Dear Friends, We will be opening our pottery on the weekend of 13th and 14th of November. We are informed that on the 1st of November, the state will be opening up to allow people from the Greater Sydney Region to travel to the regions like ours in the Southern Highlands. We have joined the Open Studio Weekend organised by the Australian Ceramics Assn. and accordingly, we will be open from 10 am to 4.00 pm on both Saturday 13th Nov. and Sunday 14th Nov. We are looking forward to seeing our friends again after such a long time in lock down.
We must remind you all that we will be observing strict Government COVID safe protocols.
Please don’t come unless you are double immunised, and have a vaccine certificate to show us.
We will need to see your vaccination certificate before you can come in and there will be a strict 4 Sq. M. rule applied. That’s 7 people max. in the gallery. Although I can’t imagine that we will get more than 7 people all day, never mind all at one time 🙂 We will have all the doors and windows open for good ventilation and to keep the CO2 levels down to around 450 ppm. As this is considered good practice to minimise the chances of infection. We won’t have a lot of work fired and for sale by that time, as we have only now just had our first stoneware reduction glaze firing full of glaze tests. I have been very busy working on the 3 local igneous rocks that I could collect within 5 km of our home here, or near the supermarket and Post Office on our once a week shopping excursion. That has limited my choices, but it’s a challenge to make the best I can out of what I have available in my immediate vicinity.
Its shaping up to look like we can make a tenmoku and tea dust glazes from the Hill Top basalt found in the next village. A green celadon from some washed felspathic gutter sand, A pale blue celadon, a yellow matt glaze, Blue/yellow mottled glaze, also made from the local ‘Living Waters’ Basalt intrusion, and a pink matt glaze made from the sericite porcelain body. As well as something resembling a pink/orange shino style of glaze made from the Balmoral dirty felspathic igneous stone. Nothing special, but a workable mix to get us started. As long as you are double vaxed, We’d love to see you here at some stage, once we are all allowed to travel inter-regionally. Even if there is only a small selection of our our work on the shelves, we welcome you to call in and see the new shed. I’ll be pleased to give you a tour of the Workshop, Pottery studio and Gallery, as well as the raw material processing facilities that we are in the midst of developing – for those so inclined.
We will probably also be open from then on, each weekend, through until Xmas, but please ring beforehand, just to make sure that we are in and open, and not out doing shopping.
With the news last week that the State Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, had resigned under a cloud of corruption allegations and had been called to appear before ICAC, there was some very disturbing cackling noises coming from the chook house. Our two chickens, given to us after the fire by out 2 very thoughtful friends Warren and Trudie, were making a bit of a fuss. These two lovely chooks arrived here from Balmain as tree change chook refugees. We had to wean them off their previous diet of smashed avo on chia sourdough rye and sipping chardonnay! They arrived with names already given, assigned to them by their previous owner. They are Edna and Gladys. We decided to call Gladys Berechickenlian, it seemed funny at the time. Now all of a sudden it isn’t appropriate any more! and Gladys is a bit upset.
So we have re-named her as Gladys ICACkle !
With the longer days and warmer weather creeping in in fits and starts, in-between cooler days and bouts of rain, everything is growing very well.All the seeds that I planted a month ago are now up and starting to grow.
The mulberry tree has set a good crop and the berries are starting to turn red. We will be eating them in about another two weeks.
The young berries are in full flower as well and the blueberry crop is just about ripe. We have already eaten our first few blueberries.
The avocado tree seen behind the youngberries is in full bloom, so much so that it has turned from green to yellow with all the flowers obscuring the leaves.Hopefully, there will be a good crop of avocados in the autumn/winter. This tree was badly burnt in the fire and lost all its leaves, completely scorched off. Many of the small branches were killed by the heat. It still has a lot of dead wood that I need to prune off, but it is a long way down on my jobs list. There will be no ‘hungry gap’ this spring. The hungry gap is a time in the year, when long ago, there was a gap in the food production from peasants gardens at the end of winter, when the winter vegetables were mostly consumed, and the spring planting was done, but no eatable food was ready to harvest until the beginning of summer.
We harvested the last of our 3rd or 4th pick of little broccolini shoots last week, and managed to pick the first of the new season large round broccoli heads this week. Excellent timing on my part. And although I’m flat out busy building the pottery and starting to make the first of our new work, testing clay bodies and glazes. I’m proud to say that I have still managed to get into the garden every now and then to do some weeding, watering and planting. Janine goes to the garden every evening to pick what is available and ready for dinner. We have no money, but we eat well and healthily, because we don’t buy most of our food. We grow it.
