Monday, February 18, 2013

Living the Dream

I spoke with a lot of people at the Maine Home and Remodeling Show in Portland, Maine this past weekend.

TBO oven for Pizza Pie On The Fly Co.
It appears that for many of them, a wood-fired brick oven is a dream.  Some spoke of imminent plans for incorporating one in their remodel or new home environment.  Others saw one sometime in the future.  Still others had it as a 'dream'.  And a few wanted to build one themselves.

All of the above are legitimate directions.  I began this blog (and this business of building custom brick ovens) because I heard my friends dreaming about having a brick oven.  Having already had the skills, equipment, and materials at hand, it was a reasonable leap for me to build one for myself.

Built by blog follower
Since then, this blog has served to provide information about brick oven construction and use for those who dream or act on having one.  I welcome (as I did at the show) emails with questions for those wanting to have one, use one, or build one.

It's hard to say how many other vendors have people come up to them and associate their product with family history or childhood memories, but it happens every time I show.  People from Quebec, Italy, central America, remember their grandparents cooking in these ovens.  Others have memories of traveling to places where brick ovens are common.

My first and faithful brick oven
Bravo for memories. 
My experience with my oven has shown me that having a brick oven lets me and my friends and family create memories that the next generation will hold into the future.

I will be at the Seacoast Home and Garden Show in Durham, NH on the 23&24 of March.  I look forward to meeting more of you.
And again at the Northern New England Home and Garden Show in Fryeburg, Maine in May.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Adapting Brick Ovens to Locations

Mass produced cast-refractory brick ovens, ready to go when the truck drops it at your place, can't account for individual style and needs.

The first step I take in planning an oven is visiting the location where it will be used and meeting with the people who will use it.

From there, the possibilities both narrow and multiply.  As we draw a sharper picture of the future oven, we also explore the technical challenges.
The location of the oven in the home or landscape needs to be both ergonomically logical (near the living/eating/entertaining area) and pleasing to the look of the space.  People usually know when we've found this spot.

Technical challenges are tackled one-by-one since each aspect calls for some thought, research, and experience base.

As all of this progresses we keep in mind the look of the project, how it will become part of the larger experience of living.  As I spoke to a number of people at the Maine Home and Remodeling Show this Saturday (today) I found that each of them had a unique location or home.  I could not imagine them wanting to pop in an oven that looked like a million others.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pietree Orchard Brick Oven

Work has already begun on a large commercial brick oven for Pietree Orchard in Sweden, Maine.
The base and building in which the oven will be constructed and sheltered is preparing for an early March (enclosed) start of masonry work.

Last fall, I designed the general shape of this 54" interior diameter brick oven that will have a double-thick floor (4.5") and a large mass dome (9").  This will allow a very long bake cycle suited to high-production of pizzas, breads, and any other product.  With sufficient insulation, the oven may not cool down from the beginning of the baking season to the end.

The face and mouth of this oven is more closely aligned with the original bakery ovens in Pompeii, Italy than 'straight-mouth' designs found elsewhere.  The re-evolution of this design resulted from my desire to provide maximum access to all areas of the oven's interior.

Pietree Orchard is up the hill from my place in Maine and has grown from an apples-only orchard to a grower of all kinds of fruit and food.  The addition of a bakery will add to the destination appeal that already exists.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Five Reasons for an Indoor Brick Oven

Reason number one:
Winter (doesn't stop some people)

Reason number two (through two million):  Bugs (stops most people)

Reason number three:  Rain (Soggy crusts but your dog won't mind)

Reason number four: Sunstroke (Dogs will mind)

648 × 486 -
1200 × 951 -
254 × 300 -
Tuscan room by TBO (perfect room)
338 × 415 -
600 × 450 -
300 × 300 -

Reason number five: You don't live in coastal California  (at least 99% of you)
Ventura Oven by TBO (perfect weather)

An indoor or three-season room with a brick oven will be used 50 times more frequently than an outdoor oven unless you have perfect weather year-round.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Back in the day, observant Jews did not do work of any kind from sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday, the parameters of Sabbath.  This included cooking.

Because most communities had at least one brick oven run by the local baker, a tradition arose of bringing a covered pot of uncooked food to be placed in the oven on Friday before sundown and retrieved on Saturday evening.  No one cooked on the Sabbath and a hot dinner awaited them after it was over.

It was the original 'slow-cooker' (still is).

