Friday, April 20, 2018

Brick Oven Building Workshop

Two Gurus


A collaboration with Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm

And David Neufeld of True Brick Ovens

September 8 and 9, 2018 
in Clinton Corners, New York.

Learn the intricacies of building brick domes in the thousand-year tradition of European and
North American wood-fired baking

Baking demonstrations and food by Chef Cassandra Purdy with her True Brick Ovens 48” portable.

Saturday lunch, dinner provided
and baking demos
$480 pp, workshop capacity 15 people

Send form request to:

A brick oven will be built during this workshop;            

it is a hands-on experience.
Topics covered: dome brick cutting and fitting, refractory mortar mixes, oven dimension calculations, floor and dome insulation, mouth and face arch construction, flue and draft dynamics, oven enclosures, portability, firing methods, and many more details, including your specific questions.

Wild Hive Farm was founded by Don Lewis to promote sustainable agriculture in our region by promoting grain-based local agriculture.  Wild Hive is committed to the production of locally grown and milled high quality flour. Wild Hive operates a flour mill using traditional stone grinding equipment and has received considerable recognition for its flour, which is milled in small batches from organic grain purchased from local and regional farmers.

Monday, April 16, 2018

What is an Authentic Brick Oven?

I have become accustomed to mass manufactured products.   I think we all have.  Really, do I want my books to be made on a Gutenberg press?  Or my lumber to be 'hand-hewn'?  Uh, maybe.

When a manufacturer uses our desire for authenticity to sell something that is not authentic, whether it is craft beer or brick ovens, I trip over the accepted idea that some things are true and others are more true.  "Truthiness" is now a word.
TBO 54"

Up front, I cannot satisfy the market need for thousands of authentic brick ovens.  I build each oven authentically, yes, but there is a limit to my strength and time, so I have a limit on ovens-per-year.

TBO 36"

I still balk at companies such as Chicago Brick Oven and many others claiming both brick and authentic.  If they claimed inexpensive, cast shell, wood-fired oven kits, they would be telling the truth.  But they don't.

Chicago Brick Oven shell
The ovens sold by most of the manufacturers of brick ovens are akin to tract housing.  Modular, identical, and cheap.  They offer none of the cultural warmth that we associate with the ovens we see in old Europe or the Southwest.

TBO dome roof
I have also given open-source access to my building techniques so that anyone with gumption and grit... and a limited budget can build one themselves.
This September, the 8th and 9th, I am offering a brick oven building workshop in Clinton Corners, NY at Wild Hive Farm.
See next post for info on registration.
TBO oven in progress

TBO oven mouth arches in progress
If you're wanting authentic, you can have it.  If you want something to be true, don't buy the 'truthiness' products.

We are drawn to authenticity.  Even today.
Greek style oven by TBO

Back two thousand years, the brick makers in Pompeii turned out millions of bricks.  Some of them went to build the 26 bakeries still standing there.  Yet, however modular the bricks were, each oven had its own character and exterior design: the trademark of the bakery. 
Pompeii brick oven 2000+ years-old

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Mobile Brick Oven Restaurant : part one

I've built a number of portable brick ovens in the past.  All of them were built on or in trailers and were 'stand-alone', meaning the oven could be parked and whatever equipment was needed for prep and serving was set up alongside.

The project below is for an entire restaurant kitchen covered trailer.
It is built on a twenty-foot dual axle trailer and, when completed, will have appliances, walls and a roof.
One important goal was to keep the weight down to a minimum and leave space and capacity for the other equipment.

The angle iron lintel over the mouth will allow a hood to be welded in front of and above the mouth to exhaust the smoke.
Photos below show the oven with insulating concrete on exterior, my handprint signature, ready to be completed by metal worker.  More later...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Brick Oven Guru

I do not describe myself as a "Guru".  A recent caller asking guidance used the word.

gooroo/ "an influential teacher or popular expert." as defined on the web.

Okay...I suppose so.

After 431 posts, essentially offering every bit of knowledge I have gleaned, gained, or observed from building brick ovens, it is possible I've exerted some influence.

I continue to advocate for owner-builders while occasionally shamelessly self-promoting the traditions of true masonry and offering thoughtful approaches to the physics and aesthetics of brick ovens.

So, if you have stumbled upon this post looking for the most wise counsel on the building of brick ovens, it's all contained in the last 431 posts.  I will know you have read them when the blog counter goes nuts.

It has been a pleasure hearing from brick oven enthusiasts around the world via emails; your communications contribute to my bank of knowledge.

