After the Hail Storm

A month ago we had a hail storm. Not too bad as hail storms go, but bad enough. There wasn’t a lot of rain with it, – a pity.

A few weeks later we had a lot of rain in an hour. Quite a storm all told. We found to our surprise that we had a number of leaks appear in our old school classroom. We had to find buckets for the drips on the carpet, the computer table and other various places around the house. Having drips of water dropping onto the carpet in what is our lounge room, really concentrates your attention.

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering!

We don’t usually have leaks like this, so I had to investigate. However, I needed to wait for it to stop raining, then to stop blowing, waiting for a day when there was no gusty wind. I once went up on the roof on a windy day and the ladder blew away, leaving me stranded up there until Janine came looking for me, replaced the ladder and let me come down. She must love me!

I finally found a day that wasn’t too windy, glarey or wet and slippery. I got up onto the top roof of the old classroom of the school. I found that the hail storm had pummelled the 130 year old corrugated galvanised iron roofing. Where there was an over-lap of the old sheets the iron had rusted to a very thin state because of the condensation in the over-lap, creating a few quite large holes.

A hundred years ago, corrugated iron roofing could only be manufactured in short lengths, as it was rotary folded across the sheets to make the corrugations. This meant that to cover a long-span, a number of shorter sheets needed to be used and this required overlapping to stop leaks. All old iron roofs suffer from this same problem of rusting out on the overlaps. We are lucky to have a roof that has survived for so long without too much trouble. We live in quite a relatively dry environment with about 500mm of rain each year.

I worked across the roof systematically siliconing every split, crack and thin rusty patch. The overlaps needed special attention. In one place I had to cut a small piece of rustic, but structurally very sound, old roofing iron into a small square. I glued this patch over the worst section, that was too big to close with just silicon alone.

The big issue turned out to be the ridge capping. This is 130 year old lead! I wanted to replace it 35 years ago, when I was much younger, able-bodied and building the extensions on to the Old School Classroom. I didn’t want any lead on my roof. Unfortunately I struck one massive problem that stopped me in my tracks. The old lead was about 600 mm wide and the old wooden roofing battons were well spaced accordingly. Modern galvanised ridge capping is only about 460mm wide. Not wide enough to reach the old battons. This meant removing all the old sheets of iron and screwing on new battons, then replacing the roofing, then screwing down the new narrow ridge capping. A massive job. Not one that I could complete easily in a day.

Being basically lazy, I decided that I had enough to do with building the new extensions onto the Old School classroom to make it into a house, so I left the old flashing up there. It was just easier to ignore it and hope for the best. The old lead capping has developed cracks and splits here and there along its length over the years. I siliconed these splits and cracks 30 years ago, and 20 years ago and then 10 years ago, Now the cracks are just too big and too long for silicon.

Now my lead flashing chickens are coming home to roost. I will need to re-roof the whole school roof eventually. I hope that I can make it last long enough, so that it isn’t my job to do. I couldn’t do it by myself now. I’d need to employ someone to help me these days.

My creative solution was to lift the old lead flashing and slide in new sections of shiny galvanised ridge capping in underneath the old lead. Then I screwed the old lead down over the new galvanised ridge capping, through into the old galvanised roofing. A cunning plan!

From a distance, no-one can tell that I did anything at all. It looks exactly as it did before I fixed it, and that’s the way I like it.

One Thing Leads to Another

I’ve only just finished repairing the slow combustion heater in the Old School classroom in preparation for the coming winter, when Janine points out that the fire brick in the wall of the wood fired kitchen slow combustion stove is all cracked and spalled away. The metal casing of the cabinet is showing through. We can’t light it again like this. Being over 40 years old, there are no spare parts available. I will have to improvise – as usual.

I have no real options here. I don’t want to take the stove apart completely to re fit a new home-made fire brick into the wall, so I do a patch job. I use some of my homemade ceramic fibre glue and fill up all the cracks and spalls with ceramic fibre high temperature insulation.

