Mustard Pickles

Because there has been absolutely nothing worth watching on the idiot box for the past week. It was like ground hog day. So I have spent the evenings cooking.I have been using our vegetable excess to make a batch of mustard pickles. I make pickles like this almost every year to use up our excess and preserve it for later.

To preserve the vegetable mix, I first need to make up a pickling vinegar using 1 litre of cider vinegar with 13g of sliced of ginger, 13g of salt, the tip of a tsp of cayenne popper, 3 tspns of whole cloves, 3 tsps of pickling spices, 13g of whole pepper corns, and 1 tsp of mustard seeds. I also add 1/3 cup of sugar.

I boil this for 15 minutes to bring out and meld all of the flavours, then sieve out the spices and keep on ‘mijoteur’, at a very low simmer.

While this is boiling, make up a paste of turmeric powder, mustard powder, etc.

I use half a cup of flour, 2 tsp of powdered mustard, I tablespoon of turmeric powder, tip of a tsp of cayenne pepper, 1 tsp of mustard seed and 1 tsp of curry powder.

I add in some of the pickling vinegar slowly while stirring, bit by bit, until I can work up a smooth paste. Then I mix them both together and bring the mix to the boil for a few minutes.

Drop in the vegetables and stir well to cover them all in spiced vinegar. Keep at a low simmer for 5 mins to amalgamate the flavour into the vegetable pieces and until it thickens.

Spoon into sterile glass jars, and seal. Over the next 10 to 15 minutes, you will hear the metal lids ‘pop’ as the mix cools down and vacuum seals the jars.

Great with cold meats, strong cheddar cheese or just as a side pickle.

You can start to eat it straight away. I do. But it will also keep for a couple of years if you have sterilised the jars properly. 

However mine never gets a chance to wait that long. It’s pretty yummy.

Wood fired baking dishes and duck egg soufflé

This week I have been making baking dishes in 3 different sizes and latté cups for the wood firing kiln. All this is leading up to the Australian Ceramics Assn Open Studios weekend, which also coincides with the Southern Highlands Arts Trail Open Studios weekends, so pencil in the first two weekends of November 5th, 6th and the 12th, 13th. We will be open for visitors on both days of both weekends.

If you can’t make it on any of those 4 days, just give us a call or email us and we can arrange to be open by appointment any time up until Xmas and over the summer.

Janine packed and fired the little portable wood fired kiln with some of her work a couple of days ago. It was the first time that we have fired this portable wood kiln since the fire. This kiln was burnt in the fire, but survived only because I fabricated it out of good quality Stainless steel sheeting. Spot welded together into a monocoque frame. We had to replace a few broken anchors and fit new wheels, find the stainless steel firebox grate, then build a pyrometer system from a broken thermocouple, that I cut the end off, shortened back to clean metal and re-welded back together. This kiln has only 100mm thick walls, so a short thermocouple is ideal.  It was a first experimental firing to test out new settings, kiln shelfs, T/C, glazes and timber fuel. It was only partially successful, but good for a first firing, so many ‘firsts’ in combination. We will fire it again next week to build on what we have learnt.  4 1/2 hours to stoneware in reduction, cone 9, she got a little nice flashing on the exposed clay and nice glaze melt on her ash glaze and pumice glazes. Next time we will try a slightly longer firing, maybe 5 or 5 1/2 hours?

Because she was dedicated to the kiln all day, first packing, then collecting the wood and finally firing, I made her lunch, delivered to the kiln. Home grown smashed avocado on home made rye bread toast. We already own our home, so can afford to eat such luxuries. I put sliced tomato and home made mustard pickles on some and served it with a side salad of home grown lettuce leaves. The other half of the avocado I filled with lemon juice and sprinkling of ground black pepper and served it as an entrée, with a tea spoon for scooping it out.

I got no complaints.

We have finished picking all the red cabbages, both the first large cabbage, and then the 2 or 3 heads of secondary cabbages that follow. Now the plants are going to seed, so I don’t want to waste the mini red broccoli-like flower heads. They are picked, washed, blanched in boiling water for 2 mins, then pan fried in sesame oil, with slices of garlic and ginger and served with a little freshly ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

This was just a side dish to Janine’s main event – a duck egg soufflé. 6 duck eggs couldn’t be put to a better use.

