Oven Construction Begins, or How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Pedicure

I can’t figure myself out sometimes.

The smallest of tasks, such as hanging pictures, can get me so bogged down in analysis paralysis that they often languish for months or even years on my to-do list, while I try to decide the position of everything to the last sixteenth of an inch, and just what size nail would be perfect for each one.

And yet I’m apt to dive into more involved projects with only the barest hint of an idea of what the hell I am doing. For example, I now find myself muddling through in a fairly clueless sort of way, here at my home-away-from-home, the construction of a wood-fired mud oven.

Not that I’m flying completely blind here. I do have both inspiration and direction from the definitive book on the subject, Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer, and from very helpful photos and advice from several oven builders around the internet.

But have I ever built anything? Not unless you count my toothpick model of Plymouth Plantation in fifth grade. Am I strong enough to be hauling 50-pound buckets of dirt around? Barely. Have I ever even baked bread in a wood-fired oven? Well, now that you mention it, that would be a no. Am I completely stupid? Quite possibly.

I guess I figure people have been making and baking in earth ovens for thousands of years, so it can’t be rocket science. Uh, can it? We’ll see how this turns out.

I’m lucky (OK, spoiled) to have had someone build the stone base for me, help me obtain some of my materials, and (especially) haul about half a ton of sand, bucket by bucket, up the 30 steps to the oven site. I think that’s 3/4 of the battle right there.

Here’s what I’ve done so far, starting with a stone base filled to within 8 inches of the top with drain rock:

For an insulating layer, I laid empty glass bottles on their sides and filled the spaces with a mixture of perlite and clay slip.

On top of that, a layer of the oven mud, (soil, sand, and water, mixed up with my feet) to form a the subfloor. I am allowing this to dry for a couple of days, after which I’ll spread a thin bed of sand upon which to set the firebrick hearth.

I need to go find a nail brush. Stay tuned…

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    I was wondering where the pedicure part fit in… This looks like a fascinating project, especially viewed from the comfort of my desk! Good luck, it looks promising so far!

  2. says

    Susan, if David in Toronto doesn’t have a bake in soon we might have to have it at your house? I thought the bottles were for drinking?

  3. says

    Oh, I’m so incredibly jealous. I have plans for a bread/pizza oven/smoker that’s been driving me bonkers, and I really want to build it. I can’t wait to see how this turns out!

  4. says

    You sound exactly like me. Hang a picture? They’ve been languishing for 8 years. But I’m about to build a fire pit, and I don’t have a clue what I’m doing! Can’t wait to see what you bake in it, Susan!

  5. says

    That looks very interesting! I can’t wait to see the continuation. I’d say go for au natural on the nails until your finished! :-)

  6. says

    I have the same problem with hanging pictures yet had an awesome patio done last year.

    There was an article in the paper about a guy who did outdoor brick oven baking. It sounded great. I’ll be interested in seeing your results.

  7. Steve says

    That’s it !, You’ve inspired me.
    That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.
    Luckily I always have a ready supply of empty bottles.
    I look forward to seeing your progress and wish you good luck.

  8. says

    Astrid, it looked pretty good from the comfort of my desk too :)

    Jeremy, sure, but this will be a lot smaller than David’s oven! The contents of the bottles were well-enjoyed before using them as oven-fill.

    Courtney, thanks for coming by!

    Mary, absolutely!

    devlyn, good luck with that oven.

    HoneyB, Tim, thanks!

    Madam Chow, the picture thing seems to be a common problem. Good luck with the firepit.

    Jane, believe it or not my red toes held up better than than the rest of my feet, and better than my au naturel fingernails.

    Tracy, I’d do a patio before pictures too.

    Steve, thanks and have fun! I hope you have somewhere to post progress reports.

  9. says

    WOW, Susan! Fabulous and I can’t wait to see it all finished…..so much for me to want. I’ve always wanted one and good for you….okay I’m jealous also!

    Thanks for the links I’m wanting that book.

  10. says

    Yes!! I have been cobbling together random bits of masonry over the course of the past year in order to build an oven behind my dormitory this fall. You have inspired me: specific planning begins instantly.

  11. says

    Susan, I am so jealous! I would ruin a pedicure in a nanosecond to be able to build an oven like that. I somehow don’t think my landlord would be as excited as I would be ;-) Can’t wait to see the loaves that come out of your oven.

  12. says

    I’ve been wanting to build one for years. Maybe this fall I’ll take on the challenge. Yours looks great! Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  13. David Aplin says

    Hi Susan, Long time no see! I am excited that you are building a wood fired oven. I hope you get through it without too much domestic strife and that you keep your material costs to a minimum. I had a lot of fun building mine and it has been an important component of our family life ever since. Bon chance!
    Best, David

  14. says

    Wait…you can’t leave me like this. I’m so hooked after looking at your progress and clicking all those links. Who knew? How cool are those ovens. When we were in Italy, I was reading about wood burning ovens people were having installed — some of them on wheels. But nothing like this. The rock on that base is gorgeous.

  15. says

    Susan -

    Found your great blog while doing a search on sourdough biology, as part of a mycology research project I am working on, only to discover we already had a connection. It seems that you have been consulting my collection of cob oven building photographs on Flickr: http://tinyurl.com/5lgxrh I am glad to have been of some assistance in your oven project. I hope to have a full account and updates on my blog soon, since we have started cooking in the oven recently. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or comments.


  1. [...] Mud Oven Construction Part 1 Wild Yeast Posted by root 3 minutes ago (http://www.wildyeastblog.com) Post a comment 20 comments astrid on july 16 2008 at 02 46 pm but i 39 m about to build a fire pit and i don 39 t have a clue what i 39 m doing can 39 t wait to see what you bake there was an article in the paper about a guy who did outdoor brick oven bak Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Mud Oven Construction Part 1 Wild Yeast [...]

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