The Birds have eaten all the Mulberries

During the week between the two Open Studio Weekends, I ventured out to check out the mulberries. The crop wasn’t good, but there were quite a few coming on. Possibly ready to pick in a week or so once they ripened up a bit more.

After the last weekend sale, when I found some time to get to the orchard again, I realised that the birds had eaten all the mulberries. ALL THE MULBERRIES!

Recently, we have had quite a good number of wattle birds, Dollar birds, Frier birds and the constant regiment of endemic bower birds

There were just a very few immature pale hard berries left. So no mulberry tarts this year.

Instead, I decided to make a youngberry tart, using last years Youngberries that I preserved and bottled on the 4th of December ‘21.

It’s a lovely tart. It isn’t quite so good as when I use fresh berries, as fresh berries retain a lot more texture and structure to the substance of the tart.

This years berries aren’t ready yet, but the pantry has a few bottles of last years berries that have survived the hungry gap. Principally because we are trying to cut down on our sugar intake.

I don’t add any sugar to the preserved youngberries. They are sweet enough, and every little bit of sugar adds up. But they are wonderful, so rich, so lively with that special mix of acid and sweetness. I love them. They are so special, really unique to this time of year. I really look forward to their season. They follow the mulberries and preempt the cherries.

I couldn’t net the mulberries, the tree is too old and too big, so they are all gone, but I can net the youngberries, as they grow on canes at ground level. 

I blind-bake the pastry first to cook it through and then add the fruit, and bake it again to set the fruit.

As soon as we could find the time, we were out in the garden and netted the youngberries. Safe for this season now.

The chickens come out to see the new Tesla Battery. Perhaps they want to know what it is like to be a battery hen? They don’t appear to be very impressed. Battery hens! What’s all the fuss about?

In the garden, we have picked the last globe artichokes. They are a bit past ‘best’, so need to be cut in half and have the ‘choke’ taken out.

I cut them and trim them down to the essential core of flavour and drop them in lemon juice acidulated water, eventually to make a pasta sauce out of them with our home-made tomato passata sauce from last summer and some little zucchinis and broad beans from the spring garden.

I stuff the zucchini flowers with broad beans, olives, cheese and some chopped gherkins. Not my filling of choice, but I am committed to use what we have in the garden and live with the seasons. We have a lot of broad beans at the moment, and

the last of the winters cauliflowers.

We eat the cauliflower raw with just a little bit of mayonnaise. It makes a lovely entrée.

A week in the vegetable garden and one last firing

Over the past week, since the first Open Studio weekend, I have managed to do a bit of catching up in the veggie garden, mostly watering and weeding.

I pulled out half of the ‘Flanders’ Poppies. They are really beautiful. I love them to bits, such a great explosion of bright colour. They self sow every year and fill every space where I don’t weed them out. I need the space now to plant out more summer vegetables, so out they go. Well, half of them. I still want to keep the rest as long as possible.

The French beans are all up and doing well. I have no idea where I found the time to plant these during the hectic work load that we had up to the opening of the studio sales?

Half the poppies are gone to the compost heap to make space.

In their place there are now sweet basil, tomatoes and spinach, Further back, there are cucumbers and pumpkins.

I took a little bit of time out from gardening and weeding this week to glaze the last of the bisqued pots and get a stoneware firing done in the bigger electric kiln, fired entirely on solar energy from our new PV panels and battery. The results are good, just a few more lovely pots to refill the gaps in the gallery shelves from last weeks sales.

We are open this weekend each day from 10 till 4 – ish. on Saturday and Sunday , and also for the rest of the summer by appointment. Please ring or email first to make sure that we will be home.

Do Us a Fava

This time last year I wrote ‘Give Peas a Chance’. This spring it’s all about broad beans.

Peas and beans are the same family of plants, legumiosae.

