22.04.14 – Phase 1
At last the project gets underway. It started as a half idea 3 years ago borne out of desire driven by the multitude of examples being aired on our screens by ‘celebrity’ chefs and the like. Not forgetting the many samples that I have indulged in around the globe: Tunisia, Sorrento, Los Angeles, Montego Bay and Edinburgh.
Sadly my budget does not stretch to an off the shelf / flat packed model which can run into the thousands to source and have installed. I re-modelled my garden in prepararion for my oven two years ago and then ran out of funds (had to buy a car).
I had to adopt a more frugal approach to sourcing my materials – enter Freecycle. My interest was re-ignited this year (2014) when a kind member responded to my request for firebricks or bricks from storage heaters.
These will form the cooking hearth and need to be able to withstand and radiate extreme tempeartures as well as provide thermal mass (hold the heat). I was able to secure 36 of these but sadly I needed many more materials.
Fortune favours the patient as a good friend is having his house re-modelled and was in the process of demolishing the garage. He told me to help myself as the rubble was soon to be cleared. Imagine my glee when I hauled in this bounty (and set to the task of cleaning).
Hammer, bolster and gloves my only tools. I then received another call to say that the pile was not being cleared as first thought. In fact it was growing. I loaded my little car with multiple loads and ended up with over 300 in total. The black ones are very dense and may form part of the chamber or thermal mass.
26.04.14 – Phase 1 (cont.)
I invited my friendly brick supplier to name and design a pizza for the oven as the bulk of the materials have come from his deceased garage. I have used slabs and other materials for the sub-base. The hardcore is the spent mortar chiselled off the bricks.
The sand and cement are mine. I then added the slabs and bricks from which the supporting walls will rise.
Despite the sturdy appearance and performance of these components I decided to succumb to the multitude of self build examples that have a concrete base. Only to ensure that the bricks will have a more level and stable foundation. I will be adding at least a tonne.
23.05.14 – Phase 2
Phase two is now complete – Brick walls to support the oven base which is three pieces of pre-cast concrete. I think they were part of a 1970’s garage. You can see a smaller section in one of the pictures above (where the yellow spirit level is leaning vertically), or 3 slides below (leaning on the bench).
As you can see I went for the rustic look (limits of my brick-laying skill). Just 2 more courses to finish.
And the finished structure. Thankfully only one wall will come under any close scrutiny.
20.07.14 – Phase 3
Phase three begins in earnest. I am thrilled to be back on the project after a 3 month break. Thankfully the British weather has taken a break and presented us with bright sunshine. The first thing that I had to do was stabalise the main platform. This was achieved by adding three more pre-cast slabs from my friends old outbuilding.
A tad close to the neighbours? The half cylinder will give me the curved dome that I need (an old waste bin).
Here begins the cooking chamber – dome to follow. I may need to strenghten it some more but I didn’t want to use a strong mortar due to heat expansion. Any suggestions welcome. I could not stretch to a fireclay cement. Tomorrow I may tackle the dome.
31.07.14 – Phase 4 (The dome)
Next phase happened quickly as the weather turned the day we returned from Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. I started the dome and got three courses completed on either side before the skies dumped 12 cm of rain in 30 minutes. I added a small tub of fireclay to my mortar mix in an attempt to increase the life of the mortar. I will let you know how it works out.
I will take these out once the mortar has set.My next challenge is to work out how to build a lower opening arch without having to cut bricks too much as my angle grinder is difficult to cut angles without slicing a toe off.
The supports have been removed and the arch remains intact. My concerns now shift to the entrance, which needs to be 60 – 65% the height of the dome’s apex.
As you may gather I have thought about this project in great detail however have had no concrete plans/measurements to work from. Thank you to the may youtubers, bloggers and traders who have guided my actions. A full list of credits will follow shortly.
The entrance is now complete. This was quite straightforward in the end. I just built a wall against the arch and used a couple of pieces of angle iron as a lintel. I have had to fill in a couple of gaps in the internal mortar using fire cement as there was a small leak when I set the first fire going.
Finished off the entrance / prep area today and tidied up the perimeter edges to contain the sand in lieu of the inevitable downpours that are synonymous with the British weather. I used the engineering bricks that are about the same colour as the storage heater bricks. I have been a bit rubbish at taking photos during construction so please accept my apologies.
As you perhaps can see there was the challenge of working with different levels of mortal bed due to the ‘rustic’ nature of my stone wall. If I had to do it again I would consider laying a levelled bed of mortar and letting it set before laying the bricks. The net result has been that I have a similarly ‘rustic’ prep area.
Next phase will be to build some more fires to continue the drying out.
09.08.14 – Phase 6 (Drying out fires)
Here is a picture of the first fire that was lit a couple of weeks ago. As you can see I was a little conservative with its size. I used the top down starting method which produces very little smoke. I have yet to add the bricks at the front which connect the hearth to the wall.
One of my friends commented that it looked a little like a Hindu Temple. I can’t see it myself.
This is the last fire before I try and cook in it. I went for it this time and loaded the chamber with as much wood as I could. I was very concerned about the amount of smoke that billowed out despite the top down lighting method. I think that the wood I have been using is the problem as it is not a hard wood and it may still need more drying out.
The slate roof tiles will water proof the perimeter eventually. Very little smoke at this point.
To be fair I am not sure the temperature was up high enough as it had only been going for 40 mins. I did notice that there were a few cracks appearing in the dome but as I have yet to add a thick layer of insulation render I am not overly concerned. Pics and possibly a video of my first pizza to follow shortly. As a smoke reducing precaution, I will be firing using lump wood charcoal.
Links to useful sites visited in the process (I will update further)
- Brian’s folly (My design drew heavily from this)
- The 1 hr oven (This was my first inspiration)
- Traditional Oven (Plans, burning, materials, recipes – everything)
- Using clay bricks (It’s safe!)
This is how the garden looks now given that it has had a couple of years to settle in since I first began (see very 1st picture at the start).
Here is a snap of a plant that has been my most pleasing this season, by far. I love the colour contrast between the flower and foliage. Dahlia delights!