Category Archives: clay

Mud floor gets a leg up

coop floor surveyours mark

Tuesday was a big big day. There were 6 people, a dog, 2 goats and most every single chicken at some point helping out. The 4 leggers and the birds mostly just crapped on things and knocked stuff over. Like normal.

My hat in hand, I must thank Stephanie and John from Red Beet Row, Gretchen from Cherry Valley Ecological Farm and Patrick from Octagon Acres. This floor has been staring me in the face for months now. Not doing much of anything but drying out and getting burrowed into by the chickens in their eternal quest for the perfect dust bath. And what have the goats managed to hurl to the floor and smash now? With all these people coming to get the floor done, I no longer had any excuse to put it off, so we did it. Half of the floor the first day any how. It went down quite well. We could mix the cob a bit wetter than I would like to for walls. It didn’t really need to stand up to anything. And this is just the first goat anyways. coop goat prints

With having just finished the first layers on the Syrup Cooker and Mary’s Grotto (later), I’ve found some success with increased durability to the elements by adding a couple of scoops of hydrated mason’s lime, NOT farm lime. This is the same stuff that I used on the outside of the Seedhouse. Only there, the mix with only lime and clean white sand. Here the mix was 50% yellow clay 50% bank sand (both thru a 1/2″ screen) 2 scoops of lime, and a flake of last year’s moldy hay because I don’t have any straw at the moment. I found that not only does the lime harden the clay enough to shed water, the mycelium grows through the clay as it dries, binding everything together in one final explosive embrace. I haven’t actually read too much about what people use in their earthen floors, beyond using elephant dung which is polishable and antiseptic. Who knew? I have lime. So I’m throwing it in everything. I just imagine how the chicken poo will soak into the cob. The smell will be in the floor no matter what. The hope is that the lime will keep the floor together longer with all the shoveling and scraping that will happen in there. It’s not cement. I accept that. I also accept that I can’t grow more lime. The closest mine is in Genoa, Ohio. Closest supplier is in East Cleveland. What will happen in 5 years? Dunno. 50? Beats me. It’s a floor. It’s a dirt floor. In a chicken coop. Whatever happens to it will be WAY worse than anything that will happen to a floor made of the same recipe in my house. I want to see what it does with 50 chickens living on it. Just to see. Same with the Rocket stove. I just want to see what I can do with one in a building that I go into at least twice a day, every day. Or someone does. I got a warning about lighting the stove at -20 F. They apparently hammer out every bit of moisture in them at once and lock the system up after about 30 minutes. It makes sense. 2 different barns. 2 different builders. It’s only set in dirt at this point. coop rocket

As you can see in the above image, I went back out to the barn the next day and finished off the rest of the floor. I had to go back across the street for another load of sand, but by the time I got to the doorway, I had used up all of the clay and sand that we had brought over.coop floor dust box

This is the SW rounded corner of the room. The Phragmites bundles are shown as the basis for future earthen plaster work. I left a corner of the floor exposed to the tamped dirt with a treated 2×4″ frame is set flush with the floor surface so that more dirt can be added as they throw it around all winter. If I hadn’t put this dust box in, I wouldn’t have had enough cob to get the floor as close to the opening as I eventually did. The floor is within 3 or 4 inches of the doorsill, whenever that gets figured out. In addition to filling in the thermal battery and around the firebox on the rocket, I’ll need to go over the entire floor with a finish layer. This will mean I need at least 1 more load of clay and 1 of sand, so I figure there will be enough to get the floor out as far as I need it to be. I figure to set bricks in the cob under the door. Between them and the lime in the clay, I hope to discourage diggers.

Another deterrent to diggers and chicken killers is the mesh that I put up over all 4 barn windows today. This has allowed me to remove the windows from their sashes and allow even more air to move through the barn. There is an actual breeze through the barn now. And I’m content knowing that the varmints can’t get to my birds. And the 6 chicks that hatched 3 days ago. It’s nice having broody hens. She seems to know what she’s doing. There is food and water just out of the frame, and the box has some extremely expensive chopped straw that I paid way too much for at the BIG BOX FARMY STORE. I can make myself feel better by saying that it’s a business expense and I can write it off.

