The Strange Pleasure of Self-imposed over-work

This last week I finally got around to replacing our very old roof on the Old School classroom. 129 years old in fact.

I have had it on my ‘to-do’ list for some years now, but I have always been too busy.

However, as I have been getting older and less virile, I realised that I needed to get on with it without too much delay.

We were getting a few drips in during heavy weather, but not too bad. Just enough to warn me that this needed to be treated as a priority.

Then the fire came and I suddenly realised that the roof was the weakest part of my bush fire protection. 

The old iron sheeting was coming loose from its screws and gaps were appearing in-between the over laps of the joints. This was also adding to the rusting and leaking.

Since the fire, I have been so completely focussed on re-building and getting back to my proper work of making beautiful things, that I had to ignore the pressing need to replace the roof.

Then the floods. We had more and larger leaks in the lounge room during the recent torrential rain events, so the roof had to be dealt with.

I had asked my friend Andy, who is a very skilful builder, to give me hand to replace the roof, as I wasn’t at all confident to be up on the 6 metre scaffold and then onto the 30 degree pitch of the roof.

Just a few months before the fire I had single handedly replaced the north face of the old pottery roof over 2 days, replacing the roofing batons and the insulation as well.

But that was then. I have lost a bit of confidence up on roofs and ladders since then with all that I have been through. It’s shaken my self confidence. I think that the experience of the fire has aged me.

Particularly the episode of climbing into the big pine tree up 7 or 8 metres to chain saw off the burning branches over hanging the house during the fire.

I haven’t been the same man since. It took something out of me that day and I haven’t been able to recover it.

Anyway, Andy said that he would help me out, but not during the summer, when it would be too hot for roof work, so last week was the time. He had a few days free. 

I had ordered all the materials a few weeks beforehand, and I also asked my neighbour Larry to give us a hand, as it is good to have someone on the ground to pass things up when the ladder is 6 metres up and down. Over the years I have had Larry over here occasionally. I taught him to Mig weld and on several occasions he has brought sheet metal jobs over here for me to cut up in the guillotine and bend in the pan break etc. We have developed a barter system of swapping labour on jobs that we can’t do alone.

Over 3 days from Monday to Wednesday, we built the scaffolding, stripped the old roof in sections, insulated the ceiling with more insuwool batts, Checked the old roofing timbers and structural joints. Which turned out to be amazingly sound and better quality than any modern-day, fresh hardwood available for sale locally. I was really thrilled. It was such a solid build.

I had expected to have to replace the batons at least. We improved the structure by bolting the timber roof batons onto the rafters as a safety precaution, as those 129 year old nails were starting to look a little rusty.

We ceiled the roof cavity with ‘anticon’ sheeting and fibreglass insulation, to bring the structure up to the current ‘BAL40’ Australian Standard bushfire fire-proofing. 

Then fixed new single length gal iron roof sheeting back onto the roof. By doing it in sections, the whole roof was never exposed all in one go. This was a precaution against any possible sudden change in the weather.

We were lucky. It didn’t really rain very much and the days were not too hot or too windy, so we finished most of the job in 3 days. 

There is still a lot more to do, but this was the most pressing and difficult part.

After climbing the 6m ladder 20 to 30 times a day carrying up all the materials and tools etc. My thigh muscles were screaming from over use, and it didn’t get any easier by day 3, but then we had Thursday off, as Andy had another appointment, so on the Friday as we did the flashing, the front ladder was so much lower to get onto the front verandah. That meant less ladder climbing, so my legs and knees were coping much better.

I fell into bed each night with a sense of relief, but also a hovering feeling of extreme tiredness bordering on exhaustion. All self inflicted and well earned. 

The trade-off for this minor pain is that I now have a roof that doesn’t leak in heavy rain, but most importantly, a roof that is better designed to survive the next catastrophic bush fire.

That’s a relief! I’m really too old for all this kind of ladder and roof work, but it just needs to be done.

The new roof has cost me about $5,000 in materials. I’m pretty sure that it would have cost me 4 times that much if I had got a roofing company to do it. Self-reliance has its strange pleasures.

The next job is to fire proof the timber end gables and under the eves to stop ember attack. 

But first I need a good rest. I have some big porcelain bowls in the damp cupboard that need turning. A change is as good as a holiday I’m told.

Waterproofing the leaking pottery windows

We are in our own very small and insignificant flood recovery mode

Now that the rain has eased. I can get out and start to repair the leaks that have become apparent in the pottery.

The tin shed builders were pretty basic, almost sub-prime. We have had so many leaks in this building.

The builders chose to use metal sheeting screws without any rubber seals. This must have saved them $10 bucks! So all the walls leaked in the first rain months ago.

I had to go around the whole building and seal all the screws. I had a few options. Firstly I could go around and take out every screw and replace it with the correct type 17 climaseal screws.