Served in one of my wood fired baking dishes. A perfect combination. Thanks to our garden, eat well. We live on a low income by choice, but we enjoy a rich life due to our hard work and creative endeavours.

Firing 3 kilns in one day

This week, we saw our first hatching of baby ducklings appear in the orchard from our resident wood ducks. We seem to have between 5 to 7 permanent residents and up to 25 itinerant blow-in opportunists. I’m always surprised how independent and resilient these tiny little fluffy things are straight out of the egg. They run frantically on their minuscule legs to keep up with their mum as she strolls along nibbling at the lush spring grass. They feed on the grass too, each time she stops to let them sit down and rest their little legs.

We seem to have 13 in this hatching.

I’ve been making pots out of our own blended iron-stained stoneware body on the kick wheel for the wood kiln firing that is coming up and also making porcelain on the shimpo. I’m very happy with my new experimental large format wheel head turnings tray. I was able to turn two dozen porcelain dinner plates straight through without having to empty the turnings from the tray – and it’s still not full! In the past, I used to have to stop after every pot and take the tray apart to empty it ,so that I could go on with the next pot. The Shimpo tray is so tight that I can’t get my fingers in to lift the turnings out without taking the tray to bits and then re-assembling it. Such a pain. But that is all in the past now. These new home made custom trays are so spacious!

While I’m on the subject of potters wheel trays. I threw 40 mugs the other day and because I don’t use much, if hardly any, water when I throw. The wheel tray was still mostly dry at the end of the one hour throwing session.

You can see a damp ring, where the slight excess of throwing water has dampened the tray in a ring around the wheel head. No more than is really necessary.

I learnt to throw like this during my apprenticeship with the Japanese potter, Shiga shigeo. All Japanese potters wheels are set down into the floor, of a raised bench-like structure, and it is customary to sit cross legged, on this raised floor, in front of the wheel at floor level

I had to throw all my pots off-the-hump, on a Shimpo wheel with no tray. As I couldn’t sit cross legged, on the floor, in front of the wheel, for very long without getting cramps.  I had to dangle my legs down beside the wheel, into the enclosure, to be comfortable. I didn’t want my legs to get wet, so I learnt to use virtually no excess water. I’ve become a bit lazy in my old age and let a few drop slip off the wheel head these days. As it doesn’t matter, because I have a large tray to catch everything. Old habits die hard.

The mugs are all handled and on the shelves drying out now and waiting for the next firing.

Yesterday we packed 2 bisques and a stoneware glaze, then pre-heated them for an hour. So today we are firing 3 kilns at once.

Spring is here

Life is a mix of endings and beginnings all mixed and intertwined.

This week I picked the second last cauliflower. We ate it raw with a little mayonaise. Snappy crisp and so fresh. It couldn’t have been fresher, with the garden just a couple of minutes walk away from the house.

These cabbages and cauliflowers are the last signs of winter still clinging on in the garden. This red cabbage will be pickled and storred away for summer salad lunches.

Finely shredded and packed in jars with hot pickling vinegar, it will keep for up to 12 months or even a couple of years. But it never lasts that long. Once I get a taste for it, I can finish off a whole jar in a week.

I ended up picking a second smaller cabbage and making up enough to fill 4 jars.

Spring is here and I have been planting out seedlings in the garden.

I’m hoping that the frosts have finished…We bought a pot of sweet basil a week or so ago and left it out on the back verandah… It all shrivelled up in one night. It was just too early.

Now, a few weeks later on, we have tomatoes, more sweet basil, capsicums, chillies, egg plants, blackjack zucchini and yellow button squash all in and taking off.

I have also just planted out seeds of the first beds of sweet corn, green Lebanese zucchini and cucumbers. 

It’s been a busy two days getting all the fallow beds weeded out and into the compost, then digging them over to get out some of the more stubborn roots like mint and tarragon.

Half of the garden has been mulched with compost and it is all looking good.

The spinach, lettuce and leek seeds that I put in a few weeks ago are doing well and starting to respond to the warmer, longer days. We even picked the first asparagus.

