Making a Crust

I was up very early this morning to put the bread on. I like to get it on early, so it can go in the oven during breakfast and be out ready for lunch.Everybody who makes bread has their own way or technique. We have been making bread for the past 45 years. My mother taught me how to make bread and she taught me what she knew, as she used to bake her own bread for us when we were kids.
I grew up on home made crumbly, stoneground wholemeal flat loaves. I have never been really happy with the results of our own loaves, there was always so much room for improvement. I’m always interested in learning from others how they make bread. Some years ago, I was told by a fellow teacher at an Art School where I was working part time that his wife made really nice bread, she had been a profession baker. He told that the best results came from baking the bread in a closed environment to get a good crust.
He told me that his wife used a cast iron camp oven to bake in. I didn’t own such an item, but googled it and they cost upwards of $100 at the time. That was way beyond my discretional expenditure budget so let it slip. 
Janine and I have owned a bread making machine for 20 years. Actually, we have worn one out and are now onto our 2nd one. They save a lot of time, but we don’t like the square loaves with the hole in the bottom, so we decided long ago to use the machine to only make the dough, which it does very well.

I like rye bread, but Janine finds it too heavy, so we compromise and I make a 50/50 mixed loaf of rye and wheat flour. The bread machine, or should I say the dough machine takes 1 1/2 hours to prepare the dough, which is OK for us. We can put it on and go out to work, then return to take the dough out and bake it our selves in our own tray in the home oven. Sometimes we make a platted loaf, other times we make buns or rolls, all free form just as my Mum did.


My son made excellent bread in his restaurant. from sour dough that they developed there over the years. They even went to the trouble of importing a special variety of wheat directly from the farmer in western NSW and getting it specially milled one tonne at a time for the restaurant. It was worth the effort. The bread was excellent. I even stopped baking bread when I could call in and pick up a loaf of yesterdays bread. A time that I believe caught the bread at its best. He made the dough in the evening after service, let it prove over night and baked it in the now cooling wood fired oven first thing in the morning, before stoking up the oven for the days service. That all ended when the restaurant closed due to Covid.
My grandfather told me that the best bread was proved over night, a slow fermentation. He also told me that in commercial bakeries they blow steam into the oven to help create a better, crispier crust. I don’t know if this is true, but I believed my grandfather, but couldn’t ever figure out how I might achieve that.
I spoke to another bread maker who we stayed with in Wales, He made fantastic bread at home. He even sold his bread locally to his various friends and neighbours. David made a sour dough in a rather fluid form, a very stiff liquid.  David made a bread with loads of seeds in it. I loved it and we even asked him to bake extra loaves for us when we left to take with us.
I’m really lazy about things that aren’t absolutely essential to my daily routine. I can buy a good rye bread in Bowral from the artisan bread shop, but I don’t always go to Bowral, and I won’t drive that far and back just for bread. That would be a crime against society in the form of wasted energy. So I have developed a system that suits me, my energy levels and my available time. We make our dough in the machine early in the morning, then bake it in the oven in a metal pot. I first experimented using a metal casserole, but instead of the usual loaf, I got a wide flat round sort of facaccia loaf. A little bit like the flat loaves that my mother baked. What I did learn from this experiment was that baking in a cassarole gives a better crust.



What I needed was a smaller diameter metal pot, so when I saw that a certain supermarket that has a garage sale down the centre isle, had a special on cast iron camp ovens. Under $20 if I remember correctly. Using this camp oven, I could bake a tighter, smaller, round loaf with a good crust.I recently visited one of my ex-students who I taught at the National Arts School in the late 70’s. He is long retired from making pottery, but still had some pottery gear that he hadn’t had the heart to get rid of, even though he hadn’t used it for years. He called me after the fire to ask if I wanted it. I did and we visited him recently to pick it up, as we are now in a position to accept bits of useful equipment. We actually have a shed to put it in now.
Tony told me how he made bread. He does an over night ferment and then bakes in a cast iron lidded pot. His bread was very good. He advised me to take the lid off half way through the baking to let the crust become a little bit caramelised and crispy – even a little bit burnt. The initial baking time with the lid on steams the crust a little bit and sets up the crust, then the 2nd half of the baking with the lid off gives a nice brown crisp crust. It does work. Or at least it works for me in our oven with our Aldi pot. I don’t know anything about the technology of fermenting flour and yeast, or even of baking. I haven’t studied it. What I’ve learnt about making home made bread, I was taught by my mother, then augmented by our own experiments and what i learnt from others. It’s all a bit hit and miss experiments. Mostly misses. But this seems to work best for us.



