Monday, January 16, 2017

Brick Oven Planning

Stone building for TBO 54"
As with anything, the bigger the project the greater amount of planning it needs.  Given that a brick oven is a significant project, I most often propose an interval of planning that allows for insights and readjustments. 
Five years ago, I was asked to build a larger bakery oven and the enclosing stone building for Pietree Orchards in Sweden, Maine.  The orchard wanted it to be  up and running for Mother's Day of that year.  Fortunately, the staff at the orchard and a number of local subcontractors were able to do the ground work and initial concrete pour prior to my starting the masonry in Maine.  I generated a CAD design that gave the concrete company dimensions for the slabs and gave me a quantifiable material list.

All this took some planning and the three months leading up to the project start allowed for anticipated space, time, and heating needs.

Details such as the bread rising chambers at both sides were the result of planning.

 The oven and building progressed well and we met the deadline.

Sometimes, insights or additions to the project extend the completion time.  The balance between customer's patience and the quality of the final product is then tested.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Essential Brick Oven Proportions

The BIGGEST mistake that brick oven designers and builders make is in the mouth and face proportions.  The mouth is the opening to the oven proper.  The face is the front of the oven.  The space between contains the flue, and on my interior ovens, the combustion air channels.

The face of the oven is 'sprung' off the side masonry
If I was your athletic coach I'd shout, "LISTEN UP!"

NOTE: In all these photos, the mouth is LOW: about 60% of the height of the interior dome.
The face is about 2" higher and can be much wider.  I have altered the common on-line designs that cramp the face to provide easier visual and physical access to the oven interior.  This actually is closer to the original oven found in Pompeii, Italy.  The cramp faces found on manufactured ovens are an industrial convenience (theirs not yours).

The flue is between the two arches.

The hearth should be at BENT-ELBOW height.  This makes handling food and wood ergonomically smooth.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

True Brick Ovens is Trademarked!

Ten years ago, when I began building custom brick ovens, I didn't consider trademarking my work.  Since then the market has exploded with various kinds of wood-fired ovens making it difficult to distinguish between products and confusing customers as to why prices vary so greatly.

I've attempted on this blog to offer information that would make choosing ANY brick oven on the market based on quality,  performance, and purpose.  I've also offered alternatives to the relatively expensive brick ovens I build and technical tips on how to build one yourself.

So, today my registered trademark has arrived from the United States Patent and Trademark Office declaring that True Brick Ovens is mine.  In the olden days (like medieval Europe) masons didn't sign or claim their work.  Each artisan was valued as an integral part of the community.  There were no labels on food products.  Business signs didn't appear on the road in front of a house under construction.

You knew who could, would or did build something.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Brick Oven Checklist

photo from web sent by potential customer.
It gives us a starting point for design
California TBO oven
For the past three years, my website has contained a button that allows people to fill out a checklist detailing their wished-for brick oven.

Chef David Ross of '50 Local' with TBO portable

What has been interesting is that of the hundred or more times the checklist has been filled out (I respond to all who do), actual contact with the wisher occurs about 8%.

The list is a way for prospective owners of brick ovens to quantify what they are looking for and I suppose it helps them (you) to make choices.

Oven I consulted on in friend's colonial
The fields include: location, purpose, size, foods, and experience.  The field that describes experience ranges from: None, I've Watched, I've used, It's second nature, and I Know More Than You;).

These do help me, whether the contact continues to a conversation or consultation.

Most people choose, "None" or "I've Watched".

Recent TBO 36 in NH
From this I surmise that there may be an experience obstacle to getting their own brick oven.

My website also includes an "Operation Manual" for brick ovens taking the owner from the first firing through temperature and fire management.

Granted, once you have a brick oven, there is a learning curve.  However, it is very steep for most people.  Unless you've never lit a fire with wood or fed a wood fire, you should have the hang of using the brick oven after three firings;  you'll have pizza after the first.

So, whether you get one of my ovens or ANY other oven on the market, this is something you should follow up on for the enjoyment and the quality food that you can make.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Brick Oven in Conservatory: Part Three

The base of a brick oven can be seen in two ways.
Arch form and finished top slab
Firstly, it is a lot of concrete product, basic in its structure.
But it is also where the first opportunity for enhancement appears.

arch bricks laid dry on arch form

The brick oven I am building for my home (especially as the midwinter is when I have time for personal projects) is intended to take advantage of every design opportunity.

Concrete will encase arch
This oven has a brick lined woodbox with a barrel arch.  The walls of the woodbox were bricked before the arch went on.  The arch form is one I have used on large oven faces.  I have found that laying brick on the outside of the arch form and then pouring the concrete oven base slab on top cements the bricks in place and creates a strong structure.

The form will remain under the slab until the woodbox face arch is bricked in the next phase.
rebar in place before slab is finished

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Under Cover Brick Ovens

Stone building by TBO for the 54" oven at Pietree Orchard
Living in New England, I am a proponent of under-cover brick ovens.   The picture we have in our minds of brick ovens is often generated by images from California, where you can live if you have the "dough, ray, me".

Pietree's TBO 54
On the other hand, I find life here in Maine quite sane and sanity in our climate calls for a roof, at least, and some walls, in winter.
The value of a shelter can be estimated by this calculation: ovens I've built under cover get used 30 times more often than ones in backyards.  Just a hint...
clay oven in Costa Rica sheltered from rain

Community oven in Audrix, France
Audrix timber shelter

Family TBO 36 in West Virginia

TBO 48" Restaurant oven in Naples Maine

Bread baker's oven in NH

TBO 36 Private oven in greenhouse

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Keeping the Brick Oven Hot

insulation inner door
We tend to believe that the fire we build in our brick oven will keep it hot.  In fact, it is the mass of the oven, and especially, the insulation under and around the oven that keeps it hot.

The three places an oven is apt to lose heat is:
  1. out the flue
  2. through the brick dome
  3. under the floor
Preventing this loss is easy and best done as the oven is built.

Foamglas and two layers of fire brick
Fiber blanket before roof goes on
  • Heat loss out the flue is slowed by the door, and in the case of an indoor oven, by a damper in the flue.  In some cases, an additional door filled with insulation has been made to prolong baking time.
  • As the fire heats the bricks of the dome, the BTU's migrate from the interior surface to the exterior.  If there is little or no insulation there, they keep going, resulting in a rapid decrease in oven temperature.  The heat can be contained by significant insulation.  I use refractory insulation concrete as a first layer over the dome and follow-up with four inches of ceramic fiber insulation.  In ovens with a rectangular enclosure, I sometimes fill the remaining space with vermiculite.
  • Heat will migrate downward through the floor of the oven.  I use 4" of a product called, 'Foamglas'.  It is a rigid expanded high temp glass product and makes the setting of floor bricks easy.

insulating concrete with my handprint signature

Fiber blanket, flue and make-up air ducts

Fill'r up