Our biggest expense each week is protein, ie, fish from the fish truck that comes up from the south coast on Thursdays and Fridays. We go to town and do all our food shopping on one of these days to coincide with the fish truck. We also make up a list of things that we need to get from the other shops like hardware, iron mongers, and plumbers supplies. As I’m building a lot of this building myself and doing 100% of the fitting out, I always have a list of steel, bolts and screws etc. that I need to make all the tables, benches, shelves, racks, stools etc. etc. This last week, I made a dedicated wedging bench to sit against the wall in the pottery. I used one of the massive slabs of pine that we milled a year ago from our own burnt pine trees that we felled. Waste not, want not. This is beautiful timber. I’m really pleased to be able to make my bench form such lovely stuff.
We are past the equinox now and firmly in spring. I have planted out the summer garden seeds and even a few seedlings to get things started a little early. Things like tomatoes and squash. I’m never really sure when it will be safe to plant out those tender summer vegetables, just in case there is a late frost, but as the years go by, the chances of a late frost get more remote. Global heating is running rampant and no one seems to want to do anything about it. We seem to have some of the laziest and most corrupt and stupid politicians in the world. Firmly welded onto burning coal and gas as the solution to everything. Still refusing to commit to zero carbon economy by 2050. Pathetic!
On the bright side. The cherries have started t flower, always a safe sign that I can plant to the summer veggies. I checked my diary and found that I planted out the first summer seedlings last year on the 11th of Sept. This year I got into the garden and planted the first seeds on the 13th. pretty similar.
The quinces are also flowering.
Even the young little apple trees, only I planted last year in the new orchard that we built after the fire, These are also flowering.
I pick off the small fruits as they form, so as to allow the tree to grow vigorously and develop a sound structure. However, I can’t help myself from leaving just one fruit on each tree to develop to maturity, just to see what the fruit looks and tastes like. It’s exciting to see the fruit swell up and mature. There is so much anticipation in the wait for them to become ripe.
All the seeds and seedlings are planted out and watered in. Now we wait and weed.
I spent a few hours each day for the past week weeding the poor neglected vegetable patch. We have been so busy in the pottery making pots and glaze tests, preparing for our first glaze firing, that I haven’t spent very much time in the garden over winter. No its catch-up time. I really have to spend some time in there, or the weeds will taker over with the coming warmth and longer day light hours and all the vegetables will be smothered.
In the past, I used to be in the garden everyday. Whenever I got a bit bored doing whatever it was, I could just walk out the door and around the shed, and into the garden. I’d pick something to chew on and do a bit of weeding and watering, enjoy the creative and productive break, then go back to work refreshed. There is just so much to do these days, that the list is longer than the piece of paper I try to write it all down on. I work until I’m too tired to do more, and the garden gets forgotten. At least I’m smart enough to know when to stop. I don’t want to wear my self out. I know that I can come back to it the next day and finish whatever it is that I didn’t get done the day before.
This week I took time out and weeded the asparagus bed. I desperately needed to be cleaned out to allow the new season growth to get a chance to thrive.
There are two beds, right at the bottom of the garden. They look great all cleaned out. I can’t wait for the new spears to come through. The artichokes behind them are just coming into head. The earliest variety is the early Italian purple. We ate them for lunch.
I grew these plants from seeds, they turned out to be quite spiky, it didn’t mention that on the packet! I just cut the top 1/3 off and peel the first row of outer leaves away, then there is no problem.
Janine and I have each spent a few hours here and there over the winter months weeding the garlic beds. Garlic doesn’t tolerate too much competition. it really impedes the development of good sized bulbs. So because it really needed t one done, we cancelled pottery work and did it – a few hours at a time, then 6 weeks later, we did it again. It has been a mild and somewhat damp winter, so all the weeds out grew the garlic. Now it’s done, it looks good and the garlic is pushing up and filling out. We may not need to weed it again before it matures in the next 6 to 8 weeks.
I try and grow all the garlic that we will need for the whole year, but rarely manage it. This year I managed to find the time to clear 5 beds and plant out about 200 cloves between March and May. Most of them came up, but not every one develops into a big strong knob. Some only grow to a small fiddly size that is rather a lot of effort to peel, but we work our way through them first. Janine doesn’t even bother to plait them, she just pours them all into a wicker basket that we keep on the kitchen work bench. Only when they are used up, do we proceed to bring down the bigger and easier to peel larger knobs. These plaits are hung up in the kitchen ceiling space where they are kept dry and well aired until we need them.
We have just one small bulb left of last years harvest, so I bought 3 knobs from the green grocers last week. These are imported from the northern hemisphere where they are in the opposite season. Janine also picked one very small bulb that had fallen over near the garden path. It wasn’t going to do well, so it’s our first bulb of the new season.
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.
