Self Reliance, Rock Glaze and Crushers

Each week I attempt to crush and mill another local igneous rock for use as a glaze ingredient.This week I stopped off on the way to Mittagong Post Office to collect another stone, on the hill behind the post office.I passed it through the rock crushers that I have pains-takingly restored after the fire. Luckily, all these machines are made of very solid steel plate or cast iron, but more importantly, they were situated in the breezeway between the two buildings. Being largely out in the open with very little flammable material around them, just a polycarbonate roof over them. So they didn’t get too hot.They weren’t warped or melted. This meant that I was able to restore them, not just scrap them.New motors, bearings, seals, pullies and belts were required. The metal work was largely saved because I poured used engine oil all over them, straight after the fire and before it rained on them. With the assistance of my friends Warren Hogden and Len Smith, Along with my friend Dave and his crane truck, we were  able to lift them out of the rubble and up to a safe place, out of the way of the demolition crew and then tarp them in their oily state. This was just enough protection to stop them from rusting and flaking really badly.  
One very important aspect of my philosophy of self-reliance is never throwing anything out simply because it is no longer fashionable or is showing signs of wear. I keep working on my possessions, maintaining and repairing them, until they are really worn out, or past repair. In this regard, I have spent a lot of time patching and stitching my worn out work clothes and repairing some of my treasured pottery machines. Particularly the rock crushers. These things are as scarce as hen’s teeth and really worth working on. The Japanese have a word, ‘mortainai’ that means ‘making do’, I have written about it on this blog previously. It really sums up this repair and reuse philosophy.A year of part-time evenings has seen both my work jeans and the rock crushers back at work. These jeans are many years old and have patches over their patches, over their patches, especially on the knees.


My jeans mostly wear out at the knees and thighs, I have also had to reline the pockets, as the pockets are made from the lightest grade of cotton cloth that wears out in no time flat if you keep your car keys in there.

It’s just one more example of built in obsolescence. A product designed to fail. The retailers hope that i will just ditch the whole pair and buy another – in the latest fashion style! Well I won’t and don’t. I repair, re-use and re-cycle. I like to make them last me a decade. They start out as being for ‘best’ , going out etc. Then after a couple of years, they start to get a bit past their shiny best, they are worm in the pottery and for gardening. Finally after another 3 or 4 years, they are reduced to the welding workshop, rock crushing and angle grinding. This really takes it’s toll and they require more patches more often. In the past I have finally given up on them when I grew out of them and had to go up to another size. Then they became rags for painting and cleaning. These days I don’t get any bigger, so size isn’t the death knock that it used to be. Hence I a back log of three pairs of these patched jeans that just keep on being repaired and worn again and again.


But its not just the pockets, knees and thighs. They also wear out in the butt.



I think that ongoing hand stitched repairs like this are an important aspect of my creative expression. I exhibit my pots , but no one ever sees these creative endeavours. They are strictly utilitarian and for home use only, but this doesn’t meant that they are any less important. I kintsugi my pots and I patch my clothes. It’s the same thing.


After I had got the rock crushers going. I left it at that, as I wasn’t ready to crush any stones at that time. But the machines were ready.
At least I thought so. I didn’t have the time to test them all out with rocks. I didn’t even have any rocks at hand to try out. I was satisfied when the new motors were installed and the new drive belts were fitted in place, just to see the machines rotate successfully. That was all I got to do. Now is the testing time.


Straight off, there was one casualty. The smallest laboratory jaw crusher just doesn’t seem to work at all. I got it 2nd hand from a junk yard. I tested it, the motor ran, the shaft turned, it whirred and clanked, but now that I go to use it, nothing happens when I put rocks in. They just sit there bouncing around. Luckily, I only paid $250 for it. I’ll need to pull it to bits and find out why. But  that will have to wait till later, much Later… I have  other machines that do actually work and they are enough to get me started. What’s most important is that I can get some local stones powdered so that I can get a glaze firing full of test pieces done.


There were a few hiccups with the other machines before I got them all working. The big jaw crusher was found to be running back wards. I hadn’t noticed this when I first wired it up, as the degree of oscillation movement is very slight, but the first time I put stones in it, I noticed that it was very slow to engage with the rocks, it still crushed the chunks down to blue metal sized pieces, but very slowly. It was really only because I know this machine very well as I have rebuilt it previously over years and am familiar with it, such that I noticed its lack of performance. Luckily, it is a simple exercise to reverse polarity of a 3 phase motor. It works properly now.


The small jaw crusher, which I use as a 2nd stage crusher, takes the blue metal sized lumps and reduces them to grit.

This little machine is now painted industrial yellow, but was formerly dark blue and orange in the old pottery. Me painting my machines a different colour is a bit like a lady dyeing her hair. A change is as good as a holiday. It cheers me up to see all the brightly coloured machines. Like big kid’s toys!


