Getting on top of it – 5th Ceiling done

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

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

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

This provides three solutions in one product.

1. It’s not too expensive.

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

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

4. It’s non flammable!

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

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

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

Finally, some woodwork – but not too much.

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



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


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


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



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



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



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

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

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


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


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



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


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

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

White Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s The Cream (on the cake for me)

Some colour in our life

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

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


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


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

Approaching my use by date

The outside of the shed is now finished. Although there will be a lot of cleaning up, organising drainage and landscaping to do, but that can wait.
All the inside was just silver paper and a bare steel frame. We are working on putting the insulation into the wall cavity and then lining the internal walls with more old rusty gal iron sheeting. Then we have to paint it out and finally build some benches before we can start to install any pottery equipment. I think that there is still at least 3 months work in all of that. I’d really like to be in before the end of the year.
Then we can relax a bit and enjoy the results of our hard work, by doing what we are trained to do and are good at.
We have already started on lining the walls with insulwool insulation. We have chosen a product made from recycled beer bottles. Keeping it close to home!

We haven’t even started any internal work on the pottery studio yet. That will be the last room to be lined.

But we have completed the lining of the gallery room.

This ‘Gallery’ room is now ready for painting. We had a few friends here to help us get the insulwool installed and some sheeting done last weekend, Andy, Cintia, Fi and Brian – thank you! We wouldn’t be so far advanced without the help of so many friends, and Janine, of course!

The gallery has so many different types, profiles and colours of old tin that paint is our only option. I might have preferred something else as a lining in there, but as I managed to scrounge enough old tin to do the job, and it’s free, then there was no issue, it had to be old tin to spare the budget. A lining of steel sheeting is also non-flammable.
The kiln room is still very much a work in progress, only partly lined, but we finished putting all the glass-wool batts in the wall cavity yesterday. A big job, but every job is a big job. It all takes its toll. We fall into bed straight after dinner.
Sometimes it all seems a bit too much. We just have to break every job down into manageable chunks and then bits of chunks, so that we can tackle one part of it each day. Just plodding along, bit by bit. It’s all a bit mind numbing in its endlessness. I just try not to think about it too much. Head down, butt up, gets it all done. There is an end in sight.

I got 3 long sheets of iron up before dark yesterday, but stretched, tore, pulled, or otherwise damaged a tendon in my left forearm trying to lift them up. They are 5.3 metres long and pretty heavy. So something had to give. I’m having a week off to let it rest a bit.


On the bright side, and there always is one. My damaged knee that I buggered up, 12 months ago next week, when I fell into the electrical trench, is getting a lot better. I can climb ladders again, but still have difficulty getting back up from being on my knees on that side without straining it.
As for ladders, I have re-written the rule that you shouldn’t climb ladders after you turn 60.  70 is now the new 60, as far as I’m concerned.

A 3 metre step ladder is only just high enough.
So, it seems that I’ve reached my limit. 
Pity, as there is still so much to do. Especially the ceilings, as they are quite high up and will involve a lot of lifting. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will have to pay someone to help me to get this finished. I’m past my use-by date for this much continual hard physical work. Once all this heavy work and ceilings are done. I can probably manage the painting and other lighter jobs myself.

Being high with acid

Now that all the brick work is finally complete on our tin shed has its brick veneer walls, I was able to get stuck into scraping, fettling and acid washing the tall Southern wall with the big arch window.

We used our ancient, but extremely solid old steel scaffolding that I bought 5th hand 40 years ago, from a guy who bought it from another guy who bought it from someone else, all owner builders all along the way. Each person bought the scaffolding frames, built their house and then sold them on to the next owner builder. I bought them originally to build our house, but then kept them, breaking the cycle. However, I did rent them out to other owner builders and professional builders over the years, even lent them to our close friends, anyone who needed them to do a job requiring scaffolding.

We built up a 3 level scaffold to get to the very top of the gable wall. Then I worked in reverse with the brick cleaning, working my way down again. As each level of scaffolding allowed me to get to the necessary part of the wall for the though scraping off of the spatter and dags of mortar. It wasn’t too hard a job to clean and acid wash all the bricks at each level.

I’ve never been particularly comfortable working at heights on scaffold or on very tall ladders. But I get used to it over time and find my builders legs. The first few hours are a bit shaky, but by the end of the first day I’m good to go and the second day up there seems somehow ‘normal’! We built a safety rail around the top, It’s not particularly robust, but just seeing it there gives me confidence somehow, even though I don’t go near the edge at all. Working with acid isn’t good at any height, even on the ground, but at height, it adds a certain tinge of danger that keeps me on my toes.

I concentrate on scrubbing the bricks clean and not getting any acid splashed on me. The brick surface with any lime mortar on it foams up and fizzes as the acid does it’s job of neutralising the lime, then a good fresh water rinse to wash off the residue and the brick work looks heaps better and the brick colours become brighter. As these are all thrice used sand stocks, there is a lot of both lime mortar and old lime wash paint on them. It takes 2 goes to get them reasonable. I don’t want them to look brand new, just a little brighter and less limey.