Many thanks, Mille Grazie, Muchas Gracias,

 تشكرات, Πολλά ευχαριστώ, Большое спасибо,


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Brick Ovens: Europe's Gift to the World

The brick oven is solidly European.  Once we move away from arid places: Middle East, Southwestern U.S., Saharan Africa, the high altitude, ovens that are built to bake in are most often made of bricks, not as the commonly the clay/mud of arid places..

The brick oven is solidly European.  Once we move away from arid places: Middle East, Southwestern U.S., Saharan Africa, the high altitude, ovens that are built to bake in are most often made of bricks, not as the commonly the clay/mud of arid places..
The wetter, colder climates of Europe needed the permanence of brick and in most cases, the ovens were sheltered by roofs rather than masonry/stucco domes.



St. John USVI
Europeans brought their brick oven techniques to places they colonized.

North American ovens of the early colonial era and since were made of brick.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Brick Oven Dome Building

All ovens start with a design idea.   Dome building however, is technical.  Just because an oven looks great from the outside, doesn't mean it will work if the physics of shape, thermal management, and flue design are wrong.
My personal oven in conservatory
TBO 36" at deck level
A sauna room was built under it as a way of providing a foundation with another purpose.
They do not share heat sources or flues.

More than 30 ovens later... there's more learned and more to add.  Precise dome bricks make a strong oven.

Domes, rather than barrel vaults produce even heat.

Note: Common misconception--the hole in the top is NOT the chimney!  It is the last part of the dome that needs to be closed.

Bricks pre-cut on styrofoam dome 

view from top before final chains 

The final space ready for keystones
Pre-cut and fitted keystones
TBO innovated this way of fitting the keystone.

View of dome roof from inside

Greek style oven by TBO
TBO collaborates with owners to make each project unique to person and place.  This oven was built due to the customer's heritage and taste.  An opportunity that exists with every oven TBO builds.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Brick Ovens Survive Apocalypse

Imagine your city two-thousand years in the future.  Imagine, or not, some event that would cover the city in twenty feet of ash.  Then imagine, uncovering the city.  What would you  find?  What would be left?

Pompeii, Italy is a post-apocalypse city.  Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 29 raining hot ash on the inhabitants of Pompeii.  Those that didn't leave early became entombed.

Twenty-six bakeries survived.  Rather, twenty-six brick ovens survived; the bakers didn't.

Fast forward almost two millennia.

Fires sweep coastal southern California.  Many homes burn.  The Ventura brick oven I built, having a stone roof as well as masonry interior and exterior, is intact.

Some things are meant to last.  Our homes certainly.  Our friendships hopefully. Brick ovens, definitely.  

This ancient cooking device is nearly eternal.  Whatever your vision of apocalypse, be sure, brick ovens will be there afterwards.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Colonial Era Brick Ovens

Jan Steen: The Bean Feast
Imagine if they had pizza!
I have on occasion been asked to look at a colonial era brick oven, most often built on the left side of a fireplace/hearth.
These were used to bake bread, beans, and food other than pizza; try to imagine Puritans wanting pizza!  Heresy.

The conversation with owners of the ovens today goes like this:  "I can't get the oven hot enough for pizza!  What's wrong with the oven?"

Puritan family waiting for the oven to get hot
Answer: Bypassing a long historical explanation on why colonials didn't make pizza, I explain that the fireplace/hearth was burning all the time.  Colonials cooked everything on it, either in a pot hung from a hook or on spits.  The oven, part of the overall masonry, was always warm, may 180F or more.  A shovelful of coals from the fireplace would bump the oven up to baking temps and the ambient heat of the fireplace would prevent it cooling down quickly.

Trying to get a cold colonial brick oven to baking temps when there is a ton of cold masonry sucking the heat from it, is like shoveling snow into the wind.

Fiber blanket insulation over dome before roof goes on
That is why I isolate my brick ovens from other masonry and insulate them well.

The advent of the cast iron stove must have been as miraculous to colonials as the smart phone once was to us.

Workshop sponsored by Castine Historical Society
Last summer, I did happen upon a workshop in Castine, Maine given by an old-timer mason whose predecessors built colonial ovens.  It was interesting to see how casually he placed the bricks.  It reminded me how both practical colonials were and how imprecise an oven can be and still work.

Oven built on a sand mound form (later removed)

I personally get a kick out of making perfect domes.  Go figure!

Elongated dome TBO 48"x60" St. Charles, MO