I have started to get out and collect some rocks, but because of the COVID19 lock-down, I can’t go driving all around my shire doing a full geology excursion.I’m suppose to stay within 5 kms of home. I can go to the shops or Post Office for essentials, but we don’t have a shop or a post office here in our little hamlet. So we have to go the 5km to the next village where there is a small shop and Post Office. Luckily for me, I have walked all this country around here over the past 45 years. So I know where to go within 5 kms to get some glaze stones. There is a small volcanic plug just a couple of kms away, but it is completely kaolinised and has lost most of its alkali, so doesn’t melt very well – in fact not at all. Also, the high levels of iron and magnesia that are left limit what can be made from it. It’s really just a brown soil and is only good as an iron pigment.It would be nice if there were some acid rocks nearby, but there aren’t. So I’m stuck with what is here. There are just 3 volcanic plugs within the 5 k limit around here. All basalts.
I called in at Werner’s house, just a couple of kms further along, on the way to the shops. Keeping my distance of several metres, I reminded him that I had called in there 20 years ago and he let me collect some of the basalt rocks that out crop from a small volcanic plug in his back yard. Werner is a very nice guy. He has retired since I was there last. We went for a well distanced walk around to his back yard. We are both double vaxed, so felt safe to do so.
Mid last century, this was a working quarry, it’s abandoned and quite over grown now, but there are lots of little, hand-sized, small stones that I can pick up from the garden bed near the top of the quarry wall. I can fit about 15 kgs in my back pack and thank Werner and prepare to walk back out. I tell him that I’ll be back for some more stones in another 20 years! He laughs, he will be 100 by then.
I put the stones through my rock crushers. First, I put the fist sized pieces through the jaw crusher to reduce the stones down to blue metal sized pieces.
Then they go through the disc disintegrator mill to reduce the gravel to grit.
I have installed a flexible dust extractor system that sucks the dust from the machine out through a fan installed in a sheet of plywood that fits in the roller door space. It is quick to install and remove afterwards. This was the quickest and cheapest DIY solution to the OH&S dust problem involved in crushing rocks, as i had the sheet of plywood left over from the ceiling of the throwing room.
I sieve out all the over-sized bits, and put the rest into the ball mill. This reduces the grit down to dust that I can use to make a glaze.I know from my previous research that I can make a tea-dust and a tenmoku glaze from this dark rock. Basalt isn’t very easy to work with, as it doesn’t contain sufficient silica or flux to melt properly. It also has far too much Magnesia and iron to make anything other than dark glazes like tea-dust and tenmoku. Even then, it needs extra limestone and silica to get any usable, stable, glossy result at all. But the thing is, it can be done with a little bit of chemical jiggery-pokery using just what is available around here. In fact. It can be done with what is in my back yard! My initial test tile showed me that I can make a honey brown glaze, a black tenmoku, a green magnesia matt, a tea-dust green/black glaze and an opalescent dark blue/green glaze.
Meanwhile, Janine is at work making larger bowls on the ’Slatyer’ kick wheel.
While the ball mill runs, I spend a bit of time making some new fibre cement pot boards. I use our own sawn and milled pine slats to reinforce and support the fibre cement sheet boards. Some of the advantages of the FC pot boards is that they are cheap, very flat, quite absorbent and light weight.
I made a couple of stillages on castors to hold the pot boards in a compact and movable form. The first set I made from leftover parts of the brickies’ scaffolding. I don’t like to see waste, so i kept the parts after i dismantled the scaffolding. The other set I made from steel, half of which was left over from the shelves and benches that I made for the Gallery and lab rooms. These shelving racks can hold 28 pot boards if they ever get filled. More than enough for us.
Now that we finally have a continuous, flat, level floor, we can wheel our work between the throwing room, kiln room and glazing rooms as needed. So easy and convenient now. What a luxury!
Last week, on the coldest, rainy and blusterously windy day, we had a half day off, lit the stove in the kitchen after lunch, and stayed inside and cooked.Janine made a ginger parkin cake in her very special Swiss expanding cake tin. This was a gift from Barbara, a potter in Switzerland when we were working there some years ago. It had been handed down in her family for some years. Barbara had cooked a cake in it and brought it along to the wood firing workshop that we were doing. I was so taken by its ingenious simplicity, I studied it and even did a drawing of it with the details and dimentions, so that I could make a copy of it for us on our return. I have learnt some very basic skill in sheet metal working. Barbara saw that I was taken by it, with me coming back to it several times and examining it and photographing it.At the conclusion of the workshop it was presented to me gift wrapped. I was really touched. I am still really impressed with this cake tin every time it comes out and Janine bakes in it. Most of all I still recall Barbara, Catherine, Stefan, Eric and the others, up in the Swiss Alps and the great time that we all had together. It brings back strong memories and feelings of good times. It’s a loaf shaped cake tin, but it has a madeleine effect.