Or, I could go around and take out every one of the 3,000 screws, add a small rubber ‘O’ ring washer, then replace the screw. In the end I took the quicker and cheaper option of going around and siliconing the head of every screw. This turned out to be quicker and cheaper. But it still took me days to go around and seal every one to water proof it.

During this prolonged rain event we’ve had a lot of rain compared to our normal. At one point we had over 300mm in 2 days. I know that this is nothing compared to what other places have had to deal with, but it is more than our annual rain fall during the drought years. It became apparent that a couple of the windows were not installed correctly, so that water was leaking in around them. The builders must have been very sloppy with the flashing.

Rather than take the shed to bits to find and seal the problem. I decided to put an awning over the problem windows to keep the rain from getting in behind them.

I had to custom cut and fold some fancy flashing to fit the corrugations and keep the water out.

I cut them by hand using old fashioned ‘curved’ tin snips. Once screwed to the wall above the window and sealed with silicon, they look pretty neat. I’m hoping that this will solve the issue?

Paving Tiles and Wood Heater Repairs

We were busy last weekend with a bunch of friends paving the court yard area around the new, almost finished, wood fired kiln.

I still need to finish laying the last of the floor bricks in the chamber, I would have finished this small job a couple of weeks ago, but when the court yard flooded with 70mm of water sloshing around in there. It wasn’t very appealing to be kneeling done and doing the bricklaying. Then all that water was sucked up into the floor bricks like a wick and they became saturated so that any new mortar wouldn’t stick in place. Finally, they have now turned green with algae. I’m sure that they will dry out – eventually!

This severe weather event, although not life or property threatening for us, like it has been for our friends and relatives up on the North Coast. It has been a good warning and trial run for what we can expect in the future as Global Heating increases unchecked. No one in government seems to be taking this seriously, so what can we expect for the future? Well my guess is more of the same, only much worse. We’ve been warned.

So this extreme weather event has been a great warning to us as to what we can expect in the future. I have learned from it and and I’m taking actions now to limit the sort of damage that very heavy rain fall can cause. To start with we have paved the kiln area with a significant fall away from the kiln and out into the open. I have also ordered some more steel batons and some more poly carbonate roofing sheets to wall in half of the courtyard directly behind the kiln. With contour drainage to take the water to the edge of the retaining wall. Although the pottery didn’t flood, it has become obvious that we need to create a dish drain around the front of the building to carry all the excess ground water away from the front of the building, because another event will eventually be worse. 

This is a start

Back at the kiln, I also need to fabricate a stainless steel firebox lid and a stainless steel chimney flame tube incorporating a spark arrester. I planned to have started this job already, and 3 weeks ago, I ordered the Stainless steel sheets and some Stainless steel wire mesh for the spark arrester. The sheeting is here, but the couriers have lost the SS mesh. The supplier won’t replace it until he knows what has happened to the first order. The courier company won’t pay out to replace it until they know what has happened to it. So I’m stuck in a catch 22 situation. I can choose to wait it out until the original order is found and delivered, or buy a second sheet of stainless steel mesh and get on with it, but it’s not cheap stuff, so I’m waiting and continuing to write emails of enquiry.

We had a great weekend with our friends laying the paving tiles. We also met two new people who volunteered and turned up all the way from Newcastle, who will surely become friends now. They were a great addition to the group. The stayed over night with us and we got to know each other over a home grown meal from the garden. I had previously made a big pot of tomato passata from the last of our tomatoes, so we had an easy meal of pasta. Dan and James are environmental campaigners and organisers, so we shared a lot in common. James took this image of Dan, Janine and me standing on the new paving.

Dan, Steve and Janine. image by James Whelan

  

This is all great progress and I’m really happy to see so much getting done.

Janine and I started the levelling and paving earlier in the week. As a trial run, to make sure that everything would work out the way that I planned. As we haven’t done any paving since we built the last pottery shed in 1983, I’d completely forgotten what to do and had to re-educate myself and get my skills back up to date. It’s not rocket science, but does need concentration and quite a bit of back bending work. I decided that at my delicate age, I should not do so much bending and instead get the knee pads on and work down on my knees to keep my back straighter. This worked out much better. But then getting up became a bit of an issue.

Starting the paving, getting our levels sorted out and learning how to space the pavers to allow for all the different sizes to fit together evenly.
the courtyard paving complete

As we are in Autumn now and the weather is getting cooler and the days shorter, we have thought that we may need to light the fires in the kitchen and lounge room soon. The slow combustion heater in the lounge has started to wear through and rust out in the top fire box steel sheet. A crack started to appear at the end of last season, so I made a mental note to repair it once it cooled down, during the off-season, well that time is running out now, so it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. I decided to attack the problem by fabricating and new roof for the firebox out of a scrap piece of 2mm thick stainless steel sheet.

