Lining the big shed.

We have spent the extended weekend from Friday to Sunday, in the absence of our brick layers, working on the lining of the big machinery and maintenance room. We finished the two smaller rooms, the clay making room and the other small rock crushing and grinding glaze preparation room. These rooms will have some dusty machines, crushing rocks into powder and milling that dust down to very fine glaze material. These activities need to be separated from the other working spaces to contain the dust and on occasion some noise, like the clatter of the ball mill tumbler and the chomp, chomp, chomp, of the jaw crusher.

I have ordered a dust extractor fan for each room, but they each have a big roller door in the back wall as well, so I can have plenty of fresh air in there when necessary, and I can also hose them out when required.

We have started in the big room, simply because the electricians have finished all the wiring in this room, so we can now cover all the wiring in the wall cavity. I’d rather be lining the pottery studio, but the electricians have left that room till last, so it is still not finished, hence, we can’t get in there to do any lining.

In the bigger industrially focussed maintenance and repair shed, we have been busy placing the insulwool into the wall cavity and then screwing on the re-cycled gal iron sheeting. The North wall is now complete and we have started on the West end and the southern wall.

The long weekend has flown by. The heavy rain turned to torrential, then to just short of flooding rain. All 4 dams filled up and over flowed on Saturday night. There is flooding reported in the lower laying areas around Sydney.

It’s an very odd image to my mind, to see a dam full of water and overflowing with a back drop of dead, burnt and blackened trees.

We have been dry and warm in our shed working productively and listening to the heavy rain beating down on the tin roof, drumming out a rhythm with the gusting winds, pulsing and hammering. So loud sometimes that we have to yell to be heard.

We have to wear ear muffs a lot of the time, not because of the rain, but because I have to cut the steel sheeting to size and profile with the small hand held angle grinder. This also entails wearing goggles and gloves. I start to feel a bit disconnected and isolated inside this safety gear. I’m pleased to remove it after each session of cutting.

Because of the flooding rain, we have postponed the bricklayers next visit for another week, as everything is just saturated. Even though we covered all the bricks with plastic tarps. The rain has been so severe, that the water flowed under the brick pile and the evaporation and condensation under the tarps is considerable. We need a few days of warm weather and sunshine to dry the site and the bricks out.

We have spent all of this Monday working on the lining of the big shed, making it 4 days straight of wall insulating paneling. We finished most of it, except the mezzanine floor today.

It’s starting to look more complete.

As we have a whole week without brick layers, we will get a lot of time to work on the lining.

The Rain Sets In and We Are Ready

The rain has set in now. The forecast is for lots of rain for the next week, possibly longer. Rain is usually good for us. We look on rain as a blessing. We exist here out in our little hamlet, relying on rain water for all our household needs, catching the rain on the roof and directing it into lots of rain water storage tanks for use later on in the dry times. There is no government supply of reticulated water here. That suits us fine, as we are well practiced in our self-imposed responsibility to be self reliant. managing water is a bit like managing money, We save our resources in times of excess and store it away safely ], then dole it out sparingly when there are lean times.

So although rain is good, very good in fact. On this occasion, we could do without it for the next week, but as this doesn’t look like it is going to happen, the next best thing is to change plans and take up the option of working under the verandah for the next couple of days.

We made steady progress under the verandah and next week we should be able to lay the arches over the front door and the 5 front windows. Building an arch is a slow process if you want to get it right. We have 6 of them to build next week when our bricklayers start back. The forecast for the end of next week is to be a lot dryer. Maybe then we can start back on the high south facade and complete the gable?

While the brickies have time off, Janine and I are working inside the building doing the lining. Janine is cutting and fitting the insulation wool into the wall cavity, while I come behind cutting-in and fixing the old re-cycled corrugated iron sheeting. It’s really nice looking material, old and well weathered, slightly rusty and matt grey. It’s the perfect lining for a hard working workshop. This part of the building will be for repairs and maintenance, so there will be angle grinders and welders being used in here. The great thing about an old weathered lining is that you can’t damage it or scratch it. Or at least if you do, no-one will notice. It doesn’t need painting or maintenance either.