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This will have no chance of surviving the intense battering of logs thrown into the fire box. But I have a cunning plan. I find an old piece of kiln shelf down in the pottery that is just about the correct size. So I cut it and shape it with the angle grinder until it fits the bill.

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I wedge it into place with a few off-cuts of similar ceramic kiln shelf material and it all locks into place. Only time will tell how long it will last? However, I am confident that it will protect the fibre insulation stuffed in behind until it cracks or breaks.

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On close examination, I see that he curved fire brick just inside the stoke-hole door is cracked in half. This is a home-made, hand-built, custom-shaped fire brick which we made from a hand-made mould that we cast back in the 70’s.  I made 3 spares at the time.  I can see that I will have to make a few more now, as we have used them all up over the 40 years of constant use. It needs to be special shape, with recessed corners that interlock with the other fire bricks, so that it can just slide into place and be held securely, but not too tight, to allow for expansion.

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Janine finds the mould after almost 25 years, stored away in the third chamber of the climbing kiln that we don’t use anymore. I knock one out with a rubber mallet to get good compression. One down two more to go. The first three that I made lasted 25 years or so. So this lot should last me until 2045! I’ll be well into my 90’s and won’t be cutting too much fire wood by then.

Last year I repaired the other side of the fire-box, the heat shield that protects the oven from getting too hot. That cast iron plate had completely disintegrated. I replaced it with a home-made kiln shelf that we made in 1976. We still have a lot of them left. I didn’t think that it would last very long, but gave it a go. It has one crack in it after 18 months of use and still going strong. Very pleased, but.

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

The Old Wood Heater

As the cooler weather and winter approaches, it is time to have a good look at the slow-combustion wood heater in our Old School Classroom. This is the only source of heating in the Old School. We also have a wood fired stove for cooking in the kitchen, it cooks all our meals, warms the kitchen and heats our hot water over the winter months when the solar hot water panels are less efficient.

We have owned this old heater for around 25 years, This is the 3rd time that I have had to replace the fire brick lining in the firebox. This time however, I am in for a big overhaul, 25 years is a long time, the stainless steel flue has rusted out. I can see that it has splits and cracks in it where it leaves the heater. It takes a long time and a lot of heat to rust out a stainless steel flue. The stainless steel flue pipes that I use are pretty long lasting. I use them on my kilns as well. It’s the first time that I have ever seen one this badly deteriorated, just rusted away like this.

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While I’m at it, I replace the latest flue baffle too. The metal plates are prone to rust out like this with constant use. I’m not surprised though. This heater is used 6 months of the year constantly. That’s over 12 years of constant heating. So the fire bricks ate all spalled and cracked, the flue pipe rusted out, and the flame baffle has a huge hole rusted through it. It’s long over due for a bit of maintenance.

I replace the melted flue baffle with a used and recycled ceramic kiln shelf. The crumbled fire brick lining with new bricks. I regret that the original ones were Australian made, but there isn’t an Australian alternative available any more. I bought new ones made in China. They are a simple plain brick, so a replacement is easy to find.

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The kitchen cooking stove is another matter entirely. It was made in Scotland last century and was already out of production when bought it 2nd hand in 1977. No parts were ever available, so I have kept it going for the past 42 years by making all our own, specially shaped, fire brick replacement parts.  I have also made a new fire box door. new fire box door locking device, new fire box heat baffle and several new cast iron grates for the ash pit. These I cut down from cast iron gratings that were readily available in the hardware store. These days they are all made of aluminium, which is useless for a fire box. Luckily, I bought half a dozen spares before they disappeared off the market. I’m pretty sure that I have the skills needed to keep this cooker going for the rest of my life.

See older post on repairing this stove;

Zen and the Art of Maintenance – Theres a catch to it

Posted on 04/12/2013

A couple of hours of work, a little bit of tinkering and the stove is good for another few years of faithfuls service. It might even see me out. I hate to throw anything out that isn’t really worn out and past repair. Re-use, re-cycle, re-purpose, and re-pair.