The new Stainless steel fire box roof sheet ready to install
The new firebox top bolted in place

Rather than try and weld it in place, which wouldn’t really work very well , as stainless and mild steel have different rates of expansion and contraction. I decided to bolt it in place with stainless steel bolts through over size holes and oversize washers. This should allow for the differences in expansion. The 2mm thick stainless roof should last as long as the 4 mm mild steel walls and whats left of the old top sheet. Time will tell. The stove is about 30 years old, so it has proved it’s worth. I’ll continue to work on it and preserve its life for as long as I can. We bought our slow combustion kitchen cooker over 40 years ago now and it was 2nd hand then. I’ve managed to keep it going all this time with home made adaptations and ingenious improvised repairs. I’m proud of that achievement and I’m hoping to extend it to 50 years if I can.

While I was at it, working on the lounge room heater. I also made a new front door frame seal. Afterwards, we went out into the paddock and spent an hour together with chainsaws cutting bushfire devastated and blackened logs. We cut them to stove lengths and stacked them in the wood shed ready for splitting. This will be about 1/4 to 1/3rd of the fire wood that we will get through the coming winter months.

A Productive First Week of the New Year

We have hit the ground running in this first week of the new year. I still have to build the wood fired kin so that I can get on with my work and research.

Before I can build the new wood fired kiln, I need to build a roof to keep the new kiln dry and weather proof.

We have a beautiful court yard area that only needs a skillion roof over it. I spent the first couple of days of this week making the portal brackets that I need to join all the rolled steel purlins for the roof.

I had half a sheet of 3mm gal steel, so was able to make all my own brackets from this. Cut and folded into useful custom brackets. Then pre-drilled to take the 12 mm. high tensile gal bolts. I drilled 200 holes on Tuesday with my hand held battery drill. I spent quite some time sharpening drill bits to keep them all sharp as the day wore on.

Once the 12mm. bolts are in and tightened, it prevents the various members from parting company. Then there are 8 to 10 ‘tek’ screws to be drilled in around the bolts to stop any lateral movement or swivelling around the bolts. It’s a very quick and elegant system to secure the rolled steel purlins together with great structural stability. There are 8 bolts and 24 tek screws holding each triangular corner plate together.

By fabricating all the crucial parts myself, all I need to purchase are the long, rolled steel purlins, as these are 6 or 8 metres long, and too big for me to fold myself in my workshop. Everything else is scrounged, recycled, repurposed or home made on site. We are even using some of the hundreds of metal screws that Janine picked up around the building site after the contractors erected the original shed frame.

On Wednesday, my friend Warren turned up for a 3 day stint. We dug the footings and cast the ‘H’ section posts in concrete. I had pre-cut and stacked the posts ready to go into the ground. On Thursday, the cement had set and we were able to bolt on the cross-beams and triangulate the structure with knee braces, making it free standing and structurally stable.

Friday saw us screw on the ‘top hat’ rafters, or roofing battens, and then finally screw on the galvanised iron roofing and polycarbonate sky-light sheeting. Not too bad for a couple of amateurs in 3 days. What was remarkable was that all this was done in the pouring rain. It seems that all the negatives of working on ladders, at height, when over 69 years old, with power tools, in the rain, on slippery steel. These all seem to cancel each other out and the result is all positive. A finished, metal-framed, kiln shed roof with skylights and excellent ventilation.

I wrapped the power tools in a plastic bag to keep the rain out of the electrics. Just had the drill bit sticking out of the cut-off corner of the bag. It worked really well.

This coming week, the second week of the new year, We will be picking up and carting the paving stones back from their storage stacks post-fire and re-laying them in the courtyard in preparation for the bricklaying of the wood kiln. I really need the wood fired kiln built and fired as soon as possible, as I need to get my exhibition commitments under way.

Each week brings us closer to the completion of our new workshop. Nothing is ever finished, Nothing last for ever and nothing is perfect.

After The Fire – 2 years on

Now that the pressure is off for taking part in the Open Studio events, we can relax a little. We were lucky. We managed to get sufficient glazed work finished to put on a reasonable show.The next big job is to re-build our wood fried kiln, so that I can make the work for the PowerHouse Willoughby Bequest commission. As we are in need a bit of a rest after two years of constant work and anxiety about finances, materials, parts, Local Council regs, electricians and final inspections. It’s good to have this time before Xmas to do a lot less.

Janine is spending a few hours each day back in our lovely new and very comfortable pottery studio, making a few orders from the Open Studio weekends, but principally because I have promised to make a bathroom vanity sink for our neighbours new house. As we were fully occupied recovering from our own bush fire ordeal, we couldn’t help them rebuild their house very much. So making them a bathroom basin is my best gesture towards recovery.
The basin is too large for our tiny electric kiln, so will need to be bisque fired in the bigger gas kiln. We can’t afford to fire the kiln with just one pot in it, so Janine is making work to fill the kiln and make the firing more economical  We are not pushing ourselves, just taking it slowly. A few hours a day is enough. There are so many other jobs that need our attention, just to keep the veggie garden and orchards in good nik and under control. Mowing is the main job these days, as it keeps on raining and getting warmer, so the grass grows quicker.