While it rains hard, the best place to be is inside a new dry shed doing the lining. If we get a good couple of days in over the weekend we might get one of the long walls finished. We will really appreciate the value of the insulation when the weather gets hotter and or cooler with the changing of the seasons in the coming years. 

Cutting in around power points and windows is time consuming and the ladder work to get up to 4 metres to reach the top row of screws is taxing. The reward of seeing the progress keeps us going. However, when 5.30 rolls around, I’m happy to stop.

Modern steel framed kit-form farm sheds are pretty boring. I’ve tried here to use all the off-the-shelf components that are available, in a creative way to create a combination of varying shapes, sizes and differing heights, all bolted together to give a more organic composition. I think that it works. I’ve certainly never seen another ‘modern sheet metal shed’ like it.

A well constructed arch is a beautiful thing

When the weekend comes around, we spend time playing catch-up. There are so many jobs that don’t get proper attention during the week, just a cursory glance. I get stuck in and pick tomatoes, Zucchinis, pumpkins, etc.

Janine has been doing all the garden harvesting during the week while I’m flat out being builders labourer to our wonderful, sensitive and highly skilled, couple of brick layers.

Saturday is the time for washing, sorting and chopping all the sub-prime tomatoes. The best ones are put aside for the weeks lunch time salads. All the rest are chopped up and boiled down into passata, starting with frying brown onions in good olive oil, then adding a knob of peeled and chopped garlic. This batch, I’m adding lots of capsicums and chilli, as well as the usual bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, some sage leaves, and loads of sweet basil. The sweet basil is trying to go to seed just now, so I have to continuously pay attention to pick off the flowering heads, with a couple of leaves. Back in the kitchen, I strip all the useful leaves from the somewhat woody stalks and florets. I eventually get about 3 hands full of leaves and my hands smell divine for an hour.

I usually bring the chopped fruit to the boil and then continue for an hour longer on a low simmer. Once the vegetables and herbs are well and truely reduced to pulp, I put the pan aside and let it cool. Later, I come back to it and pass the boiled pulp through a moulii sieve to extract most of the stalks, herbs, seeds and skins. I choose not to use the very fine screen in the moulii. I usually use the medium screen. This lets a few tomatoes seeds through, but it also passes some of the herbage. I like the rougher texture. It somehow feels more honest and real.

This time, I also add 2 teaspoons of salt to the pan, just for that little extra savoury hit. I generally avoid salt in my cooking, but tomatoes and eggs, both really comer alive with just a little of the poison. I do this because salt is in everything that you buy, and in excess, it isn’t good for you. As nearly all processed foods are loaded with the stuff. I think that it’s best to keep my consumption of self-inflicted salt as low as possible. The result of this self-imposed restriction, is that Janine and I both have blood pressure that is at the lower end of normal. 110 over 60.

The resultant puree is again brought to the boil to reduce it by about 1/3 and then bottled. My 5 litres of original chopped fruit, is reduced to 2.75 litres of tomato sugo or passata.

This stuff is magic. It’s so hard to describe a combination of aroma and taste, but trust me it is amazing. This ritual of making tomato sauce every summer is the closest that I come to having a religion.

We chopped up one of our big greenish grey, glaucous ‘Queensland Blue’ pumpkins and Janine made pumpkin soup that will last for a day or two. Even feeding our two brickies.

We have been supporting our brick laying brothers by mixing lime mortar, stacking bricks up onto the high scaffold, passing up queen closers and snap headers to them and generally being helpful and supportive in whatever inept way that we can, whilst staying mostly out of their way. It can be a bit dangerous working below a scaffold, with occasion objects falling down at times. The odd trowel, but mostly brick spalls.

I had to go into town and buy us two safety helmets to keep us safe. Appropriately identified as belonging to the King and Peasant.

The work on the southern facade progresses this week with the home-made double story scaffold including safety rail. The arch is now completed, fitting the two keystones that close the archs. A ‘keystone’ is the last brick that fits in the arch, joining both sides of the span securely. The key stone is no more important than any other brick in the arch, every brick is equally important, it’s just the last one to be placed. Once the arch is secure, the wall is closed over the top, requiring me to cut a few special tapered ‘wedge’ bricks to bring the coursed brickwork back to level over the arch.