This two piece cake tin concertinas inside itself, so it is always the perfect size for almost any size recipe. While Janine was making her cake, I roasted hazelnuts under the grill, just enought to bring out a little colour and that amazing smell and flavour.We had spent the few nights prior in front of the idiot box shelling the nuts. I melted 2 blocks of cheap, no-frills, German, organic, supermarket 70% dark chocolate in a double boiler, made from a bowl suspended in a source pan of boiling water, I mixed the nuts into the melted chocolate, then poured the mass out into a square cake tin to cool. It is so amazingly delicious, tasty and fragrant, but not sweet, just nutty, melt in your mouth smooth, but with that special freshly roasted hazelnit crunch. Wow! We may not have any money, but we live a rich life. Imagine trying to buy this at DJ’s food hall?
It goes very nicely with coffee.
In the afternoon we made marmalade. A lovely, relaxing and rewarding way to spend a miserable day in the warm kitchen.
The next day, back in the pottery, I retrieved the anvil that had been through the fire and then sat out in the yard for 21 months waiting for some TLC.It should have been rescued much earlier, but I’m working to my limit and I don’t want to overdo it. I can’t do everything. So now is the time to retrieve the anvil. It is the worse for the weather even though I had it tarped, but fire does strange things to iron, and it rusts so much faster than if it had just be put outside. I cleaned a lot of flakey rust off the surface and then treated it with rust converter to stabbilise it. I remember when I bought it back in the 70’s, at an auction for $110. I was so much younger and I could lift it into the VW beetle back then to bring it home.I must have been mad! It’s somewhere around 100 kilos, if not more. I can’t lift it now!I had to use the little crane on my truck to pick it up, and then build a tripod and use a chain block to lift it onto its new block. It’s a thing of beauty and a joy forever! This anvil has an English maker’s stamp on it. I imagine, sometime in the 1800’s?
I cleaned all the loose scale off the surface and swept it up to use as an iron pigment in the future. I read somewhere that Hamada had said that blacksmith’s iron scale made the best iron pigment. I’ll give this a go. I’ll have to calcine it, crush it and grind it very finely first.
I have decided that the best way to use the small ball mill roller is to use it to make pigments. I have done a few experiments with it this week and found that as it overheated and shut down with the 4 litre jar that it came with. I tried my 1 litre jar and also added a small desk top fan to cool the motor. This was the combination that worked well enough, so that it can run for a few hours without over heating and shutting down. I made up a batch of a cobalt pigment that I developed over 40 years ago, just after I left Art School. It has a softer more ‘natural’ look, more like ‘gosu’, with an iron break where it is thicker. We used this recipe for 20 years until I found our local natural cobalt bearing stone.
Red basaltic soil 66%. – Red top soil is high in iron and silica and fuses readily.
Potash felspar 33% – The felspar helps to melt it into the surface of the glaze.
Cobalt oxide 1% – cobalt oxide is such a very very strong colorant, you only need a very small amount.
Cobalt is far too strong to use straight as an oxide. It is also rather grainy and spotty. It needs to be ‘watered down’ with something else to soften it out a bit and dilute it. I have read some pretty exotic recipies that use zinc and tin and manganese, nearly always iron and some with bone ash. Michael Cardew recomended a mix of;
Cobalt carbonate 20%
White Tin Oxide 20%
Black manganese oxide 10%
Plastic red clay 15%
China clay 20%
red iron oxide 5%
I tried this recipe when I was a student at Art School, but didn’t like it. A bit too much like fountain pen ink. My local red clay and cobalt recipe is simplier and it’s mine. It also has that lovely blue/black cobalt and iron break between thick and thin.
I found a deposit of natural cobalt south of here 15 years ago. It was a mix of silica, iron, manganese and only just a miniscule amount of cobalt, but it showed a pale blue when disolved onto a glaze as a brush stroke. I have always had an interest in fossiking for local materials, processing them and intergrating them into my work. As you can see below, I tested 90 different samples of precipitates from chalybeate springs in the area of my research around here, both active and ancient and dried out and solid stone-like deposits. Numbers 84, 86 and 88. showed a blue colour. Interestingly, the top row were fired in reduction atmosphere and were definitely blue with the cobalt showing clearly.The bottom row were fired in oxidation and the cobalt blue is diluted by the manganese showing a paler grey, purple/mauve blue.Sample number 90 appears to contain mainly manganese and iron with very little cobalt present, being a pale brownish, claret/mauve colour.
My samples averaged;
Iron Oxide 1%
Manganese Oxide 16%
Cobalt oxide 1%
This equates to something like the ancient Chinese and/or Japanese ‘Gosu’ or ‘Smalt’ natural cobalt bearing pigment stones. If nothing else, I learnt that I must always test everything in both oxidation and reduction to get a true undersanding of what is going on.