 

Baby barb in Bubba's Shrine

Here is Mary’s Grotto as it appeared in my Mother’s parent’s front yard in the spring of 1967. The child is not me as I wasn’t born yet. My folks were dating, but weren’t married till later that year. The brown sticks to the left of the image are/were beautiful roses that surrounded the Grotto by the time I came along. I am currently wearing the belt of the man who is taking the picture. He passed away last year. This is my Uncle Mike taking picture of his first child. A little girl, Barb. It’s a good belt.

Mary's Grotto

The intervening 50 years were harder on the grotto than they were on Mary. It was the roses and the rose light filtering down on her all those decades. The bottom of the Grotto crumbled to pieces as I picked up, leaving 2 bent sections of rebar hooked out the bottom of the long cement curve. These I torched and bent straight. The cement chunks are left over from the patio/sidewalk/driveway job. I drilled a hole in each of the 2 front slabs of cement and filled in around the rest of it with lime cob. I made the small bowl out of what was left.

Once everything has a chance to cure a bit, I’ll go back and apply a final coat. Depending on how froggy I get to feeling that is. I just never know what I’ll be doing next. Oh yeah. Just so you don’t think Viann didn’t get in on the action. Here is her contribution.

coop floor no good deed

Never one to let a good turn go unpunished, she must have had a great time once she found the bag sitting there uncovered this morning. She beat that thing into submission. I don’t think all that much got wasted as there was a half a bag there when she found it. When Leah saw it this morning she just asked, “what did you think would happen?” No answer. I knew that she did it because of the white powder coating her horns and powdered down her neck, to her shoulders. Every error, every misstep. Goats, they find them.

Everything is fine?

fine1
fīn/
adjective
  1.  of high quality.
    “this was a fine piece of filmmaking”
    synonyms: excellent, first-class, first-rategreatexceptionaloutstandingqualitysuperiorsplendidmagnificentexquisitechoiceselectprimesupremesuperbwonderfulsuperlative, of high quality, second to none; More

  2.  (of a thread, filament, or person’s hair) thin.
    “I have always had fine and dry hair”
    synonyms: thinlightdelicatewispyflyaway More

 noun
  1.  very small particles found in mining, milling, etc.

adverb

informal
  1.  in a satisfactory or pleasing manner; very well.
    ““And how’s the job-hunting going?” “Oh, fine.””
verb
  1.  clarify (beer or wine) by causing the precipitation of sediment during production.
  2.  make or become thinner.
    “it can be fined right down to the finished shape”

    So apparently the formatting for wordpress hates me today.

  3. I can’t seem to get it to knock off this numbering thing.
  4. I’m stuck in what feels like history class from when I was a kid.
    1. I can even put things in closer

though I’m pretty sure I’m stuck here

Oh, uh, I have no idea what I did, but now the entire thing is correct and it looks like i’ve just made all that up. really I didn’t.