A well constructed arch is a beautiful thing. I built over 300 kilns over the course of my kiln building career. With the assistance of my good friend Warren, who was my right hand man for over 25 years, we prided ourselves in creating perfect arches in our brick lined pottery kilns. I know the whereabouts of some of these early kilns, and they are still working well after a very long life of untold firings over 30 years and more.

A well constructed arch is a beautiful thing!

We have spent two days on it and there is still the best part of a day to go the get the gable facade complete. It will require another small centre section of extra scaffold to allow the ridge to be reached comfortably and safely.

As the rain has started to set in, and is forecast for the remainder of the week, we finish the day by wrapping the new brickwork with its soft, freshly laid, mortar joints and covering it with black plastic to stop the rain from washing the joints out over night. If we are lucky, the rain will be very light or hold off for another day so that we can get the wall finished.

If the rain persists, we will be working under the verandah area and try to finish off the front wall around the door and windows instead.


We have spent the last week working with our heritage bricklayers. The job progresses slowly and steadily. I spent the first half of the week working on the southern high arch window end wall.

Mid week I had to build a scaffold to allow the brickies to get higher.

On Thursday I got some help from our son Geordie and my good friend Colin the builder who came over for a couple of hour to help me erect the wooden arch former so as to facilitate support the arch bricks over the arch. I built the frame, but couldn’t hold it up safely while I secured it in place without help.

The brick work proceeded up the wall pretty quickly, so Colin and I spent Friday afternoon building the scaffolding up to the second level and securing it to make it very stable, then creating a safe ty rail around the top to make it safe for the brickies while they work up there next week.

While we worked on the end wall, the brickies worked under the verandah to keep the job moving along.

I secure the brick veneer wall to the corrugated ironed steel rail wall by using what are called ‘brick ties’. These are specially designed steel brackets that are screwed to the steel wall and are embedded into the cement mortar.

These are sold in boxes of 150 units. I am placing these ties on every 2nd brick, on every 3rd course of brick work. We are about half way through the job and we have used almost 4 boxes so far. I can see us using about 1,000 of these in total. Tragically for me, these things are made to secure the brickwork to a timber frame, so the hole in the tie to allow the nail or screw through is made too small for the big roofing screws that I’m using. So I have to spend half an hour a day drilling out the holes from 4 mm. to 6.5 mm.

To prevent any bricks being dropped onto the glass panes, I have screwed plywood panels onto the arch formwork supports and then covered the plywood with black builders plastic to keep it from getting wet in the rain that is forecast this coming week.

It’s all very tedious and takes so much time, but is so very necessary, as replacing a broken pane would take a longer time and cost more.

In chatting to Bill, one of the bricklayers, it turns out that he was taught by a master bricklayer, Dave Smith, who came from Leeds in Yorkshire. I tell him that my father was born in Leeds. Bill likes this bit of news and spends our next few ‘smoko’ breaks telling me all about his good ‘mate’ Dave. He even rings Dave up to tell him about the job, about our ‘Sussex bond’ variations, and about our Yorkshire/Leeds connection.

It also turns out that Bills brother Gordon, our other brickie, knows a lot of our friends here in the Highlands, as Gordon lived here for a decade in the 80’s. We discuss our connections and it turns out that we must have met 35 years ago, or if not, at least been at the same ‘open house’ music concerts.

It’s a small world. We are bonded by more than just bricks and mortar. We have the Sussex bond, the Leeds bond and the Open House music bond.

A weekend off

We are having a weekend off from the brick wall. We need to get into the garden, as there are tomatoes and chillis that need to be picked and preserved.

There are also capsicums, cucumbers and the sweet basil is always wanting to go to seed at this time of year, so it needs a good trim, taking all the flowering tops off to encourage it to put on new leaves and shoots.

I picked a 3kg basin of small egg shaped tomatoes. I didn’t select these plants, they were given to me as an unknown variety. I wouldn’t bother with them again. Too much work for so small a return. But they will make good passata sauce.