Broad beans are also called Fava beans and have a long history of cultivation. My ‘Oxford book of food plants’ tells me that it is one of the most ancient of all cultivated vegetables, and traces have been found among Iron age relics. Fava beans have been found in Egyptian tombs, so we have been eating them for a long time.

Ezekiel mentions them in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 4:9) as Pythagoras (570BC) does also, he hated them. Pliny the Elder also talks about them saying that they are as good for the soil as manure. One of the earliest realisations of nitrogen fixing properties of legumes? He recommended ploughing them back in as a green manure crop.

Eating raw fava beans can be highly toxic to some individuals – even fatal! About 30 million people world wide suffer from a disease called Favism. They suffer a specific genetic trait where they are deficient in a gene that produces an enzyme called D6PD. Just inhaling the pollen without actually eating the raw beans, cause the rupturing of red blood cells. However cooking them neutralises the G6PD enzyme and other toxins that are present in the raw beans.

Thousands of years of careful plant selection by farmers have reduced the levels of the more harmful toxins, so todays crops are less toxic. I love eating them raw out in the garden as I work, just as I can’t resist shelling a few peas while im walking past them.

Apparently, there is a genetic recessive disorder known as ‘Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydronase Deficiency’ that causes favism, and it is the result of an evolutionary development in some humans for resistance to some types of malaria. Which may be why it is most commonly prevalent in people from countries where this disease is endemic?

Maybe Pythagorus suffered from this disorder, such was his distaste for them. There is an account of Pythagoras being pursued by his enemies, who were out to kill him. He had the chance to run through a crop of broad beans to escape, but instead decided to turn and face his attackers and was slain. Bad bean!

Maybe his attackers were the first fauvists?  🙂

I love to eat them raw straight from the pod with a glass of chilled dry white wine while I prepare dinner. The season is so short that I can’t help getting stuck in and enjoying every last little bit of them while they last. This year I planted two types, ‘Windsor short pod’ and ‘Early long pod’. The flavour doesn’t vary much. I try and plant at least two different varieties of vegetables each season just in case one of them isn’t suited the vagaries and challenges of the climate.Who can tell if we are about to get huge deluges of rain or a hotter, dryer spring 4 months in advance? Right at the moment I’ve planted out 6 different varieties of tomatoes for the same reason. Some will do better than others. I’m just maximising my chances of getting some sort of crop in return for all my efforts.

Tonight we had tiny 3rd pick shoots of broccoli, sauteed in a little olive oil with ginger and garlic, served with a dash of fish sauce and lemon juice, along with pan fried flat head fish fillets dusted in a little semolina to crisp up the skin. But the star of the meal for me were the broad beans quickly stir fried just until they were warmed through, but not really cooked. If the skin starts to break open, then they are over cooked. I dress them with a pinch of our dried, powdered chilli. A tbsn full of last seasons dried sweet basil and a grind of black pepper. This is my absolute favourite way to eat them – after raw in the garden or course. I used to cook them in butter, but with my advancing years and rising cholesterol levels, these days I use EV olive oil.

Fish and two veg, quick and simple, couldn’t be better.

4 wood kiln firings in 4 weeks

We have been hard at it in the pottery preparing for the Arts Trail – Open Studios and the TACA Open Studios weekends coming up very soon. It starts next weekend.
We have just managed to squeeze in one last wood kiln firing. But this will be the last for some time. Mainly because I’ve just about run out of dry glazed pots, but also, because from now on the weather will be getting too hot for safe wood firing over the summer.

This firing seemed to go very well, just 11 1/2 hours to cone 10 down, not quite so hot on the top back shelf with cone 8 over, but cone 10 just starting to bend. Probably cone 9, close enough.
I changed to pack again this firing just see if I can get a better understanding of how this kiln responds to subtle changes of setting. Life is endless learning.