As with many recipes, the ingredients vary from region to region and cook to cook.

Sie gezund!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

One Year Later

Writing posts for this blog has kept the writer part of me plenty active for the past two years.  A year ago, the blog hit the 10K mark and I thought that was pretty good for a specific topic such as this.

Today, the blog has over 40K visits, not spectacular, but satisfying.  So I keep on blogging.
Far and away, the most popular posts (over a thousand visits each) have to do with building brick ovens and I hope that many ovens have benefited from the information posted here.

Also today, I have had a total of perhaps six comments, and one email with photos of the oven the person built.  The 40K means there is interest and my work as a mason is brisk. 

Annually, I will note the visit count and invite brick oven builders to correspond with me.  Learning about brick oven building and use is a two-way street, or can be.

In the meantime, the photos above show Jason Simmons, the expert welder I depend on for doors and other hardware related to custom ovens and others (Rick Frisch and Tim in Missouri) who have contributed to my knowledge base.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

2013 Maine Home Remodeling and Garden Show

In a less than two weeks I will bring my display materials to the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine for a public trade show.

In addition to meeting lots of people, talking about- duh -Brick Ovens, I will be giving a visual talk on landscape design (the core of my stone work and design life) on Saturday, February 16th.

1:15 - 2:00      Finding Paradise: Creating Landscapes that Transcend Time
In this visual presentation, David Neufeld illustrates how an understanding of the symbolic power of objects and the organization of outdoor space can take an ordinary yard and transform it into a place apart from the time-centered world. With David’s visual arts and storytelling background, this will be a lively, thoughtful and humorous presentation.
Presented by: David Neufeld, North Star Stoneworks, Sweden, ME

Fire pit and surrounding 'stone island'
by North Star Stoneworks
I've been a landscape designer for many years and have hundreds of projects under my belt (or in the case of taller walls, trees, and mammoth shrubs, over my belt too.)

 A few years ago, I hauled my portable brick oven down to Portland and with the help of some fork-lift wizards managed to get it situated inside the building.  Even without a fire inside, it made a dramatic backdrop for my display.
Portable Brick Oven by TBO

However, since then I have gone truly portable.  I bring plenty of light-weight visual aids without the challenge of weight and maneuverability.  
I'll also have my website and this blog running at my booth: #503 

Click on the above website for all the show details.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Down Under the Brick Oven

Beneath this pile of rubble (which is beneath the floor of an 18th century farmstead in Maine) is a massive 'arch' designed to support fireplaces, a colonial brick oven, a rendering kettle, and other fire-driven tools of yesteryear.

 Close examination of the granite in the cellar (10' x 11') shows that the side pieces were  cut from the same outcrop and then put back together.
 The roof is made up of multiple slabs leveled as-needed with small stones.  The base is set off the hard-pan dirt floor on flat chunks of rock. 

This house, continuously lived in by the same family since the late 1700's has three such granite arches, each based on the same principle:  Once the stones are in place and the house is built around and above them, they WILL NOT move.

I will be building a small brick oven in the original kitchen using salvaged brick from the farm.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What We Hide, What We Reveal

As a photographer, I know that I can control the ‘depth of field’ of a photo by adjusting the size opening of the shutter (F-stop). In everyday terms, I can make the camera near-sighted, almost near-sighted or I can give the camera perfect vision where everything will be in focus. But even in the most perfectly focused photograph, detail will be lost when the grain of the film can’t keep up with the impression made by the light coming through the lens. If you get close enough to a photo, let’s say with a microscope, all you see are fuzzy strands of photographic paper.
In landscape design we can control how much of the garden is visible in one ‘take’. Do we lay out the beds so that the pattern and color can be taken in with one glance? Do we conceal elements of the garden behind a screen of lace-like foliage that puts the farther garden into fuzzy focus? Do we build walls or fences that entirely conceal parts of the garden creating an album-like effect, a page-turner?
These choices are the ways that you determine the speed at which your garden can be absorbed and appreciated.


The roll of texture plays strongly to our response to objects.

It can repel or attract, engage our imagination or we may ignore the object.

Textures are always accompanied by some color, whether subtle or dramatic.  In combination, the texture and color may evoke memory or historic association.

Masonry materials contain all these possibilities.  Using compatible, contrasting, or historic masonry textures, materials, or colors will inevitably give the constructed object a 'personality'.