I move the negative-pressure ventilation, dust extraction hose from machine to machine. I have found that the end of the tube is quite friendly and affectionate. If I get too close to the end of the bright orange ducting, it attaches itself to me with the pressure of the suction. It’s not too strong and easy to remove from my shirt, but it is very friendly and persists in wanting to get attached to me. It’s quite amusing. It keeps on seeking out my shirt every time I get close while I’m working. I keep brushing it off, it keeps wanting to nuzzle-up and attach itself to me. Maybe it’s my pottery-workshop-cabin-fevor, after all these months of lock-down. Janine says that I need to get out more! But it’s nice to be wanted!  🙂
The output of this machine is from 6mm down to dust. I bought the little, now-yellow,  crusher direct from the manufacturer, ‘Van Gelder’ back in 1983. When we used to make things here in Australia back in those days. This company has now gone to the wall. It’s a shame, as it was established back in the 1800’s to support the late gold rush and the follow-on mining activities here. They were located in Silverwater in what used to be Sydney’s industrial manufacturing heartland. 
The owner at the time said that they were just hanging on, all the workers were getting old and heading for retirement. He wasn’t sure how he was going to pay out all the retirement funds. He told me that he would probably sell the site and move out of the city to some where much cheaper. Before I left with my brand new crusher – which is still the most expensive piece of pottery equipment that I ever bought. He added my name and the serial number of my machine into his manufacturing log book. It was a quarto sized, beautiful old leather bound journal, that was showing a lot of wear around the edges. It contained a list of every machine that had ever been built by that company. I felt honoured to be on that historical list. It has occurred to me since then, whatever happened to that company’s records and in particular, to that journal?
In 2009,  the cast iron static jaw broke in half, presumably from metal fatigue?  I googled ‘Van Gelder’ and found them up in Gosford. We had an email exchange, but the new owner was completely disinterested in helping me out by selling a new jaw. In fact almost rude. Such a different experience from the old owner!  So I decided that I’d make my own – only better than the original. Cast iron is brittle and not the best choice for a machine part that is under constant impact. I decided to make a new one myself. I tried casting one in bronze. I started out by making a wooden replica that was 17% larger. Making a plaster cast of that wooden piece, then casting a copy of that wooden one in wax, so that I could do a lost wax bronze casting.


The original is at the top. the larger wooden model is in the centre. The cast wax model is at the bottom.
I built a small foundry, and with the assistance of my good friend Warren, we cast a blank, which needed a lot of machining.



I decided to also make another jaw out of steel. 
I made the steel jaw out of a series of 3/4” or 19mm. steel plates welded together to make up the 3” or 76mm thickness of the jaw. I was able to drill out the hole for the shaft in each plate before I welded the plates together and then ground them down to a smooth finish where it was necessary to fit the housing. This was quicker and easier for me to complete. This new jaw is still going strong. I had never attempted to weld 3/4” steel plate before. I was really chuffed that it worked. I decided to go with the steel jaw instead of the bronze jaw.


So it’s working again now beautifully. Producing  a grit that is suitable to go into the disc mill.


The grit from this small Van Gelder crusher is then reduced further in the ‘Bico’ disc disintegrator mill, down to something close to a sand-like size. Interestingly, ‘Bico’ crushers are still available in the USA. I googled them, they are still in business and the identical machine is still for sale on their web site in a slightly newer version. I bought mine many years ago 3rd or 4th hand, no history and unmounted. It obviously hadn’t been used for a long time and was ceased, but I managed to get it moving again after a bit of work.



To get this disc mill working again, I also had to learn how to make, break and fit segmented leather drive belts, as the drive pulley is completely enclosed within the cast iron frame of the machine. I had to thread one open end of the broken belt through the frame and then rejoin the belt. I couldn’t find any way to extract the rivets easily from the segmented belt, so I just cut the head off two of the rivets and then replaced them with small bolts and washers. It seems to have been successful. It works! But I’m not too sure for how long?


I put ‘locktite’ on the threads, so I’m hoping that they won’t come loose during work.


This sandy stone grit then goes into the ball mill for 4 hours to be ground down to fine dust, ready to be made into glaze.


It’s quite a process and takes all day. And just like a time-saving kitchen appliance, it needs to be cleaned up after use. This cleaning and relocating of the ‘friendly’ dust extractor proboscis from machine to machine takes more time than the actual crushing.Such is modern convenience.

Ventilation

There are now lots of small jobs to convert our cheap and nasty metal framed farm shed into a functional pottery studio. I had to fill the little gap above the wooden windows, between the metal lintel bar that supports the arch brickwork. This is to stop sparks and vermin getting into the cavity. It also looks better and more ‘finished’, but really, I just had to get it done to complete the building so as to get our final approval and occupancy certificate. 