Tragically, I lost nearly all my aged porcelain stone bodies, pigments, ores and minerals in the fire, and now many of the places that I used to fossick are now sterilised by housing developments. It’s going to be a different life now, with reduced access to the minerals that I used to use. We’ll develop a more restrained and refined palette. So I’m back to milling up a red soil and cobalt mixture to mimic the natural pigment that we used to use.
To make a glaze for my porcelain tests, I have collected and spread out to dry, some of my porcelain clay turnings in the window. I will calcine these and use them as a glaze material too. When blended with Moss Vale limestone, they will melt into a very pale, limpid porcelain glaze. – I hope! So much to do and so little time.
Janine made up our first bucket of glaze. She mixed up a 5 kg bucket of Leach’s Cone 8 glaze. We have used this glaze all our life. It is the reliable go-to glaze for testing all our clay bodies. A basic and reliable, no frills glaze that fits right in the middle of the spectrum. A great way to compare the various different clay bodies glaze fit characteristics in our first few firings, which will be nearly all tests.
It can also be an extremely beautiful glaze, a pearly, creamy white, surface. But this is only really true if it is fired just to cone 8 only and not higher. We also ball mill the glaze batch for a little while to get all the particles well mixed. Not too long, otherwise the already finely milled felspar granules will start to break down, releasing its alkalis into solution. Felspar does not have a chemically robust structure, so care is advised when ball milling rocks for glazing. To avoid this damage, I usually ball mill my stones dry after putting them through the rock crushers. I can then store the powder for use in making clay body or glazes, weighing them out accurately dry before wetting them down. The alkali is less likely to be released during dry milling.
I’m not trained or qualified in any way to do with mineral processing, but I have worked with locally found stones for my glazes for the past 47 years. Everything that I have learnt is self taught. I built my first ball mill in 1974. The first year after I graduated and I have built a few more since then. I will probably make another one in the coming years, when time permits. I have always kept a ball mill log to track my ball mill usage. I kept a record of what was milled, for how long and how much was in the mill, wet or dry milling and the date that I milled it, as well as any recipe involved. I lost that log book and all my other glaze recipe books etc. in the fire. Just as I did in the first and 2nd fires. I had two copies of my glaze recipe books, one in each building, but they both burnt down! I can remember that my most recent milling log, kept since 1984, I had clicked up over more than 1,000 hours of milling since then. but the exact number escapes me now. Somewhere around 1050 hours? With an average milling time of 2 to 3 hours, This is about 500 uses of that last mill. Thats a lot of hours of loading, unloading and washing out.
My friends have sourced some 2nd hand ball milling machines for me. Len Smith is always on the digital lookout for me for bits of equipment. He is so fantastically resourceful! He told me about a deceased estate of a potter. I turned up (before lock-down) and was lucky to buy what appears to be a locally made copy of a Shimpo ball mill roller and two 1 gallon, Chinese made porcelain jars. One was broken on the shoulder near the locking stud and the other has a brittle, seized rubber ring seal. Was able to prize the stuck lid off with a chisel. They both need some work. But I was lucky to get them. I made a new silicon rubber seal for the seized and a flat rubber washer type of seal for the other.
I vaselined the ground porcelain jar rim, then extruded a thick silicone rubber ring around the lid and placed it on the jar overnight to set.
This has created a new, soft and springy rubber seal that will keep it going for another 30 years.
My friend Simon Bowley, just gave me his 3rd hand Shimpo mill roller and a beautiful 15 litre Chinese jar. It has the brass wing nut and brass washers missing to secure the lid. This gadget was stored in an old shed for some years, and I’m not too sure if it has ever been used very much. As it still had the paper label from the supplier (Walkers) glued to the outside of the jar. This started to wear off as soon as I used it.
I made a couple of brass washers from the ‘hole’ pieces that I cut from the pottery sink splash-back to get the water pipes into the shed.
I hadn’t thrown them out, as I thought that they might just turn out to be useful some day. A good piece of thick brass like that, 6mm thick is too good to throw away! They came out of the hole saw pretty rough, but I was able to file them down to a smoother finish and drill out the centre hole to a clearance on 3/8″ BSW thread and they work a treat. Not many potters have the luxury of solid 6mm brass washers on their mill jar.
Len also located a very small ball mill unit in Melbourne that wasn’t being used and was able to be donated to me as a bush fire victim. It looked as though it had hardly ever seen the light of day. It came with 2 beautiful Daulton porcelain jars of about I gallon, or 4 litres, and a plastic bucket of small milling media to suit. The jars had some remnant brown dust in them, but looked as though they hadn’t been used very much.