While Janine enjoys the luxury of the new pottery. I am out in the maintenance shed welding together a pile of pressed metal ‘C’ purlin off-cuts. joining them together to make useful longer lengths. I am joining up to 7 small bits into one 6 metre length that is more useful. I will bolt these ‘recovered’ lengths back to back with some new material to make a composite ‘H’ section. These will make very strong uprights and purlins for the new wood kiln roof.

I don’t particularly like working with steel. It’s heavy, sharp, noisy and dangerous stuff to move around, but it surely does a great job of being strong and resilient  These thin beams will span great distances. The specific thing that I love about steel is its ability to be welded back together to make it larger and stronger. I’m told that a 25mm weld can hold over a tonne. That’s strong. And if I accidentally make a mistake and cut a piece of steel too short. Well, if it were a piece of wood, it would be wasted. I would have to use it up in another job where a shorter length was needed. You can’t join timber back together. However in the case of steel. It can be welded back together and the joined pieces can be stronger than the original – if its done properly!So I have saved all the off cuts from the pottery shed frame that the builders threw onto the rubbish pile. I put them aside and Janine later stacked them carefully so that now they can be put to good use making the kiln shed frame and roof. Reuse, recycle, up-cycle  waste not want not. etc. I take a great deal of pleasure in being able to forestall waste in this way with this kind of ‘thrifty’ building work. It has been being self reliant like this that has got us to where we are now in life on our small income from our creative endeavours.
In the mornings we work in the vegetable garden, clearing out swathes of overgrown weedy stuff that has more or less finished its productive life. 

Then when the sun gets up higher, we have lunch and stay inside for the afternoon doing our ‘inside’ jobs until the heat of the day has subsided. Sometimes this heat culminates in a thunderstorm, two days ago we had hail with the thunder storm. This is something like the summer weather that we used to get decades ago. Possibly the last time that we had strong La Nina conditions?
If I have to be stuck inside at these times, I spend time making something useful that will improve our lives. Today it was some garden bed edging that I cut and folded out of scrap galvanised sheet steel that had been laying about since the fire. We have decided to shrink the garden beds a little bit to make them narrower. This will result in making the garden paths wider. Once this is completed, we will be able to drive the ride-on mower through the veggie garden and save hours manhandling the whipper snipper around the current narrow paths which is becoming quite tiring work for me these days. Especially as it needs doing almost every week.

Everything that we have done since the fire has been oriented towards making our future life here easier. Building the new pottery on a cement slab floor for the first time, so everything can be on wheels – possibly including us in our dotage! We have chosen all dwarf root stock grafted fruit trees for the new orchard, so no more climbing up step ladders to prune and harvest fruit. We planted these dwarf grafted whip-sticks in August 2020. These trees are now 16 months old and in their second summer. Some of them are doing really well and have set plenty of fruit. So much so that I had to go around a month ago and pick off half of the crop and compost it before it drained the vitality from the young trees.  I picked off over 100 small apples, peaches and necturines. I also did a summer pruning of some of the tallest leggy shoots to keep the trees in a sound open vase shape to promote good growth and development in the future.

Even though I thinned out the crop, we were still able to pick about 40 peaches and twenty necturines this last week.

We are also picking loads of blue berries at the moment. Half a kilo every second day. We have to find ways to use them up, as there are too many to eat as fruit salad in the mornings now. We preserve some and I have started to make blue berry tarts now, as the youngberry and logan berry crops are more or less finished. They never make it past Xmas. But this year in particular the constant rain and the hail really ruined the usual large harvest. Who’d be a farmer or an orchardist?
Two years on we have worked ourselves into a really good place. It can only get better. The past is the past. We are not looking back. Everything is in place to create some beautiful and meaningful moments in our life.

The Gallery Room is Finished

This last week, we have been working on getting the gallery room finished. This is the last big dirty job to get out of the way. Once this is done we can really start to clean the place up and get ready to make some pots. There is of course loads of other jobs to complete before we can fire anything, but they can wait. They will get done in good time while our first pots are drying.Some of these other jobs will include getting the kilns ready for firing.
However, in the meantime we have cut the huge pine slabs that we milled 20 months ago. I have sawn them into rectangular planks 3 metres long and 750 mm wide and 80mm thick. Not too many people can afford to use timber like this in their gallery. We can’t! It would be completely out of our reach if we had to buy it.