I spent half a day last week making more pot boards from old bits of flat, wide wood that was laying around. The top of an old dresser, the doors off an old wardrobe, both scrounged from neighbours on the way to the tip. More waste forestalled. Then 4 red stringy bark planks that I have had put away since the 80’s that were destined to be doors on a kitchen dresser that I was building in the pottery. The dressers all gone in the fire, but the 4 wide red planks remain, It’s a good thing that I never got the doors built, so the timber is now some of our new pot-boards. The main thing is that they are straight and flat and clear-grained.

A very big thank you to Len Smith, who gave me all his Makita power tools after the fire, to help me get going again. They have had quite a bit of work during the building phase, but they are being very useful all over again now.

I have been making dinner plates and other flat ware, as well as bigger pieces for the next wood kiln firing. The sericite is still giving me some issues with cracking on the wide flatware.

This brittle, non-plastic, short, ground-up, rock dust porcelain can be a bit temperamental if you don’t dry it very slowly.

I’ve also been making some bigger tankard style mugs for the wood firing. I’m using a blend of clays that I have developed specially for the wood kiln.

This body has a small fraction of iron bearing clay that will respond well to the fire and hopefully give a nice warm toasty blush on the unglazed surface.

We haven’t really done enough research on this yet, but I’m going on what I learnt over many years of testing from before the fire. 

Now everything is different, and all the suppliers of minerals have changed. Everything needs to be re-tested. I was very lucky that my friend John Edye retired and sold me a lot of his dry, powdered glaze and clay materials. They are all names that I recognise, and know how to use and blend to get a good result. These materials are helping us get re-started again while we sort out the new recipes with the new materials.

The good news is that my Show at Sturt Gallery almost sold out! Just one piece remained unsold when I went down to the Gallery this morning to pull the show down. This is my best ever exhibition result. I’m very pleased.

Another pug mill drama happened last week while I was pugging the recent batch of wood firing clay. The old pug mill gearbox or shaft collar appeared to seize up. I cleaned it out and stripped it down. I’m getting pretty quick at this now. I even bought myself a 21mm rachet spanner to speed up the process. The shaft collar was very tight, presumably from corrosion, but that wasn’t the problem. Even with the barrel and shaft removed, the gear box is very noisey and only goes a few turns before the electric motor overloads and cuts out. I have no time to fix this now. It will have to wait until after the November Open Studios Weekends are over. I ended up hand wedging the last of the batch of wood fire clay. Luckily, the wood firing body is based on a plastic kaolin and is soft and easy to knead by hand. I’m too old for this, and my wrists are feeling even older!

The pug mill parts are all cleaned and scrubbed and stacked in the corner until I can get back to it. I’ll need to remove the motor from the gearbox and test them both independently to work out which unit is causing the trouble and needs the work.

I celebrated my triumph of hand wedging the woodfire clay, by cooking a Thai style dinner entirely from fruit and vegetables from the garden. My only purchase was a can of lite coconut milk.

We have loads of leeks at the moment, so made a risotto style veggie meal with a load of leeks and a garden vegetable mirepoix stock.

Between the garden and the pottery, there isn’t any time for much else. We cook what we grow and fire what we throw. I’m trying to keep my life as simple as possible. Minimising my meat and salt intake. Maximising my vegetables and grains, cooking with just the minimum of olive oil, and after all this I could just so easily be hit by some of Elon Musk’s space junk or be run over by a bus.

Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.

August Seed-Savers Meeting

Yesterday we had the local organic gardening group here for a few hours. We actually spent the first hour and a half having morning tea, a chat, talking catch-up and plenty with plenty of cheese and crackers, then moving on to coffee and cake, etc.

We did an hour or so of weeding in the vegetable garden and then a leisurely lunch for another 1 1/2 hours, before people eventually all went on their various ways. We meet once a month in one another’s gardens and do a bit of work, but mostly we swap seeds and seedlings over coffee and cake, and then share a meal and chat. The day passes very congenially. Views are shared, seeds are collected and offered, weeds are pulled, news is passed on, reviews are opined, compost is spread, cuttings are taken and seedlings are swapped. It’s a very pleasant way to spend the middle of the day.

The day was cold with a bit of a wind, but by midday, the sun came out and it was very pleasant in among the vegetables pulling weeds. I even took my jumper off! Fortunately it didn’t rain until after dark.

The garden is looking loved again! 