When I tested the small mill roller with one of its Daulton jars loaded with balls and water to clean the mill. I found that the motor overheated and stopped after 25 mins. I can see why this machine wasn’t used very much. It doesn’t work! 30 mins is only long enough to do a bit of blunging, but a couple litres isn’t enough to achieve much. I will need to change the motor for a larger/stronger one. These Daulton jars will fit on the smaller end of Simons mill roller, so I can use them in this way.
My friend Tony Flynn gave me his shimpo potters wheel a few months ago, He also gave me a tiny 1 litre porcelain jar. This could be useful for milling pigments. I tried it on the RMIT roller the next day and it was small enough and light enough not to over heat the motor. It got too hot to touch, but didn’t trip the overload switch. so this will be a useful combination for small batches of pigment.
So now I have a 3 different jar roller mechanisms and by mixing and matching the different jars, I can use the Daulton jars on Simons roller, Tony’s jar on the small roller, Simons big jar on his roller and one of the smaller Chinese jars on the deceased estate roller.
Most of the jars needed new rubber seals. I had already been to the tyre business in Bowral and asked for a punctured inner tube from their rubbish bin, so I was prepared.
All the jars needed to be washed out and cleaned, then filling with balls and water and run for an hour or so the get the surface of the balls and mill all clean and fresh to start work. After milling like this the water turns cloudy, so the balls are rinsed in 2 buckets of fresh water, then placed in a plastic garden sieve to drain and dry out.
The volume of all these small jars added together just about equals the one bigger 25 litre jar that i used to own. The big difference is that to load all 5 seperate jars, run them on 3 different machines and then clean them is a lot of extra time and labour. But at least I can get some stones milled and local rock glazes made to get us going.
I stopped off at a few local sites on the way to the supermarket a few days ago. So I have a few bags of stones to work on. The next step will be to get the rock crushers going. The roller mill is still in pieces and needs some TLC
We have spent our first week working on the wheel. It wasn’t a full week, it was mostly all half days. As we are starting from scratch, we are having to improvise with what we have. As we go along, it becomes obvious that we need better stools, a way to support pot boards next to the wheel, storage for dried pots before bisque, small pottery tools like ribs and turning tools. I knew all this, but couldn’t wait to get started while we made all these things. So we got stuck in with what we had at hand, just the bare minimum.
My students at the HazelHurst Arts Centre gave me a small collection of tools when I turned up to teach the Masterclass there in January. They knew I had been burnt out and thoughtfully had a set of basics there for me ready to go. I imagine that they all donated something to the set, but I have to thank my friend and past student Claudia in particular for organising everything for me. While I’m at it, I might just add that Claudia and her student Rochelle, together organised a ‘GoFundMe’ fund raising campaign for us and raised $60,000 very early on after the fire. This money got us through the first 4 months of clean-up, and allowed us to get stuck into the recovery effort without having to wait for the insurance company – who took 4 months to pay us, and argued the amount that they would pay for the whole time. So thanks to Claudia and Rochelle, we could afford to pay people with heavy machinery to come and do the clean-up and get us started. $60,000 sounds like a lot of money, and it is! It is over one years wages for us at that time, but it goes nowhere when you are talking heavy machinery and paid labour. You can pay over a thousand dollars a day for a machine and operator, so if you have two or three of them onsite, the money just evaporates.
We were very lucky to have an amazing friend in Ross, who loaned me his bobcat loader for 6 weeks, so I was able to do a lot of the work myself. In fact, we had almost finished our clean-up before others around us had even started, and we had our plans passed by Council and begun the site works for building the new pottery before the State Government organised clean-up team arrived in the Village. We were all done with cleaning by that stage, as it was half a year on.
So we have been so very lucky, we are blessed with good friends and resilient spirits. We are also so lucky that my fire protection sprinkler system worked so well under pressure. So I saved the house. I’m fully aware that there are others out there in the village who lost their homes are are still struggling. To them I send my best wishes! I have to admit that I was a bit depressed after the fire, especially as this was the third time that we had been burnt out. I found that I was finding it hard to get up in the mornings, faced with such an enormously overwhelming task in front of me. Thankfully, my 2 best friends turned up as soon as the lock-down/curfew was lifted. Len Smith and then Warren Hogden and his partner Trudie turned up and spent the last of their Xmas holidays working here with us to get us started on the clean-up. I would have been months getting to that stage without their encouragement, inspiration and enthusiasm. Thank you! I thought that it would take me a year to rebuild, as that is how long it took me back in 1983/84, but I was so much younger then. It has taken us 20 months to get back to this stage so far, and I can’t see how I could have done it any quicker. On a brighter note. It is one year now since we planted the new orchard and it’s grown well. The earliest varieties of fruit trees are already in flower and looking good. The orchard and the garden have really lifted my spirits.
