Building a Wood Fired Earth Oven - Part One
We moved into our house at the beginning of 2016. Before we had the keys we had an enormous list of what we wanted to do to the house and that list has been growing ever since. We like to do things, build things, try things out.
The most important thing for us was to make No12 feel like a home, not just a nice house. I'm not sure an earth oven would be on everyone's wish list for their house, but for us, we knew we wanted to build one.
If I'm honest, I couldn't quite tell you why...The delicious pizzas and breads you can cook, the slow cooked meats and hours of trialling recipes is quite a draw!
I had no idea what it would involve, the hours, the quantity of materials, the will power, I don't think Marc did either.
Building the earth oven got delayed. We priced it up last year and realised it was going to cost us more than we had thought to begin with. Yes in theory you can make one very cheaply, you need sand which is very cheap, clay which if you know where - you can dig out of the ground, some wood shavings and then of course the plinth that you build the oven on. Building a breeze block base would have been simple and cheaper, but we had our hearts fixed on using timber. We both love the soft look this creates, it blends more with the garden, it's another natural material after all.
So 2016 came and went and with the start of Spring this year came the discussions of the garden, the awful patio area that we have and yes, the earth oven and were we going to build one?
No12 isn't our forever home. It's our first home. It might seem silly to put so much effort, work and love into an object that is impossible to take with you, but it's us. With our hearts set we began researching the materials we would need.
We haven't attended a course on how to build an oven, we don't have a book on how to go about it either. We followed a marvellous blog https://clayoven.wordpress.com. This is Simon's blog about his own experiences of building his earth oven and how he maintains it, his had been standing for 9 years!
I won't go into too much detail as I honestly think that Simon's method of building the oven is fantastic, but hopefully there are some handy hints and tips I can give you along the way.
Don't under estimate your materials. Where to get them from - have them all purchased and ready at your site and think about where to store them. The build mix is roughly a ratio of 2:1 sand to clay. We are talking about 175kg clay and about 350kg sand!
We chose to get our sand from the builders merchants just down the road - mill of the run builders sand is what we used.
The clay was another story. I've been lucky to work with a few organisations that have earth ovens here in Birmingham and had been told about a few sites where you could dig out clay, dry it off and use it for this purpose. Sadly this wasn't an option anymore and we were left stumped. Simon suggests a pottery over near Norwich but that seemed a bit far to go and delivery very expensive! Seeing as we are near Stafford and the potteries we decided there must be something up there that was possible and a very helpful landscaping company gave us some suggestions.
We finally tracked down some clay we thought we could use from Valentines Clay https://www.valentineclays.co.uk/shop/clays. Following Simon's suggestion we chose one of the cheapest clays available and off I went for a day trip to pick up our clay.
You'll also need;
bricks for the oven floor
sleepers/timbers for the plinth
rubble and hardcore to fill the plinth
***a lot of energy
Our hard work started at the very beginning, getting the site ready for the build. We had to remove an awful lot of concrete, cement, bricks and rubble. Luckily we could use all of this hardcore rubble in our plinth once we had the timbers in place, otherwise there would have been a lot of trips to the tip!
We've chosen to build our earth oven down by the house and where our new patio area will be (that's 2018's job). I wasn't too keen on it being here, but Marc thought it made sense. Now it's built I can see he was right! So take some serious consideration where you build your oven. There's no point hiding it away at the end of the garden. Make it a feature, a focal point. When you have your pizza parties everyone is going to want to get involved so it may as well be somewhere easy to get at.
All the earth ovens I have cooked with in the past have been around waist hight, so you don't have to bend down to far to light the fire inside, check whats's cooking etc. To achieve this we had calculated for 5 timbers high. Having set these up level, attaching together inside with right angled brackets we stepped back to double check.
5 timbers high, then the oven dome on top and eventually a roof to protect the oven from the weather just seemed too high and dominating of the garden. We chose to stick with 4 timbers high and I'm so pleased we have.
When your earth oven is up to temperature it is pretty hot, well extremely hot. Blasts of hot air often singe your eyebrows or in my case the ends of your fringe. Not a good look! Having the oven a little lower means you are actually a little more protected from this which I can only think is a good thing!
We might dig out around the oven plinth and create a step down to the oven when we come to replace the patio, but that's for another time.
With the timber plinth in place we took great joy in filling it with all the rubble we had cleared from the site. We also included glass bottles as per Simon's suggestion and any hardcore we had as well. Finishing it off with a thick layer of levelled sand we set about laying our bricks - just tapping them in place with sand.
Remember these bricks are the oven floor so you need a brick that is going to withstand a very high temperature. You don't want your oven floor cracking up.
We chose to use engineering bricks and brought these from Wickes. You can by fire bricks which are incredibly expensive at around £2 each when an engineering brick will set you back £0.48p.
To get to this point took us around a month, working at odd weekends and after work. We had a lot of prep to do to on our site and base, otherwise this part of the build is quite straightforward.
With the brick layer level and smoothed off with sand, the next phase is the building of the oven dome!