We can only do this because we grew the trees our selves. We got the dead pine trees that were killed by the fire, felled professionally, as they were right up against the house. We then hired a portable saw mill to cut them up into big slabs for bench tops and planks for lining boards. They have been seasoning for the past 18 months.
I had to build an extension bar for my small hand pumped hydraulic crane on the truck. An extension of 3 metres is a bit far, but it worked quite well. I took the first lift very slowly to test that it wouldn’t bend under the load. A few weeks ago, I had a friend come and help me lift and shift these massive slabs onto the ute. But we are now in total COVID 19 lock down statewide, so another solution had to be devised. This way, I can do it all myself.


The huge slabs needed to be cut to have parallel sides and squared off ends, then planed, and sanded a few times with ever decreasing grit sizes of 40#, 60#, 80# and 100#, finally washed to raise the grain. After drying, the rough raised grain texture was again sanded with 80# and then 100# to get a fine finish. There are so many hours of work in getting a massive surface like these slabs from a very rugged chain saw finish, to glassy smooth. I’m not a wood worker, so I don’t have access to any large wood working machinery. All this had to be done with hand held tools. I have to thank my very good friend Len Smith for giving me all his Makita power tools. I need 4 big slabs for the bench tops and 24 planks of 2.4 metres to be dressed like this to make the shelving. It’s taken me over a week.
Once the slabs were finished, I needed to shorten the crane arm to lift them onto the truck to drive them up to the pottery.


I needed to weld up a suitable steel frame to support all this wood.



We’ve ended up with something that resembles a massive kitchen dresser. One on each side of the room, with another huge slab table in the centre. This gives us plenty of storage space in the cupboards and a lot of flat display space. We spent today sweeping, vacuuming and generally cleaning up all the saw dust that ended up coating everything in the place. That is all now done. This was the last really messy job. We can now relax a bit and look forward to making some creative work.


Tomorrow I will start by making some throwing and turning tools. My first job on the wheel will be to make some clay ‘chucks’ to get them stiffened up so that I can turn my pots once I start to make them.

Final Inspection and Prepping for Clay Making

We have been working a bit frantically to get all the things on the list completed so that we can get our final inspection, which, if our building passes, will entitle us to get our occupancy certificate. Once we have this, we can legally move in and fill the place up with pottery equipment and start to use the space as it was intended.
The Council Building Inspector called in today in the late afternoon. He gave our work a good scrute and declared that we had completed everything on the list to his satisfaction. He issued us with a carbon copy of his Final Inspection Report and was very complementary about the way that we had transformed a cheap, kit form, tin shed(s) into an interesting building. He commented on our sandstock brickwork and the arch window that visually links the new pottery shed to the Old School building and our use of recycled, old gal iron to enhance the visual amenity of this historic site. I was chuffed.
We celebrate with a dozen oysters off the fresh fish truck that come up from the coast on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, paired with a couple of cheap sushi trays.


Now we can legally move in. Actually, he didn’t comment on the fact that we already had moved in our kilns, clay mixers, rock crushers and ball mills, the benches, pan break and guillotine, they are all in there and ready for work. I have been using the maintenance shed for a couple of months now to restore my machines and actually make the components to fit out the rest of the building.

One of the first things on my list now, is to make some clay, so that it can ‘age’ for a while, to improve its plasticity, so that when we start to make pots again, the clay will be more workable and respond better on the potters wheel. Having a bit of time to age is very important for freshly made clay, when it is made from powdered materials.

Ageing isn’t so important when clay is made by the wet method involving a slow stiffening back from a liquid mix where the raw material is in the crude natural form straight from the ground.


It might be worth explaining here a little bit about clay. When clay is in its natural crude form, it has a multitude of fine, flat, hexagonal particles, sort of laminated like pages of a book. When the clay is soaked in water and stirred into a watery ‘slip’ or slurry, these flat sheet like crystals are slowly liberated one by one and flake off from the ‘book’. This process takes time. The finer the particles, the more ‘plastic’ and workable the clay can be, realising the best of its potential, but it also takes a long time to get the water in between the various surfaces. 


Stirring the clay and water mix or ’slip’ up into a fine slurry, sieving it to remove any unwanted particles and then letting the slip sit and settle takes time. Sometimes, the clay particles in the slip don’t settle out due to gravity allowing the water to come to the top where it can be decanted off. If the slip doesn’t settle out, then the mixture has to be tested, measured and treated. This involves measuring the pH of the slip. Usually, the clay will need a small addition of an acid to change the pH to very slightly acid.

 
Clay particles have an electrostatic charge on their surface. Clay chemistry is very complex, but suffice to say briefly here that clay particles are a little bit like small magnets. What is needed is to get the positive and negative charges to balance so that they attract each other and not to repel. If they are repelling each other the clay will never settle, but stay suspended and cloudy forever. Once acid treated they can be made to become attractive and will form larger clumps that are affected by gravity, and so settle to the bottom, allowing the water to be forced up where it can be decanted off. This process is called ‘flocculating’ . Think of a mob of sheep forming a flock.