The vegetable patch has always provided us with all our green food. Nothing has changed. A lot of the plants were burnt in the fire, but I watered everything very thoroughly straight away in the days after, and we were able to keep our selves in green food at all times. It has recently been a bit neglected, while I have been concentrating on getting the workshop back into production. So now that the Sturt show is up and I have started on the delicate work for the PowerHouse commission. It’s time to do a lot of catching up.

The orchards are now pruned, mowed and fertilised. The prunings are all burnt, the weeds are all composted, and thanks to our lovely friends the vegetables are looking good with their composted mulch. Many of the tiny seeds that I planted a month or so ago, were starting to disappear in a thicket of wild Flanders poppy seeds that are very energetic growers. The next big job in the garden to prepare the fallow beds for the spring planting of the summer veggies.

The Last Weeks of Winter

In these last few weeks of late winter, we have been picking loads of citrus for both juice and marmalade.

The avocado season is also in full swing with quite a good crop on this year.

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I have finally finished building the car port shed, Started in March 2020, completed August 2022. It’s only taken me 2 1/2 years. Slow but thorough.

One other reason for the long time interval from start to finish, was that apart from the initial frame, everything else was scrounged, re-cycled and repurposed.

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The last job was to fame up the East wall and clad it with poly carbonate sheeting. We were gifted a couple of very large recycled glass doors, by a lovely friend who had them taken out of her house to do extensions. I designed and built the wall out of left over steel sections that the pottery shed builders thew out on the scrap pile to go to the tip. I couldn’t bear to see such waste, even to see it go to the re-cyclers was a great waste of embedded energy, so I welded all the small section of scrap together to make long 6m. useful beams. I designed and built this last wall around the donated glass door sizes to make a snug fit.

I’m glad that it is finally done, as there was a lot of 5 and 6 metre high ladder work. More than I was comfortable with. Luckily, I had my very good friend Warren to give me a hand for a couple of days to get it completed. These beams are just too long to lift and fit one handed on a ladder by myself.

You can read the story of re-purposing the short steel off-cuts from a previous blog post here;

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I started framing this wall last December. I’ve been working on it on and off since then as time permits.

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Winter is also the time for fruit tree pruning. It’s been an on-going job for a few weeks now, on and off, as time allowed.

I didn’t do a lot of pruning over the last 3 years, as most of my orchard trees got burnt. Those that survived, just got ignored, as I was way too busy doing other more important jobs at the time.

So this year was a big year for catching up, reshaping and thinning out.

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The small chain saw got a bit of a workout as well as the usual range of secateurs and hand saws.

We generated quite a pile of prunings by the end of the work and had a good bon fire to clean it all up last week at the end of the work, but before the fire bans come back into force.

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Recently, it was our sons birthday, so I made him a panforte as a birthday cake.

With all the usual ingredients and a lot of love.

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You can read about the recipe on my blog here; 

Happy gardening and cooking.

A Weekend at the Beach

We have been lucky to have been invited to spend a weekend at the beach with our friends Toni and Chris. We have been there twice before. On each occasion we collected pumice off the beach as well as cuttle fish bones. We mix these two materials together to make a green stoneware glaze that is reminiscent of a Northern Song Dynasty, Chinese inspired celadon, but because it is all collected from the sea, we call it our Sealadon glaze. 

Janine grew up at the beach on the North coast and for very many years, she would collect beach pumice each time she returned to visit her parents. After a large undersea volcanic eruption out in the pacific ocean about 15 or so years ago, there was a substantial ‘raft’ of floating pumice that was blown across the pacific and onto Australian shores arriving here on the South coast in around 2013/14. This material is still to be found on some remote beaches, where it washed up and got stranded in the sand dunes and coastal grasses. 

Pumice is an interesting rock. It’s an aerated volcanic glass composed mostly of felspathic minerals. These minerals (magma) are very viscous when hot and when forcefully ejected from a volcanic explosion under the sea, the trapped gasses in the rock, created under the intense pressure of the volcanic process are suddenly released. They can’t escape from the viscous magma quickly enough and so expand rapidly exfoliating the rock as it cools. Fluffing it up, like aero chocolate, Not unlike the way that grains of rice are ‘exfoliated’ into rice bubbles in a similar synthetic process.

