Rock Glaze

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 ’Slatcher’ 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!

Dark Chocolate and Dark Clay Pigment

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.



Recipe;

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;

Silica 55%

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.

Ball mills

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

First week on the wheel

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.

Kilns

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.

Name stamps and a new stool

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. 

First Day on the Wheel

We are finally back at work.We have finally got off our lazy bottoms and are back at work on the wheel – albeit only after a long morning pause while we made cutting wires and I carved us each a name stamp.


I started by making a few chucks. These are clay tools used to support pots while they are being trimmed and need to be made first so that they dry out to be stiff enough to support the pots when they are trimmed. I have learnt to keep my chucks damp, wrapped up in plastic and dunked in water after each use, so that they last for several years, kept constantly in a firm but damp state.
Janine started her day by making door knobs for the cupboards in the gallery room.



The batch of clay that we made a month ago is working OK. It’s a little soft, but easy on the wrists because of it. 
I started out using the hand-me-down wooden ‘Leach’ kick wheel, which has always been my favourite style of wheel. but this one is completely worn out. it creaks in all the joints – like me, and needs new bearings, as someone filled the entire tray with water till it over flowed down the inside and poured through the top bearing , filling it with clay dust. I’ve tried twice to get the wheel head off, so that i can replace the bearing, but it stubbornly refuses to budge. I have owned 6 of these wheels in my career, all 2nd hand, and have replace bearings in some of them. I have found that there have been 3 different methods of attaching the wheel head over time. They appeared to have changed the design to make manufacturing cheaper. The earlier models had  the wheel head screwed on with a large format thread cut onto the shaft and wheel head, the second method involved a ’T’ section fitting with a pin through the head and shaft, and the last one was just a simple ‘Morse’ taper that relied on friction.

I’ve tried tapping up and twisting sideways, but this one is very stubborn. The frame was so loose and wobbly that i went down to the ‘spare parts’ pile and found some heavy gauge gal strapping and made a series of diagonal bracings for the creaky wooden frame. That stiffened it up, but it still growls.I gave up on it for the time being, as today was all about throwing some pots. I migrated over to the Shimpo wheel that was a gift from Len Smith. What a wonder this wheel is! completely silent and totally smooth. this is my new wheel of choice now.I need to make a proper stool that is the right height for me. So many jobs still to do!


I have become so used to using beautiful clay straight from the Venco vacuum pug mill, that i had forgotten how long it takes to prepare clay from scratch by spiral kneading. It takes ages to get all the air out! But at least the new timber wedging bench is just the right height.

Raising my Batting Average

I’ve been making batts for throwing these last couple of days. We lost all our batts in the fire, so new ones are required before I can start making sericite single stone porcelain again. Single stone porcelain is so floppy on the wheel that it is quite difficult to pick up off the wheel head after throwing by just lifting with your fingers in the ‘normal’ way that potters do it. So flat wooden platters are used to make the pots on. Potters call these platters ‘batts’. They can then be lifted off without distorting the soft, delicate, wet pot. Having tried lots of different materials over my time, I had settled on a product called ‘WeatherTex’, a compressed and baked wood pulp material that is strong, waterproof and very flat. It used to be called ‘Masonite’ when I was a kid, and was made in Burnie in Tasmania. God only knows where it comes from now, but I’d have one good guess!. This new version even comes painted with a white primer on the front face, which is remarkably tough and durable.
The slight drawback to this stuff is that the stronger 9.5mm thick version is not stocked anywhere that I could find, so had to be a special order. No problem, it just takes another 10 days to get it in. I haven’t made batts for a few years. These are my first in a long time, so my batting average is going up. You cant make bowls without batts, so my bowling figures will be improving along with my batting average!


This job gives me a chance to get out my old high school tech drawing kit.  I haven’t used these since the last time that I made batts and needed to mark out the circles of various diameters. This draught-mans compass set and adjustable set square was much better than anything required for a high school class. I bought these professional items with my own wages from the part time job I had as a trainee draughtsman when I was 15. 