The next most pressing job was to install OH&S ventilation. A fan in the materials processing rooms to take the dust away from the rock crushers and clay mixers. I never had to worry about forced air ventilation in the past, as the machines were more or less outside in the breezeway between the two pottery buildings. Now that I have them all in the one sealed room. It is essential that I fabricate and install good ventilation.


This metal tube has some 2nd hand/re-cycled 1.5mm stainless steel mesh inserted to stop sparks and insects getting into the building.


And a cheap batroom fan in the other end that will be inside the room.

Connected to a long flexible air hose.


With the exhaust fan embedded in the wall, I can direct the cheap flexible suction vent hose to any machine in the room.

I have no idea how other people might achieve this sort of dust extraction, but this is one cheap alternative solution, and mostly home made.

Clay? What OH&S risk?

A Week in the Kitchen

We have been very busy working in the new pottery shed building benches and starting to fit it out as a functioning pottery. But we have also been needing to get into the garden and do a bit of maintenance as well. Everything needs to be done NOW, but we have a limit on our time and energy levels. We muddle through, lurching from crisis to crisis. Everything gets done eventually. I console myself about my ineptitude and clumsiness, by keeping my eyes on the very long view.
We have also been continually busy in the kitchen. In this cold weather we are eating less salads and eating more comfort food. This week I made roasted bone marrow stock with loads of garden Mirepoix veggie stock and a bottle of red wine. This can’t be done in one go. I do it one step at a time, evening by evening. Each night when we light the wood fired kitchen stove, this cooks dinner, warms the house and allows plenty of free extra heat for cooking things like stock that need long cooking time and reduction. 


The browning the marrow bones on the stove top, sharing the hot plate with Janine’s Minestrone.


Janine’s minestrone made with our summer harvest of dried beans and our vegetable stock base. The only purchased item was the alphabet pasta, left over from a kids meal.



You can see the various tide line levels on the side of the pot, as I simmer it down from three large boilers of 5 litres each, all reduced down to fit in this one pot and then reduced again to just 600 mls of jellylike concentrate. A spoon full of this flavour bomb, is a home made stock cube substitute, only better, being low salt. 
I saw some nice bratwurst and also some pork mushroom and garlic sausages at the local butcher. I bought one of each and we shared half each, cooked with parsnip and spud mash, red cabbage and julienne carrots with garlic. Sausages are not very healthy food, they are stuffed full of salt, fat and preservatives, so I rarely buy them. The only time I eat a sausage is over at the Village Hall at the occasional fund raising get together event. So buying a sausage was a quite unusual event. I can’t remember the last time I bought a sausage from the butcher. It must be two or three years.

Our hybrid take on the old favourites, banger (singular) and mash and bubble and squeak.



I also took time out one evening to dry, mill and grind some sea vegetable kelp and added to it some ‘lite’ potassium chloride salt, with Sumac and a small amount of Japanese sansho pepper. This is all mixed together to make a low sodium, salt substitute seasoning. Being mostly vegetable based, it has loads of flavour but little ‘bite’ from the low salt level.




I also bake bread twice a week. We can eat a loaf between us over 3 to 4 days. I vary the flour as I run out of one, I buy something different for the next batch. I alternate between 100% rye, rye and Wheat blend and straight wheat. I think that I prefer the rye/wheat blend the best.



At lunch time, I made a croque Monsieur. Not just a ham and cheese sandwich, but pan fried and served hot and so warming on a cold day.

Bugs au Vin

A few months ago a baby rabbit managed to find its way into the netted vegetable garden. I don’t know how it got in, but it did. I first realised that there was a rabbit in the garden when a new batch of germinating seeds and seedlings suddenly disappeared overnight! A few days later, I flushed it out while wartering. I was watering a dense patch of plants when suddenly a rabit scampered out of that patch when the water from the hose hit it. It ran off down the garden and disappeared into another dense patch.I flushed it out again and chased it towards the open gate, but it swerved away at the last moment and hid higher up in another bed.I spent some time running back and forth chasing it about, but it steadfastly refused to run out the door. I eventually gave up when I got puffed out from the running.
I thought that maybe we could encourage a friend with a dog to visit us, and then the dog could do the running and chasing.On Sunday we spent the day in the garden. Firstly, I decided to get the whipper snipper mower out and clean up all the garden paths. Once that was done, I continued to mow some of the big clumps of weeds that had grown up in and around other fallow beds.After lunch, I kept on with the mowing, eventually getting the the point that there was only 2 dense patches of plants left. At the top of the garden there is a patch of gooseberries, and at the bottom of the garden, the asparagus patch was still full of weeds, as we hadn’t got around to weeding it yet.
Earlier in the morning we had spent some time chasing Bugs Bunny up and down the garden. Both large garden gates were full open, but the rabbit refused to go out through them. We gave up again as it being just too difficult. Back to the mowing.
It came to me that if I kept on mowing the big clumps of weeds, then there would be nowhere left for the rabbit to hide. it would have to run out to find new cover.I chased it again. but with no success. He refused to leave. When there was only one clump of weeds left in the asparagus. I could see Peter Rabbit hiding there. Just like Farmer McGregor, I caught him.
And dispatched him quickly. 