We also found cuttle fish on the beach during our walk, cuttlefish ‘bone’ is made up of calcium. Many sea creatures utilise calcium from sea water to create their shells and carapaces. Calcium is a very good high temperature flux. So we worked out a recipe of 15 to 20% of cuttle fish bone and 80 to 85% of pumice works very well together. It’s also about the approximate proportions that we find them in together on the beach.

We filled a coupe of plastic bags with our booty. This will keep us going in dark green sealadon glaze for a few more years now.

We were pleased to see a sea eagle cruising and hovering over us in the afternoon.

Young People Today!

I had to go to the service station yesterday. 

I needed to put some more petrol in my car. 

Because I only go to the petrol station once every 3 or 4 months to put a small amount of petrol in the plug-in electric hybrid car. I always forget where the switch is, to open the petrol cap cover.

In our old petrol powered car, I used to go the garage and get petrol almost every week, so I knew where the lever was. It was on the floor next to the drivers seat.

Now, because this car is so different — all electric everything. I have to remember to look for the special button to do the job.

Previously, I was only putting $20 in to last 3 months, but with the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine, the petrol company has been forced into ‘Putin’ the price up. 

I put $30 in this time. I’ll see how long it lasts. This is only the 3rd time I’ve been to the petrol station this year. It remains a quaint and unusual event for me.

This electric car is beautiful to drive. So silent, but with heaps of torque. All you hear is some faint tyre noise, depending on the road surface. On the newer, smooth road surfaces, it is silent.

I’m pleased to be able to drive home and plug it in to the solar panels for a re-charge. If the sun isn’t shining, we still plug it in, and charge it off our Tesla battery. In this way we can use yesterdays stored-up sunshine.

I’m very pleased to say that even during winter, with shorter days and a lot of rain so far this year, we are still over 95% self powered. We can run our house, charge our car, plus run the pottery and even fire the small electric kiln on our 6 kW of solar PV. 

So far this year, we have paid just $75 for electricity from the grid, and this was our first power bill in 16 years since we installed the first 3 kW of PV panels. This bill was largely due to the fact that the feed-in tariff has been reduced to just 7 cents per kW/hr this year, while the cost of green electricity has increased. The feed-in tariff won’t be going up any time soon, if ever. So we have to cut our cloth accordingly. Up until recently, we were getting 20 cents per kW/hr for our electricity, and getting the best part of $1,000 per year in rebates.

However, because I have been doing a lot of regular firings in our electric kiln, we have therefore used a lot more electricity than we normally would. This is becauseI have been working on my Show at the Sturt Gallery. It has taken a lot of research and testing to get this new body of work completed. I haven’t made pots like this before. I haven’t decorated my work with brushwork like this before, I haven’t used most of these clay bodies before and I haven’t fired this wood kiln before. Almost everything is new and therefore un-tried. It was a lot of work to get it all together in time, involving a massive amount of glaze and body testing and test firings. Hence the large power bill. So this is why it is so rewarding to realise that we were able to cover over 95% of it with our own self-generated power.

All this testing also has another more important purpose. I need to make the specially commissioned work as my part of The Willoughby Bequest for The PowerHouse Museum. My original idea all went up in the flames, so I have had to find a new approach, and this new work is my way into that place.

The show at Sturt gallery has been well received. It’s been open for a week now and they have sold 17 out of the 23 pieces. So that is a very good result and I’m very happy with that. I’m very happy with the work and I think that it stands up well. It expresses both my angst and trauma, but also the terrible beauty and energy of intense fire.

We have passed the shortest day, but the weather is still getting colder, as it does. There always seems to be a bit of a lag from the shortest day to the depth of winter. The reverse is also true for the longest day and the hottest weather. So it is now time to do the winter pruning of all the grape vines and deciduous fruit trees.

This was always such a big job in the past with all our stone fruit trees being over 40 years old. They had grown quite massive. Now, post fire, and all new dwarf fruit trees planted in the new orchard, it will not be such a big job, as the trees are still quite small and should remain that way. No more ladder work for pruning.

The first, earliest, peach tree has suddenly broken into flower. This is a strong reminder that I need to get on with it, stop lazing around, and get all that pruning done.

