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.

The Gallery Room is Finished

This last week, we have been working on getting the gallery room finished. This is the last big dirty job to get out of the way. Once this is done we can really start to clean the place up and get ready to make some pots. There is of course loads of other jobs to complete before we can fire anything, but they can wait. They will get done in good time while our first pots are drying.Some of these other jobs will include getting the kilns ready for firing.
However, in the meantime we have cut the huge pine slabs that we milled 20 months ago. I have sawn them into rectangular planks 3 metres long and 750 mm wide and 80mm thick. Not too many people can afford to use timber like this in their gallery. We can’t! It would be completely out of our reach if we had to buy it.


We can only do this because we grew the trees our selves. We got the dead pine trees that were killed by the fire, felled professionally, as they were right up against the house. We then hired a portable saw mill to cut them up into big slabs for bench tops and planks for lining boards. They have been seasoning for the past 18 months.
I had to build an extension bar for my small hand pumped hydraulic crane on the truck. An extension of 3 metres is a bit far, but it worked quite well. I took the first lift very slowly to test that it wouldn’t bend under the load. A few weeks ago, I had a friend come and help me lift and shift these massive slabs onto the ute. But we are now in total COVID 19 lock down statewide, so another solution had to be devised. This way, I can do it all myself.


The huge slabs needed to be cut to have parallel sides and squared off ends, then planed, and sanded a few times with ever decreasing grit sizes of 40#, 60#, 80# and 100#, finally washed to raise the grain. After drying, the rough raised grain texture was again sanded with 80# and then 100# to get a fine finish. There are so many hours of work in getting a massive surface like these slabs from a very rugged chain saw finish, to glassy smooth. I’m not a wood worker, so I don’t have access to any large wood working machinery. All this had to be done with hand held tools. I have to thank my very good friend Len Smith for giving me all his Makita power tools. I need 4 big slabs for the bench tops and 24 planks of 2.4 metres to be dressed like this to make the shelving. It’s taken me over a week.
Once the slabs were finished, I needed to shorten the crane arm to lift them onto the truck to drive them up to the pottery.


I needed to weld up a suitable steel frame to support all this wood.



We’ve ended up with something that resembles a massive kitchen dresser. One on each side of the room, with another huge slab table in the centre. This gives us plenty of storage space in the cupboards and a lot of flat display space. We spent today sweeping, vacuuming and generally cleaning up all the saw dust that ended up coating everything in the place. That is all now done. This was the last really messy job. We can now relax a bit and look forward to making some creative work.


Tomorrow I will start by making some throwing and turning tools. My first job on the wheel will be to make some clay ‘chucks’ to get them stiffened up so that I can turn my pots once I start to make them.

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.

So many small jobs to get done

Work has continued apace this last week or so. I got a little bit of a shock last week when I realised that the earliest nectarine tree in the new orchard had already had the first bud burst. I have been so busy that I hadn’t been spending much time in the new netted stone fruit orchard. I realised that I needed to take a couple of days off working in the pottery to prune all the stone fruit trees in the netted orchard, and then the transplanted almond trees. There is also the cherry orchard too, but it can wait another week, as they won’t have bud burst for another few weeks. 


As soon as I completed the pruning, I moved back into the studio to build the tables for the pottery.  I welded some steel frames on castors and then mounted some huge home-grown and milled pine wooden slabs on top as the bench top.


My very good friend Len, gave me all his power tools that he wasn’t using. A Planer, sander, drill and circular saw. This has made this part of my job so much easier and faster.


I made a wedging table, a low throwing table for the shimpo wheels, a taller table for display in the gallery and a glazing bench. All on steel frames and castors to allow for easy relocation in the future.
Len bought two new Japanese made, Shimpo brand, ‘whisper’, potters wheels for us. I was so moved. That was so amazingly generous! Thank you Len!
Len has done so much for us – along with so many others who have passed on spare equipment. We have been so lucky to have such generous friends. One of my past students from the early seventies who had retired from pot making 15 years ago rang me to say that he had got rid of all his pottery equipment, but he had retained his shimpo potters wheel that he bought in the late 60’s. It is an RK2 version. This was the first major purchase that he had made and confirmed his commitment to a life in ceramics and away from his career in the law.

I had an RK1 Shimpo wheel, 1 x RK2 and and 5 x RK2 ‘super’ Potters wheels in the old pottery, but really only used two of them, as we didn’t really teach any throwing classes. But we probably will in the future. As we have a better space for that kind of teaching now in the new improved space.
Tony, The Barley Broker, had kept his Shimpo, as it was so dear to him – so much attachment, even though he knew that he would never make pots again, he kept it. The Barley Broker rang me last year to say that he had his Shimpo in a shed and wanted to give it to me. He was finally ready to part with it! It was a big deal for him, but he knew me well and knew that I would both use it and value it – look after it. I hadn’t seen a ‘Volvo’ style, ‘burnt-orange’ 60’s, shimpo before in its original paint job. This wheel is over 50 years old and still goes well. I’m honoured, and I will look after it!
We have also been given another old Shimpo that was being de-commissioned by an Art School. It is from the mid 90’s and is over 25 years, it is a ‘Century 21’ ‘metallic traction drive’ version, and still works well.


Len also found Janine a 2nd hand ‘Slatcher’ kick wheel, just like the one that she used to have in the last pottery. I had bought one of these special kick wheels back in 1973. It got burnt in the pottery fire in 1983. I managed to find another one in 1984, and Janine used this wheel for the next 36 years. These hand made kick wheels are extremely rare. Mr. Slatcher didn’t make very many of these wheels, so we are so lucky to find another one.
I have always used the Australian made version of the ‘Leach style’ wooden framed, kick operated, potters treadle wheel. I was gifted another 2nd hand ‘Leach’ style wooden kick wheel recently, It was pretty dried out and desiccated. I cleaned it up, washed all the clay off and sanded the rough, dried wood and oiled it back into life.

The bearing are shot, so I will need to spend a bit of time on it to dismantle it and replace the bearings. The frame is pretty creaky, so i will probably add some metal bracing to the frame to strengthen it. I had done this to the last one that I owned.


We have been so lucky and grateful to receive all this hand-me-down, passed-on, equipment from so many people. We really appreciate all this generosity. This means that we will be able to get back to work soon and later, to offer some weekend throwing classes sometime in the future. If there are sufficient pottery students who want to come and learn here from what we have to offer.
We were also offered some other equipment from our late teachers studio. We were contacted by his widow and were given his old screw press and an old square thread, screw-driven, extruder. They were both worse for wear and needed some attention. I have spent a bit of time in the evenings working on the extruder. It turns out that it is made from an mixture of copper, bronze or brass parts. It’s a beautiful old thing, and an honour to look after it for the next little while. 


It looks fabulous now.
For dinner, we made our own hand made gyoza dumplings, using our own garden produce, carrots, parsnips, onions and a little bit of minced, low-fat, pork.


Thank you to all those people who have helped us get so far.

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