I’ve tried many different ways of flocculating my clay particles. Old red wine that was undrinkable due to cork taint, there isn’t much red wine that I wont drink, but cork taint is one that isn’t drinkable, then I’ve tried cheap commercial vinegar, even cheaper imitation vinegar, dilute brick cleaning acid from the hardware, or epsom salts, but my ‘go-to’ dilute acid is the water in our old pottery water tank full of rain water ( carbonic acid) that has been affected by the constant fall of gum tree leaves onto the old pottery iron roof. This caused the roof to rust and created a moderately acidic solution of carbonic and tannic acid. It came out of the tank pale brown, like cold black tea. When I used this water to make slip I didn’t need to add extra acid. I much prefer this natural method of flocculation. It suits my life philosophy of living naturally as possible and treading gently combined with minimal consumption. Once the clay has settled to the bottom and the excess water removed, the thick slurry can be placed out side in the sun and wind to stiffen. 


This wet method using crude clay is a very slow process. So to speed thing up potters use can use dried powdered kaolin and powdered non-plastics like felspar and silica blended together in a set recipe in the dry state and then just enough water is added to bring the mix to the required plastic consistency. This is akin to making a cake. Although fast, this method doesn’t wet all the available fine particles and the clay doesn’t develop its full potential plasticity. Its a compromise like everything else in life. This dry mix method is fast and efficient and with a tiny addition of some extra plasticiser like bentonite, the preemptive addition of some acid to the water and a period of ageing, then a reasonable result can be obtained. That is what I intend to attempt this coming week. 


When life settles down a little and we have more time, I will make the next batch of clay body by the wet method, using my larger ball mill to mix the liquid slip and allow the slip to sit as a liquid in a large plastic drum for some time and then slowly dry the slip out. This is designed to realise the maximum potential plasticity of the clay body, and is what I have been doing for the past decade to get the most out of my porcelain stones. As they are not inherently plastic, they need all the help that they can get. Tragically, In the fire I lost several tonnes of milled porcelain stone body that I had been ageing for up to 10 years for use in my dotage. 


Before I can make this first batch of quick and dirty clay, I want to make a clay storage box to keep it in. Clay ages best somewhere cool, dark and where it will keep damp with a minimal amount of condensation, that means no direct sunlight, so a plastic lined, heavy duty wooden box has worked well for us for the past 35 years. 


Luckily, back in 1983 when we were building our last pottery shed, after our 2nd fire, I saw two packing cases on the side of the road placed there outside a factory for the taking. 1200mm x 1200mm x 900mm. Big enough to hold a tonne each. We would fill them and when we had used up the first tonne of clay, we would make another tonne to replace it, and then use the other box full while the freshly made tonne was left to age and improve. We kept up this swap and go method of ageing our clays for many years.
Unless I can find two more suitably sized packing cases on my way to the timber-yard today, I’ll be buying a couple of sheets of ply wood and a big sheet of heavy duty plastic, to make some new clay storage boxes.


I still need to line them with plastic – maybe tomorrow?

Finishing Touches – This week it’s plumbing

There are still a lot of small jobs remaining that we have to complete before we can call the Council Building Inspectors and apply for a final inspection. We need the final inspection to get our Occupancy Certificate, then we can be potters again instead of being stuck in this perpetual builders labourer mode. One of the main jobs on the list was to bring water down form the big new water tanks up near the street in front of the barn down to the pottery.
This sounds simple if you say it quickly, but like all jobs it develops a life of its own. Firstly I needed to dig just over 100 metres of trench to bury the plastic water pipe. The trench has to go down the side of the new shed and around the back, across the back retaining wall, across the courtyard and finally up to the North wall of the pottery studio and into the sink inside. 
I wasn’t going to have a sink in this new pottery. We had lived without one in the old pottery for the past 36 years, just using buckets to bring in water from the water tank outside. This avoided any problems with silting up, or clogging up of the drains. However, it was the building inspector who came to do the site visit who talked me into it. He told me that it was a simple matter of getting an S64 certificate, nothing!
Well it’s something! But once committed, I’m following through. First we needed a seepage trench 600mm x 600mm by 10 metres long, then a grease trap, ’S’ bends etc. It all takes time and money and a lot of effort, but we are almost there with the pottery sink and all that it entails.