I got a very good control of the ember level with this firing. I’m pleased about that. We have been getting rather too much ember build-up towards the end of the firing in the last few firings, so I opted to open all the mouse holes right from the start. I can’t remember ever doing this before, but it was just right and worked well, kept everything under control. I’m a slow learner, but I get there in the end.
I recon that this wood firing lark is quite good fun. I’ll probably have another go at it 🙂
We’ll see how it has turned out in a couple of days.

We have also lifted the 2nd planting of garlic. This bed of garlic was planted at the same time as the previous batch that had split into individual cloves. This variety has taken a few weeks longer to mature and has stayed as complete bulbs. This bed of garlic has delivered around 50 knobs. The last bed lifted out 45 split knobs. We still have one more double sized bed to go, maybe in a few more weeks? It may have up to 100 plants, but we’ll have to see what matures and lifts and dries successfully. Not all our garlic plants mature to a full supermarket size. We get quite a few small knobs that are a bit tedious to peel, but the flavour is still all there.
We can get through up to 300 knobs of various sizes of garlic in a full year, and that isn’t always quite enough to see us through till next years harvest. This year we ran out of our own home grown organic garlic about a month ago and had to buy 4 or 5 knobs to get us through to a time when we could start to ‘snaffle’ or ‘steal’ a few very early plants from the edges of the first bed.
I love fresh, wet, early, fragrant garlic. I have to have a couple of cloves sliced on my homemade rye bread, with a twist of fresh ground black pepper and a tiny sprinkle of salt. Tonight it’s just not my fingers that smell of garlic. Keep your distance!

The first lifted crop is now all dried, plaited and hung in the kitchen ready for use.

3rd wood kiln firing in 3 weeks

This weekend we fired the wood kiln again. The third firing in 3 weeks. One firing each Weekend. This firing went very well.

I’m starting to get the measure of this new kiln and my endless supply of pre-burnt wood fuel. For the first of these 3 firings, I altered the firebox and made it deeper, which helped. Before the 2nd firing, I changed the flues. For this firing I changed the setting and adjusted the flues slightly. more fine tuning than major change. All these adjustments have come together now and this last firing was even from top to bottom, with cone 10 over on each shelf, as well as the floor.

There is still an issue with the wood. The flame is quite short and although cone 10 was over on the front of the top shelf, we only got cone 9 over at the rear of that same shelf, just 400mm further back.

Still, everything is well melted and looks good. We have plenty of pots fired and ready for the two open Studio Weekends coming up.

It was a very foggy and misty dawn for the firing.

All of our specially developed home made wood firing clay bodies have taken the fire well and are flashing up with good toasty colour.

This is one of Janine’s bowls with her home made cobalt infused pigment brushwork and her ash glaze made from the ash out of our kitchen slow combustion cooker. This bowl has picked up a little bit of carbon inclusion around the rim. Janine doing her bit to remove carbon from the atmosphere permanently and counter global warming.

This is one of my bowls that I decorated by trailing Janine’s opalescent ‘jun’ style ash glaze over tenmoku.We have just harvested the first of our 3 garlic crops. This year I planted two different types of garlic, one breaks up just before it’s ripe and ready to harvest, sending up multiple new green shoots. The other variety continues to grow as normal. I planted these two varieties last year as well and they did the same for me then. Very odd. The cloves are perfect, just separated into individual cloves.

The multiple stem variety is on the left.

We lay it out to dry for a week, then Janine plaits it into bundles and we hang it to dry until we need to use it.

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.

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.

Winter Solstice, and making pots for the wood kiln

This week we have experienced the longest night, and also the coldest day – so far.

We awoke to a fantastic white shimmering frost. All the paddocks were bright white for a couple of hours until the sun light reached them and burnt it all off. The sun rises at such a shallow angle in winter, it takes a long time for the sunlight to get higher in the sky, and then cast its bright energy onto the fields.

We have been making work for the first firing of the new wood kiln. This job was one of many put on hold while we made work for the ‘Pop-Up’ Open Studio weekend. Now that this is safely behind us, and with a little bit of liquidity to keep us afloat. We can concentrate on making the work for the wood firing.