So Leah and I were talking about something in the car the other day and she asked me if a thing was fine. It’s getting blurry now that I’m trying to re-hear the conversation. “Was it fine?” or something like that. I sort of mumbled, “ya gesso.” and a drip of sweat fell from my nose onto my shirt. Which launched us into the meaning, and usage, of the word FINE. While I recognize the many applicable meanings, what I think of most often in reference to the word FINE is just sort of ho hum. No complaints really. No problems. Functional adequacy. (I just made that up) Nothing special to write home about. She threw back at me that there is a Class distinction in usage that isn’t fully conscious on my part. My dad used the GI bill after his time in the USMC and learned how to lasso numbers and get them to do what he wanted. My sister got that from him. I did not. Not that anyway. I got other things from him. But she got the numbers. My father is part of that great AMERICAN DREAM that the Greatest Generation believed in. His father, my grandfather that gave me my last name, got a gob with no significant education (maybe finished high school but I’m not entirely sure) in a Tool and Die factory in Youngstown OH. The factory moved to Conneaut is 1948. Because of his skills, he, like my steel worker other grandfather, was ineligible for the draft to serve in WWII. Essential services. They were made to feel good about their not fighting in the War to End All Wars 2.0. They weren’t cowards. They made a living and provided all the things they were supposed to, per that AMERICAN DREAM. I would imagine that household was fairly loud (Italian) and undoubtedly got pretty physical at times (3 boys). Grandpa watched his boys go off to the Marines (2 of them) and then a different 2 get college educated. The dreamers in the family weren’t my father. He got a numbers job with the State and turned that into one with the Federal Govt. Private Contractors were Civilian Employee back in the early 80’s. So he made enough of a living that we never wanted for the basics, not ever in my memory. So according to the terms of the American Dream, he/they did it right. And I can’t argue that. They did what they “knew.” Especially my grandfather and his Greatest Generation. Regardless of the ultimate cost.  Our lives weren’t hot new cloths and the latest sound system and dirt bike and a zipper jacket for everyone. Not that kind of money. But enough to get it done. My childhood was not brutal or a struggle by most any standard. I grew up a pink skinned boy in the 70s and 80s. Back the, being such a person gave me an advantage that I didn’t really know about for many years. Things were turning towards the toilet and they had absolutely no clue how weird it would all get. But the thing I remember asking my mother about that rings loud and clear after at least 35 (closer to 40) years ago was, “What class are we?” “Oh,” she replied, “there are no classes in America.”

Well, no. We were all taught this. Boot strapping your way to the top. Rags to riches blah blah blah. And here the big circle closes, we were shown that we as NOT Elites simply could not understand what made something FINE. So we blew it off as serviceable. We were shown movies and told stories about how the elite live. Of kings and queens, Tzars and Brahmin. I caught on at some point that this was not and never would be my world. Fine things were only ever glimpsed in museums or in images in TV shows or magazines. Never tangible or accessible. Fine of that sort was fairy tale. It’s that elite FINE that is unobtainable for the great unwashed.

“How’s that shirt fit?” Fine. “How does it feel?” Fine. “What do you think of the style?” Fine. Now set that conversation against a different background. Make it a costume made silk and linen designer shirt that retails for $900. One of those ones that go under Armani Suits. Brooks Brothers and all that. That is a very different FINE.

Drinking a cup of home brewed tea out of one of my cups is undoubtedly a different16th century Nipponese Tea Bowl

from drinking it out of a 16th century Bowl used in an actual Tea Ceremony. For one thing, I like the way I make my tea. The 1 tea ceremony I went to back in 1981 was interesting but I was 11 at the time and pretty overwhelmed at just being alive and drawing breath to really pay attention to just how amazing it was to live as an 11 year old in a little island in the Pacific that had been invaded by my people and was in the process of still occupying the land that was already in the midst of several hundred years of occupation. (Okinawa is a distinct people and culture from either Japan or China) So yeah. How well do you remember one more cool thing from when you were 11? I’m amazed that I even remember it. Flying sideways off a trampoline in gym class? Seared into my memory forever, up to the part where I lost consciousness. Tea ceremony? Yeah. I guess.

So all of that, right? True class warfare sort of stuff. Well. No, not that far reaching. But it is a usage distinction that is bred not taught. I was never taught to appreciate the feel of great/fine clothing or how it feels to interact with fine foods or furniture. The stuff we had was fine and we went on with things. And most likely is comes down to that lack of breeding, but from my perspective, that tea bowl, pictured above, that’s priceless and more that 500 years old, works exactly with the same utility and function as a Styrofoam cup pulled from a sleeve. Both vessels are fine. And it really depends upon who you are asking. I know things about pottery so I have an understanding (very course and base) of how pottery can ascent from the realm of craft into the place of ART which is so amazingly rare as to be nearly nonexistent. (think 1 in 1000 thrown cups might be clear of form and line and glaze true and hold form and just be effortless to hold and interact with in terms of balance or the way it stimulates my finger tips where I’m touching it and my lips and tongue where I press my face to it to consume fluid that flows across an area of that vessel to meet my mouth. Proportion texture form volume all contribute to experience. Why else are there 900 styles of beer wine booze glass? What exactly is a high-ball? And does allowing the pilsner to speed up flowing down the long glass introduce it to the back of my tongue first and does that really allow for a fuller appreciation of the more subtle flavors?