We have carrots, celery, onions, garlic, kale, parsnips, brussel sprouts and capsicums in the garden currently, and he had feasted on them all. In fact he ate everything that wasn’t covered by netting. We had netting within netting trying to keep some small plants and seedlings safe until they were more advanced.As he was fattened up on these veggies, I decided that it was best to cook our Bugs Bunny with exactly those veggies.I made a classic French style ‘Bugs au Vin’ sort of stew, all good, local, low carbon miles, garden produce, including our organically fed Peter Rabbit and half a bottle of good red wine. 


I know I’ve been rabbiting on about this, but I hope that you have been Lapin it up.  He was quite nice, although a little tough. I could have cooked him a bit longer. My good friend Leonard suggested that I should serve up my ‘Rabbit au Vin’ in a Hares fur bowl 🙂

This is all part of our self reliant life style.

Mottainai, repairing the old wood fired kitchen stove

Our 45 year old wood fired kitchen stove is again in need of some repair.I have been working on this stove for 35 years. It was already out of production when we bought it second hand from a local farmer in the 70’s.The first thing to go was the cast iron grate under the firebox. My enquiries revealed that the Northburn company was bought out by Rayburn and closed down years before, but that there was still some spare parts available in the UK. An estimate for a new cast iron grate was more than the whole stove! I quickly realised that I would be needing more of these replacement ash pit grates in coming years. So I had better solve the problem now, and importing the last one from England wasn’t going to be the long term answer.


I worked out that cheap, local, cast iron drain covers could be cut up into 3 section and yield a decade of spares for $10. $3.33 each. About a dollar a year seemed good value. I have been using this solution ever since. When the fire brick in the front of the fire box crumbled, I reassembled the bits and filled in the missing parts with fresh clay and made a plaster cast of it. After that I was able to pop out a few each decade and pre-fire them in our potters kiln always keeping a few in stock under the kitchen hot water cupboard. Interestingly, the home made ones lasted longer than the original. Perhaps because I made ours out of my best home made  high alumina grog and sillimanite clay mix that I used to make our own kiln shelves. Good stuff, and seemingly better than the original.

 
At some point in the past, many years ago I replaced the fibre rope seal around  the hot plate. As this was almost certainly made of asbestos, given its age. I took it very seriously and got Janine out of the house. closed the doors and windows to stop any draughts, then soaked the fibre with water to kill dust. I wore long sleaves and a hospital theatre hair net cap and a dust mask. I lifted the wet but stiff fibre rope out and placed it into a plastic bag, sponged down the whole stove top and replaced the seal with modern kevlar fibre rope stove door seal. Then washed my clothes.
The next part of the fire box to crumble was the fire wall between the fire box and oven. This was a thick cast iron sheet of metal. As it cracked up and started to fall apart I was wondering how I could get another one cast in cast iron. Then I thought, if I could use a home made kiln shelf in its place. I cut up a big 400mm x 400mm. kiln shell to custom fit the exact shape of the original. it fitted in pretty well. Snugly in fact. I thought that it might last a few months, giving me time to find a long term solution. To my surprise, it is still there and the stove works perfectly with its new heat shield. Its been in use for many years now, so will probably last for quite a while into the future. I have plenty more to replace it when the time comes. 
I was less successful with the large single piece fire box brick that makes up the left side of the firebox. it is a couple of inches thick and deeply embedded into the structure of the stove, such that to take it out and replace it would be a total rebuild job. Being the lazy opportunist that I am I decided that I would just repair the crumbled hole with a home made ceramic fibre and clay castable to fill the gaping hole, then cover the entire surface with another kiln shelf. This one needed to be longer then ti is wide, and a bit thinner to fit in easily. I found that I had a commercial kiln shelf of just about the right dimensions and cut it to fit. It worked perfectly for a few months and then cracked in half, then the two halves cracked, and so on… Yesterday it became apparent that it had all fallen to pieces the night before during the cooking of dinner. 
I extracted the parts and not having any other commercial shelves that were easily adapted since the fire cleaned up out. I decided to do a bit of a Japanese inspired ‘mottainai’ repair and stich it all back together with some old kanthal high temperature kiln element wire. ‘Mottainai’ is a bit hard to translate , but loosely means that something is too good to waste, so a little effort is worth being put in to save it and restore it, It also implies a bit of ‘waste not, want not’ and a stitch in time etc. It suits my life philosophy of living gently and minimal consumption.It survived last nights dinner cooking firing, so I’m hopeful that since it is now made up of several pieces instead of being one large sheet, it is now comprised of many expansion joints. It might work. I hope so. 
This was a first class commercial kiln shelf, supposedly with very good chemistry and excellent thermal shock resistance, but it seems a little bit too thin to take the combination of heat shock and small occasional impacts from wood stoking. I’m even more impressed with my own home made kiln shelf on the opposite side of the firebox that has been taking the same impacts and heat shock stresses for some years now.

