Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Return to Pompeii

Side access presumed to be for product handling
The impression that the excavated city of Pompeii left on me remains three years later.  As an amateur student of history, a landscape designer, and especially as a brick oven builder, Pompeii is a landmark in understanding brick oven construction.

Classic Pompeii bakery (millstones in foreground)

Since then, I have analyzed each oven I build, looking for ways to echo the ancient and essential quality that the Pompeii ovens possess.    The 20+ bakeries in Pompeii, Italy, whose structures survived being buried under meters of volcanic ash in 79 C.E., have features that, to this day, have not been improved upon.

The most obvious features, aside from sheer size, that the ovens of 2000 years ago have in Pompeii is the broad shelf across the front of the oven, a high arch, and very wide throat.

Modest expansion of throat and face
Many residential applications make the dimensions of this design impractical.  For the bakers of Pompeii I surmise that this work space was used for proofing loaves and for efficient work flow of bread in and out.

On each of my recent ovens, I have expanded the throat to provide a more Pompeii-like design thinking that those ovens had to have been the result of previous developments by masons and bakers to build the best design possible.  Universally applied designs don't spring up overnight.

In other words, except for insulation, I try not to mess with a great oven design.
Many oven plans or oven kits fall back on the ease of making the mouth and the face more-or-less the same size.  This cramps the baker.
Pietree Orchard oven
The assumption there is that a larger face will allow smoke to escape past the face.  My experience has been that a wide throat and a chimney with good draft will direct smoke upward, not outward.

So I'll return to Pompeii, in my mind's eye and bring the design of my ovens up to ancient standards.

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