Or is it all exactly bullshit?

It’s a cup. It’s a shirt. A car has 4 wheels (usually) and gets me from point A to point B. I got to drive a 1968 Chevy Corvette Stingray. All original and the head liner was hanging down just a tiny bit and touching my head. While I did not get to OPEN ER UP!!!! I could indeed tell that this car was about the most ridiculous, ill conceived means of moving about that I had ever been in. There is no back seat. And it did have a trunk because it was not a convertible. Driving it wasn’t a stupid thing to do. Not at all. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do either. I was taking it to get brake work done. But I could just tell that new, spanky squeaky new, this thing was a rocket. A rocket with nothing but open roads ahead. Must have been an awesome illusion. Same illusion someone gets in a Bently or Rolls. It is a car. It’s fine. I have never been a Rolls or Bentley, so I’m guessing. Sure looks like a car. Still gotta change the oil. They break when the hit things. Whoop dee doo.

I guess I was just never introduced to the world of fine things. My world was full of things that were fine.

As an aside, I did learn a thing or 2 about boots. White’s Boots has been making their product if Washington state for a century. They know what they are doing. Custom built boots are the shit. These suckers cost me all my discretionary funds to keep in shape and in soles. If there is an issue, send them back and for a cost, they re-build them from the ground up. New boots. Boots that are fine. Fine for fighting forest fires or digging holes or walking around the block. But I prefer heavy boots. My idea of fine in this case is particular. imagine working an 8 hour shift washing dishes are Applebees wearing an Armani suit. Not fine. These boots. Totally fine. Please, don’t get me wrong, these ARE NOT $8000 boots. No No No. Nothing that stupid. They are just the exact same boot that people, men for the most part, have been stuffing their feet into for a long time. They figured it out. If there is a Chippendale version of boots, I don’t really care. I’m fine with them how they are. Did I neglect my step-daughter because I did not encourage her to look higher above the horizon and appreciate the fine things in life? Is that something that is even do-able? Does any of this matter? I’m willing to bet that no one in an Armani suit, sitting in a Bentley, is wearing White’s boots. They just aren’t. And I imagine that my thinking a car is a car and a shirt is a shirt is the entire point. I’m too stupid to even care that there is a difference. I guess being this stupid has it’s own benefits. I don’t have to pay the up keep on one of those monsters. Can you imagine what the insurance costs? And you know they have most than just liability. They have the kind of insurance that spells out how they can take whatever body parts needed to rebuild the Bently owner from other party. Regardless of who’s fault it is. I mean, I guess that’s fine.

 

Syrupocalypse be damned

While I am the one fully responsible for this spring’s volcanic eruption https://trilliumcenter.org/2016/03/04/syrupocalypse/

I feel like I’m making up for it this week.

 

I ran the soil through the 1/4″ screen this time. Luckily I had Leah helping pound the stuff into smaller chunks. That took a minute, let me tell you. Hanging in Yaz’s timber framing shop is a quote that makes too much sense.  I’ll butcher it from memory. “Love of a craft is measured by one’s ability to revel in it’s tedium.” I see that and my back aches. I know it’s true. I am objective enough to know just how much I’m able to revel in that tedium on any given day. Luckily, the last 2 days have been one’s where the tedium is well worth it. Even shed a bit of blood.