Early this morning while I was preparing the dough machine. I noticed that there was a really good red sky, warning me about something?

I wonder what.

Our Old Twice Burnt Dough Mixer Proves to be a ‘Pheonix’ mixer

Janine and I bought a very old and well used bakery dough mixer back in 1978. This was a time when a lot of old, small, family run bakeries were being forced out of business by the big multinational food corporations, and a trend towards people buying mass produced bread in super markets, rather than going to the small family bakery.We didn’t have 3 phase power back in those days, so I adapted the dough mixer to run on the power from a 5HP petrol engine interfaced through a rather snazzy torque converter. The sort of thing that adapts automatic gear boxes to engines in cars. I was given it, so didn’t realise how expensive they were.
We used that dough mixer in conjunction with a 200 mm. Venco de-airing pug mill for 5 years to mix all our clay bodies. Tragically, That pottery burnt down in 1983. That was a timber building and was totally destroyed by the fire. What was really amazing, was that I was able to rebuild both the pug mill and the dough mixer from the melted and charred remains. I spent a lot of time working on that equipment to get it going again. Luckily this machine was housed in a corner of the building with 2 sets of glass double doors on the corner, so as to allow for good ventilation. As this part of the building had very little wood in it,  the machine didn’t get too hot during the fire and none of the cast iron parts cracked.
The shaft of the dough mixer got rather bent during the fire, so had a very noticeable wobble in it when I got it going again, but at least I got it going. It was a bit of a mess, but I managed to keep it going for the next 36 years. After that fire, I converted it to a 3 hp single phase electric motor. The biggest motor that you can plug into a 15 amp power point, as that was all the power that we had at the time. It only just managed to do the job, as it wasn’t really powerfull enough, but I was carefull with it and nursed it along. I set it up with a home made, somewhat loose, slip-belt clutch as torque converters are so expensive.

After this last fire in 2019, The machine really got cooked, That’s it in the centre of the picture above, in the burnt out shed. Fortunately, the fire didn’t crack the castings. However, this time the main shaft was so badly bent, that it wouldn’t even rotate. I gave up on it, as I had so much to do to rebuild the new pottery shed that I couldn’t see myself ever really finding the time to fix it. Then, when my friend John Edye retired. I was able to buy his dough mixer. Very lucky timing. I didn’t have a pottery to put it in at the time, but bought it anyway, to make sure that I had it ready for when I could install it. As it happened, John also had loads of other jobs to do, so it sat there for several months, before we could find a mutual time that suited us both, for me to go and collect it.
In the interval, my friend Ross turned up one day, He is a really amazing person, who has so much knowledge and life experience with machinery. He saw me working on some of my ruined gear and asked what I planned for the dough mixer. I told him that I had given up on it for the time being, but couldn’t bring myself to abandon it. Ross had a good look at it and said that he thought that he could extract the main shaft from the gearbox and straighten it in his hydraulic press. He had done other jobs like that in the past. So I said “yes please, have a go at it”. I know that I won’t get around to it for a long time – if ever.
Luckily, I had poured spent engine oil all over most of the machines to stop them from rusting too much and greased all the bearings to prevent them from siezing up, so as to preserve them until I could find the time to get to them and try to fix them. I also bought a massive tarpolin to cover them. This turned out to be a smart move, as they remained there, under cover, for over a year. I found out through this experience that there is a massive amount of condensation under a plastic tarp, so all the machines that wern’t oiled were very badly rusted.
We worked on the dough mixer. Ross and I were able to dismantle all of the moving parts that still moved, and Ross took the main shaft home with him. He called a few weeks ago to say that it was now back in a good shape. Not perfect, but very good. We water-blasted the carcas to remove all the old oil, carbon, ash and burnt paint from it and I moved all the other bits inside, to keep them dry while I set about re-assembling the gearbox and all other moving parts. Ross organised a new oil seal and I had removed the main bearings and soaked it in oil to rinse clean and preserve them.

At this point, it’s looking a bit like a burnt out darlek!

A new 3 phase electric motor, a good clean, some rust converter and a coat of zinc primer and it starts to look as though it will go again.
The mixing bowl on the other hand had copped a bit of a hiding. It was split in 4 places around the rim and was no longer completely round, in fact it was a little bit heart shaped. I spent some time on it, a bit at a time, clamping it back in shape and tack welding it together,  getting it as round as possible, then welding all the splits back solid again.

After a week of nights, doing all the usual things, rust converter, penetrol sealer, zinc primer, several top coats of hard gloss oil paint and its looking great.