We are lucky that have very good friends who have a half share in a trench digging machine, so I asked to borrow it for a day last Saturday. It’s a fantastic gadget. I was able to dig the 100 metres of trench in a little over 2 hours. I hit a lot of flat iron stones that are very common in this soil. They sit horizontally in layers not unlike shingles, so digging through them is quite an effort with a mattock and crow bar. The last time I did it manually to do a short 11 metre trench for some storm water pipe on the barn, it took me most of the day, and I ended up digging a trench 300 mm deep x 300 mm. wide flaring open towards the top as I prised out the multiple pieces of flat stone. I only need to bury 9cm. pipe, but the hole was more like the Suez canal!
So on this occasion the powerful machine makes short work of such matters as flat iron stone. But there is always a down side, and that is such that as the machine loosens and evicts each large flat stone, it jambs the drive mechanism. So I had to put it in reverse to spit the stone out. It does this easily, but in so doing, it spits the stone and all the dirt along with it back into the trench just dug. I proceed onwards and will deal with that later.
I was finished with the machine by lunch time. I spent the rest of the afternoon digging the flat stones and soil out of the trench and cleaning it of rubble and roots.
Sunday was spent laying the pipe work. I decided that if I was going to dig such a big trench, to save time and effort later, I would put 4 different pipes into the trench at this time, so that I can use those other pipes to supply high pressure water from the fire pump to the fire fighting sprinklers on the walls and roof of the new shed. Fitting the sprinklers doesn’t need to be done now in the midst of winter, but laying the pipes now is a good idea.


I put in a 2nd trench to the front of the pottery shed to take the fire fighting sprinkler line to the front of the shed while I was at it. This is all taking more time now and is a bit off putting and seems a bit like a waste of time seeing that I’m in such a rush to get this shed finished and passed, but it will be so much easier later when I get up to that job.
With the trenches filled with the 4 different pipes, it was time to refill the trench and cover the pipes. The chickens love to be busy where ever there is fresh dirt exposed.


While I was involved in the plumbing side of things, taking the sprinkler lines up the walls, attaching them and caping them off. Janine and the chickens back filled the trenches.


The last part of this job is to run the pipe into the studio and install the goose neck mixer and taps. We found this set of old hospital taps in a junk shop 40 years ago and bought them for $40 to use in our house when we were building the kitchen way back then. It turned out that they didn’t fit in the place that we envisioned them to go when the time came, so I put them in storage in the barn wrapped in an old tea towel, and there they sat until now when we remembered them. Luckily for us, they were stored in the part of the barn that didn’t burn down. The barn caught fire, but I was there on hand and was able to fight the fire and stop it from spreading too much, so I managed to save most of the barn. These taps included. 


I gave them an overhaul, I pulled them to bits and replaced all the seals and washers, then lubricated all the working parts, reassembled them and gave them a good clean and polish. They never looked so good. I had an old piece of 6mm thick solid brass plate given to me many years ago. It was an off cut from a big job at an engineering place that closed down. I couldn’t ever really find a use for it that justified cutting it. So it just remained stored in my kiln factory. After the fire, I saw it sticking out from the ashes, all bent and twisted and a little bit melted in one corner. Luckily it was on the floor in a part of the shed that didn’t get too hot, in amongst metal machinery and up against the mud brick wall. 


I spent the best part of a day straightening it out and hammering it flat. Well, as flat as I could get it. I gave the centre part a bit of a polish to show that it really is brass, and left the rest with its fire-scarred patina. It makes a suitably steam punk splash-back for the ancient taps.


Making Progress, but it’s oh so slow.

For the past couple of weeks we have been fully occupied with building benches and tables in the pottery studio and the kiln room/mill room.I decided to build all the benches with steel frames to minimise the amount of wood in the building. In the old pottery, we had the benches and tables made of wood, but with a material called ‘plasply’, for the bench tops, which was a kind of concrete formwork plywood. It had a water proof coating that was very hard wearing. We could pile up thick wet slurry and let it stiffen and dry, and also place big platters upside down to stiffen on their rims. The moisture didn’t cause the ‘plasply‘ to warp or rot. It proved to be a really great utility surface.As far as I know, ‘Plasply’ isn’t available any more. It was an expensive Australian made quality product. We had that board on our benches and they lasted 36 years of constant work and scraping and sponging of clay off them. These days, I can buy a similar product, but it is made in China now. It is a fraction of the cost these days, which is easier on the budget, but I’m concerned that they may not be as water proof, flat, stable and long lasting as the old stuff. Time will tell.
I used the 17mm thick ply version for the bench tops. They are all screwed down onto the metal frame and the whole unit is very solid.


The benches wrap around the walls of the studio, and incorporate a shelf underneath. The shelf space can accomodate both 20 litre and 10 litre buckets.



This bench with the 250mm x 80mm thick re-cycled hardwood planks will be my heavy work bench for maintenance, hammering, drilling and sawing. I was given these slabs just in time  to be able to incorporate them into this bench top. They look and feel just right. This work bench has filled up with tools and ‘stuff’ in the process of building the other benches.