I used to work in the drawing office of an engineering works called ‘Mole Engineering’ in Brookvale when I turned 15, I worked there over the school holidays initially, just as a cleaner, but when they discovered that I could draw. I got promoted to the design and drawing office. When school went back after the holidays, they kept me on working alone in the drawing office at night when the factory worked back doing overtime. I got there at 4 pm off the school bus and had 1 hour with the boss before he went home at 5. Got my instructions and then carried on.
I did 3 nights a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4pm till 8pm and Fridays from 4 till 6. I worked there for 3 years, from when I was 15 to 17. It allowed me to have some discretional income. I bought these beautiful tools first, so that I could work more efficiently, but then bought my first electric guitar and amplifier, and later a sitar.  I learnt a lot and have used these skills that I mastered early on for the rest of my life. Drawing my own home building plans and also drawing kiln plans that I sold for many years. These beautiful objects of geometry no longer see the light of day very often because 30 years ago I converted to CAD/CAM drawing on my Mac.


 I made 83 batts, So my batting average for this year is 80!
Geordie called in and cooked us dinner, as the restaurant is now only open Fri, Sat, Sun, due to lockdown restrictions on travel.



He cooks us some beautiful lamb that he brought, we provided the carrots, parsnips and broccoli fresh from the garden. I went searching in the cellar, under the floor of the old school and found this superb bottle of 1990  John Riddoch Reserve, Wynns Coonawarra Cab Sav. It is now 31 years old and drinking perfectly, it had an excellent nose and still retained good fruit, with beautiful soft tannins. Completely mouth filling with great structure and a very long lingering finish. I vaguely recall that it cost me $40 back in 1991 or 1992, when it was first released. It seemed like quite a lot at the time, but turns out to have been a very good purchase.



Geordie makes us a lovely desert of banana tart tatin.



He also brought us a gift of half a black truffle. It’s so fragrant and at its peak. Winter is the peak time for black truffle. We have it for breakfast thinly shaved over our own beautiful chicken’s scrambled eggs.


Janine matches it with our Purple Congo spuds and a few slices of Yucan – Peruvian Ground Apple. Janine has just dug up this years harvest and this is the first meal from them this year. Yucan is an interesting vegetable/tuber. It has a crunchy texture, not unlike an apple, as the name implies, perhaps a little like a nashi? But only in texture. Any flavour is almost absent, but there is a hint of sweetness that is amplified when pan fried. It also works grated in a salad. So if you want something that has no flavour and is used more or less only for texture, then this is the tuber for you. It’s peasant food. Easy to grow with no pests or diseases that we have noticed. Both the potato negra or purple Congo spuds and the yucan are sort of dull fillers that feed the bacteria in the lower bowel. They’re probably good for us in that way. Clever of Janine to pair these ‘quiet’ veggies with something so overwhelmingly aromatic and luscious as scrambled eggs with a generous accent of black truffle. This is all part of our attempts at living a self-reliant life. Luckily we have a very talented and generous son to provide some little treats for us and enrich our lives. We have been so busy working that we forget to spoil ourselves every so often.

‘The Elements’, Bush fire pod cast

This podcast is about the 2019 bushfires that raged down the East Coast of Australia in 2019. Stewart Diver, the man who survived the Kosciusko landslide and spent a week under a collapsed chalet, until he was rescued, has made a series of podcasts called ‘The Elements’.

The first one was titled ‘Water’ and is about the Sydney Hobart yacht race disaster.  This second episode concerns ‘Fire’ and covers some of the events that happened here in Balmoral Village in December 2019.

https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/fire-black-summer/id1577294004?i=1000530782341

You might find it worth a listen?

They got the award winning novelist, Trent Walton, author of ‘Boy Swallows Universe’, to read out certain passages from my blog to fill in the gaps. So that is good.

A BIG Day

We are potters again!

We have our hands in clay again – finally. It’s been 19 months and 3 days since the fire.
Today we made our first batch of clay in the new pottery clay making room in the new shed.
I spent part of Friday fabricating a wedging bench, because there would be nowhere to work the new batch of clay coming out of the dough mixer into balls and then blocks, before bagging them up, and moving them to the new clay boxes. So I needed a strong bench.
Every step has been considered and planned, so I have already built the plastic lined clay boxes. Installed the dust extractor. Rebuilt the dough mixer – for the 2nd time after it was burnt in the pottery fire in 1983 and then again in 2019. Making the wedging/clay prep bench was the last step.


I incorporated a marine ply splash back on my bench, so that in the future, I can stack clay on to the bench quite high prior to pugging, without it falling – that is, once we manage to get a pug mill. We have had one gifted to us, but as we are all in lock down. I can’t get it.We are making clay anyway and bagging it up to age in the new clay box, so that when we get a pug mill, we will vacuum pug it and can use it straight away.