I was able to dismantle the scaffolding bit by bit, layer by layer, as I worked my way down the wall,. Finally, with all three levels of the scaffolding removed, we were able to get an uninterrupted view of the finished wall in all it’s impressive glory for the first time.

It’s better than I imagined when I drew the plans 12 months ago.

Something positive and creative emerging, kicking and screaming, by shear hard graft and determination, from this unmitigated disaster of a fire.

Flasher

This last week I have been finishing off the roof flashing. I spent time cutting up gal steel off cuts left over from the construction phase of the project. I have pieces of corner section, ridge capping etc. I cut them into narrow strips and then folded them into the pieces that I needed for each specific place.After the brickies finished the walls, there was a gap between the steel shed and the new brick veneer wall that needed to be covered.


In one spot on the wall where the corner meets the verandah. I had to cut and fold a special section that is folded in 5 different directions.


That was a very satisfying little job. I’m pleased that it worked out well. I have no idea how much that would have cost me to get a plumber to do these jobs. But it wouldn’t be cheap.

I also needed to cover the electrical conduit brnging the power into the workshop.



This conduit needed to be protected from sunlight, but also mechanical damage.


I have finally finished the capping on the roof between the new brickwork and the steel shed.
All done, now back to the acid cleaning of the brickwork. I had to finish the steel capping before I could afford to pull down the scaffolding. Without the scaffolding, I wouldn’t be able to reach the central capping safely. Every job has to be done in its own specific sequence.

I’ll be pleased to remove the scaffold, so that I can finally see the arched wall and window in its complete form.

Frog up, or frog down?

The brickies have finished. However, there is still a lot to do to clean it all up. I still need to scrub it all down, fettle it, then acid wash the surface and water blast it, but even at this stage it looks great to me.

I asked Bill, one of our brickies, if there was a rule about laying bricks with the frog up or the frog down, as I had noticed while securing the brick ties to the shed frame, that some of the bricks were laid either way. Bill explained to me that he was taught by the English Master Bricklayer Dave Smith from Leeds in Yorkshire to lay bricks frog down, so he lays bricks frog down unless there is a reason not to, such as the need to get a particular face out, or if the brick is warped and won’t sit flat any other way.

At this point, I should explain to those not familiar with bricks, that old fashioned sand stock or modern day dry pressed bricks have an indentation in one of the broad, flat faces. This has a few functions, but mostly to provide a ‘key’ to allow the mortar ‘grip’ the brick and lock it into the wall.

Modern extruded bricks have a lot of holes all the way through them, so don’t require a ‘frog’, the extrusions provide the texture for the cement to grip the brick. BTW, Bill told me that he refuses to work on jobs that specify extruded bricks. He said that they aren’t ‘real’ bricks, just rubbish.

So a frog is an indentation in the brick. In old, hand made, sandstock bricks like ours, the bricks were made one at at time in wooden mould, also hand made on site and not always exactly the same as the other moulds that were being used, so there is plenty of variation in the size and shape of the bricks, but particularly in the size and shape of the ‘frog’ indentation.

We have diamonds and ovals, but mostly a huge range of rectangular shapes.

It appears that each brick maker seemed to make his own mould and chose what ever piece of wood was available at the time to add to the mould to make the ‘frog’ indentation in the brick. There is a huge variation. I have read that as each frog was different, the shape of the frog in the brick was a way of counting up the tally of each individuals daily output, as the brick makers were paid per brick produced.

You can see above, many of the various shapes of the frog, these varied from long, narrow and deep, made by using a squarish baton of wood in the bottom of the mould or ‘Stock’, to very wide and shallow, with tapered edges. Warwick Gemmell in his book ‘And so we graft from six til six’ – Brick makers of New South Wales. states;

Having a wooden piece in the bottom of the mould also had the beneficial effect of pushing or ‘kicking’ the clay slop out to the corners of the mould. It is important to fill the corners of the mould to get a well shaped, square edged brick. Having a ‘kick’ in the bottom of the mould made this easier to achieve by kicking the soft clay out to the edges and allowed the brick maker to work faster with less ‘seconds’.

So where does the word ‘frog’ come from in brick making? The the OED vol 6. P208/6 quotes it’s first use in print in 1876. But gives no indication of it’s origin. In a book called “Des Brykes”, I read that fancy brick work in many old English stately homes was done by imported Dutch bricklayers, as the techniques of sophisticated and decorative brickwork were well advanced in Holland at that time. The Oxford Dictionary also quotes on the same page that Dutchmen were called ‘frogs’ as a term of derision in 1652.

Could it be that immigrant Dutch brick workers introduced the frog into English brick making? It just might be possible, because the ‘Kicker’ piece in the bottom of the mould is also the same word in Dutch (kikker) that means frog!