Everything is coming together now. The housing, gearbox and mixing arm have been given their severel top coats and are looking good. I bought a new 3 phase motor, new drive belts and electricals, so when I plugged it in the first time, and it actually went – I was really moved that it was back from the dead. Again! Thanks to Ross! 

Now I need a pug mill and we are back in business, ready to make clay again. This restored ‘phoenix like’ twice burnt, and twice restored dough mixer sits in the same room as John Edye’s mixer that I bought when I had absolutely no idea that mine might be recoverable. Hints of ‘two-sheds Jackson’ here. Steve ‘two-mixers’ Harrison.
Weirdly, my old ruined one is now ready to work before I have finally gotten around to finishing cleaning out and painting the bowl of John’s machine.

Rust converter being applied inside the bowl and the mixing arm to neutralise the rust, by converting the iron oxide that is very susceptible to oxidation with air when it gets wet, and converting the iron oxide to iron phosphate, which is quite stable and inhibits further rusting. However. The iron phosphate really needs to be sealed with a water impermeable membrane. In this case it also needs to be fairly impact and wear resistant. I have found that an oil based, high zinc, machinery paint works quite well. Well, similar stuff that I used in 1983, the first time that I restored this mixing bowl worked really well and lasted for 36 years! Of course, there is no guarantee that anything on sale today will last as long.

The bowl after rust conversion. I sent this image to John and we both agreed that the inside looked al to like an ancient ‘hare’s fur’ tenmoku glazed tea bowl.

Ready for the primer and top coat.

The first coat going on.

ready for work.

Winter is Here, Time to Cut Fire Wood and Clean up

Winter is here now and we are having frosts each night. Janine and I took two days off from the building work to clear a lot of regrowth that has colonised our wood pile site. If I don’t clear these young trees now. It will be a massive and expensive job to take out and clear bigger trees and their stumps later. But more importantly, there are loads of weeds setting seeds that need to be cleared and burnt. Before I could clear the site and mow it. I had to cut up a lot of fallen trees that we didn’t ever get around to clearing up last year.

The old wood storage site being overrun by weeds and regrowth.


I was just so overwhelmed by the scale of the job of clearing up after the fire. There were other jobs that were more pressing at the time. Actually, everything needed doing NOW. But as that was impossible given our age and energy levels, We had to prioritise, a kind of palliaire sort of thinking. Cloaked in our selective thinking, or perhaps blinkered by it, we set about doing what we could manage and afford. Now that things are more settled, I can briefly get back to the cleaning up.

There were two things on my mind. It wasn’t just that the regrowth needed clearing to minimise the fuel load and therefore fire danger in the next hot summer, but all that wood laying on the ground needed to be removed, just to be able to drive over the site. Plus, as it is winter now. we needed to think about refilling the wood shed, as we are lighting the slow-combustion fuel stove in the kitchen every night to cook dinner, and also the slow-combustion heater in the lounge room.


All of the other trees that were burnt on our land are sprouting new growth from epicormic buds, but there are hundreds of dead trees that are going to fall sometime in the coming years. Is so dangerous in there that I will have to wear a hard hat when I walk in there. There is absolutely nothing that I can do about it. I will just have to leave it to sort itself out and stay out.

For the time being, we have loads of fire wood.

Collecting and Restoring Some Old Pottery Equipment

As the year has dragged on into 18 months since the fire. We are flat out busy with the re-building project. We had a slow start waiting for the insurance company to decide what to do, then putting plans to Council for building approval. Everything takes time. We weren’t sitting on our hands during this waiting period. We shifted the burnt out orchard and all its well composted and richly fertile soil up the hill so that we could build the new pottery on the old orchard site. We were able to get that done before the end of winter, so that we could plant all the new bare rooted fruit trees before bud burst.


Although we spend every day working on the building, there is always a few minutes or and hour here and there that can be stolen from the shed project to work on restorring these odd bits of old machinery. I found a couple of unloved bits of machinery that were worth restorring. One was so corroded that it took an angle grinder and then a hammer and cold chisel to clean the rust and scale out and get it unseazed and rotating again. I have become a lot more familiar with bearings, oil seals, gear boxes and pulleys these days.

This is about as bad as it gets before the rust eats through the wall of the machine.

After chipping away at the flakey scale, then attacking it with an angle grinder with a rotary brush, then finally hitting at the stubborn bits with a hammer and cold chisel…

It has come good and has now had a coat of rust converter, phosphoric acid.

There isn’t much that an angle grinder, wire brush, hammer & chisel, then a few coats of rust converter and primer can’t fix. – and a week of evenings!

