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Building a Wood Fired Earth Oven - Part Two

Earth Oven at No12

I've named our earth oven, he's called Earl. I'm just one of 'those' people. So just in case as you're reading and I refer regularly to Earl, you know what I am going on about.

We've had the earth oven in place all Summer and it's been wonderful, some excellent pizza parties with friends and family, Earl is well and truly part of the family. I can't wait to have a bit more time to test out some wood fired recipes this Autumn, but he can only really survive the winter properly if we build him a roof which will most likely turn into Part Three of this blog...

Back to where I left off. Finally achieving the smooth even brick layer base it was time to think about and start to build the dome which is the most crucial part of the oven.

Earth oven base ready for the dome

I mentioned in Part One that we followed Simon's blog for our building process, we found his instructions and details to be fantastic as he writes about his own experience, but nothing can quite prepare you for the building of the dome and the texture that you need to achieve of the sand and clay layers.

I've described the bulk of the 'ingredients' you need - around 175kg clay and 350kg of sand, now imagine mixing these together, that's a lot of hard work, but I'll come back to that in a bit.

The first task is to build a simple sand dome in the middle of your prepared base. This will act as a cast/mold for building your oven layers around.

We really wanted to have a big oven, thinking we could cook more food! This meant we made our sand dome around 80cmx80cm, similar to Simon. You have to remember you can't make it exactly the same size as your base, as the oven layers are extremely thick so they will need something to sit on as well!

The sand dome it the fun part, mixing sand with a little bit of water just to bind it together, like on a beach really. We chose again to follow Simon and made our dome around 45cm high - this took an awful lot of sand!

Once you are happy with your sand dome, it's just a case of dampening newspaper sheets slightly with water and sticking over the surface. This just helps to create a defined layer between the sand and your oven wall, so when you dig away the sand, you know when you've reached the oven wall as you'll see the paper.

With the dome ready it's time to create the first layer of the oven wall. This is back to sand and clay, using roughly a ratio of 2:1 sand to clay.

The method to mix the two materials together is known as puddling - treading the two together on a big tarpaulin. Physical and tough, the mix gets sticky, wear wellies and be prepared for the long haul. Reading Simon's blog he said be prepared for how long this takes, but really don't underestimate it. Also, make up more than you think you will need as if it starts to dry out you can refresh it with a little water and it save a lots of back ache!

With the puddling, you are looking for just the right consistency, adding enough water along the way to create a nice clay brick, but not too much to make a sloppy clay mix which will just slump down when you're trying to build with it.

I can't describe it very well and if I'm honest I'm still not sure I know exactly what it feels like, we watched a lot of YouTube videos to understand this consistency and in the end went with our gut feeling.

Once you're happy with the way your sand-clay mix feels, it's time to 'slap it' onto that sand dome and start building your first oven layer! We found the easiest way was to take a large scoop of the mix, form it together in a rough block like shape and wedge it onto the dome.

The bigger the sand dome you build, the more sand-clay mix you need and the longer it will take. Try to carry out the build on a dry day or you are just battling the elements trying to get the right consistency.

And watch out for your pets! Eddie our cat loved playing with the clay leading to some hilarious but messy moments!

With the first layer complete, you can have a rest. It needs to dry out a little now, the blog we followed recommended at least 4 hours. It was rather wet the couple of days following the build of our first layer so we left it to dry a couple of days under a tarpaulin.

It's then time to get crafty and carve out your oven entrance! A nerve wracking moment as you really want your oven to stay standing, but of course it will for now as it is still supported by that sand dome underneath.

We chose the width of the entrance based on the baking peel that my brother gave me for my birthday, that simple! We didn't make it too tall, just big enough to get your arms in to light a fire, too big an entrance and you'll lose all the heat in your oven!

So just mark out where you're going to cut away, then use a large old knife and carefully take out the entrance. Really rather satisfying.

We then went a bit off piste... I decided that we didn't need a chimney or a brick arch and that for peace of mind we were going to keep our sand dome in whilst we built the remaining 2 layers of the oven walls. I wanted to use some large rocks and pebbles that we had collected from the garden for the mouth of the oven which I think now makes it look like a cave, but I like that., it's rustic and quirky.

The second layer of oven wall is different to the first, It's a mix of clay slip, mix clay in a lot of water, then add straw/wood chips. This is an insulation layer for your oven. It was back in March/April we were building Earl and it wasn't particularly warm. A tip for all you budding earth oven builders - use tepid water for your clay slip as your hands will freeze! It's a back breaking job, again, someone mentions using a powertool to create your mix, but we stuck to hands. As you can see, it was mess