The mix is the same proportions as before with an addition. 50% local yellow clay/ 50%sand, 2 fat flakes of hay and 2 heaping scoops of lime plaster. The plaster is to start “tightening ” the cob. Or that’s what I’m telling myself. I forced the hay through the 1/2″ screen and discarded the vast majority of the longer and thicker stems. The cob went over the bumpy scratch coat pretty easily. I left the mix a bit on the dry side. The scratch coat was fairly rough so it had plenty to grab onto. Of course the first layer was only on there a day so it hasn’t really had enough time to start drying (read shrinking) Either way, it grabbed on and hasn’t let go yet. The ‘bowties’ seem to be doing their jobs.

The top is made of regular metal roofing that I backfilled under the ribs and secured to the brick with more masonry screws. Not only is it there to hold the pot away from the riser opening, it’s acting as a rain shield for the top of the thing. Not just that, this top is also a chest level razor blade. Or head level for kids. I’m looking for some way to address the sharp horizontal edges. Hopefully the final layer of plaster will be tight enough to serve and I will be able to trim this stationary horizontal guillotine back to a reasonable length.

All the irregularity is gone, replaced with long gently swooping curves. Not so terribly simple as I thought it was. OK, to be fair, I didn’t think curve would be easy. I’ve wrecked enough drywall trying to finish it to know that this stuff is not going to give me any breaks in terms of final surface. That, and gouging the tool into the already smoothed-out cob just past the transition. That’s pretty depressing actually. Feeling the tool turn just a little too much past effective and catching the curve. Digging in just far enough to expose the pebbles and fibers just below the nearly burnished surface. Leaving a hole that it takes 15 or 20 passes to refill with finer materials and leaving no scar. I must have gone around this thing 8x, re-surfaceing again and again. Needless to say, I was dripping with sweat by the end. With all that, the weather reports (and the not so distant booming of lots of thunder) calling for thunderstorms that never unleashed here. Plastic sheet on, plastic sheet off. More disruption of the smooth surface. More strokes.

cooker decoration

Leah graciously agreed to decorate the cooker. She complained that this was only the second time 2nd time she has sculpted like this. The first time being the spiral in the Seedhouse. The question arose as to whether she should build up or cut away. The only caution I saw with cutting in too much was exposing the longer, tougher stems in the scratch coat. She said that she did a little of both. I think it’s quite fabulous. And if this is her 2nd time, I can hardly wait to see what she can do after a few more projects.

cooker with pot

This isn’t the final layer. I still need to put a thin coat of very refined clay and not fiber and a lot more lime plaster and skim it one more time. None of this will be any time soon of course. This stuff dries really slowly here. 87% humidity right now and it never did rain here. The cob, that I used to seal around the bottom of the kiln, is only just now starting to dry out. I probably should have waited for the scratch layer to dry more. Let it crack and deal with the fact that the inner bricks are a single contiguous mass that isn’t going to be shrinking at all thank you very much. The cob is already cracking horizontally, above the firebox. I kind of figured that it would crack there. With the steep transition, I was unable to apply anywhere near as much pressure at that joint. Me thinks, ‘less compression at a really thick spot floating over a 90 deg corner, let’s see what happens.’ Like the adage I picked up the other day, ‘build your barn first!’ Chickens could care less if they are living in a prototype or a finished product. {That’s WAY too abstract for their tiny little brains.} I got the message though. Actually, what I heard, way back in the once ago, was to build the SAUNA first. Instead of last like most folks do. It was 2nd and it’s 3rd incarnation only burned the barn a little bit. Lessons learned. Failure breeds innovation? So yeah, make the worst and most obvious mistakes on things that aren’t quite as important as survival.

My entire life feels like a prototype. I don’t know at what point it will start feeling like I’ve got a handle on things. Leaving public safety constituted my mid-life crisis. I never did pick up my red convertible. Had one all picked out too. Not really.

“She thinks I’m rash”

cooker mixing cob

This afternoon I went out back and cleaned up some fire wood we didn’t burn making syrup this year and ended up putting a scratch coat of cob on the cooker. Leah noted this evening that it’s almost impossible to get anyone to help with things around here if I don’t let anyone else know what I’m thinking of doing, especially myself, until moments before I do it.  I didn’t have a clue that I would be mixing cob today. Well, mix it I did.  I don’t have any straw right now so I just used a bale of last year’s hay. Not ideal with seeds in it and all. Another experiment. Here’s the thing though. This thing is tiny. More than 2 people would have been standing around watching.