John Edye, eminent potter and my Friend and collegue of over 40 years has retired from making pots.  When I heard that he was retiring last year, I got in touch and asked what he was intending to do with all his equipment. I was very lucky that I was first to ask. As we lost almost everything to the fire in December 2019, It crossed my mind that he may be interested in selling some of it to me. I was particlarly interested in getting a dough mixer for my clay making. As our old one has now gone through two fires, in 1983 and again in 2019. I was lucky enough to get it going again in ’84, although it was quite wobbly afterwards. After this last fire the burning roof beams fell in on it and the main shaft was so badly bent, that I couldn’t rotate anymore.

We bought John’s dough mixer, damp cupboard and some pot boards.
It was a bit of a job getting them out of John’s very beautiful, but remote country property, deep in the wet forested gullies between Kulnurra and Wollombi. John was well prepared and had all the gear up on pallets, or steel pipe rollers. My friend Dave has a truck with a pal finger crane, so we were able to get in there and lift the gear out.
Everything was much easier at my end, as I have a concrete slab floor for the first time in my life and a pallet lifter trolley to move heavy bits of machinery.

John’s mixer in its new home, with a nice view from the window.

I have started to grind and clean the inside of the bowl. It’s had its first coat of rust converter. it still needs a couple of top coats of a hard wearing oil-based machinery paint to suppress the rust.

I have also been offered a pug mill, shimpo wheel, Leach style kick wheel and various other bits and pieces of pottery gear from other friends who have surplus equipment, are also retired or are choosing to go smaller, but these are yet to arrive here.

The crusher room in the machinery shed is filling up slowly as I tinker away in my spare time after work between midnight and dawn as I slowly pull apart, clean or replace, then reassemble and finally paint this diverse collection of antique crushers and grinders. This is such a different aspect of my philosophy of self reliance, but actually quite rewarding and enjoyable.

I have painted them up in bright colours like big toys – just to cheer me up a bit.

I need to stop lazing around and get some real work done! The pottery studio needs to be finished, as this is the last room to be completed. Then we can apply to the Council Inspectors to get our final inspection and a Occupation Certificate. I know that there will be many little items that will need to be done and ticked off to get it all through. I just don’t know what they will be yet, not until the inspectors tell me what are.

I’ll deal with them when the time comes.

The Day of the Long Knives

I have moved on to a good place this week. I have started to work on the wood work phase, lining the pottery studio with our own timber boards. I am much happier working with wood rather than steel. I can work with steel perfectly well, but I like the feel and smell of freshly worked wood. It’s somehow very satisfying. I have spent the past few days planing the pine boards that we milled out of our burnt pine trees last year.

I was tempted to call this post ‘Just Plane Board’. Not because, I’m just plain bored, but because ‘All I do is just plane boards’ all day long. Doing just this, I quickly wore out the old plainer blades, they were mostly pretty blunt from from doing a lot of work in the past, so I had to change them over, which wasn’t too hard. I found, without too much surprise, that the work went so much easier with the sharper blades, but after a few hours, it slowed down again. This 130 year old home grown Caribbean pine is very solid timber, very tough to mill and now just as tough to plane. I’m only 1/4 of the way through this job and I can see that I’ll soon need to change the blades in the planer again. I can only take 1/4 of a millimetre off the boards with each pass. Anything more stalls the machine and activates the overload switch.

I am quite capable of sharpening knives, scissors, tin snips and small hand planer blades. Any blade up to 100mm. wide. Above this length, it gets tricky, as my widest honing stone is 80mm. so after that I have work diagonally or lengthwise for the longer blades. This works well with hand held sharpening of curved chef’s knives. Geordie (my son, who is a chef) and I used to do a sharpening session every few months or so, and did all our kitchen knives in one big session. We got quite good at the fine grinding and gentle finishing on the 4 graded Japanese whetstones, ranging from 400# to 8000# grit.

However. When it comes to a very thin straight planer blades, these are called knives in the industry, then what I need is a very long stiff jig that I can bolt the blade onto to keep it stiff while grinding it. as these long knives are 330 mm long but only 1.5 mm thick x 200 wide. To hone a long thin and flexible knife like this, I would need a long grinding stone and then a very long honing stone, As the planer blades are 330 mm long, so I will need a honing stone at least this long, preferably longer. I don’t know if there are even stones this long available. Obviously there must be, because these blades are being manufactured somewhere. However, I suspect that these kinds of knives are sharpened in the industry on rotary grinders and honers.