Making a Crust

I was up very early this morning to put the bread on. I like to get it on early, so it can go in the oven during breakfast and be out ready for lunch.Everybody who makes bread has their own way or technique. We have been making bread for the past 45 years. My mother taught me how to make bread and she taught me what she knew, as she used to bake her own bread for us when we were kids.
I grew up on home made crumbly, stoneground wholemeal flat loaves. I have never been really happy with the results of our own loaves, there was always so much room for improvement. I’m always interested in learning from others how they make bread. Some years ago, I was told by a fellow teacher at an Art School where I was working part time that his wife made really nice bread, she had been a profession baker. He told that the best results came from baking the bread in a closed environment to get a good crust.
He told me that his wife used a cast iron camp oven to bake in. I didn’t own such an item, but googled it and they cost upwards of $100 at the time. That was way beyond my discretional expenditure budget so let it slip. 
Janine and I have owned a bread making machine for 20 years. Actually, we have worn one out and are now onto our 2nd one. They save a lot of time, but we don’t like the square loaves with the hole in the bottom, so we decided long ago to use the machine to only make the dough, which it does very well.

I like rye bread, but Janine finds it too heavy, so we compromise and I make a 50/50 mixed loaf of rye and wheat flour. The bread machine, or should I say the dough machine takes 1 1/2 hours to prepare the dough, which is OK for us. We can put it on and go out to work, then return to take the dough out and bake it our selves in our own tray in the home oven. Sometimes we make a platted loaf, other times we make buns or rolls, all free form just as my Mum did.


My son made excellent bread in his restaurant. from sour dough that they developed there over the years. They even went to the trouble of importing a special variety of wheat directly from the farmer in western NSW and getting it specially milled one tonne at a time for the restaurant. It was worth the effort. The bread was excellent. I even stopped baking bread when I could call in and pick up a loaf of yesterdays bread. A time that I believe caught the bread at its best. He made the dough in the evening after service, let it prove over night and baked it in the now cooling wood fired oven first thing in the morning, before stoking up the oven for the days service. That all ended when the restaurant closed due to Covid.
My grandfather told me that the best bread was proved over night, a slow fermentation. He also told me that in commercial bakeries they blow steam into the oven to help create a better, crispier crust. I don’t know if this is true, but I believed my grandfather, but couldn’t ever figure out how I might achieve that.
I spoke to another bread maker who we stayed with in Wales, He made fantastic bread at home. He even sold his bread locally to his various friends and neighbours. David made a sour dough in a rather fluid form, a very stiff liquid.  David made a bread with loads of seeds in it. I loved it and we even asked him to bake extra loaves for us when we left to take with us.
I’m really lazy about things that aren’t absolutely essential to my daily routine. I can buy a good rye bread in Bowral from the artisan bread shop, but I don’t always go to Bowral, and I won’t drive that far and back just for bread. That would be a crime against society in the form of wasted energy. So I have developed a system that suits me, my energy levels and my available time. We make our dough in the machine early in the morning, then bake it in the oven in a metal pot. I first experimented using a metal casserole, but instead of the usual loaf, I got a wide flat round sort of facaccia loaf. A little bit like the flat loaves that my mother baked. What I did learn from this experiment was that baking in a cassarole gives a better crust.