Since I had the chance, I modified the firebox. Leah can work the stove without compulsively stuffing as much wood in the hole as possible (like me), so the tunnel didn’t overfill and plug up with coals when she fired it. This was not my reality. From the eyeballing I’ve been doing of the Haiti stoves that J Anderson has been around, I’ve wondered about shortening the burn tunnel. The fire really just needs to be under the riser, not necessarily pulled back away. I think moving the pile of fire into the stove and allowing the unburned wood to have a spot to sit, away from the fire, will help with efficiency. There’s just that much less to heat up. More over, it will remind me to not jamb so much wood in. I’m not going for cone 10 here or anything.

I tried something different with cobbing onto bricks this time. I noticed that when we cobbed around the rocket stove in the Seedhouse, the cob slumped away from the sides of the brick wall fairly relentlessly. This time I made “bowties” out of some scrap 1/4″ hardware fabric and attached them with masonry screws directly into the brick. This gave us a place to wrap the longer stems of hay. And the cob could squish into the mesh. They are scattered around the upper lip and down the back wall fairly liberally.

The mixture was a bit rough to prepare. The clay is fairly dry so mashing it though the 1/2″ screen is work. 50% clay 50% sand covered with a thick flake of hay and way more water than I expected. I had to break up some of the more stubborn clumps of hay but once everything is wet and mushy, it’s just a dream to put up. Scooping up a full double handful and mashing it around a corner and up to one of the bowties was amazing. Because it was so moist, it stuck to the brick. The long hay snaked into and around the bowties and it all hang in place. Leah worked out the staired firebox. Very referential to burnt offerings and spiraling smoke. There is a bit of shaping to do tomorrow. And I need to set some metal into the top as a rain cap/pot riser. Regardless, the final layers will have lime plaster in them. this will tighten up the surface. Time will tell of course.

as a side note, I’ve cut the holes and manufactured chimneys for the wood kiln. I’m looking for 5 and 13 quart bowls, just the right ones, to be my cooker top. Once I find the bowls, I can fill the kiln. It’s all a complicatedly simple process I’ve been using for years.

Accidents Happen

Photo on 7-9-16 at 1.56 PM #2

My new (to me) inexpensive electric kiln was unable to get to temperature for the second time, in spite of having taken the electrical system completely apart, replacing a cooked switch and putting it back together. Which is just as well. The coils were spent. I didn’t buy the kiln (and a spare) for their coils. I wanted the bricks and the steel wrap and kiln furniture. I got a whole lot more than that. To be sure. But it was always about the bricks. Being able to fire the thing as many times as I did was a wholesale boon. But I need a kiln to fire work. It’s that simple. So Thursday morning(7/7), over coffee and the news it became terribly obvious to me that building a wood kiln to fire earthenware was going to be an awful lot of work and that it would never get done if I didn’t go do it. So I did.

 

The sad part is that I just moved all of the bricks I used, all the shelves, even the kilns, across the street and either into the shop, or behind it in the woods.

Now it’s all sitting in the back yard in a pile. A very orderly pile to be sure. The 2 kilns are largely unchanged besides having their bottoms removed. The 3rd kiln was completely disassembled. I used a portion of the brick creating the sprung arch of the firebox. The 2 solid cement blocks (on each side) are butters for that arch. These soft brick are then covered with a layer of clay brick that were piled in the woods long long ago before any of us were born. The remainder of the soft brick are under each of the kiln bodies. Because the firebox is stepped down from the kiln floor, I only had to set the kiln bodies on 2 courses of brick to make a pass through underneath them. Set in that bottom 2 courses, I left port holes that will be used to stoke each kiln to exact temperature.  Controlling two tubes from a single distant firebox isn’t feasible if I expect any sort of regularity in temperature throughout such a divided kiln. As it turns out, one of the kilns I used (intact) is about 1″ wider than other. Different make and model I guess. So the 2 courses beneath it don’t quite match up. This leaves a lot of air gaps. Rather than try and fill these gaps with more spun silica blanket that I only have a little bit of (thanks Josh) I decided to make a cob mixture and plaster everything in place. I guess it is more of an earthen plaster than cob. There is no organic material in it. Not at this point anyway. Everything is sealed up between the firebox and the 2 kilns. The tiny-ish gaps between some of the bricks will expose the clay/sand to the inside of the kiln. But only a bit. I’m hoping it’s not too much of a problem. Not a terribly big deal as it’s only clay and sand.