My first thought was to contact the original retailer, only to find that they had discontinued this model of machine a decade ago and no longer carry any spare parts for it any more. I’m not surprised, it’s only a cheap hobby machine. I should have spent the extra money and bought a better quality ‘name brand’ that would still be available. I went on line to see if there were any non-branded, no-name products that might suit my machine. My initial search didn’t bring up anything that might fit this model. So with this option eliminated, I have to find a way of getting the only blades that I have resharpened.

The is a new shop in Mittagong specialising in sharpening tools! I noticed its sign in the street a while ago and made a mental note. I called in there today and asked if he could sharpen my planner knives. He couldn’t. Not only couldn’t he do it but the place that he sends difficult jobs to get sharpened professionally doesn’t do these very long thin knives either. They only do the thicker, stronger machine knives. So I was feeling a bit snookered. but my enthusiasm wasn’t blunted, in fact I’m keen to have a go at building a jig to hold them firmly supported while I pass them over my own bench grinder. It can’t be that difficult – can it? It’s the final honing of them on a 200mm long, or should I say 200 mm short, stone that is going to be the hard part.

The worst that can happen is that the knives shatter while I’m grinding them. If that doesn’t happen, then the next worst thing that will happen, will be that they aren’t completely even, or have a few rough areas along the knife edge. Well, as long as they are sufficiently keen and sharp enough to take off the circular saw blade marks, then that will be fine by me. Any little rough areas on the blade that leave long straight grooves in the wood can be sanded down with the belt sander. I’m doing this anyway because of the current state of the blades.

Watch this space.

Getting on top of it – 5th Ceiling done

Over the last week I got all the materials together for the completion of the large ceiling in the big machinery and maintenance shed.

In my Walter Mitty dream, I imagined that I would be able to collect together sufficient old recycled corrugated iron roofing to do this ceiling. But alas, I couldn’t find enough to do the job. I was sort of counting on one particular old rusty corrugated iron roof being replaced before now, and I had my name on it. But it stubbornly remained in place. I have run out of time now. I need to start to put some machinery in the shed soon, and once that is done, there is no chance of moving the mobile scaffolding around on the empty floor.

I managed to recover over 130 sheets of iron from the old feed mill demolition job, that my friend Andy helped me with, but that was only enough to finish all the internal walls and do 2 ceilings. I had 5 sheets left over at the end of that saga. That left 2 more ceilings to be insulated and lined. I decided to use some very cheap bracing plywood sheets to do the last two ceilings in the gallery and pottery. I was more or less out of options, as any other material is too expensive for our increasingly restrained budget. So I decided to ask Andy what he could think of, as he is a clever and very experienced builder, and I am running out of energy and ideas. He came up with the great thought of using rolls of ‘anticon’ style insulation. This is a type of wide roll of insulwool insulation bonded to a heavy duty layer of aluminium foil blanket.

This provides three solutions in one product.

1. It’s not too expensive.

2. it provides insulwool insulation 75mm thick, at an R factor rating of 1.8. Only moderate, but just enough to be useful. Better than the existing aluminised foil backed foam that I had the builder put up under the roofing as anticon. That aluminised foil backed foam only has an R rating of 0.2 So almost anything is better than not having any more insulation up there.

3. The silver fabric can be screwed to the ceiling top-hat rafters to hold it up in place with some wide washers. A little bit difficult, slow and fiddly, but not impossible.

4. It’s non flammable!

I had Andy and Tim here for one more day last week. That’s the 5th day that I have employed them, and we have completed 5 ceilings. We managed to get this ceiling up in the one day. Installing 11 rolls of insulwool and using almost 600 x 40mm. dia. wide washers and metal ‘tek’ screws to hold it all up.

This quilted looking ceiling is not my best option, but is what is achievable and affordable. It’s done now and will have to do.

A total of R2.0 insulation is OK and the 3 layers of silver foil with a confined, still air, gap will cut the summer heat very well I’m reasonably confident. it looks a bit Dr. Who – space age – 2001 A workspace odyssey. But I’ll be busy working in there and won’t be wasting any time spent looking up.

Finally, some woodwork – but not too much.

I spent the weekend milling and putting up the intermediate cover strips over the cheap plywood joints in the ceiling of the pottery studio.



I figured out a way of holding up the batons single handed using a couple of wooden props. They hold the wooden baton in place securely until I can get the screws into them, and fix them permanently.


Now that the ceiling is complete, it’s time to move on to the next job, which is to prepare the lining boards for the walls of the studio.We used to have three 120/130 year old pine trees growing over our old school house all our lives here for the past 45 years. They were quite skinny little things went we arrived here, as were we. But have put on quite a bit of girth over that time. As have I!


