On LOVEN (our wood-fired masonry oven)

The time has come:  I have helped make two of these things, so now, after much agitta and self-denial, I bring you (taDA!!) the beginnings of our own outdoor masonry oven.

Truth be told:  these things are not for everyone.  I was already a baker; we live on a farm with lots of trees; I’ve been looking for ways to lower our food-production footprint steadily for years.  And truth be told:  I know how to build things.  That said, feel free to 1.  ask questions  2.  live vicariously.

The Skinny: Modified Alan Scott plan; no, it’s not complete yet, though we’ve passed the halfway point to its first firing.   They can be quick to make it but is certainly not a Weekend Warrior kind of thing…more like 8 weekends, plus.  Easily-found materials.

The Plan: I will use this once or twice a week, year-round.   There’ll be a once-a-week breadmaking day, then the cooling oven will cook things like casseroles, and, overnight, things like dried beans or yogurt.  I will probably be selling some of the food.  It’s also great for dehydrating food, making jerky, drying fruit, etc.  And no, the food doesn’t have to taste like wood.

The Concept: Masonry ovens store heat.  They’re thick:  the thermal mass involved leaks the heat out slowly; there’s a door to the oven that even keeps the smoke from escaping.  You fire it up, scrape out the ashes, wipe it clean and then stick in  your food.  And yes:  leave the fire burning in the back and you can cook pizzas directly on the floor of the hearth.

Mon., 16 Nov:  slabWed., 18 Nov:  side wallsSat., 2o Nov:  formwork/reinforcing

Sun., 21 Nov:  hearth slabs pouredSat., 28 Nov:  hearth fire bricks laidMon., 30 Nov:  back, side walls set2009 December through 2010 March:  Winter!  SNIFF!

24 responses to “On LOVEN (our wood-fired masonry oven)

  1. Color me a deep shade of impressed. And jealous. And impressed. And jealous. Awesome work, El! Can’t wait to see your breads and pizzas…

  2. wow, wow and triple WOW!

  3. I’ve just recently (last 3 weeks) gotten into artisanal bread-baking (I’ve been making bread-machine breads for the past couple of years). My guides so far have been Daniel Leader (Bread Alone) and Marilyn Moore (Wooden Spoon Bread Book). I even bought a baking stone and peel (everyone in the U.S. calls them pizza stones).

    I hadn’t realized how good bread could actually taste until I started making some, especially the artisanal breads. Those super-market breads are SO wimpy!!!

    But an actual bread oven would be marvelous. I hadn’t even thought about that. Now that’s a project that would be well worth while. There you go making more work for me! I’m going to have to stop reading your blog – entirely too subversive!

    So how do you plan to use it during the winter? Close to the house?

    • Hi Dennis: yeah, you can’t quite tell from the pics but it’s right outside the back door, off the back deck, so…under 20 steps from the kitchen! I know that in winter it won’t hold its heat as long, but it’s still quite workable. I’ve got Bread Alone, and have experimented with desem-made loaves…

  4. Very cool!

    We built a kiko denzer mud oven a few years ago, which was less commitment than what you’re undertaking.

    We actually found we used it more in the winter, the cooling off wasn’t a huge factor (when you’re getting over 600 degrees, the difference between outdoors being 70 and 20 doesn’t make that big of a difference.). As much as I thought I’d use it as a replacement oven in the heat of summer, tending a fire in 80 degree weather isn’t as appealing as doing it on a chilly afternoon 🙂

    Looking forward to seeing your progress!

  5. Friends of ours built one last summer. They have pizza and bread making parties . . . so much fun!

  6. Wow. Our ambition always has been to build an “earth oven.” This is very cool. Not an earth oven. But very cool. My mind is reeling with all the stuff you could make in there.

  7. Wow, that’s incredible El. What an amazing accomplishment to build ones own outdoor masonry oven…you have been busy. Hmm, I’ll be bookmarking this page.

  8. Super jealous. I want to make a Kiko Denzer as well. Obtaining clay is just not an issue around here, and we be cheap.

    I used to watch Jamie Oliver use his outdoor oven all the time on Jamie at Home and I really, really want one. And I would use it more in the summer because I just can’t cook in my house in the summer. South facing long side of house with no trees or anything to make shade, and nothing covering the west wall either. And no AC, which we don’t want to put in. That, and a couple of 106 degree days last summer and I told my husband I want an outdoor kitchen even if all it is is a propane turkey fryer, a folding table and a dining fly. I am not cooking in that kitchen in the summer again. Amen.

    so yeah. an outdoor oven has to be in my future. good luck with the rest of yours. It looks like you’re using regular masonry brick instead of firebrick…any reason?