I started last week by chopping wood and making clay. Now we are enjoying the fruits of that labour. I started with making the largest pieces, as these will take the longest time to dry, especially in mid-winter.

These big platters and dishes are 400 mm. dia. Janine has started by making some press moulded square dinner plates. These are an order that has flowed on from the Open Studio sale last Xmas.

I have also managed to get a couple of half-days in the veggie garden, so it is starting to look loved again.

The garden always looks so much better when there are a few rows of carefully weeded and tended seedlings and sprouting seeds coming up. I just made it, getting these leeks, onions and garlic in before it is too late. It is really too late for a good garlic crop, but this is the 3rd planting, so we will be OK. I also put in broad beans, peas and transplanted seedlings of Brassicas that I managed to sow 6 weeks ago. Everything is a bit ‘just-in-time’, but it will do to get us through this tough time of transition from Bushfire residue chaos into New, comfortable and productive post-fire life.

We have been enjoying a few very nice meals recently. Janine cooked 2 big spinach and cheese pies to feed all our helpers over the long weekend pot sale. But at the last minute a couple of our friends, Warren and Trudie, caught Covid and couldn’t turn up to give us a hand. Luckily our other friends Susan and Dave stayed on for an extra day to help us out. Because we had fewer people here, there was an excess of pre-cooked food, like two spinach and 3 cheeses pies, a lovely dish of mussels in rose wine and home made tomato passata, flavoured with a liberal sprinkling of chillis.

Ricotta, plus coarsely chopped Fetta for texture and the sharp spike of gorgonzola to lift the flavour profile and stop it from being too bland.

Janine and I were eating spinach and cheese pie for days. I tried reheating and serving it in a few different ways. One favourite was serving a slice with a home made tomato passata sauce bottled in the past summer, this was served with slices of chorizo, olives and capers. That was my favourite combination, combined with side of a small amount of sautéed mushrooms in garlic and olive oil.

It’s a tough life, but someone has to live it.

Running Repairs and Fixing Old Stuff

This last few weeks has seen us making pots, but also getting into some serious repairs and maintenance.

I was outside digging over the ‘cottage garden’ preparing the soil for sowing seeds of a spring/summer flower garden show of colour. I know that now is the time to plant out seeds for spring in this flower garden, as in the veggie garden, where we go almost everyday to harvest food for dinner, do a little bit of weeding and plant out successive sowings of vegetable seeds. I see that the red ‘Flanders’ poppies are germinating in the freshly dug soil where I have recently planted garlic cloves. Poppies decide when the time is right to germinate, but they will only germinate in freshly turned soil. So now is the time to dig over the cottage garden site.

I whipper snipped all the old foliage into mulch, raked it all up and onto the compost, or used it as mulch in other places in the yard. 

I took what I thought was the easy alternative of using the cultivator. Not so! I only got 1/4 of the way round and the fuel line blocked up. This machine is a little beauty. I bought it 45 years ago, second hand for $50. It has just gone and gone and gone on working. I only use it a few times a year, but it is so much quicker and easier than hand digging with a garden fork if there is a lot to do. I tweaked the old rubber fuel line and it just snapped clean off in my hand, trailing petrol straight down onto the soil until the small petrol tank was emptied. I walked to the shed and got a pair of pliers to remove the stub end of the fuel line. It was very brittle as its quite old. I have replaced the fuel line a couple of times over the 45 years that I have owned it. The remaining length of line is too short to re-join for a temporary fix, so its another long walk to get some more fresh fuel line from the maintenance shed. With repairs completed, another walk to the fuel shed to get some more petrol and I’m back in business, just a half hour later.

I love this old cultivator. It’s just like me. Out of date and long past its use-by date, but it just seems to be able to keep on going, and going. So solid, reliable and old fashioned. Not very complicated. A good worker. I’m happy to spend time maintaining it to keep it working. It’s a pleasure to be able to own and use such a lovely old Australian made, solid machine that works so simply and so well.