The fire killed them, so we had to cut them down before they started to drop the dead branches onto the roof.We managed to get them felled safely in January 2020 and hired a portable saw mill to cut up the logs into planks for use in rebuilding later on. 



It’s now later on. 16 months later on in fact, and we are ready to start lining the pottery studio walls.We milled over 100 planks at that time. They are now pretty well seasoned, having been racked and stacked in an airy covered pile for all this time.
The planks need to be milled through my very ancient little thicknesser for a few passes, each time taking another millimetre off the thickness.This poor old machine is only just capable of milling these now dry 250mm wide boards. I have to take it easy on the poor old thing. I need it to last the distance. It’s pretty worn out like me. It was just a cheap hobby machine when I bought it 20 years ago and not really meant for heavy work over long hours. nor am I these days!
I only still have this machine now, because i stayed to defend my home during the fire. This gadget was stored in the barn, which caught fire. I was lucky enough to be on hand and see the fire catch hold, and put it out. Actually I didn’t put it out. I called the fire brigade shed to ask for help, but they said there was no help available. In fact no fire truck ever came here until a full 8 hours after the fire. The first fire truck to come past was meandering along the road hosing out smouldering logs on the sides of the road. i saw them and called them in to finally put the fire out.
I had been carrying buckets of water for some hours, throwing it onto the burning corner of the barn. The power for the electric pump that was feeding all the wall and roof sprinklers on the barn came from the pottery, so when the pottery burnt down, the power went off to the barn, even though I had a Tesla battery to power the whole place, the line came via the pottery. There is a lesson here. Only use independent, petrol engined, high pressure, fire fighting pumps in future! 
The sprinklers saved the barn from the initial onslaught of crowning fire and ember attack, but when they failed the ground fire caught up to the building. I managed to stop the fire from spreading to the whole building, but couldn’t actually put it out. As every time I went back to the water tank on the station building 30 metres away to refill the buckets, the fire would re-ignite in some of the smouldering, heavy wooden beams in my absence. I was pretty exhausted after 8 hours of this and the fire truck from Sydney finally arrived.
So I’m lucky to still own this old planer machine. Once the planks are mostly smooth, but not perfect. I then use the belt sander to clean up the few hollow areas. I initially use a 40# grit sanding belt for the first pass, then a 60# grit belt for the second pass. These boards will still need another go over with an 80# grit sand paper on the orbital sander to finish them off.



They come out pretty well for home grown, home milled, home seasoned, and now home planed and sanded planks.



16 planks roughed out, 50 to go.
They won’t be prefect. They have loads of technical faults, but they are mine. I grew them and nurtured them, milled them and sanded them. Their faults are my faults.What is most important to me is that they are so completely local with no travel miles, carbon debt, no fertilisers or irrigation, no middle man, and no coal fired power was used. We run on sunshine here, just the way the trees do. All the electricity to power these electric tools comes directly off our roof from our new solar panels
They just grew naturally for the past 130 years, and soon they will contribute something positive to the new rebuilt pottery. I like the idea that there will be something of the old place incorporated into this new building. Some sort of continuity that we have managed to amalgamate out of the shreds of this disaster. Hopefully it will be a positive link to the past and not a terrifying one. My psychologist says that I’m doing well and has decreased the frequency of my appointments. So I’m hoping all will be OK in the end. But the eczema and irritable bowel syndrome that came on after the fire still persist.
All of the corrugated iron used on the out sides of these sheds was recovered from old building sites where they otherwise would have gone to the tip. All of the corrugated iron lining was likewise recovered and repurposed from the old Moss Vale feed mill. There are so few new materials in this shed. The use of these home grown pine plank lining boards will mark a fitting end to the saga of this building project, as this is the last room to be lined. I am concerned that having any wood at all in this shed will be a point of vulnerability. I’m just hoping that with the iron cladding pretty well sealed and then the 90mm of insulwool stuffed into the cavity, it will stop most of the sparks from the next fire from getting into the building and reaching the timber lining. Having lost the 3 previous pottery buildings to fire has made me very cautious.
I really like the concept of being self reliant. This project has given me the chance to be more completely self reliant, while also incorporating more ‘creative’ and ‘Green’ concepts in my day to day life. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to rebuild our life in a reasonably sustainable, clean, green way.