    • Firebrick for the hearth only is all it needs, Paula, otherwise, it’s regular “red brick” (face brick without any holes in it). The mortar for the arch (not yet put in) will have a bit of fireclay in it to keep it expanding at the right width. Oh gah I need to stop now or else this will turn into the All Masonry Oven blog.

  9. wow. overwhelmed by this whole new realm of making things work in a good, healthy way. i admire you so much — for your forethought, mostly.

  10. What is it with you architects and wood ovens? lol! my architect buddy just finished his but he also had a large canopy and flagstone patio built along with it. Notice I say ‘built’; some one else did it, not him, so good for you to build your own. In fact, I just spent all day over there splitting wood for him! ugh!

  11. ooooh!!!
    How fun.
    A bread oven is one of my dreams. Maybe 5 years? But I think I want to have it into a separate harvest kitchen so the heat warms up the kitchen when it’s cold. When it’s hot too, but since it’ll be the other kitchen, at least it won’t heat up the house.

    Can’t wait to see the finished oven, El!

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

    I truly appreciate you taking the time to post the step by step photos of your oven…that is in my wish list for 2010 and I just can’t wait to bake pizzas in it.

    One question: in your experience, do you think it would be okay to put the back of the oven right next to one of our house walls? I have never been able to ask this to anyone before…the reason I ask is that our home is surrounded by a land of which I have used most for growing food and flowers…so at this point I don’t have that many placement choices for the oven…

    Let me know your thoughts if you can…Thanks!!!

    • Hi PD: you’ll have to tell me about growing pigeon peas! That’s the only bean I “had boughten” around here. Yeah…you’ll have to put it away from your house by about 15′ or even more if your roof is low. Our roof is low but it’s metal, and our house is covered with noncombustible materials, so we’re good. But, well…is there one area not too far but perhaps not as ideal for plants? And preferably next to a sitting area? Then there you go.

      • Hi El,

        Whatever questions you have about pigeon peas just email me if you’d like and I can try and answer them for you. Also if you’d like some seeds I’ll be glad to send some your way. Just let me know.

        Thank you so much for the info on bread/pizza oven placement…good thing we are still saving to finish the hardscaping for our back garden area…I was going to place it next to the house. yikes. Now I have to redesign the entire thing…um…thanks (?) hehe.

        Let me know about the pigeon peas…

  13. Looks like you could do a whole pig in there.I don’t know much about these ovens but I assume you can cook large chunks of meat in them.

  14. Very cool. I’ve been wanting to build one of these for several years, and even have the spot all scoped out next to the patio.

    One of the things that has held me up is that I haven’t been able to source refractory mortar. It sounds like you are using regular portland based products with some fire clay in the mortar. Is that how the other oven you have built is constructed? How has it stood up / how much use has it had?

    It looks like the finished oven might not be insulated, but rather a really large concrete thermal mass instead. How long does it take to heat up?

    I think a lot of people are interested in this subject, so I wouldn’t worry too much about doing several posts about this project and it’s use. I hope you do.

    Good work by the way – on the oven and the blog.

  15. Kate, and casseroles and roasted meats and and and! Other than the initial investment, this is aimed straight at your frugal heart.

    Randi! Gotta have something special going on out here in the boonies.

    Dennis, those pizza stones are great. Ours is just sitting in the oven as it holds heat too. I make biscuits and English muffins on it directly, as well as pizzas of course…if I am in production mode I put an inverted cast-iron pan in there for the 2nd pizza. There’s lots to learn with bread. For the past few years I have been doing my breads with the no-knead method and cooking them in a cast-iron Dutch oven, works really quite well. But: nothing will beat the masonry oven so I am quite excited.

    Sara, how exciting to talk to someone who actually has a clay oven. I’ve helped make them too and they’re quite fun with things you quite literally can have lying around. Considering our clay soil and the fact that the beach is a mile away with all its wonderful beige sand (for the form) it was really tempting to make one…but I wanted something that would outlive me, so.

    TLC, even better is to have access to one, like you do! How fun. And: parties are key to the whole endeavor.

    Oh Ed I am way ahead of you there. As my previous post about my friend’s oven in Wisconsin shows, I was really going nutty with just 2 days’ worth of work done in it. I mean: all my tomato paste, all my applesauce, all my pear butter…ohmygah. And: gotta stock up on the humble stainless steel steam table pans, because, seriously, that’s what’s best to cook in. Big surface area, cheap, takes heat.