Just speculation, but food for thought?

A very Good Friday

Janine and I have been particularly busy today cleaning up the brickwork left as it was by our wonderful brickies, Gordon and Bill after they finished up their 4 day week on Thursday. They got the verandah wall all done, right up to the roof. That only leaves the top of the gable wall to be completed. If anyone needs a couple of very skilled and experienced brick layers to do a great job, contact me and I’ll pass their details. They only work a 4 day week, as with them both being well over 70, they can do that. We don’t want to wear them out.

What was particularly good about their working style is the number of times that they asked me what I wanted done here or there. What was I expecting. What did I think about this problem… How should the Sussex bond variation be interpreted and implemented here? etc etc. They’re always consulting and prepared to be flexible. Although I’m very tired from being the brickies labourer to two brickies. Constantly on the go, making mortar, or cutting special shapes on the brick saw, but mostly passing mud and bricks up onto the scaffold, I’m really glad the end of the day, and particularly now that this wall section is complete. We can stand back and appreciate the final ‘look’ of the project so far. And it looks great! Better than I imagined 12 months ago when I drew up the plans and started to get quotes on this crazy idea of buying 5 different ‘off-the-plan’ kit-form farm sheds of all different sizes, heights and shapes, and then bolting tham all together, to make something a little bit different and more interesting. It’s worked!

Today is Good Friday and everything is closed for some obscure ancient pagan reason, so we are working hard at home as usual. As the brickies have finished the verandah wall, we can start to fettle it and begin to wash it down with dilute hydrochloric acid and scrubbing brushes. I’m using a 0.5 norm muriatic acid from a big hardware chain. I’m diluting it to a 10% titration just strong enough to react with the lime in the mortar to dissolve the white ‘blush’ and occasional streak of smeared excess mortar from the brick face, but not strong enough to cause any damage to our skin if spilt. We are wearing long rubber work gloves and goggles, just in case.

We spent most of the day from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm. on the cleaning of the wall. We first went over the entire wall, every brick, brick by brick, scrubbing it down with acid, then follow this up with another going over with the water blaster gadget. The wall looks better, but not quite good enough or clean enough. There were still a few smudges here and there when we came back from lunch and got a fresh look at the surface.

We decide to go over it again with the dilute acid wash and scrubbing brushes. We follow this up again with the high pressure water blaster. Our supposedly, high pressure, water blaster is just a toy, We bought it very cheaply over 20 years ago and have hardly used it, as it’s not very powerful, but it does blow off just enough of the lime gunge without damaging any of the bricks or the environment. It turns out to be just perfect for this job. I wish that I had owned it 35 years ago when I had to wash all the brick work on the old school extension. I did all of that acid scrub and water rinse off by hand from buckets carried up onto the scaffold. It’s amazing how fast a bucket of water can get emptied by hand using a sponge. I spent more time climbing up and down the scaffold, than I did washing bricks.

But that was then and this is now. We have just had a massive down pour of rain last week, so we have an excess of water in the dams, as they are still over-flowing with the seepage from the saturated soil. So water supply is no problem for us this week. I can leave the pump on for an hour while I wash everything. The electric pump runs directly off the solar panels, it’s a sunny day, so we are just using up some of our excess solar-electric power as well.

The water is over-flowing from the dam, so If I don’t use it up in this way, it just flows out of the dam and out into the already saturated soil farther down the hill and into the ‘key-line’ system of dams that we have built over our 45 years years of living here. The water flows from one dam down into the next. We have 4 dams on the property, before the water leaves us and flows down the hill and into our neighbours dam.

We did the second acid scrub and water blast rinse, then stood back and had a good overall look. It looked better and was worth the extra few hours of work. Once the bricks were cleaned, it was time to dismantle the scaffolding piece by piece, removing all the planks and ply sheeting and stacking them all away for re-use again later. The planks and ply will be used as bench tops and tables in the pottery in a few months time when we get to that stage. They were 2nd hand when we got them given to us, as they came from a house that was demolished in Tahmoor. We had to de-nail them before we could use them as scaffolding, they will need to be heavily cleaned to remove all the spilt lime mortar before they can be used again. I will have to wash them and scrub them to remove all the sand before I can plane the surface without damaging the planer blades.

Once all the steel scaffold frames were removed and stacked on the ute, we could remove the plastic sheeting that I had stapled onto the timber windows to keep them clean. Only then could we get to see the outcome. The wall looks great. The Sussex brick bond variation that Gordon and Bill have created for us looks perfectly matched to the Old School building. It also matches the tone and hue of the old rusted galvanised iron sheeting that I used on the wall above the verandah.

I used almost 4 litres of acid to get this wall cleaned. I can see that I’ll use another 4 litres on the gable wall next week when that wall gets finished.

I’m starting to get a bit excited now as things are beginning to come together. The rest of this long weekend will be spent in the garden as everything is growing it’s head off and has been left somewhat neglected for a while now.