I stare at my ceilings, but all I see are their flaws

Over the past few weeks we have come to the phase of our recovery project, where we needed to put up some ceilings in our new shed.With such high ceilings, I realised that I needed to borrow some scaffolding from my friend, a semi-retired builder, who had this gantry set sitting idle.
The gantry, allowed us to get up high safely, and being on wheels, it made moving around the room so much easier. I am so grateful to my friends for all their help over the past 17 months of our ordeal. We wouldn’t be so far advanced in our recovery without all of you and your generous and thoughtful support.


To get this difficult job done as safely and quickly as possible. I decided that I couldn’t do this part on my own as I have with most of the other trade-related tasks. I employed our wonderful brick layers and electricians for this same reason. I could have completed those jobs on my own, but I would still be at the beginning. There are just so many man-hours involved in building a project like this.
So to this end, I employed my friend Andy and his off-sider Tim, for 4 days to help me get the ceilings done. One ceiling per day more or less, but we did a few other difficult jobs as well while they were here, Many hands etc.
With these two young blokes up on the moveable gantry and me on the ground cutting, prepping and passing up the materials. They were free to stay up there and get the job done efficiently. I learned this when I used the gantry myself last month to secure the tallest sheets of gal iron sheeting that I put up on the walls of the very tall maintenance shed. I spent more time climbing up and down the scaffold than I did actually working up there.


Tim and Andy were terrific and I didn’t get worn out as part of a 3 man team, although I was very tired by the end of each day and had to have a lay down before dinner. Now our ceilings are almost finished, I can stand back and admire what we have achieved. 
Two of the ceilings were made of corrugated iron sheeting, using up the last of the recycled roofing that I recovered when Andy and I demolished the old feed mill factory in Moss Vale. The other two ceilings were made of quite thin plywood. Not my preferred choice, but the best of a poor bunch of options that were available to us on our tight budget.To save money, I searched out some quite thin 4mm bracing plywood at just $11 per sheet. This is just one third of the price that the big hardware stores are charging. It is so thin, that is it easily deformed by the weight of the insulwool above it that it is supporting. But I can live with that. 



These sheets are intended to be used as bracing ply, and are not meant to be seen. They are not even flat, but quite wavy, even when laying flat on the pallet. I have attempted to minimise some of this wavy distortion in the ceiling, by adding pine cover strips that we milled ourselves from the dead pine trees next to the house that were killed in the fire.The pine strips don’t stop the distortion, but by creating a straight line next to the wavy ply, it distracts the eye from the unevenness and will stop the ply from distorting more over time from the weight of the insulation. A cheap and creative, but effective solution to a difficult problem.


I’m not too concerned about my cheap and amateurish look of this choice of ceiling wood work. If I were building a brothel, where 50% of the customers might be staring at the ceiling, then it might concern me!

But this is a pottery shed. No one will be looking at the ceiling!

White Room

Janine and I have been painting all the multicoloured different hued sheets of re-cycled corrugated iron sheeting that we used internally as lining for our shed. I spent 3 or 4 months collecting old roofing iron off a lot of buildings from Sydney to the Highlands. I spread the word among my friends and students. I would come and collect what ever was on offer.

Sometimes, I’d get a call in the morning saying you need to be here between 3 and 4 this afternoon, you can have the roof and we’ll help you load it, but if you aren’t here, it will all go to the tip. We can’t store it here on the building site. And I did, some of it wasn’t much good, but I could select was was useful to me and take the rest to the recyclers.

We ended up with a dozen or so different styles of old corrugated roofing in every imaginable colour, from straight silver-metal zincalume, through red, green, blue, brown, yellow and grey.

I chose to use the sheets in the necessary lengths required in each position. This resulted in a mix of rather unattractive colours that didn’t sit well together. We decided that we would have to paint it all one colour to get some aesthetic cohesion. Even if the profile of the different sheets, manufactured in different decades, by different companies, didn’t fully match, resulting in some rather big gaps in the overlaps. Well, beggars can’t be choosers!

We gave the room a first coat of very cheap ‘Aldi’ flat white acrylic to bring all the sheets to the same base colour. Then to save money, we bought one 4 litre tin of cheap commercial ‘pink’ tinted flat plastic and made our own blend of 3 parts, Aldi cheap white acrylic that just happened to be on special in the week that we needed it, and one part of the tinted pink paint. We ended up with a very pale pink that looked like a warm white. You can only tell that it is a pale pink, by comparing it to a otherwise supposedly ‘White’ test sheet.

Two coats of our cheapskate, ‘poverty pink’ and the room looks good and completely consistent in colour. We have gone through 16 litres of paint to get all 4 of the quite tall 4 to 5 metre high walls coated. Good value at $120.