What I needed was a smaller diameter metal pot, so when I saw that a certain supermarket that has a garage sale down the centre isle, had a special on cast iron camp ovens. Under $20 if I remember correctly. Using this camp oven, I could bake a tighter, smaller, round loaf with a good crust.I recently visited one of my ex-students who I taught at the National Arts School in the late 70’s. He is long retired from making pottery, but still had some pottery gear that he hadn’t had the heart to get rid of, even though he hadn’t used it for years. He called me after the fire to ask if I wanted it. I did and we visited him recently to pick it up, as we are now in a position to accept bits of useful equipment. We actually have a shed to put it in now.
Tony told me how he made bread. He does an over night ferment and then bakes in a cast iron lidded pot. His bread was very good. He advised me to take the lid off half way through the baking to let the crust become a little bit caramelised and crispy – even a little bit burnt. The initial baking time with the lid on steams the crust a little bit and sets up the crust, then the 2nd half of the baking with the lid off gives a nice brown crisp crust. It does work. Or at least it works for me in our oven with our Aldi pot. I don’t know anything about the technology of fermenting flour and yeast, or even of baking. I haven’t studied it. What I’ve learnt about making home made bread, I was taught by my mother, then augmented by our own experiments and what i learnt from others. It’s all a bit hit and miss experiments. Mostly misses. But this seems to work best for us.



Early this morning while I was preparing the dough machine. I noticed that there was a really good red sky, warning me about something?

I wonder what.

Our Old Twice Burnt Dough Mixer Proves to be a ‘Pheonix’ mixer

Janine and I bought a very old and well used bakery dough mixer back in 1978. This was a time when a lot of old, small, family run bakeries were being forced out of business by the big multinational food corporations, and a trend towards people buying mass produced bread in super markets, rather than going to the small family bakery.We didn’t have 3 phase power back in those days, so I adapted the dough mixer to run on the power from a 5HP petrol engine interfaced through a rather snazzy torque converter. The sort of thing that adapts automatic gear boxes to engines in cars. I was given it, so didn’t realise how expensive they were.
We used that dough mixer in conjunction with a 200 mm. Venco de-airing pug mill for 5 years to mix all our clay bodies. Tragically, That pottery burnt down in 1983. That was a timber building and was totally destroyed by the fire. What was really amazing, was that I was able to rebuild both the pug mill and the dough mixer from the melted and charred remains. I spent a lot of time working on that equipment to get it going again. Luckily this machine was housed in a corner of the building with 2 sets of glass double doors on the corner, so as to allow for good ventilation. As this part of the building had very little wood in it,  the machine didn’t get too hot during the fire and none of the cast iron parts cracked.
The shaft of the dough mixer got rather bent during the fire, so had a very noticeable wobble in it when I got it going again, but at least I got it going. It was a bit of a mess, but I managed to keep it going for the next 36 years. After that fire, I converted it to a 3 hp single phase electric motor. The biggest motor that you can plug into a 15 amp power point, as that was all the power that we had at the time. It only just managed to do the job, as it wasn’t really powerfull enough, but I was carefull with it and nursed it along. I set it up with a home made, somewhat loose, slip-belt clutch as torque converters are so expensive.

After this last fire in 2019, The machine really got cooked, That’s it in the centre of the picture above, in the burnt out shed. Fortunately, the fire didn’t crack the castings. However, this time the main shaft was so badly bent, that it wouldn’t even rotate. I gave up on it, as I had so much to do to rebuild the new pottery shed that I couldn’t see myself ever really finding the time to fix it. Then, when my friend John Edye retired. I was able to buy his dough mixer. Very lucky timing. I didn’t have a pottery to put it in at the time, but bought it anyway, to make sure that I had it ready for when I could install it. As it happened, John also had loads of other jobs to do, so it sat there for several months, before we could find a mutual time that suited us both, for me to go and collect it.
In the interval, my friend Ross turned up one day, He is a really amazing person, who has so much knowledge and life experience with machinery. He saw me working on some of my ruined gear and asked what I planned for the dough mixer. I told him that I had given up on it for the time being, but couldn’t bring myself to abandon it. Ross had a good look at it and said that he thought that he could extract the main shaft from the gearbox and straighten it in his hydraulic press. He had done other jobs like that in the past. So I said “yes please, have a go at it”. I know that I won’t get around to it for a long time – if ever.
Luckily, I had poured spent engine oil all over most of the machines to stop them from rusting too much and greased all the bearings to prevent them from siezing up, so as to preserve them until I could find the time to get to them and try to fix them. I also bought a massive tarpolin to cover them. This turned out to be a smart move, as they remained there, under cover, for over a year. I found out through this experience that there is a massive amount of condensation under a plastic tarp, so all the machines that wern’t oiled were very badly rusted.
We worked on the dough mixer. Ross and I were able to dismantle all of the moving parts that still moved, and Ross took the main shaft home with him. He called a few weeks ago to say that it was now back in a good shape. Not perfect, but very good. We water-blasted the carcas to remove all the old oil, carbon, ash and burnt paint from it and I moved all the other bits inside, to keep them dry while I set about re-assembling the gearbox and all other moving parts. Ross organised a new oil seal and I had removed the main bearings and soaked it in oil to rinse clean and preserve them.

At this point, it’s looking a bit like a burnt out darlek!