When firing wood kilns to higher temperatures than I am going (stone ware/porcelain is a few hundred degrees hotter F than earthenware) every single crack and seam pukes smoke and flames when wood is added and the kiln is plunged into a high carbon, reduction atmosphere.

I toyed around with the idea of taking all the kilns apart and turning them into a dog biscuit shaped cross-draft thingy. That was way way too much more work. And I can still do it if I want. they are intact at this point. I have yet to cut holes in the kiln lids. I don’t have the right materials yet to make both chimneys. I cut the 2 bottoms which were  cracked into something resembling blocks. At this point, 1 chimney is built. I sheathed these brittle cast chunks of spun silica in half of the original steel wrap from part of the kiln that was broken apart.

I have been exchanging emails with the person who’s kiln is my inspiration (at rootedclay.com ) and am amending my chimney plan. The additional weight around a hole, which isn’t meant to be there, causes the lid to weaken, crumble and if left unchecked, collapse into the kiln while it is hot. While the visual image of smoke and fire erupting from the shattered shelves and cups is beautiful in a powerful Oh Bother sort of way, it’s not something I would like to do more than imagine. There are a million million ways to wreck a pot. I’ve found a few of them. Many more will come to light.

As it turns out, this farm seems to be some sort of bed-magnet. I’ve had more beds in this house that I have either never slept on or only slept on for a little while. And I’m not talking about just mattresses. Several of the frames here were just frames when they got here. Futon frames are great for shelving. Frames, in general, are made of metal. At least the long side rails. These are usually angle iron of at least a large enough size to support a chimney make of a little refractory material and steel.

I’m pretty busy for the next little while so it could be a while before I actually get to this. A couple weeks at most I hope. I put  a few pieces of metal roofing on top of the kiln with a bunch of bricks on it to keep the water from hitting the clay/sand. We’ve had a few pretty good downpours the last few days and it’s stayed put. If the wind gusts get too bad, the metal will become airborne guillotines. Not great but there are an awful lot of bricks on there.Photo on 7-9-16 at 1.56 PM

WHEN RACCOONS ATTACK!!!

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Sorry, that is an almost baseless accusation. I don’t know for sure that it was a raccoon that was trying to dig its way under/in to the barn doors. This has proved to be an exercise in futility in any case. But I do know that if the doors weren’t as well built and/or closed by dark, there would be far fewer birds in the barn this morning. I say it was a raccoon, rather than a squirrel or a skunk or a black bear, because Maly actually backed one of the little bandits up a fence post in front of the barn a couple of months ago during the night shift. He was back there screaming his fool head off, charging the fence. And there was Rocky, cool as a clam, perched on top of the 4×4 wondering how it was going to get out of this one. I have these stupid moments of compassion sometimes. I simply got a LONG stick and pushed it off the post top, INSIDE the barn yard and told Maly to come with me, which he did, reluctantly. He likes the praise that much. I call it stupid because that sucker keeps coming back. Keeps digging away at the castle wall. I’m sure it has young’uns out in the woods somewhere. Guessing. What do I know of raccoons? Besides their being micro bears. It doesn’t smell like skunk either. When they are around and messing with things, in my experience, they leave their ick, just a hint, simply to let me know they were there. Barn schmarn.