Looking out of the big arched window that I made for the ‘gallery’ room. I can see the Balmoral Railway Station out in the garden. We bought the old Railway Station by tender, back in the 1970’s when the Railways Dept. had closed the line to passenger traffic, and kept it open as a solely goods line. They decided that they wanted the un-used timber stations removed from the line and the site cleared.

We thought that this was a shame, as the timber railway stations form part of the fabric of village history. The Station at Hill Top, the next village along the line, was the first to be sold off. It went for $2! the people who bought it only wanted the tin off the roof to build a chook shed. So they took the iron off the roof and burnt it down. That cleared the site, and fulfilled the contract! The what a shameful event.

We decided that this wouldn’t happen to our village station. When ours came up for demolition, we tendered to demolish it, but instead we picked it up in a couple of huge wire slings, lifted it onto a low loader and re-located it to our own back yard. That fulfilled the contract to clear the site. But most importantly, it preserved this valuable part of our village history for some time to come. The station building dates to about 1880 and although it is only small, we decided that it was too important to be destroyed.

Incredibly, it almost burnt down a few times during the catastrophic bush fire that raged through Balmoral Village on the 21st Dec. 2019. Embers lodged in the roof facia board and it caught fire. I was lucky to manage to see this early on and managed to hose it out before it spread to the whole of the roof. I was simultaneously fighting the fire that had caught hold of my barn at the same time and had t keep returning to the water tank on the station building to refill my buckets, because the pump on the barn had failed after half an hour. I saw the station roof burst into flames again, and again hosed it out. With the wind howling and the air temperature very high, and the constant shower of ember shrapnel flying through the air, my hair even caught an ember and caught fire at one stage. It’s impossible to forget the small of burning hair!

Even though I hosed the fire out very well and soaked the area around the fascia of the station roof. It soon dried out in the hot gale and burst back into flames. I had to return and put it out several times.

So I saved the Station – for a 2nd time.

Looking out at the station through the tall arched window from this newly painted white room. I am suddenly reminded of the lines of a song from my teen years, “In the white room, with no curtains, by the station” There was something else about tired starlings. but the important part is that we have a white room with no curtains, by the station.

That’s The Cream (on the cake for me)

Some colour in our life

We have been back in the pottery doing a little bit of painting, adding some colour to our lives. We decided on a cornflower blue for the east wall of the glazing room. The old gal-iron tin on this wall was in good condition, but just seemed a little dull against the other brighter walls. It had always been our intension to paint all 4 walls these bright colours. Principally to hide the vast range of pre-painted re-cycled drab colourbond roofing sheets that I had scrounged  from all over Sydney and the Highlands over the past year to clad and line this new more fire-resistant design of pottery shed.
However, when I put up these last full length sheets of perfect, matt grey, weathered and aged, galvanised iron. I couldn’t initially bring my self to paint them. I had to live with them a few weeks, before I came to terms with the fact that as perfect as they were, they would look so much better, and fit in with the original concept more completely, if they were painted cornflower blue. So it is done! I completed the second coat this evening after I finished work in the maintenance shed. I spent the day cleaning, grinding, repairing and painting bits of old rusted and burnt out machinery left over from the fire. The new colourful walls look great and give me an uplifting sense of pleasurable colour therapy whenever I walk in there. So much better than dealing with burnt-out and rusted junk machinery.
This bright colourful room is designed to be multi-functional. Primarily as the glazing and decorating room, but also doubling as display space when we take part in the annual Southern Highlands Artist Open Studios weekends in the first two weekends in November each year. I think that it will work. But time will tell.

Janine does the touching-up around the edges with a brush.


After work I spend a bit of time picking a range of some of our past-their-best, sub-prime, vegetables from the garden, stuff that is going to seed and past its best for salads. I make a wholesome vegetable stock with them. It’s a cold day, Janine has lit the wood fired stove and its so nice and toasty-warm in the kitchen when I come in from the garden.The vegetable stock is a little thin, but well flavoured. 
We decide to make an Italian inspired ‘risotto-like’ rice meal with loads of vegetables.This is not a real risotto because we have added far too many vegetables. This is more like a vegetable stir fry, except that we are boiling and simmering the rice and vegetables in stock. Not frying them. so its a vegetable boil-up. Doesn’t sound so good that way, does it.
Whatever this meal is called, its pretty good! And so organic, so immediately local, so fresh, low carbon miles, low fat, low salt, low GI and delicious.


I serve it up in a couple of our somewhat rough and heavily textured , ash glazed and wood fired rice bowls. Such is our self-reliant life.