A new 3 phase electric motor, a good clean, some rust converter and a coat of zinc primer and it starts to look as though it will go again.
The mixing bowl on the other hand had copped a bit of a hiding. It was split in 4 places around the rim and was no longer completely round, in fact it was a little bit heart shaped. I spent some time on it, a bit at a time, clamping it back in shape and tack welding it together,  getting it as round as possible, then welding all the splits back solid again.

After a week of nights, doing all the usual things, rust converter, penetrol sealer, zinc primer, several top coats of hard gloss oil paint and its looking great.

Everything is coming together now. The housing, gearbox and mixing arm have been given their severel top coats and are looking good. I bought a new 3 phase motor, new drive belts and electricals, so when I plugged it in the first time, and it actually went – I was really moved that it was back from the dead. Again! Thanks to Ross! 

Now I need a pug mill and we are back in business, ready to make clay again. This restored ‘phoenix like’ twice burnt, and twice restored dough mixer sits in the same room as John Edye’s mixer that I bought when I had absolutely no idea that mine might be recoverable. Hints of ‘two-sheds Jackson’ here. Steve ‘two-mixers’ Harrison.
Weirdly, my old ruined one is now ready to work before I have finally gotten around to finishing cleaning out and painting the bowl of John’s machine.

Rust converter being applied inside the bowl and the mixing arm to neutralise the rust, by converting the iron oxide that is very susceptible to oxidation with air when it gets wet, and converting the iron oxide to iron phosphate, which is quite stable and inhibits further rusting. However. The iron phosphate really needs to be sealed with a water impermeable membrane. In this case it also needs to be fairly impact and wear resistant. I have found that an oil based, high zinc, machinery paint works quite well. Well, similar stuff that I used in 1983, the first time that I restored this mixing bowl worked really well and lasted for 36 years! Of course, there is no guarantee that anything on sale today will last as long.

The bowl after rust conversion. I sent this image to John and we both agreed that the inside looked al to like an ancient ‘hare’s fur’ tenmoku glazed tea bowl.

Ready for the primer and top coat.

The first coat going on.

ready for work.

Collecting and Restoring Some Old Pottery Equipment

As the year has dragged on into 18 months since the fire. We are flat out busy with the re-building project. We had a slow start waiting for the insurance company to decide what to do, then putting plans to Council for building approval. Everything takes time. We weren’t sitting on our hands during this waiting period. We shifted the burnt out orchard and all its well composted and richly fertile soil up the hill so that we could build the new pottery on the old orchard site. We were able to get that done before the end of winter, so that we could plant all the new bare rooted fruit trees before bud burst.


Although we spend every day working on the building, there is always a few minutes or and hour here and there that can be stolen from the shed project to work on restorring these odd bits of old machinery. I found a couple of unloved bits of machinery that were worth restorring. One was so corroded that it took an angle grinder and then a hammer and cold chisel to clean the rust and scale out and get it unseazed and rotating again. I have become a lot more familiar with bearings, oil seals, gear boxes and pulleys these days.

This is about as bad as it gets before the rust eats through the wall of the machine.

After chipping away at the flakey scale, then attacking it with an angle grinder with a rotary brush, then finally hitting at the stubborn bits with a hammer and cold chisel…

It has come good and has now had a coat of rust converter, phosphoric acid.

There isn’t much that an angle grinder, wire brush, hammer & chisel, then a few coats of rust converter and primer can’t fix. – and a week of evenings!

John Edye, eminent potter and my Friend and collegue of over 40 years has retired from making pots.  When I heard that he was retiring last year, I got in touch and asked what he was intending to do with all his equipment. I was very lucky that I was first to ask. As we lost almost everything to the fire in December 2019, It crossed my mind that he may be interested in selling some of it to me. I was particlarly interested in getting a dough mixer for my clay making. As our old one has now gone through two fires, in 1983 and again in 2019. I was lucky enough to get it going again in ’84, although it was quite wobbly afterwards. After this last fire the burning roof beams fell in on it and the main shaft was so badly bent, that I couldn’t rotate anymore.

We bought John’s dough mixer, damp cupboard and some pot boards.
It was a bit of a job getting them out of John’s very beautiful, but remote country property, deep in the wet forested gullies between Kulnurra and Wollombi. John was well prepared and had all the gear up on pallets, or steel pipe rollers. My friend Dave has a truck with a pal finger crane, so we were able to get in there and lift the gear out.
Everything was much easier at my end, as I have a concrete slab floor for the first time in my life and a pallet lifter trolley to move heavy bits of machinery.

John’s mixer in its new home, with a nice view from the window.

I have started to grind and clean the inside of the bowl. It’s had its first coat of rust converter. it still needs a couple of top coats of a hard wearing oil-based machinery paint to suppress the rust.