The bees are working hard and the clover has taken well and established itself in the nutrient rich, charcoal and ash fortified top soil that we spent 45 years mulching with our compost. So back in the pottery I made a wooden stool from firewood sticks. The seat slab ‘roundel’ already had a shrinkage crack in it from the seasoning out in the weather. It broke on the 3rd day and a big piece split out. I glued it back together and reinforced it with a long section of brass threaded boker bar. I think that it should last more than 3 days this time?
I also made 3 more stools, for the other older shimpos from other big bits of wooden slabs that survived the fire. Most of them were in the part of the barn that I saved, and so didn’t burn. Every stick of timber out side in the yard and other sheds all went up. There wasn’t anything left to burn on the ground. We are safe from another fire this summer in our blackened moonscape of a back yard. Some of the more resilient eucalypts have sprouted new branches from epicormic buds, and some others that were more severely affected and were killed, have shot from the lignotuber. Everything else is standing dead, just blackened trunks. However, it’s been a wet year and the new regrowth of wattles and grasses are turning the bush greener again.
I’m pleased that I was able to save the first stool with the idea of running a bolt through it. It’s just a fluke that I had the exact piece of brass threaded bar , complete with brass nuts and washes in the barn as well. As I’m not too sure if I’m allowed to go to the hardware shop at this time, or even if hardware shops are allowed to be open to buy one.
It’s nicely repaired now, and you can’t see the break.
I made a couple more with lumps of wood that I had in the barn.
Now we should have enough throwing stools to keep us going for some time!I had a text message exchange with a friend about the collective noun for a group of stools. He suggested a fool of stools. I thought that maybe a ‘bio-cycle’ of stools might do, or doos. Then he suggested an excrement of stools, which I though to be pretty appropriate, but maybe a butt of stools? I have decided to make some mugs to get me started. Janine and I have decided to give everyone who turned up to help us a mug each as a thank you. That should keep me busy for a few weeks. I also decided to make a special series of 100 mugs marked with a large number ‘1’ to indicate that these are the first series of pots to be made in this pottery. The First Edition!
I stamped the ‘1′ on the left side of the handle, and then I stamped the number of the series from 1 to 100 on the right side.
This is definitely a one-off series. There will never be another ‘first edition’ of numbered mugs out of this pottery.
I have now installed the double walled, stainless steel flue on my newly acquired 2nd hand kiln that I built and sold 26 years ago and have now bought back. I was able to buy the flue system parts, even during lock down, as I still have my old account with the company that makes the parts.
I had told the company that I was closing the account back in 2019, as I had arranged to sell the kiln company to my friend Andy. I even took Andy to meet the owners of all the companies that I did business with, and introduced him as the new owner. Regrettably, the fire burnt us out just 2 weeks before the sale was to be completed. So we had nothing to sell.
I rang the company this year and told them the sad tale and asked if I could re-establish the account , but with a new name – Steve Harrison. They agreed and the parts were sent by courier, no new paper work. They trusted me. After all, we had been doing business together for close to 40 years. I have re-activated all of my former accounts now to buy parts to re-build. In every case they agreed to give me my account back with a change of name to my name with no paper work involved. They all know me well enough. Trust is a beautiful thing. I appreciate it. But after more than 40 years of trading with them, I sort of expect it. After all, my account number with one supplier is 001 . Their first customer to open an account!
The new rule will be; No step ladder work after 70! I just need to get this done.
To comply with the Australian Standards for a kiln located indoors. I also had to make a couple of air vents. One at floor level and another at ceiling height to get good ventilation into the room.
The floor level vent is a wide and low format, louvered, and is screened with 16 gauge stainless steel mesh inside and out.
The upper level vent is of the same area, but this one is square. Louvered on the out side and meshed inside and out with the same 16 gauge stainless steel mesh.
It’s always a challenge to work on an extension ladder up at 5 metres these days, but no one else is going to do it. I was a bit concerned about installing it, and put it off for a few weeks, but due to the Lock-down, I can’t really get someone in to do it. Having left it for some time, waiting for the work fairy to turn up and do it for me. But yet another no-show. Maybe the work fairy is restricted by lock down too? So I finally got up the gumption and did it myself.
I had intended to install a large stainless steel hood over the electric kilns end of the kiln room, but due to lock down, I can’t get my hands on any stainless steel sheets, as there are no commercial stainless wholesalers within 5 kms of Balmoral Village.
Kilns fired on different fuels can’t share the same venting flue system, so LPG , Natural gas and wood, can’t co-habit, nor can you flue electric and fuel kilns together.
