Gold! Gold! Gold!

Just a quick note to say I have bought a gold pan and a map of good local panning spots, also a little shovel. In case you feel like trying your luck, there is plenty of gold around still. You will need to get a prospecting license, it costs $17.90 and is valid for 10 years, children under 18 free as long as they are with an adult who has a licence. Get it online from here: You don’t have to share of your findings but let me know how you went! A flake, a nugget, or just some soggy gravelly gumleaves? Panning is simple.Gold is heavier than anything else in your pan, so dig up some possibly gold bearing gravel and sand in the pan, swirl it around so the gold gets a chance to go to the bottom, and wash away everything which has risen to the top. Gold will not rise. What is left in the base of the pan will hopefully be gold. Hooray. This is why the pan is black, in order for you to see the gold easily. Well, it is a great reason to go bush anyway. Bring a picnic. I just realised I have to buy a second pan, as it is more likely to be two panners and not one. Will do so on my next trip to Ballarat. I know one of my regular guests is keen to have a go, so this is for you! Good luck.

By the way, the gold you find might only be a tiny fleck, not to miss. Also there are gemstones such as zircons and sapphires. Before your trip, look around the web and read the prospecting forums, to see what people are saying. I think most will be pretty quiet about their best spots, but you can get some help from reading.

Bath & hall

I have been busy. Also, I have been excruciatingly slow, but in the end, I think it was worth it. I now only have a few minor things to do before the bathtub is complete. For now, here is a tiny preview. The gargoyle spout is a glazed ceramic head I have named Mr Tumnus, because he really does look like him. I made three heads when I was on the go, one was particularily fetching and rather looked like President Nixon. He actually exploded in the kiln during firing, breaking a number of things as he went. When you fire handbuilt stuff, any air bubbles trapped in the dried clay can have that effect. Shattering with violence. So, no Nixon for me. The third is installed in the wall of the library as the exit point for the speaking tube, below. bathtub3The speaking tube caused me massive trouble. The pipes are laid under the floor and once it is in, it is in and can’t be changed without enormous trouble. Too much trouble. Hence, I have been standing in the hardware plumbing department speaking into different pipes asking the staff ”Can you hear better with this? Or this?” I have had no answers. In the end I went with polypipe of maybe an inch diameter. Que sera. Well, it is now in and I can declare that it works, but you have to speak up. Your voice will appear in the library, sounding like you are sitting in a padded box.

speaking tubeI had guests test it. You can say things like ”GIVE ME ANOTHER DRINK” or even ”TURN THE RECORD OVER”. There is a turntable just outside the wall, as I will soon demonstrate. The tiles are copies of Ortelius maps, with the gargoyle sitting right on the text for Terra Australis and its vague, loosely imagined coastline. Can’t get enough maps, especially medieval ones. bathtub4I am also thrilled to have a new lamp in operation. Wiring! Plumbing! The bliss of a modern world, even if the tiled maps date back to the 1500’s. bathtub2Here is where the record player sound will come. The recordplayer was a gift from a friend, along with the vinyl collection. Hence it is a little one sided but I might add to it in time. Gloria Gaynor! Village People! Can’t stop the music… The other side of this wall is a little hallway, where I have now built a shelf for things like Gloria Gaynor, Inez Jacobsen wellies (do go for a walk in the rain) and my father’s fez which he aquired in Egypt many years ago.hall3Since we have now left the bathroom for the hall, here is the butler who is most helpful with your every wish, as long as that wish is to hold your umbrella. Today I bought him a hat, but he will graciously let you borrow it. His name is James, after a friend with whom he has a resemblance. Incidentally, the very same friend who gave me the records. hall2Close up of his hand. I carved it out of construction pine, 90×45 and stuck a hinge at the elbow.

butler1I went hat shopping at Upstairs at Alpha, which is on Vincent Street. They sell new and vintage, mixed. Always something exciting to find. The bowler was not enough, I also picked up the black and white number below. Stylish, handsome! Maybe even a little suave. hallWhilst I was building the shelves, I also added a little seat where the kindling basket can live. Cushions from Sweden. hall4

Flower bike and planterbox DIY

There is a large and bland wall at one side of the house, originally green. I first thought I’d replace the entire wall but have since had second thoughts. Now, I am just going to fix it, paint it black to make it disappear, replace a door and draw the eye to something more attractive. I think a flowerbike, bright red, will do the job to make you not look at the wall.

Here is the bike, finished.

plantbox59and here is the old bike as it was when I found it under the house.


First I cleaned it up and sprayed it red, to make it stand out against the black backdrop.

Now I need to make some planter boxes, a straight one for the back and an angled one for the front. I use a sliding saw which is accurate and easy. If you don’t have access to one, you can use anything at all, it will just be harder to be precise. Doesn’t matter hugely in a project like this. If you plan to do a lot of carpentry, I recommend this to be the third investment after a drill and a circular saw. Your life will never be the same. For this project you will also need a drill, a hammer, some tinsnips. All the techniques used are the same as I would use for making bookshelves, kitchens, any basic carpentry. The first thing I ever made on my own was a box, it was for keeping vinyl records in. Yes, I admit that it was a while back… Basically, if you can make a box, you can make a kitchen, which is just a series of boxes and planes of varying complexity.

plantbox35I have used actual baskets on a different bike I did some years ago, but baskets don’t last very long. I thought I’d do something else this time. The wood I have used is a sturdy treated pine which I plan to line with plastic. I don’t recommend using anything which will not stand up to water very well, seems like a wasted effort. I have a love-hate relationship with treated pine. I love it because it is affordable and durable, and hate it because you can’t sand it (toxic, remember!), or manipulate it like some other woods. For this project it is fine, though. Don’t make birdhouses from treated pine. Any eggs hatched in the house will be infertile, losing a generation of breeding birds.

planterbox1Here is a really good trick to get exactly the same length of your pieces of wood. I only ever mark the first piece I am cutting, the rest are copies of the original. If I am doing loads of pieces the same length, I mark the original piece and cut all from that. It is guaranteed success and fast.