One aspect of the native clay project has taken a HUMONGOUS leap forward. When I was at the gravel supplier looking at their pile of “blue clay,” I pulled a good sized chunk of what appeared to be very clean clay out. About the size of a watermelon, the lump only had about 6 or 8 stones about the size of a chick pea. The rest went through a 1/4″ screen. I just got the sense that it would work. The clay feels right. So, I thumped some down on the wheel and PRESTO. Pottery. Rather than conduct a really accurate test, I didn’t change my water so the pots have a white scum on them. This is the fine clay that was suspended in the water. I don’t think it’s all that big a deal. These cups and bowls have some rocks and chunks in them. Not terrible. the kind of thing that seems manageable as long as the supply is consistent.IMG_0631

The bits and chunks are more apparent here. Also, notice how the right bowl isn’t round at all. It was when it went into the kiln. Same with the one resting on it. They went through the firing stacked lip to lip and the left one (smaller and on top) actually sank into the larger lower one. The clay was soft enough to move with little pressure (gravity) but not so soft it actually slumped and melted into a pool. A side effect of it having gotten so soft, it has moved into the land of vitrified clay. Flick it with a finger nail and it rings like a bell. A lot higher of a tone than the earthenware (red or white) that was in the kiln with it. These guys were on the top shelf of the kiln, so they were undoubtedly hotter than everything else in there. Not a lot lot hotter, but some. the kiln is set to turn off around 1950 F. That is what the bottom looks like. I think the top went to closer to 2000 F. Doesn’t matter as long as I can get the same results and more, a lot more, of the same clay.

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I have a lot on my mind lately so I’m doing many things at once in an effort to get back to only a few things. Yesterday I made my first insulate bricks. At least, they are something along those lines. A different clay than the stuff used to make the cups and bowls, this clay is from under the pond across the street. These bricks are made of the same stuff that the Seed House inside walls are made of. Only, these things will get heated through quartz inversion (1000 C /1832 F).

The Work is heading into a more practical direction at the moment. I’m realistic enough to know that pottery is a luxury. Especially in what passes for our current local/global economy. If I can sell a few of these things this year, awesome. I feel confident that those who purchase them will be very happy with the improvement to their daily rituals. Most folks could really care less. I remember one of my Officers at the FD that refused to drink his coffee at the station out of anything but a styrofoam cup. New cup every time. A line of ceramic cups hanging from hooks right next to the coffee maker. Only styrofoam. It’s easier to toss it than to return to the kitchen, wash the cup and set it to dry. Ridiculous. He is someone who would never think about bringing something like my pottery into his day. This, to me, is an all too common state of mind. The difference between the garbage choked river in St. Marc, Haiti and Conneaut Creek is that we have curb-side garbage pick up. All those cups would be hammered into a plastic slurry on the beaches if it weren’t for that.

With the world seemingly, once again on the brink, I gotta find a way to bring something into the world that people will use. To get them to use it, they need to need it. We need to eat. We can eat soup from cupped hands if we have to. But we, as a North American 21st Century Society, have to heat the vast majority of our food. I’m looking for a way to make food preparation more do-able. Our time in Haiti showed me what cooking is like for most folks alive, RIGHT NOW. Smoky, smelly and dirty. I’ve read many times that lung compromise from breathing cooking fire smoke is a leading cause of death in women world wide. Lots of folks are traveling around the poor parts of Earth teaching people how to make Rocket Cookers and Rocket Ovens. That’s great. It’s awesome. I don’t happen to live in East Timor or Nepal or Burundi so I can’t sit in on what they are doing. I’ve chatted a tiny bit with one of those who goes. He’s busy busy and most of it comes down to experimentation with local materials so I’m on my own for the most part. The few tests I’ve done on the shallower clay look very promising. Same clay as the bricks. This is all very preliminary. Most of what I’ve come up with so far has left a lot to be desired. There is just so much iron in all the local clay that it melts at a much lower temperature than commercial earthenware. In addition to the 25 year hiatus, I only thought “using local clay” was a neat idea back then so I didn’t learn much about processing it. Learning it now though.