    Mike, this is what I meant when I said I was working on a project that might work great at a certain place in Idaho that I know…

    Holy crap Paula, 106*? Uhuh. No thanks. I would be looking for alternatives too. Have you considered solar ovens? Or rocket stoves? BUT regarding clay, it might be closer than you think. Is there a local art school nearby? Our local museum has more clay than they could ever use…and basically reconstitute it for “kids’ clay,” etc. You might be able to score some that way. For the earth ovens, it SO does not need to be perfect clay.

    Hi Cathy! You’re so sweet. But really, it makes sense for us to do this: we’re often too cloudy for solar ovens and I kind of like the idea that this kind of oven can burn pine and scrappy stuff, as that’s certainly what we have. And: we love bread. Thanks!

    Annie, see, there’s an obvious huge difference between your friend and me, architecturally speaking. I cannot improve on the view this thing has, and the deck is already there a few feet away. I suppose if I were a cajillionaire I would have someone make me one and clad it with granite or bluestone or something. As it is, it’s just me and the brick nipper. But: if you would want to split wood for me, I wouldn’t stop you!

    Sylvie, I can completely see you getting behind this idea, and building your own. An outdoor or 2nd kitchen just sounds so…civilized. And with your hubby’s barbecue pit-building experience, I think you can sign him up, right? But as far as the outdoor thing goes, well, the back porch is so close too so I can stand in there and watch the oven. I can also use the back porch as a prep area, so I guess it’s the best of both worlds, without springing for a new outdoor kitchen…

    PD, hope that helps. Like I said, it will be fitting a lot of my goals together so I am excited. And pissed off that winter has finally come, too!

    Oh John. A whole pig would be nice. The door, unfortunately, wouldn’t really help with that as it’s only 18″ wide by 10.5″ tall. In point of fact I am wondering if my favorite casserole will fit in it: I doubt it, but there’s a real ratio between door height and oven dome height that I can’t fudge. So: no whole hog, but pieces would work…

    Hi David. I don’t think C’s oven has refractory mortar, and I know the first one I helped build did not too. And me, I can’t find any, but have access to fireclay and regular mortar and sand so I am going to do the best I can. The ratio is fairly well spelled out in Alan Scott’s book. And C’s oven has 2 concrete shells over it: the first one has vermiculite in it, the 2nd is just plain concrete. She let the first one cure through a month’s worth of firings then put the new shell on. And hers is fairly commercial: she has a business based on it, so it’s fired frequently. AND: it’s in really freezing cold Wisconsin! But I plan on putting one layer only of concrete on mine, then a metal roof and concrete siding and insulating the top/sides with vermiculite if I can find it cheap enough. That’s SO next summer though.

  16. I like the pics.Chickens,a child,a cat and a dog.Everyone looks interested in it!

  17. Thats very impressive.
    Why outside? I guess too hot inside in the summer (or no room) but on days like today when its all of 15F outside it would be great to the extra heat inside (even with a woodstove and radiant floor heating it can get cold).

    I can dream about masonry stove, root cellar, out door canning set up. It would be a great outdoor kitchen set up.

  18. I’ll join in the well-deserved ooohs and ahhs – this is incredible. I don’t have the space/knowledge to do something like this at this point in my life, but it is out there as a dream for the future. Do you have to learn how to cook in it (as opposed to timing/temp setting in a traditional kind of indoor oven? Are there differences in cooking times/methods for the winter?

  19. John, everyone except probably the chickens IS interested! Both turkeys hopped up on it when I was laying the hearth bricks. Ruby, the hen, liked eating the sand/clay mix I set the bricks in.

    ej, well, I would need something to support the floor then if I put one of these puppies indoors! But really, I do have plans for an indoor wood cookstove too. Just something not as beefy. Indeed, an outdoor kitchen sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? It never gets terribly hot here, and even when I am in the midst of canning it’s not unbearable, so no, the “need” was more just me unplugging the darned electric stove.

    MC, there’s a huge learning curve ahead of me, I am sure, with this thing. When I experimented with my friend C’s oven I thought of about a hundred different things I’d have done “next time.” Really, it’s just learning how to work with something that starts (and stays) very hot and then gradually cools. There’s probably not much of a difference between winter and summer, though.


    I thought there was something terribly wrong with my computer!!! You put *snow* on your blog!

    Off to put my cold weather hat then…

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