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The same old stove, but with its new stainless steel flue and a completely renewed lining inside. It’s not perfect, but it will do.

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

Solar PV Fired Pottery Kiln

We have been creating a life here for over 40 years, living as much possible as off our few acres of forrest, orchards and gardens. We have spent a lot of personal energy in converting all our energy needs, to wood fired everything. We have chosen to leave half of our land as forest, and there are always trees that are maturing, dying and falling over in that forest.

We haven’t harvested all the trees that have fallen on our land, as there are too many, so we have left the ones in the most remote locations to rot, as it was just too much effort to make a track into the bush to get to them out. If a tree falls in the forrest – does anybody hear? No! That is line from a song. If a tree falls and we let it rot, then it ends up the same as if we cut it up and burnt it in the house oven or kiln. The carbon that was taken from the air and soil, returns to the air and soil, only just a bit slower with composting than burning it in the kiln. Composting is a slow form of combustion.

Having spent a lot of thought and energy converting our life over to non-fossil fuel energy, we now find that with global warming, the fire bans start a month earlier and go on for a whole month or more longer in the autumn. This has caused us some trouble lately, as we have had to cancel the last few, late winter/early spring wood firing workshops here in the past couple of years.

So, if this new warmer future is to be our new reality, we had better make plans to adapt. Well we have. Starting 13 years ago we decided to go fully solar on our house and workshop and haven’t paid an electricity bill since. Those early Australian made solar PV panels have now paid for themselves, and from now-on we will have free electricity for the rest of our lives.

We live so frugally in our home these days, that we have found that we can now live on a quarter of the electricity that we used to. We have done this very simply by introducing efficiencies. As old appliances wore out, we replaced them with very low energy newer models. It’s not hard to do, but it takes time and a lot of research. It has taken time because we didn’t just throw out working appliances. We waited until they died of old age. There is so much embedded energy in electrical goods, that it is a crime to replace them before they are worn out. We have reduced our daily energy consumption in the house from 11 kW/hrs per day down to 2.5 kW/hrs. This means that there is now a lot of excess, clean, solar electricity that we can use to fire our kilns cleanly and efficiently.

As we now have a problem with firing the wood kilns all year. I have decided to convert all our Electric firing over to solar PV.  I have built a new light weight, portable electric kiln from very low thermal mass materials. I have included a couple of small LP gas pilot burners into the design, to allow me to create reduction atmospheres after 1000oC with tiny amounts of LP gas while the solar panels and the battery fire the kiln load of pots up to Stoneware.

There is nothing earth shattering about this. Korean, Japanese, and Chinese potters that I have met and worked with have been using a combination of LP gas or wood fired electric kilns for years.

This is my version of the idea. Light, flexible, portable, low energy and suitable for solar PV and battery firing.

It didn’t hurt that I was able to build it totally from spare parts and waste material that was left over from my many years as a kiln builder. I only had to buy a thermocouple for this kiln, as the old-fashioned temperature controller unit that I had sitting in a box for the past 20 years, needed a specific thermocouple to make it work.

I find it amazing and very rewarding to be able to convert a few boxes of  old ‘rubbish’ that other people had thrown out, plus some left over material, and turn it into an amazing, functional, energy-efficient, working kiln.

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I had a couple of sheets of stainless steel left over from other jobs.

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I have been storring a few sheets of ceramic fiber for over fifteen years. They are left over from a glass kiln job that I did many, many years ago. They are pre-fired, pre-shrunk, hardened and ready to use for a job just like this

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I even find that I have a shrink-wrappped coil of Kanthal A1, element wire sitting in my store.  It’s been there for years. It was left over from a job that I tended for, but which never materialised. I spend sever days working on these new heat flow and emisivity calculations to get the best answer for what I have in stock, compared to what I really want to achieve. After 5 goes at the problem, I have generated many pages of mathsand enough energy to warm the kitchen when I’m working and re-working out all the perameters. I eventually get a good answer that I can live with. I have to make a new mandrel for my lathe to suit this job.  I find that I can use some of the left-over stainless steel fire-bar material that I still have from the little portable wood fired kilns jobs of the last few years. It turns out to be just about the exact size that I need. I alter my calculations and go ahead and use it.