I have also been offered a pug mill, shimpo wheel, Leach style kick wheel and various other bits and pieces of pottery gear from other friends who have surplus equipment, are also retired or are choosing to go smaller, but these are yet to arrive here.

The crusher room in the machinery shed is filling up slowly as I tinker away in my spare time after work between midnight and dawn as I slowly pull apart, clean or replace, then reassemble and finally paint this diverse collection of antique crushers and grinders. This is such a different aspect of my philosophy of self reliance, but actually quite rewarding and enjoyable.

I have painted them up in bright colours like big toys – just to cheer me up a bit.

I need to stop lazing around and get some real work done! The pottery studio needs to be finished, as this is the last room to be completed. Then we can apply to the Council Inspectors to get our final inspection and a Occupation Certificate. I know that there will be many little items that will need to be done and ticked off to get it all through. I just don’t know what they will be yet, not until the inspectors tell me what are.

I’ll deal with them when the time comes.

The Day of the Long Knives

I have moved on to a good place this week. I have started to work on the wood work phase, lining the pottery studio with our own timber boards. I am much happier working with wood rather than steel. I can work with steel perfectly well, but I like the feel and smell of freshly worked wood. It’s somehow very satisfying. I have spent the past few days planing the pine boards that we milled out of our burnt pine trees last year.

I was tempted to call this post ‘Just Plane Board’. Not because, I’m just plain bored, but because ‘All I do is just plane boards’ all day long. Doing just this, I quickly wore out the old plainer blades, they were mostly pretty blunt from from doing a lot of work in the past, so I had to change them over, which wasn’t too hard. I found, without too much surprise, that the work went so much easier with the sharper blades, but after a few hours, it slowed down again. This 130 year old home grown Caribbean pine is very solid timber, very tough to mill and now just as tough to plane. I’m only 1/4 of the way through this job and I can see that I’ll soon need to change the blades in the planer again. I can only take 1/4 of a millimetre off the boards with each pass. Anything more stalls the machine and activates the overload switch.

I am quite capable of sharpening knives, scissors, tin snips and small hand planer blades. Any blade up to 100mm. wide. Above this length, it gets tricky, as my widest honing stone is 80mm. so after that I have work diagonally or lengthwise for the longer blades. This works well with hand held sharpening of curved chef’s knives. Geordie (my son, who is a chef) and I used to do a sharpening session every few months or so, and did all our kitchen knives in one big session. We got quite good at the fine grinding and gentle finishing on the 4 graded Japanese whetstones, ranging from 400# to 8000# grit.

However. When it comes to a very thin straight planer blades, these are called knives in the industry, then what I need is a very long stiff jig that I can bolt the blade onto to keep it stiff while grinding it. as these long knives are 330 mm long but only 1.5 mm thick x 200 wide. To hone a long thin and flexible knife like this, I would need a long grinding stone and then a very long honing stone, As the planer blades are 330 mm long, so I will need a honing stone at least this long, preferably longer. I don’t know if there are even stones this long available. Obviously there must be, because these blades are being manufactured somewhere. However, I suspect that these kinds of knives are sharpened in the industry on rotary grinders and honers.

My first thought was to contact the original retailer, only to find that they had discontinued this model of machine a decade ago and no longer carry any spare parts for it any more. I’m not surprised, it’s only a cheap hobby machine. I should have spent the extra money and bought a better quality ‘name brand’ that would still be available. I went on line to see if there were any non-branded, no-name products that might suit my machine. My initial search didn’t bring up anything that might fit this model. So with this option eliminated, I have to find a way of getting the only blades that I have resharpened.

The is a new shop in Mittagong specialising in sharpening tools! I noticed its sign in the street a while ago and made a mental note. I called in there today and asked if he could sharpen my planner knives. He couldn’t. Not only couldn’t he do it but the place that he sends difficult jobs to get sharpened professionally doesn’t do these very long thin knives either. They only do the thicker, stronger machine knives. So I was feeling a bit snookered. but my enthusiasm wasn’t blunted, in fact I’m keen to have a go at building a jig to hold them firmly supported while I pass them over my own bench grinder. It can’t be that difficult – can it? It’s the final honing of them on a 200mm long, or should I say 200 mm short, stone that is going to be the hard part.

The worst that can happen is that the knives shatter while I’m grinding them. If that doesn’t happen, then the next worst thing that will happen, will be that they aren’t completely even, or have a few rough areas along the knife edge. Well, as long as they are sufficiently keen and sharp enough to take off the circular saw blade marks, then that will be fine by me. Any little rough areas on the blade that leave long straight grooves in the wood can be sanded down with the belt sander. I’m doing this anyway because of the current state of the blades.

Watch this space.

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.