I completed what I set out to do with no more interruptions. Luckily, I had all the parts that I needed on hand, so the job was started and finished on the same day. It’s not always so.

We borrowed Sandy Lockwood’s small pug mill over Xmas and January, as she wasn’t using it over the break and was happy to lend it to us. My wrists weren’t up to wedging another quarter tonne of clay again, so It worked out very well for us both, because after we had finished pugging the new batch of clay and also working through all our stored up re-cycled and bagged turnings and throwing slip. I pulled the pug mill to bits and cleaned it right out. I even saw that the chassis was getting a bit rusted in places, so I cleaned it back, rust converted it and painted it black again. Good as new when we returned it. This pug mill has never been in such good condition since it was built.

That batch of clay is now all used up, so we need to be getting on with getting another pug mill working. 

In the old pottery, before the fire, we had two 4” or 100mm dia. Venco vacuum pug mills. One for white clay and one for dark clay. I also had a 3” or a 75mm dia. stainless steel pug mill just for porcelain clay and finally we had a very small 2” or 50mm dia. stainless steel pug for small batches of test bodies and recycling of turnings. That was such a good position to be in. Luxury really. It took me over 40 years to get to that position.

At the beginning of the year, we were given a pug mill from our friend Toni Warburton. It hadn’t been used for a long time. Perhaps 20 or more years? It had been stored in her back shed for time out of mind and was full of dried out clay. That’s not such a problem. What was a problem, was that it had never been taken apart. so all the bolts holding the 2 halves of the pug mill barrel together were rusted and swollen up in their sockets. They couldn’t be removed or even rotated. I could have snapped off the heads trying to get them loose, but then the shattered off ends would have made them very difficult to drill out accurately. So I decided to just drill them all out straight from scratch. A very long and difficult job.

Drilling out all 8 of the bolts took some time. They were all 90mm long, so I started off with a 3mm pilot hole, then increasing from 5 to 7, and then 9mm drill bits, until the bolt was completely hollowed out and could be removed.

I was wondering if I would get away with it, but I didn’t snap off any drill bits, especially the first 3mm drill bit. That would have certainly put an end to it.

Once I got the barrel apart, I could clean out the dry clay and start to clean it up. The pug mill had previously been used to prepare dark iron bearing terracotta clay. However, I want to use it for white stoneware, so It had to be cleaned out very well. scrupulously well. I made a thorough job of it, starting out with a paint scraper and generally progressing from hand held wire brush, through to a circular wire brush in an electric drill and finishing off with an angle grinder for the most stubborn bits. 

I set about removing every trace of terracotta from both the barrel castings and the stainless steel blades and shaft. They cleaned up pretty well. I ground the barrel back to bare metal and gave it a good coat of etch primer to seal it. This wont last in the places of heaviest wear, like in front of the shredding screens and in the reduction cone of the barrel, but elsewhere it will help minimise the ‘salt’ corrosion caused by the alkalis in the clay reacting with the bare aluminium metal under very wet and humid conditions. The barrel is cast out of marine aluminium, but eventually it still corrodes. In the last pottery, I replaced the oldest barrel that I had on my oldest ’70’s ‘Venco’ pug mill in 1984. It was starting to get corrosion patches breaking through the barrel after 35 years! I kept sealing them with ‘LockTite’ ‘wick-in’ each time I took it to bits and serviced it. The Locktite seeps into the crevices and then ‘gels’ to seal off the void.  Very cleaver. If this barrel lasts that long, it wont be my problem! Someone else will have to deal with it.

Toni had christened this pub mill ‘Pugsly’, so that is its name now and forever. However, I gave Pugsly a bit of a spruce-up and a new coat of paint. 

Bright and cheerful and ready for work. I mounted the vac pump underneath to keep them both close coupled and easy to move around on the one solid castor unit.