All the dry powdered ingredients are accurately weighed out on the scales and placed slowly and carefully into the dough mixer bowl to minimise any flurry of dust rising up out of the bowl. Any dust that does rise disappears up into the bright orange tube of the exhaust fan mechanism and is issued outside.We mixed the powders dry for a few minutes, until all the ingredients were the same colour and all sense of difference was mixed and mingled in together. Then I added the exact, measured amount of water and let it continue to mix for several more minutes, until the batch becomes stiff and starts to ‘ball-up’. 
I’ve learnt that this is the time to add the remaining small amount of water that was withheld from the first pour. This last issue of extra water wets the stiffer ‘balled-up’ ingredients and softens them, I then Iet the mixer run for several more minutes until everything is smooth and plastic.
Amazingly, when I rebuilt the mixer this time around I had to reshape the mixing bowl that had gone out of shape during the fire and had 4 large splits in the metal rim.The bowl had been a little bit pear shaped since the first fire in ’83. So much so that the mixing arm used to bang into the side of the mis-shapen bowl and had scraped all the paint off in one place. Now after this last fire and re-working, I had to clamp it into some sort of semblance of a round shape as I panel beat it back into a useful shape. I had no real idea of how to approach a job like this. I’m not trained in metal work, just entirely self taught. I muddle through most difficult jobs, lurching from crisis to crisis. I manage to succeed by shear graft and persistence, rather than knowledge and skill. So, I was totally amazed that when I came to use the dough mixer this time round,  I discovered that I had indeed managed to make it almost perfectly round again. Well, not perfectly round, it still has a distinct wobble in it, but there is no impact on the wobbly side anymore. There is no wobbly side! Just a general overall wobble. Sort of evenly wobbly! I managed against all the odds to repair it really well. I fully expected it to be worse, not better. I’m no panel beater. So I am really amazed! it’s such a fluke! I am very pleased.



As the clay absorbs the water, it stiffens and balls up.



The hardest part of this ‘dry-mix’ clay making, is having to dig the stiff and sticky plastic clay out of the mixer bowl by hand. In the past, I would unload the clay from each batch into a bathtub next to the mixer. I used to make 8 batches in a row, one after the other, and that would make up a tonne of clay. Enough to fill one clay box. Then I would pug it all through the pug mill with no vacuum to speed up the process (the vacuum process slows down the speed of through put). I stacked all the first pugs of clay in a large pyramid stack and then re-pugged it all again with the vacuum on. This time slicing off all the ends of the previous pug sausages and mixing them all together in one handful into the pug mill hopper. This ensured that any mistakes or slight variations in the 8 different mixes were all averaged out in the final pug sausages.
It used to take me all day to make up, twice pug, then bag and box a tonne of clay. It was a long day and quite hard work overall. I stopped making dry mix clay over a decade ago. For the past ten years or so, I was crushing, grinding, and ball milling all my porcelain stones, to make my porcelain stone ‘clay’. The only time that I used the dough mixer in the past few years, was to make a big batch of wadding for the wood fired kiln.
However, now, on this occasion, we have no pug mill, so it’s all to be done by hand, we work it up by hand into round balls of a couple of kilos, pounding 3 of these together into a block and stacking 3 blocks one on top of the other, before bagging the lot.Each batch we make is 130 kilos and we make 2 batches. It has taken us about an hour and a half for the first batch, but we get better at it, and the second batch only takes one hour to weight out all the ingredients, mix them and unload the batch and bag it all up and place it into the clay box.
I scrape down the mixing bowl between each batch, because I don’t want the thin remnants of clay drying out and going hard between batches and causing lumps later, that will need to be hand wedged to be sorted out.



After we have finished the 2nd batch, I sponge down the mixer and clean the bowl, ready for the next use.



As I made the mix a little wet, to allow the water to fully integrate into the clay as it ages. We left the last 25 kgs out over night to stiffen up a little, so that we can wedge it up tomorrow, wire cutting it and kneading it to remove the air bubbles and get this small amount ready for the wheel. I will need to make a series of clay test to get to know this clay, but also to provide tiles for glaze testing. We aren’t ready for any throwing yet.



We haven’t moved the potters wheels that we have been given and loaned by our friends out of the storage barn yet. There is no room to install them in the studio just now, as it is full of stuff that I am still working on, but the time is getting closer. I still need to finish welding up the benches and table for the centre work station of the studio and a table for the gallery. That will be my next job. Meanwhile, the clay is resting in the clay box and hopefully ageing and improving a little