We have been gifted a small top loader electric kiln by Rohde. Thank you Rohde! The gift was organised by my friend Len Smith. Thank you Len!
As I can’t build a large flue canopy for the electric kiln at the moment. I have bodged up a temporary extraction fan in the window next to the kiln. It will do until I can build a proper one.
I made it so that it can be installed and removed easily and also used in the next window later on as a dust extractor when I’m making up glazes.
I made these two wooden blocks with rebates on both side, plus top and bottom, so that they can lock into the window frame and allow a sheet of plywood with the fan mounted in it to slide in and be held securely. While still being able to be removed easily. I even made them using wood that we grew, milled and dressed our selves.
We have done one test firing to dry the kiln out and establish the protective oxide layer on the elements. The kiln has a small tube fitting that allows the fumes from the kiln to be directed out of the room through ducting. (not supplied.) I have directed the vent fumes out the window through the fan. The vent is only 25mm dia. so I have used 90 mm dia. pipe to vent it out through the fan. This allows a massive excess of cold air from the room to mix with the vent fumes to cool them. allowing the use of plastic pipe. I’d prefer to use a gal steel pipe bend, but I don’t happen to have one. Maybe later.
To finish off everything in the kiln room, we have the LP gas Plumber coming this week to certify the gas line installation. If all that goes ahead, then All we have left to do is make up some test glazes and do a test firing full of glaze and body tests. Slow but positive progress.
I have now made 2 sizes of name stamps. Small ones for smaller domestic wares, and a larger pair for bigger pieces. I do these small jobs before and after work in the mornings or afternoons. We have bee throwing now for parts of the last 3 days. Not all day, as there are still so many other jobs that need our attention. Like planting peas, beans and Kohlrabi in the vegetable garden. Planting out 3 potted peach trees that were rescued from the fire and spent the last year and a half in large plastic pots. It’s almost spring and I need to get them in the ground before they burst their buds.
I also made a 550 mm high 3 legged stool, custom made to suit me for throwing on the new shimpo wheel. I fashioned it out of some fire wood set aside for firing the kiln.
We are slowly filling the bench tops with more pots.
Today, in the middle of the day, we were both heads down at our wheels opposite each other throwing in silence, listening to a CD. When the music stopped, neither of us got up to change the CD. We were immersed in our work. We worked on for some time in complete silence. These new wheels make no noise at all. Our meditations broken only by the sound of a lump of clay being occasionally slapped down onto the wheelhead. The 4 large windows were open and it was a warm, balmy day. I slowly became aware of the noise of bird song outside, the warbling of magpies and then the sounds of chickens walking past the window gently clucking to each other. In the distance I became aware of the faint sound of the Willie Wagtails chat, chat, chatting to each other as they do their aerial gymnastics chasing the invisible gnats and insects in the sky. There are also half a dozen swallows diving and swooping. They even swoop around inside the car port. Stopping to rest on the beams. Janine suggests that they are looking for nesting sites. 2 even flew in through the pottery window and then got stuck inside, not being able to find their way out again, always flying up to the clerestory skylights and banging into the poly carbonate with a repeated ‘thung’ sound. One eventually flew out through the open door. but the other had to spend the night inside. It flew out as soon as we opened up in the morning.
It’s uplifting to see a few birds establishing them selves in this garden again.
It was a moment of precious rural idyl. I realise just how incredibly lucky we are to live here like this. There may be lock down everywhere around us, but we are happy ensconced here in our own little creative world. There is food in the garden and eggs in the laying box. We want for nothing. (except maybe a pug mill)
I spent a bit of time making another smaller set of initial stamps, for when I start to make smaller domestic items like cups.
My next part time, after work, job will be to get the kilns firing. We have both a very small electic kiln and a gas kiln that I’m working on bit by bit. We are almost there. They just need some finer details sorted out. If all goes well we will have a load of dry pots ready for a bisque firing in the electric kiln and then followed by a glaze firing in the gas kiln.
Building a wood fired kiln will have to wait till summer, after the Open Studios Weekends – if they happen? which is starting to look unlikely at this stage.
But before that can happen, I need to make a massive number of glaze tests for that first firing. We have to test a lot of materials. some old bags of uncertain origin that have been storred for years in the part of the barn that didn’t burn, plus others that we have inherited and some that we bought from John Edye when he retired. It was my intension to go out and collect a load of stones from around the shire to make my glazes. But that can’t happen now until lock down is lifted, as there is only one stone within 5 kms of here, and its rather dull, being a basalt. A 5 km limit really restricts my glaze choices to wood ash and basalt. It’ll all happen in good time – sometime. I’m working on it. At least these sorts of jobs are ceramic related and a change from building work.
Nothing is ever finished, Nothing is perfect and nothing lasts for ever.