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Archive for the ‘Wood Fired Oven Project’ Category

Masonry Kitchen a Go This Year?

01.16.11

My temp oven and grill setup has been inspiring. It made my perhaps slightly ambitious project illustrated below feel more doable, less intimidating. And as seems to happen in December and January, I’ve become obsessed with a project which, like last year, is this masonry project. It essentially is an outdoor kitchen, built entirely of reclaimed masonry. Yes, mostly free. The key elements are a wood fired oven, chimneyed fireplace, and posts for a pergola that will attach to the house, spanned by concrete counter tops.

Last year’s plans went so far as to have city Planning and Development folks approve the build, the gas company approve the location of the build relative to the gas line, detailed drawings from front, top, and internal structure, and dry stacking various brick laying details such as the base crown seen top-left.

Yes, I had planned on postponing this adventure for another year due to the new arrival to our family due this spring. But I’ve changed my mind. As I’m prone to do. So my life currently is obsessed with cookery construction, pouring over all the details, hundreds of photos, myriad of scale drawings, and other materials necessary to get the job done. If all goes well, ground-break will occur in April, and I’ll post periodic updates here as things progress. I’ll be in good shape by the end of the build, I bet…

Dry Stacked WFO V1.0 Drawings & Specs

01.06.11

I know from experience that any specifics on building wood ovens and grills is appreciated by those collecting ideas for their own build, so upon requests in the comments of previous posts about it, I’m providing drawings and additional information here for those that have  requested it. I’ll just keep adding to it as requests come in.

Total Cost: ~$30 + gas to haul the mostly free masonry. Not including my time, of course.

Total Time: 3 hours. From having piles of masonry around the yard to having a fire in the oven, including grill build.

A few key points.

First, the oven entrance is 3 bricks tall, while the oven top is 5, providing very close to the optimal ratio of door height to ‘dome’ height. That ratio was common regardless of which camp the builder fell into. “Yes, 63% is an imperative. Actually it can vary a little, maybe 60 – 65%, but that is what optimizes the exit gases to heat retention. You don’t want 100% because all your heat will go out the flue. Too small of an opening will not allow the combustion gases to flow properly. 63% is optimum.” – lwood @ fornobravo forum.

Second, this build is made possible by the pavers which are roughly 1’x2’x2″ – providing the ability to span the oven walls. Normally ovens are domed, which is better for both heat reflection and strength properties. To achieve a flat structure with some strength, all the pavers that span the oven roof are on edge, not on flat. I’m no engineer, but I figure it’d be far harder to break a paver on edge, and it can likely hold vastly more weight as well. It also provides a foot of thermal mass atop the oven, albeit unsealed between them. Conveniently, the paver roof of the entrance, if built flush with the adjacent bricks, provides for another paver to fit perfectly as a door. Works great.

Lastly, improvisation required. Your building materials may be different than mine or you may have a better idea on how to tackle it – and you’ll need to adapt accordingly.

Various photos of this particular setup will be available here. More to come if need be.

Exploring the Sub-Optimal Wood Fired Oven

01.05.11

You too can do this. Score some free cinder blocks, bricks, and pavers on a site like this. You could buy them retail, I guess. But really, that’s just less fun. Use your lego skills and build yourself an oven. Heck, use some mud.

But know something. You would be entering a world of geekdom, and for many of its inhabitants, my current trajectory of free-style-dry-stack is the path to the dark side.

For a reason I’m still not sure about, there seems to be segregated schools of thought about wood fired ovens. First, there’s the old school mud/Quebec oven camp based on natural building materials. I get this. It’s liberal, resourceful, and practical. Children have built them for free. Take this book out from the library for more. These folks are like the bicycle. Effective, practical, simple, inexpensive. Then, there’s the Alan Scott camp, advocates of the barrel dome and loads of thermal mass, focused on baking bread and long hauls of heat for cooking of multiple items over many hours. Akin to a semi tractor trailer.  They’re big, get it done, in  a big way, for a long haul. Then there’s the Italian sports car folks, motivated primarily by pizza, and building small, speedy igloo style domes like these. These are the folks stop-watching the speed of their pizzas, getting giddy at solar oven temperatures, eschewing long firing time, and seeking pizza perfection. Speed and horsepower are king.

I’m here to ask the question, who cares? They all achieve great culinary things. They’re all beautiful. They all have their pros and cons. So why the infighting?  Should we not want to be spreading the wood fired oven love? WFO geeks will watch the video below and scorn the lack of silica content in the hearth bricks, the pan the pizza’s on, the lack of efficiently reflected heat, the amount of insulation below the hearth, the dimensions,  the build of the pizza itself, and many other items if they could see them in the photo. It’s true. You know who you are.

So for some fuel to the creative spirit, this site is a lovely peruse for inspiration and non-conformism. Let us liberate the wood oven, peoples’ imaginations, forget the clans and perfectionism, and get to inspiring folks to get these in their back yards cooking wicked food.