Lay the cut original on the piece you want to cut on the saw. Put a finger on the end of the boards so you can feel that they are exactly level.



Lower the blade on your saw without any power. Nudge both pieces of wood up to sit closely against the UNMOVING blade, still holding the finger at the end, like this:plantbox16

plantbox22Now just lift off the original piece, hold the wood still, run your cut.


plantbox9The result is two identical pieces, no need to measure and mark! When you put a mark on wood, it is very hard to gage exactly where the saw blade should go, as the cut itself takes out a mm or so. With this method, there is no guesswork.

When I cut the front box I wanted an angled side at one end. I found the woods no longer matched up, as the angled pieces meeting the front are shorter, like this.

plantbox7Easy fix, just put it on the saw and slice off a little bit. Really, it won’t matter by the time you have flowers spilling out all over it but I did it anyway. Because I have the saw!


Next we need to assemble the pieces. I use screws, make sure they are made for exterior use or they will rust. As I have chosen to go double depth, I also need to add a small piece of wood to help hold it all together. Single depth would be fine with some plants, but I want to allow for deeper roots as I don’t intend to run out and water every five seconds. Shallow soil heats up very fast here in summer. For this reason, I wouldn’t paint a planter black.



Now some paint, I have chosen green. I would have preferred a slightly different shade, but found a bucket of this in the shed. It will do fine. In regards to paint, there is a great way to get free paint, handy for smaller jobs. Go to your tip and see the paint mountain! Since you are supposed to give the paint in to the tip rather than binning it, they build up a large collection. As long as you can still read the labels, it is just perfectly fine paint that someone has cleared out of their shed. When I painted my pencil fence I needed an awful lot of different paint, far more than I was prepared to pay for (was happy to pay for exactly none, actually) and so I headed to the tip. Here is a pic of the fence, totally irrelevant to this project but never mind:

pencilfenceSee what I mean? To get the different shades, I added increasing amounts of white. Save the world and your wallet and get some unwanted paint!

After painting, I added some steel strapping. Not really necessary, but I think it looks great and will also have the bonus of making the planter very strong. This stuff is sold in rolls. The true purpose of strapping is to be nailed in huge spans diagonally across your walls and roof before cladding it, to act as bracing. Also you use it for tying down your roof to your walls. Like I said, this is strong stuff. I use it for so many things. I sprayed mine black first, cut with tinsnips. If you have no tinsnips, a hacksaw will do too.


Nail the strapping on with a clout (short nail with large galvanised head) in every hole.


You will note that it can’t go round in one go on the angled box. I just let it finish, and will now cover my corners with a piece of scrap metal, like this. If you have a shed, chances are it will be hiding plenty of odd bits like this. If it doesn’t, start collecting. Don’t throw things out too quickly, you never know when a piece of metal comes in handy. The local tip can be a great source. Of course you can also head to the hardware but if you can give new life to something, why not use it? This metal is very stiff, so is impossible to bend with anything less than violence. Put it over the edge of a strong surface, cover with a piece of wood where you want the fold, and start beating.



Before nailing on the corners (and I had to predrill all the holes, as my metal was far too thick to nail) trim any angles, if you are doing an angled version.


I discovered the bike was too far away from the wall, couldn’t attach the boxes as I had planned. I cut off a handle with the angle grinder (or hacksaw, if you don’t have one) and suddenly the bike was in the right position. I also used pliers to snip off all the wires. Who needs brakes and gears when there’s no handle?


Now the bike needs to be attached to the wall. Depending on the wall, work out your best options. Mine is just a sheet of metal, so I have used tekscrews, fat strong screws with a hexagonal head. Here it is from the back wall side:

plantbox69and straight into the basket… It doesn’t matter if they stick out, you can cut them with a grinder or leave them.


The boxes will be very heavy when they are full of wet soil. They are resting on the wheels of the bike, but also need attaching to it. I used more strapping with tekscrews. Make sure the tires have no air in them. The air will go anyway over time, assuming there was any to begin with, and it will leave the boxes slanting. Somewhere in the shed I have a tin of tyre black, whenever I find it I shall make the tyres a little better.



I also wanted to add a totally pointless handle to one of my boxes, found one in the shed.


Line boxes with strong plastic, I use builder’s plastic, the stuff you lay under concrete slabs for instance. It will last well unless it is exposed to the sun. Make drainage holes in the bottom. You can buy as much or as little as you want as it comes by the metre.

plantbox60Plant up! I am not intending to spend much time caring for the plants in this box. The position is very exposed as it gets full strength winds in winter and scorching afternoon sun in summer. I have to plant the hardiest that I have. I will try some succulents and some seaside daisies which I have dug up elsewhere in the garden. I would go geraniums if it wasn’t for the frost, but they die back here. Treat your garden like a nursery. Dig something up, divide, take cuttings. Hopefully it will all take and look splendid in a month or so! In total, this job cost a little bit of wood, a few screws, nails and paint, everything else was recycled. If you want to make a flowerbike, head to the tip. You will find the paint, the steel, the bike itself, probably a handle, maybe even the wood. A great little budgetjob, using unwanted things to make a slightly more attractive world.


The next job here will be to make a new door to replace this exciting specimen. I have a plan…