8 litres of rough chopped tomatoes, in two boilers, gets reduced and concentrated down to just 3 litres of sauce. But its really nice and intensely flavourful sauce. You can’t buy concentrated, intense, organic home made , small batch passata like this. Or if you could. I couldn’t afford it!

The kitchen smells so good. Especially when I come back in from working outside in the fresh air. The intensity of the fragrance hits me. You don’t notice it as much when you are working in amongst it. It becomes common place. You need a break away from it to realise/recognise the true intensity. Just like so many other things in life. Home made passata is concentrated life in a jar.

We need the weekend break to catch up on other jobs too. We have been collecting timber planks to use a scaffolding. There isn’t a single stick of timber that survived the fire here. I used to have loads of stacks of re-cycled lumber, all stacked under cover, just waiting for a time when they would become useful for some job or other. They all burnt.

We have managed to scrounge enough – I think, to do the job, but it all needs to be de-nailed.

It’s all a bit tough on our wrists, elbows and lower back, so we spread our attack over the weekend, a bit each day. It’s all done by Sunday lunch time. We are taking part in the ‘Clean-up Australia’, so need to be all done before that.

I also picked a load of spinach from the garden, so Janine made a couple of spinach and 3 cheese pies for dinner. Ricotta, feta and gorgonzola, extra yummy.

While I finished the de-nailing, Janine was inside milling up the red and green chillis into chilli paste with a little salt and olive oil. This will keep us going for a another year.

Then finally she stews up some pears for breakfasts, later in the week. This is self-reliance.

Creative Variation – Sussex bond

Our two brick layers turned up on Monday as promised. We have two brothers who have been laying bricks for most of their lives. They have done a lot of work on heritage buildings, so looking at our old school classroom dating back to 1893 was pretty straight forward for them. Yes, it is a variation on Flemish bond brick work, but not at all really like Flemish. It’s a variation!

I have done a fair bit of research on the brick pattern and it is some sort of hybrid along the lines of Sussex wall bond. So we assume that that our old brickie, way back in 1893 was from Sussex, or was taught by someone who was, and wasn’t too concerned about the regularity of his laying pattern. There are lots of variations from 3:1 stretchers to a header, to 2:1 stretchers to a header, right down to 1:1

He used both queen closers, which is a 1/4 sized brick, and king closers where necessary to fit the space allowed between windows and door etc. It’s a mixed bag variation. This is terrific for me, as it means that we can do almost anything that fits the space, as needed. As long as we put a snap header in every one or two stretchers. Gordon and Bill work it out with me as we go. “What should we do here?”, “What do you think of this”. I always refer back to the original building, but also to the addition that we did in 1985/86/87. Our brickie at that time was Denis, a semi retired, older Englishman, who lived locally and very experienced and capable tradesman. He did a terrific job of matching the additions onto the original building.

All of us added up, Gordon, Bill and I together, total 213 years of experience with this heritage brickwork. We are working it out as we go along in a really gentle and flexible way, so as to get the best outcome. It’s looking good. We are really lucky to meet these two guys. They are really great to work with, and the job is coming along really well.

I’m working pretty hard, keeping up the bricks and mortar to these two brickies. Janine is still at the brick cleaning bench part of each day, cleaning the halves and broken bricks that are so important to the look of the bond. We have so many broken bits in the pile of old bricks that we salvaged from the old Mittagong Railway Station. I want to use them all up, to save cutting whole bricks. We have them here, so we have to use them.

At the end of each day, while the brickies clean up and dress down the work. I go to the diamond blade brick saw and start to work through the pile of total reject bricks that have no real use as they are partly shattered, or broken at both ends. I cut these up on the saw bench to make 1/4 brick pieces to use as the ‘Queen closers’. This is an essential part of the ‘look’ of the brick bond pattern. These are an essential part of the bond pattern. At this stage in the job, I need 14 1/4 bricks in each course, as they are laying about 5 or 6 courses per day. I need to cut 70 or 80 pieces each afternoon after work, to be ready for the next day.

On the 4th day, there is just Gordon here for a short day. We place all 5 of the sand stone window sills that I made. The first one takes a little time to get right, then they all go in pretty easily after that, once we had figured out the best way to do it.

I’m very pleased with the outcome. Once they are bricked in and pointed up they look terrific!