I thought that I would have been finished by now, but the jobs just keep on coming. As soon as I finish one lot of jobs and clear the list. It occurs to me that there are still a host more to be completed. Not just that, but every job takes twice as long as I estimate. As I haven’t built a pottery for over 36 years. I’m completely out of touch with building. I have to accept that I’m incompetent at estimating. I have completed the benches in the studio and the kiln room, but still have the gallery room to do. 
A few weeks ago, an ex-student and friend called me to tell me that she had to vacate her rented studio and wanted advice about what to do with her kiln. I had built her kiln 26 years ago and my ex-student had looked after it very well. I told her that I was interested to buy it back off her, as I will be in need of a good kiln very soon. Of course, I have the skill and experience to build myself another one easily enough, but buying back one of my own kilns, that is still in excellent condition would save me 6 to 8 weeks of extra work, possibly more at this time, as I don’t have a fully functioning kiln factory any more.
Janine and I made a trip to see the kiln to check it out, and then hired my friend Dave and his small truck to go and collect it. I measured the kiln precisely, to make sure that it would fit through the door of the pottery. It worked out that we had 20 mm. to spare if we took the door lock handles off. It was do-able if we worked carefully and slowly.

The kiln in its former home of the past 17 years. It has had two owners, before being here, it lived in Ryde for almost 10 years. A genuine 2 owner that was only used on Sundays and never fired in the rain!

It just fits.

Settled into its new home here.



She was so sad to see it go. She would have preferred to keep it if she could. I promised her that she has visiting rights any time. I also told her that I will sell it back to her in a few years, once she is more settled in a better and more permanent place and as soon as I can get established again and can build myself a new one to replace it.
So I am saved 6 to 8 weeks of work, but straight away I realise that I now have to finish the gas line, fabricate and install ventilation ducts and manufacture a tall flue for the chimney, to clear all the combustion products from the building.

Swings and roundabouts. The jobs just keep coming.

I need two of me just to keep up with the multiplying job list.

Winter Solstice

We have survived the longest night of the winter. The frosts have cut the last of the soft plants from the garden. We have harvested the last tomatoes from the dried brown burnt stems of the last surviving tomato plants. We come inside earlier these days at 4:30 and light the fires in the kitchen stove and the lounge room heater. We have just picked the first of the red cabbages for our dinner.


Fortunately for us, we have almost finished all the immediate outside work on the new pottery shed, at least until spring, and we are now concentrating on working inside each day in the relative warmth and comfort of the passively heated and draft free environment of the new pottery. It’s quite amazing how warm it gets in there with no heater on, with just the sunshine in through the north facing windows. 
It is particularly noticeable that there is no draught inside from the gusty cold chilling wind outside. This is the first pottery that we have had out of the 4 of them that has had no draughty gaps somewhere in the walls, roof or around the doors. 
Our first 3 buildings burnt down over the 47 years of our life together as potters, All the previous potteries were all home made buildings, as we have never had sufficient money to employ builders. These earlier buildings were created from recycled and scrounged materials, plus home made mud bricks, all with ill fitting and odd shaped windows and doors and no insulation. The last pottery did at least have silver paper in the roof, but no insulation, as it was just too expensive for us at the time.
This new pottery is just a tin shed, but the wall cavity is stuffed full of insulwool and all the doors and windows are mostly BAL rated commercial units. We have done all this to get a high BAL fire rating and to prevent this one from burning down in any coming catastrophic bush fire, of which there is bound to be one sometime in the future. 
This past week I have been lining the pottery studio room with the timber planks that we milled from our own home grown pine trees. Janine and I planed them and sanded them over the past few weeks and now we have had the satisfaction of actually installing them in the metal frame shed. This is just about the only timber in the whole complex of 5 the rooms of the new pottery. It looks great, It is just so nice to have some timber in the place to give that warm natural look and feel. It’s even better to have some of our own home grown timber in the throwing room. The place where we will spend most of our time.


As the big maintenance shed is now almost finished, and I had access to my friend Dave’s big crane truck, as he was working just down the street from me. i got him to move my pan break and guillotine into the new shed while the opportunity presented itself.

Dave picked them up from their temporary home in the new car port building that we hastily built as soon as possible after the fire to house all the equipment that I was busy trying to restore and protect from the elements.We installed them in their new, and hopefully permanent, home in the big new shed. We only just finished the ceiling of this shed a month ago, so this is very timely. It’s also important, because my friend Dave is selling his truck at the end of this month EOFY. After that time it would be a whole lot more difficult to get jobs like these done.


Such an incredible machine, so powerful! This big crane can lift a tonne up to 16 metres from the truck and lifted my big 3 tonne pan break 9 metres into the shed

.
Everything seems to be moving along at speed now. I’m beginning to feel positive and optimistic again

.
Janine made a beautiful morning soyachino coffee with a gingko leaf



I had it with my piece of toast and some delicious goats milk curd, creamy smooth and with a delicate acidity. Lovely.