This will be our old, but new, porcelain pug mill.

Last year our good friend Jane Sawyer offered us her old Venco pug. She had bought it 2nd hand in the 90’s. She offered it to us as she wasn’t using it anymore. She has another one at ’SlowClay’. This pugmill had stopped working at some stage and was surplus to her needs. We had tried to get it trucked up to Sydney, but no taxi truck company wanted to take on the job of delivering it to the trucking depot for transfer to Sydney. The only quotes I could get were approaching upwards of $1,000. Way too much! So at the start of April. Janine and I made a lightning trip down to Melbourne to collect it. We drove down in the ute, as it has a crane on the back, built for lifting such heavy gear as this. We had 3 days with Jane and took a day of rest to walk into and around Melbourne. The 10 hour drive each way was a bit boring. We changed drivers every 2 hours. It has been a very long time since I drove to Melbourne. The road is all dual carriage way now and a very comfortable drive. The truck is not particularly fuel efficient, so the 20 hour drive cost us $300 in petrol. 1/3 the cost of getting it trucked. But at least we now have it! The best part was that we got to spend a few days with Jane. And, It arrived home safely without being damaged in transit!

This image by Jane Sawyer.

Once home I started to get the pug mill to bits to clean it out. It had also been used for terracotta, so a lot of cleaning was needed. The motor still made a noise when switched on, but instantly went into overload, shut down and stopped humming. It appeared that either the gear box was broken, jammed or a bearing was seized. The only way to find out was to strip it all down to basics. This was easier said than done.

The bottom half of the barrel had seized bolts. I snapped off one of them trying to get it loose, so decided to drill out the other. Once the barrel was off, I tried to remove the collar connecting the gearbox to the barrel. This is where the problem lay. Once I got the bolts out the collar and shaft could only rotate together when I switched on the motor. I eventually got the shaft away from the gearbox, but the collar was very firmly jammed onto the shaft.

I spent a week heating, quenching, oiling, and tapping, several times a day. Whenever I went past. I eventually put the collar in the vice and hit the shaft with a sledge hammer. Gently at first, using a hardwood block to cushion the blow. Nothing happened, so I hit it harder, still nothing. Then I hit it really hard and split the wooden block! But there was possibly a little bit of movement – but only possibly. Was I imagining it? Another hard wood block, and another blow from the sledge hammer saw it definitely move 1 mm.! I dosed it quite liberally with RP7 and left it over night. Several days and 3 hard wood blocks later, the shaft was free.

I discovered that the grease cap on the collar was blocked, so the collar was badly corroded and had swollen up and jammed onto the shaft. The lubricating tube was so badly blocked I couldn’t clear it out. I decided that it was easier to drill out a new greasing tube through the collar to be able to lubricate the shaft into the future.

I welded up a new steel pug mill table/trolley on castors, so that I can move the very heavy pug mill around in the future. I made an under carriage to carry the vacuum pump together with the pug, so that I don’t have to move the vacuum pump separately. This will be our new/old white stoneware pug mill. I’m still waiting to get my hands on another 4” Venco vacuum pug mill for the buff/brown stoneware wood fire clay body. It’ll happen. I just need to be patient.

Bit by bit, slowly, slowly. We are getting everything back to where we were before the fire.

There is a huge sense of satisfaction in being able to take other peoples unused and non-functional pieces of equipment and bring them back into productive use for very little money, by more or less only using my own labour, ingenuity and time. I’ve never done this kind of thing before, so it’s all new to me. I’m just making it up as I go along. There isn’t anything in life that teaches you how to disassemble a pugmill with a seized shaft. I’m lucky. It all worked out well.

It’s an honour and a privilege to own and use these personal links and connections to my friends. There is so much embedded energy in these machines, it’s important to keep them going and avoid waste. it is a delight to see them working properly and being productive again.

We are so lucky to have such Generous, helpful and supportive friends.

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