it really well. So many fantastic skills. We laugh a lot and get so much work done. It’s alway great to have Warren helping me.

Between a Rock and a Hard Paste

We have been sweltering here in 40 oC heat for a couple of weeks now. We were very fortunate to be blessed with 3 days of rain in the middle. It saved a lot of our plants from just shrivelling up. Fortunately, we don’t have any bush fires near here this time. However, I did start up the fire fighting water pump and sprayed water through the sprinkler system that I have installed on all the building here, in this case, on the pottery tin roof. I used it on the worst couple of days, to cool it down a little. It is good to run the pump every now and again to keep it in good working condition and cycle the fuel through the carburettor to make sure that it doesn’t ‘gum’ up.

I’ve been making use of the hot weather to crush and grind my collected porcelain stones. They have to be put through the big jaw crusher first, then the small crusher, then sieved to remove any over sized pieces and these are put back through the crusher again. Once it’s all of a suitable size, it goes into the ball mill to be ground down to a very fine paste.

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Once it’s out of the mill. I let it settle and flocculate for a few days and then remove any excess water from the top and it goes into a plaster basin to dry out until it is firm – sort of plastic. Except that it never really gets to be fully plastic. This is because it is just ground up rock dust and not clay. It does have a very small percentage of clay in the stone due to weathering of the minerals, but it is not a lot. It really takes years for this stuff to become workable in any normal sense of the word as potters might understand it.

If I were making bulk clay for stock, I’d be using the big ball mill and pour out the slip onto the drying bed on filter cloth. Once firm, I’d lay it down for several years in a cool dark place, but I don’t have that luxury on this occasion. I have posted these stones back from overseas on my recent trip. there are only just a few kilos of each sample, so the batches are quite small. Just enough to make a few pots out of each. I’d like to have more mineral to work with, but it costs about $100 to post a few kilos of stones back from places like Cornwall, Korea, China and Japan. So I have to work within my budget, as many countries have abandoned sea mail postage and the only option is now air mail. On one occasion, I was offered a cheaper option of ‘slow’ air mail. It made me wonder how the plane stayed up in the air if it was flying slowly?

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As these bodies are not aged, they respond to being worked something like ‘halva’! it just snaps if you bend it. It has to be coaxed along very slowly and gently, sort of seduced into changing shape.  I can’t even cut it in any normal way with a wire, it just tears! I can’t throw anything large out of this stuff, but I don’t need to. I only need a few excellent fired examples of the stuff to include in my exhibition at Watters Gallery in August, called ‘5 Stones’. This will be an exhibition of single-porcelain from all around the world, from the five places where single-stone porcelain was independently discovered and developed.

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When it comes time to trim the shapes into some sort of elegant form. The paste just tears and chips, instead of turning off in fine strips. The pot has to be very firm and almost bone dry to turn to a fine finish. However, I do need to remove some of the bulk of the weight from the base to get it to dry without cracking, so some leather hard trimming is necessary, and what a mess it looks to begin with! But it does clean up OK when it is dryer. I do struggle with some of these rock-paste porcelain bodies. I’d be a much better potter if I could spend all my time working with this stuff, but I have to do other things, like building kilns, to make a living. No complaints! I have a wonderfully creative, independent life. I’m very lucky. But I do suffer from the feeling that I could always do better. Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts! This is reality.
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These dry rock dust bodies are so aggressive and abrasive, they make normal turning tools go blunt after just one pots is turned. I have to use tungsten carbide tipped tools to withstand the grinding effect on the cutting edge. The ‘clay’ is really just rock dust paste, so it is very abrasive to my fingers too! I have had to start wearing rubber finger stalls to protect my finger tips. Otherwise the ‘clay’ grinds off the skin from my fingers and they wear through and start to bleed.
I’ve spent the past 15 years researching these places and going there, making contact with individuals and working in-situ, where that is still possible and also posting home the raw stones to be processed here in my workshop then fired in my kiln. This will produce a very different look and feel from the work made on-site.
I have written a book about my travels and porcelain experiences during this research. I have 90,000 words written, with just two more chapters left to write. It will be around 150/160 pages, in full colour, soft cover. I hope to have it for sale for under $50
It will be launched at the opening of my show at Watters Gallery in August.

Tomatoes and Stale Bread

We recently had a lot of people here for our house concert. After we cleared up the next day, we found that we had a lot of food left over. We found that we had a half loaf of Italian bread. We decided that we would have a lunch of tomato on toast.

I pan fried the bread in a little olive oil with garlic and chilli. Then a slice of ham, sliced fresh, ripe garden warm tomatoes and cucumber, a few fresh torn basil leaves, plus a little fake salt and real pepper . WOW! delicious.

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With what was left over, I cubed it and toasted it in the oven, so as to make a tomato and crouton salad. The roasted croutons were mixed with oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and then finely sliced red onions from the garden, with chilli, capsicum, and lastly big chunks of tomatoes. all tossed together with the seasoning s of your choice.

The croutons become softened on the outside with the tangy oil and vinegar, while remaining crunchy on the inside. This with the fresh fruity aromas of the herbs and tomatoes. It makes a great salad. So summery!

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