The Cob Oven Saga, part II

29 05 2014

This is a continuation of The Cob Oven Saga started a few days ago……

IMG_0339IMG_0340Having finally finished the brick arch entrance, we then began building the support base for the sand mould that the inner clay dome is supported by.  Without a strong support, it’s impossible to build a dome, and wet sand is what is normally used.  The only trouble is, we could not get the sand to stay vertical for the first 100mm of its rise, and I ended using scraps of zincalume sheet metal lying around to hold it up.  I was going to remove it before stacking the clay onto the mould, and thought the better of it, I reckon it can be removed along with the sand through the door when the time comes…..

One important thing to mention at this stage…….  it seems universally accepted that the height of the entrance door should be 63% of the internal height of the dome (ie, sand mould..), and that the height of the dome should be 63% of the diameter of its base.  For this particular oven, that turned out to be 400mm high, and 635mm in diameter, but if you’re going to build one too, the dictating factor will always be the height of the entrance.  To make sure we got the height right, I used a spare piece of 6mm dowel which I marked with a pencil 400mm from one end and inserted into the sand at the centre point of the oven.

Serge, whose advice on building these things is second to none, thinks that as his technique evolves the dome should be thinner than what he has been doing for the past dozen years or more.  I’ve looked at youtube videos too, and frankly, nobody does exactly the same thing, and really, as long as it works, who cares how it’s done?  As we had started to build the dome at the base some 75mm thick (which is what Serge did nine years ago on the original dome), I decided to try a hybrid method where the wall thickness decreases as one reaches the top…….  Will it work?  Watch this space……

IMG_0344The important thing to understand here is that it has to be thick enough so as not to collapse, but thin enough to dry properly to the middle of the wall.  Clay shrinks when it dries, and it will shrink even more when it will be fired; and if it shrinks unevenly, you could have a collapse on your hands.  At least, this oven, being on the southern side of the house is in total shade all day at this time of year, and even though it is unseasonally warm here for this time of year (another 28°C day today…. in May?) I’m hoping for a good result.

Serge tells me the trick is to watch for the outside to start cracking, whereupon the inner sand mould can be removed to allow the interior to dry.  patience is the word of the day, even if Glenda’s birthday is a mere 13 days away, and the Pizza Chef is chomping at the bit to fire it up and make some pizzas!

IMG_0347IMG_0349Serge also expressed concern that as the clay shrinks it might separate from the brick arch which will not shrink……  so this morning, upon uncovering the beast from the tarp that stops the heavy dew from slowing the drying process, I decided we should cover the bricks with cob, and make this cover overlap the neck of the oven in an attempt to key the oven to the arch.  it also stops the bricks from moving, which they did as we tamped the clay against them.  It’s all experimental, but there you go.

IMG_0350We made the cob mix pretty wet so that it would key into all the brick arch’s irregularities…  the bricks I’m using are pretty rough in texture, as are my cuts!  Now we wait.  it’ll be a few more days before we can finish it, the sand has to come out, and the inner dome must dry before we can cover it with cob, and then the outer render.  In the meantime, Alessandro will just have to keep making pizzas in the AGA…

Continued here……

The Look

29 05 2014

Reblogged from Steve Harrison’s  blog Posted on 26/05/2014

More than a look
A letter from the pottery and the late autumn garden

I heard a couple of young designers talking about sustainability and recycling, as if they had invented it.