Firewood Bee 2011

01.04.11

The past two days of my life have been consumed by firewood. Yep, post-holiday madness others are fiddling with their i-gizmos and I’m hauling wood. It was the best Christmas present I got. Turns out mentioning my need for wood at a family gathering yielded an offer I couldn’t refuse, and even though masonry had already kicked my butt sufficiently, I was shortly thereafter hauling wood past fatigue. I have a weak spot for ‘free’.

I spent today stashing piles of split and seasoned pine, spruce, and birch wherever I could afford the space. I estimate about 3 cords. Anything that didn’t stack well fueled the oven for the past two days.

I’m such a wuss.  Somehow I’d feel far more accomplished were I able to write about hauling trees with horses uphill both ways. My father in law who gave me the wood told me of such stories – cutting trees in the spring, hauling them to the farm with horses in the fall, and having an uncle who had a powered saw come over for a day or two to put up the winter’s firewood. I remember smaller scale firewood bees as a kid – we’d go out for a few hours and buck up enough firewood for fire cookery. Looks like it’s my turn to take on this ritual of fuel gathering.

It made me consider how differently we’d handle energy here if we had to labor to obtain and store it all. It also made me feel tremendously wealthy – wealth having arrived at my door in many forms over this past year. No manual labor for me for at least a few days. I quit.

below: the oven after a couple-day-straight-workout, just like me.

Dry Stacked Wood Fired Oven & Grill

12.31.10

I think I’m going to be sore tomorrow morning.

This morning, inspired by my recent temp masonry grill setup which still pleased me greatly, I thought ‘how could I use the masonry I have been collecting to build a temp oven‘. If you ever have that thought, just know in advance that if you act on it, you will be sore and tired, especially if it’s colder than -20C the day you decide to do it.

Dry stacking [sans mortar] has its merits. I had my temp grill apart in about 5 minutes. No old mortar to clean off.  The ease of modding and tweaking a setup is another major perk, as is speed of build – from the time I started to the time I had a fire in an oven was 3 hours. The photo at the bottom shows the grill setup adjacent to the oven, also completed within that 3 hrs. It tripled-to-quadrupled my grill space. Quite the upgrade.

Turns out last winter’s research on how to build ovens paid off, and I improvised a design I’m quite pleased with, including a nice entry space and functional chimney. Chimneys are not tremendously simple to dry stack. Good fortune was on my side all around as I also conveniently had just the amount of building materials I needed, without having given thought to it in the speedy-morning-coffee-planning-stage. I had assumed I had lots. I did. Many, many thousands of pounds. My muscles remind me frequently. It’s okay though, I need the exercise after eating meat pies 3 times a day through the holidays.

So rather than having a big pile of free, re-purposed masonry in my way in the garage, I now have a big pile of free, re-purposed masonry performing practical cookery functions on my back patio. I so should have thought of this before.

The Temp

12.27.10

I was doing dishes. Thinking, ‘it would be nice to have a fire this evening‘. I’d spent the morning knocking down some excess trees and dead wood on our lot. Wood was on the brain. But my usual setup [a re-purposed bbq], albeit sufficiently functional for cookery, is far from romantic to sit around for the evening. ‘If only I had something I could put a fire on‘, thought I.  There was lots of snow. It didn’t even have to be that intelligent a setup from a fire safety standpoint. Then I realized the error in my ways.

See, I’ve been collecting masonry for a very large-scale project that I was hoping to get to this past year, but didn’t, and with yet another addition to the family on the way, I’m resolved to not bother again this coming year. So with a portion of said masonry, within a half-hour, I had a fire burning in a dry-stacked setup about 4’x2′, and in every way it is superior to my previous setup. It is more versatile as bricks can be moved to accommodate need for support for racks, grills, etc. It’s larger. I am able to manage the coals more easily. I am able to add wood while the grill’s on if need be. I built a concrete paver counter aside it. It can be disassembled and re-purposed easily. And it was all free, captured from our urban waste stream.

The exact layout of masonry units I may divulge when I have some day-time pictures, but much like with the re-purposed bbq, I feel the concept’s more important the the details, and the point here is you take free masonry, and stack it like a child’s block set to build a formidable cookery appliance that looks pretty. It shames me a tad that it took me this long to have the ‘aha’ moment’. I’ll get over it. Quickly.

below – inaugural fire required inaugural grilling of meat: some cured and smoked pork jowl

It’s Time to Dig = It’s Time to Share

04.14.10
Despite the trillion hours of work I’ve put into this project in R&D, I have yet to post about it. But today. Today the gas company sent someone over to take a look at the project and okayed it. Earlier this week the municipal Planning & Development office okayed it. The due diligence ended today. The research is done. The oodles of scale drawings are complete. It’s time to dig.

The design started as a grill. Ended up as a 48″ Rumford-esque chimneyed fireplace with a 2′ deep cooking hearth for embers. The 32×36″ barrel-dome oven was soon added. The end posts are to support a pergola, and will conveniently act as supports for concrete countertops. To add to the drama, the entire project will be largely built with recycled/reclaimed/reused masonry – partly out of frugality but largely out of a desire to build something grand out of others’ discards.


It’s no secret I feel strongly about cooking over a fire, so building what one city planner called the ‘grand-daddy’ of wood burning appliances is not surprisingly quite a joy. I will share the joy as the job moves forward.