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When I go looking, I even find that I have a few control pyrometers and a couple of infinity switches to do the basic job of controlling the kiln. It’s not an electronic, solid state, ramp controller, but it will do nicely. I will have to do the first few firings in conjunction with pyrometric cones viewed from the small circular spy hole.

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After a few weeks of part-time work, fiddling away in my spare time. I have what I think might be a functional kiln. I have sifted through several piles of ancient junk, destined for the re-cyclers. I have discovered a lot of functional bits and parts that I wasn’t very interested in using 20 years ago, but which I can see potential in now. So many potters wanted to have their kilns converted to electronic ramp controllers in the past. I did the conversions for them, but couldn’t bring myself to throw out a perfectly good, working order, analogue kiln control unit. I’m now glad that I persevered, and storred all this junk for so many years.

I’ve found that I have enough parts to build two kilns, so I probably will. This first kiln is designed to be very low thermal mass, firing to stoneware on solar PV + with some back-up later in the day, as the sun goes down, from our Tesla Battery. I have a couple of very old, but un-used, brand new, pilot burners, these are so old that the company that built them has now ceased to exist. My plan is to use these two tiny pilot burners to create just enough CO atmosphere to give me adequate reduction, while the elements powered by the solar PV fire the kiln.

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I’m hoping that it will work as I planned. Only time will tell. Watch this space.

It’s been quite good slowly fading into semi-retirement. Cleaning out years of old boxes that I had forgotten about on that dusty top shelf. There were two whole kilns stored away in the form of spare parts.

 

Note to self, don’t buy plastic crap – again!

I wanted a simple dust pan and hand broom to clean up in the workshop. The only choice in the shop was between 2 similar styled plastic ones. What happened to wooden handled hand brooms with stiff bristles? And metal dust pans!

Long gone in the race to the bottom of quality and price. Couldn’t someone at least produce something of quality that would last? I hate having no choice but to have to buy plastic junk. this is just land fill in waiting. Well, as there was no choice I had to choose a plastic one and lo-n-behold, what happened, but the handle broke in two in the first few weeks. I refuse to be so insulted with such blatant built-in obsolescence, so I determined to fix things.

I made a pair of reinforcing brackets out of some scrap pieces of aluminium and bent them to fit snugly into and onto both sides of the broken handle, then pop riveted them into place. This is still a piece of plastic crap, but at least I have fore-stalled its trip to land fill for a while.

 

I still want to buy a wooden handled, natural bristled, long-lasting broom. I’ll have to look harder. This impromptu repair won’t stop the rest of the plastic from collapsing in time.. Maybe I can dismantle it and reuse the bristles?

Watch this space.

The old dust pan too is on its last legs. At least this one has seen a bit of use to justify its existence.

I decided to make a dust pan that will last couple of hundred years out of a piece of Stainless steel scrap. The off-cut is a bit smaller than I would have liked, but I use what I have.

It all sort-of goes to plan. It’s a bit narrow. The next one will be better. This is my first attempt after all. When I get a bigger piece of off-cut, I’ll make a wider one.

Seasonal Vegetable Pasta

We are now harvesting the late yellow peaches and although the early youngberries are long gone now and just a memory for another year, the thornless blackberries are in full swing and they integrate very pleasingly with the constant supply of blueberries. All the early season blueberries have finished, but the crop seamlessly flows into the mid season varieties and we still have un-ripe late-season berries slowly colouring up in the bushes. Either it’s a very good season for the blueberries, or after 10 years, the bushes are hitting their stride.