Apparently, it’s the new hot topic in design. It’s so interesting to listen to young people talk about things that they know very little about. I must have sounded like such a twat when I was young  –  and probably still do for that matter. These people were talking about sustainable design as a ‘feature’ of design.  It wasn’t the effect of consumerism, or its consequences, that was of interest to them.  It was the look of things. It was all about design and The Look! Real sustainability didn’t seem to be the core issue.
Being a baby boomer, I grew up through the sixties and seventies and was very involved in the ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of sustainability. The grass roots approach. When I met ‘The Lovely’ at Art School and we set up house together in a flat in Bondi, I promised her, not a lovely home or plain comfortable house, not even a shed.  I knew that I would never be able to buy a house earning the sort of money that potter could earn, so I was only looking for vacant land.  I initially promised her a life in a tent! Fortunately she said OK!  Count me in!  She didn’t mind a bit of hard work. I thought that I would find some little piece of bushland and pitch a tent while I built a mud brick shed, a pottery, a kiln and then, at a later date, a house.
This was what a lot of people did here in Australia in the past. Especially the returned solders in the post war period. My own father bought a vacant bush block and cleared it with a mattock, and hand cut a track to get trucks to the site. Then we all lived in a caravan for a year while he built the first two rooms.  After that, we all lived in that cramped building, while he built the next few rooms.  The house was only just finished a few years before my older brother left home. Everything was paid for, bit by bit, as you went along.  There was no credit, or ‘LendLease’ in those days.  No plastic card credit.
I was interested in living what I thought would be a less-complicated life.  I was wrong.  All lives are complicated.  However, in my youthful enthusiasm.  I considered that living directly on the land and eating from the that land as much as possible by way of gardens and orchards, then making pots to sell that were made out of the land, should all be doable.  Well, as I said, I was naïve and full of youthful hubris.  For someone interested in DIY sustainability, the obvious choice was to build with earth, dug free from the land and turned into capital by shear effort and will power.  Creating capital out of virtually nothing is a pretty neat trick.  So all but one of our buildings are made from mud bricks.  Of course, keeping chickens and ducks and eating the vegetable that we grew ourselves in an organic garden were all part of that daydream.
Well, it all came true.  It wasn’t a dream.  It was made real by dogged hard work of two dedicated people who teamed up and concentrated in a single minded effort to make it reality. Of course it didn’t all happen as planned.  There were detours and setbacks. Lots of little hiccups along the way.  But we made it happen.  Janine turned out to be one hell of a tough girl.  I’m so glad that she accepted my offer.  And as it turned out, we didn’t need the tent.
A kiln was built and pots were made and sold, but we always had a big vegetable garden and one of the first things we did, was to plant fruit trees for the future.  Once we were a little more secure, I made pots and glazes from the raw materials that occurred in the landscape around us.  It took time to research and uncover all the potential of the local geology, but bit by bit, I found one material after another that I could use to replace a previously bought ingredient in my recipes.  These days we buy very little, but I do still buy some ingredients that are very hard to find, or make from what we have here to work with, like bentonite and alumina powder. Recently, I have even bought some plastic kaolin to add to my mixtures to make them a lot more potter friendly on the wheel.
Unlike young designers in the inner city, we are not interested in ‘The Look’ of things so much as the reality in total, their cost, both in money terms but in particular the cost to the environment, their carbon debt and their running costs. That is why we have chosen not to own a big car, an air conditioner, a microwave, a large plasma screen and other energy hungry appliances.  So we don’t have The Look, we have chosen not to buy into it.  We have a busy sustainable life which takes a lot of time and personal effort  to maintain.  We just don’t have enough time or energy to have a real job to pay for ‘The Look’.  We’ve ended up with the blisters, the gritty, real, sustainability part, but without ‘The Look’.  One very good outcome of all this DIY, is that we don’t have a mortgage and we can afford to live this small life.

In the garden, the cauliflowers are in full flower just now, so we are finding ways to use them up. One of our long time favourites is to cut it into bit sized chunks and eat it raw dipped in aioli made from our own garlic, lemons, local organic eggs and locally produced olive oil. That’s an entrée that is worth waiting all year for. It’s just terrific, great flavours and textures. Almost a meal in itself.
1 egg
1 lemon
1 cup of olive oil
5 or 6 or 10 cloves of garlic, depending on size.
Chop up the garlic and add the egg, whip it up into a thick yellow frenzy with half of the oil and the lemon juice, lastly add the remaining oil and mix it into the emultion, add pepper to taste and a little salt if you like. I don’t. If your eggs are small, use less oil, or add a second egg.
At the end of the summer, we ended up with a silver beet ‘tree’ that grew on the edge of the garden path. It grew as tall as me and finally had to be held up with a tall wooden stake. It finally ripened its seeds and the wind blew them all over the garden. We now have loads of the green stemmed silver beet growing everywhere. I’ve been mowing it to keep it down to a manageabe amount. The Lovely transplanted a dozen or so seedlings into a bed, where they will be safe from my whipper snipper and garden chipper hoe.
They grow so fast at this time of year, so we have to find ways eat it with out getting too bored. The usual way is to just scorch it in a fry pan and sweat it down to a small warm mass. I believe that it’s called ‘whilted’ spinach. What is nice about it is that it doesn’t involve any oil or even water, just some heat. We serve it with a little lemon juice or alternatively with a dash of white wine vinegar. It seems to go quite well with most things that we eat.
Because these plants are so prolific just now we are constantly trying new ways to use it up. Not unlike the situation with zucchinis in the summer time.
It makes a lovely fresh side dish that is really quick to make and no washing up. just rinse the pan and it’s back up on the hook. A more substantial dinner at this time of year that is warm, satisfying and low fat is spinach and ricotta pie.
Wilt the spinach, as above. You can make ricotta very easily from milk that is past it’s use-by date by heating it gently and adding some lemon juice to it. It will separate into curds and whey, drain off the whey and add the curds to the spinach and place into the pie crust, cap it off and add a little grated cheese and /or brush with the whey or milk to get a nice brown top.

We have completed 2 of our 5 wood firing, weekend workshops and had work shown in the Manly Regional Gallery and at Ivy Hill Gallery down the south coast to coincide with the International Wood firing Conference. I couldn’t afford the time to go for the whole thing, but managed to get down there for a couple of days. So now it’s back into the workshop to start throwing more work. I have shows coming up in Singapore and Taiwan in the next few months, so I need to get productive.
The Lovely, catches my visage in the mirror, so that it shows my bald spot. It’s not a good look.  Its not ‘The Look’ either.
It’s just a look and that’s how I am. Best wishes from the thinning potter, and I don’t mean waistline, and his happy snapperJanine was given a really simple recipe for pastry from Marta Armarda, a ceramic artist from Spain, who was in residence at Sturt workshops in Mittagong.