All this cold weather, frosty nights and chilly mornings has inclined me to make a few curries. They are a good comfort food, warming and filling, without being too bad for you. Veggie curries are great, I have been trying to use mostly what we have growing in the garden, which at this time of year must include broccoli, cabbage and even a few Brussel sprouts. I even managed to used most of our own spices.

This Asian influenced meal had the last 9 small tomatoes from the garden, our garlic, chilli, lime leaves, curry leaves, coriander and the last two small capsicums. All from the garden. I had bought a few pieces of fresh ginger, galangal and turmeric from the green grocer because we cant grow these plants in our garden here, even in summer. We had 3 curries over the week. Each one was slightly different, from Thai to Indian. Curry seems to be more warming than other meals.

Maybe it’s all that chilli?

On Sunday I was up before dawn and drove up to the North side of Sydney, a few hours drive away. Up to Oxford Falls. A place where I used to live. I grew up and went to school there. I used to live at number 41 Oxford Falls Road. This time I went to the far opposite end of that long road to collect some old and rusted galvanised iron roofing so that I can rebuild my wood fired kiln’s wood shed and finally create a new and hopefully permanent home for the rebuilt big hydraulic wood splitter.

It was a really lovely sky at dawn with the horizon turning from grey to pink for those precious few minutes. 

I had been given a tin roof off an old chicken farm shed. I was told about it a couple of years ago, when we were casting about looking for old re-cycled roofing iron to use as cladding on our new pottery shed. I wanted to use all old, grey, weathered and slightly rusty re-cycled gal sheeting on this new building to make it look more in keeping with all the other old buildings on our site. Our home is the Old School building from 1893 and we also have the old railway station built in 1881. I managed to save both of these buildings from the fire. We wanted to keep the heritage look and feel of the place and a brand new shiny corrugated iron pottery shed would stand out like dogs balls, I managed to find just enough old, weathered roofing to complete the job while I was still waiting for the roof to be taken off the Chicken shed in Oxford Falls.

That roof was finally replaced this year. Too late for me to use in the new pottery, but just in time for me to use to re-build the dedicated wood shed for all the large billets of timber that are required to be split, stacked and dried for use in the wood fired kiln. I’m quite fond of the old heritage buildings and their ‘settled-into-the-environment’ look, so it is appropriate for me to build the new wood shed out of old and slightly rusted stuff.

When I drove into Oxford Falls Road, the road I grew up on, but where I left to find my own way in life in 1972. I found some old memories flooding back. I remembered that we used to walk down the road a few miles to get to the creek at the bottom of the hill and go yabbying. A yabby is a fresh water crayfish. This time, instead of turning to go up the hill to where my parents old house was. I turned the opposite way and crossed over the ford just above the falls and went West.

I hadn’t been here since I was in my teens and used to drive the family truck down here with my grand father, to collect chicken manure from his friends egg farm. My Granddad was a very committed organic gardener, health food devotee, and a strict vegetarian. He brought my mother up that way, and she me. In fact, my grand parents lived behind our house. The two houses back to back, on different streets but with a common back yard joining them. This back yard was huge, as land sizes were very generous in those post (WW II), war days. That shared back yard was dedicated in the most part to a huge vegetable garden and a few fruit trees. And, of course two massive compost heaps.

It was a regular chore to go with granddad and shovel chicken manure from the deep litter floor of the chook sheds when there was a change over of birds and the various sheds were empty for a short while. We had to take it in turns either holding the bag open or digging the manure and wood shaving mixture into the hessian bags, then lugging them out and up onto the truck. I shared this job with my older brother for a few years until he eventually left home and I was old enough the get my drivers licence and took over the driving. Old man Rigby, who owned the farm and my granddad were great friends. They were about the same age and shared the same interest in ‘health foods’, as they were called back then. Old Mr Rigby baked his own bread. As did my grand mother and she taught my mum. She then taught me. I still make most of our bread, as well as grow my own organic vegetables. Family traditions are passed down in this way. Give me the boy till he is 7!

Well, you can image my surprise, when I turned into the driveway of the site to collect the old roofing iron to find that it all seemed strangely familiar. I recognised the old shed with the hand split stone walls. It all came flooding back. I’ve been here before. Almost everything is different now, but the old shed is the same, just more dilapidated, but I remember that Old Mr Rigby lived in there. The first room served as his kitchen and his office, it’s now the pottery studio. The remaining bigger part of the old shed was his machinery shed. It’s now got one of my wood  fired kiln designs in there. Who could possibly imagine that !