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Breakfast is just the freshest and most delicious meal of the day. Mouthwateringly vitamin C tangy, crunchy, succulent and sweet. Each mouthful bursting with sunlight and vitamins. All the ingredients picked fresh every day, straight from the garden. They couldn’t be fresher or more vibrant. Such a refreshingly interesting way to wake up the taste buds and kick-start the day. We are now vegetarian this month, as the fish truck that comes up from the South Coast 2 days a week, is now on summer break for the whole month. We won’t be seeing him again until February. But as there is so much coming in from the garden each day, we haven’t noticed any lack in our diet.

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Last night we picked tomatoes, capsicums, chillis, Zucchinis and fully formed scarlet runner beans. These are too coarse to eat whole now, so I peeled them and we added the fresh beans to the vegetable marsala mix. Starting off with my Xmas present of lemon myrtle infused olive oil, onion and garlic, then sweating down the vegetables in the juice of the tomatoes, aided by a little dash of white wine. To keep the lemony theme going I add a little sprig of lemon thyme, some basil leaves and two quarters of diced, preserved lemon rind. This is simmered down to a delicate crunchy softness.

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I served this super-fresh garden passata-like sauce over soba noodles. I love watching soba noodles cook. They take one minute to soften, then as they loosen up, they start to roll in the boiling water, for about 2 minutes, and then as they swell and expand, they slowly stop rolling and tumbling, about one minute, and they are ready. To keep the fresh lemony zangy flavour profile going, I served the meal topped with a very tiny sprinkling of Japanese Sansho pepper. 

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This stuff is exceptional. It has a delicate lemony fragrance and initial taste. The taste is so good and so complex that I want to taste more, zingy, zesty, bright, savoury citrus-like flavour. It is so more-ish, but when you have that little bit more, it starts to make your tongue go numb. So I restrain my self adding just the very smallest amount. We buy this pepper in the markets in Japan each visit, freshly ground each day and then vacuum sealed in a foil sachet. We buy it on our last day before flying out and take it straight to the freezer compartment of out fridge. Here it keeps its freshness and full flavour for a year, or until we run out. last trip I bought several packets, some as gifts, but mostly because I’m greedy.

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Now it just so happens that I have the perfect pot to serve the right amount of sansho pepper in. This tiny little dish was once an ancient, broken Chinese Bowl. The only part left in tact was the foot rim. The remnants of the bowl body was ground away down to just the undamaged foot itself. Measuring about 30mm across and 25 mm inside and just 6 mm deep. It is ideal for presenting just the smallest amount of sansho pepper. A perfect re-imagining, reworking and re-use of a remnant of a gorgeous ancient Chinese bowl. Perfect!

 

Summer Solstice Activity

The young berries never make it to Xmas theses days, the summer season is arriving earlier each year with the heat hanging on longer, so we have taken the nets off the berry canes, rolled them up and put them away for another year. Another job in our seasonal timetable ticked off.

We bought a 100 metre x 9 metres roll of netting 25 years ago. It had a 10 year warranty against ultraviolet sunlight damage. We have got two and a half times its life expectancy out of it, principally because we only expose it to sunlight for a 1/4 of the year. So maybe we will get 40 years out of it? It’s still holding up well and isn’t going brittle yet.

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As we eat with the seasons, These days our breakfast fruit salad has turned from Yellow to red. We are picking red berries, red plums, red strawberries and blue berries, with pink peaches from the fridge. The only pale ingredient is a pale banana (that we shamelessly bought from a shop) to soften out the flavour by countering the acidity of the other fruits.

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Such is our summer breakfast variety. All these seasonal changes in our diet must play havoc with our alimentary canal biotic floc. Constantly on the change. The only constant in our diet is the lack of red meat and preserved meats. Almost the only time that we seem to eat red meat is when we are invited out to dinner.

We are not vegetarians, we just choose to eat very little meat. Doing so just might be good for us? I don’t know. Certainly, raising so many cattle and sheep isn’t good for the soil or the planet as a whole system. There are too many affluent people consuming too much. We are trying to tread a little bit lighter on our land. At this time of year, in our society  that worships conspicuous consumption, it all gets pretty gross. Consuming less is our gift to everybody for Xmas.

Life is one big experiment. This is ours.