I remember sitting in that room waiting while Mr Rigby and my Grand Father chatted on about compost and other organic gardening stuff. I was bored. I wanted to get going, so that I could go to the beach. I didn’t take sufficient interest in their healthy organic gardening and wholemeal bread baking chat. My Granddad was probably thinking…

Young People today!

Shimpo Whisperer

With the success of my first larger, extended, new Shimpo tray experiment on the metal framed model, I was encouraged to try and add a new larger tray onto the 3 legged RK-3E whisper model.

The original factory tray was just so small and cramped, just like all the other Shimpo potters wheel turnings and slip trays.

I have followed the same archetype that I used yesterday for the metal framed model. I used the same waterproof plywood for the base and the same stainless steel rim all around.

Two down and one to go on this side of the studio.

New and improved home-made shimpo wheel tray

Now that my work in the group show at Sturt Gallery is up and running. 

I have time to do a bit of catching-up on all the jobs that I wasn’t able to get done while I was working hard to get all the pots fired for this show.

One of  the first jobs is to make a new turnings and slip tray for one of our potters wheels. The turnings tray on Shimpo wheels is slightly only just above pathetic.

They are so mean and cramped that if you do any amount of turning whatsoever, you need to stop work to take the tray to pieces and empty the turnings out, then re-assemble it to keep working!

It is so pathetically small, it is completely un-professional. I’m so surprised that they haven’t managed to come up with something more appropriate after all this time.

I’ve been using shimpo electric potters wheels since 1972. I first started with an RK-2 ring-cone wheel. The model with the sharp, pointy drive cone. Later I bought a 2nd hand RK-3. The model with the short, blunt, rounded cone. These were the best wheels on the market at the time. I really enjoyed using them.

After the fire I was given a couple of RK-10 metallic traction drive wheels, but these were from a school, where they were not well looked after and the small plastic trays were possibly allowed to be over-filled with clay slip water that found it’s way into the top bearing, grinding them out, such that that they sound and feel very rough and noisey.

I now have an RK-3D and RK-3E whisper wheels, but the tiny, cramped, plastic trays are still an embarrassment.

In the old pottery, I installed the RK-2 and RK-2 super shimpos in wooden enclosures, so all the turnings went straight onto the floor around the wheel, as is the Japanese accepted practice. However, in this new pottery studio, all the wheels are situated in a row either side of a central bench. This isn’t so convenient for allowing the turning to spill directly onto the floor.

So today, my first new job was to build a large, very spacious, turnings tray for the RK-3D shimpo. It has worked out very well, or so I believe. Time will tell if it is any good. If it isn’t, I’ll take it to bits and redesign it.

This is the miserly factory supplied plastic tray on the RK-10. It desperately needs to be 3 or 4 times larger. The space between the wheel head and the tray is so small that I can’t get my fingers in there to lift out the turnings. 

Trying to do it, just seems to push some of the turnings over the inner edge of the tray onto the top of the inner bearing mount cover. When this happens, I have to take the tray apart and brush out all the turnings from the metal frame and bearing cover, then re-assemble. It’s a very slow and painful process that needs to be repeated every few minutes. When I work with sericite porcelain, I need to do a lot of turning to get the shapes just right. I really need a better designed tray.

I decided to make the new tray out of water proof plywood 750mm. x 500mm. It is designed to just clip over the top of the wheel frame, using wooden cleats to jamb-fit it onto the top of the metal frame.

I cut the bottom out of a plastic bucket to make the circular wall that stops all the turnings and clay slurry ending up on the top bearing. I ‘TEK’ screwed this to the wooden base and used silicone rubber to seal all the edges and make the tray water proof.

I decided to fit it with a strip of stainless steel off-cut as a curved wall, all the way around.

This tray should be able to be cleaned out of turnings easily and quickly, without having to stop work to dis-assemble it.

There is even room at the back to get a hand broom and dust pan in there to sweep out the last of the turnings.

I’m hopeful that it will make working with sericite a whole lot easier and quicker.

Time will tell. Watch this space.

If it works well, I’ll be fitting trays like this on the other wheels.