Sunday, March 31, 2013

Brick Oven Dome Building: part two

I have experimented with the timing of setting the mouth arch and find that the sooner the better.

Fitting the dome to the mouth arch is perhaps the most technical of all the aspects in building domed brick ovens.  It requires that the bricks comprising the dome splice onto the mouth arch at the same slope and arc as the rest of the dome bricks.

Secondly, it is best if the mouth arch is built from full arch bricks without using sliced pieces to fill gaps.  This is a 24" wide mouth that uses a combo of #1 and #2 arch bricks.  Extremely thin joints allow for the bricks to first laid dry and then mortared in the same positions.

Once a few more chains of dome bricks are set, the form can be removed and the arch bricks cleaned.

 The interior of the mouth arch is sculpted to meet the dome curve, an aesthetic as well as aerodynamic consideration.

As shown here, the walls of the throat are mocked up.  The working face of the oven will be a lot wider than the mouth allowing for great visibility as well as space for handling product.  Generally, I  make the face arch the same diameter as the interior dome.
Construction of the throat (a later post) will show the corbelled chimney.

French ovens would build a horizontal lintel over the mouth while Italian ovens form arched faces.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dome Building Revisited

One of the first blogs I posted talked about building brick domes.   I've done a lot of brick oven building since then.  And fortunately, the brick domes have gotten better: stronger and better fitted together.
The herringbone pattern for the oven hearth is laid over a base course of brick for extra mass.
The insulation underneath is 'Foamglass' a solid block refractory product.

Base layer of fire brick over 'Foamglass'

A Czech mason I met last week said that he tries to improve his work with every project with the hope that by the time he's gone, he will have reached perfection.

The current project at Pietree Orchard, a 54" interior dome will have double the mass and a huge stone face and enclosure.  The location is idyllic, surrounded by orchards, vistas of the Presidential range of the Appalachian mountains, and a great crew of people.

Each detail of the oven is custom and geared toward a full-time, production oven.  Some photos here will help illustrate the fine points.  Check in for part 2 soon.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Outdoor pizza oven kits

Revised on April 27, 2016

I am revisiting this post with some updated information.  I have considered creating kits for building brick ovens the way I build them myself.  Having built many ovens, and as I talk to and consult with people building their own ovens from information on this blog, I better understand the challenge for a first-timer wanting to do it his or her self.

A set of pre-cut dome bricks would be easy for me to deliver.  The difficulty comes when you are splicing the mouth arch to the dome.  And because mortar joints vary at lease an eighth of an inch, the bricks may not be consistent from one oven to the next.

What is the solution?
In investigating the market for cast refractory kits, from really cheap to high end, I've found that I can offer my on-site services along with the bricks for a cost that is competitive with the best kit ovens.

I am not attempting to sell a thousand ovens a year (as any manufacturer would need to).  By hand building your oven, even inviting you to assist me, I know that the oven is built properly and that it is exactly the size and design you want.

I can understand the attraction of kit ovens; one of the first oven I built was from a kit.  I soon found the flaws of refractory concrete shells and the restrictions that an oven designed to be turned out in a factory imposed (poor proportions for mouth and face).

So, if you want a kit that includes the builder, contact me.  If you need to economize, there are multiple other options that I would advise that you approach with consideration.

Below is the former  post:

Of the four words in the title, only one of them accurately represents the work I do as a true brick oven builder.  Here's why:

  • In all but the most moderate weather environments in the U.S. (or internationally), an OUTDOOR brick oven is a luxury for which there are a dozen days a year of perfect cooking weather.  Even here in New England, where the women are tough, the men can cook, and the children wear shorts in January, outdoor wood-fired brick ovens will get a tenth of the the use of sheltered or home-attached brick ovens.
  • At first glance, the ovens I build may be seen as PIZZA ovens.  A brief experience later it will be discovered that they can cook anything...superbly.   Foodies see these ovens for what they are: the most versatile, traditional, cooking 'appliance' ever invented... the 'Holy Grail' of chefs.
  • Although 'OVEN' is what these are, once you have one, you will push the boundaries of what even an oven can do, grilling, smoking, and dehydrating foods as the oven environment changes.
  • Finaly KITS.  When people see the way the fire bricks in my ovens are cut it is natural to assume that a kit version of these ovens is possible.  Perhaps.  Getting the 400-500 pieces cut to form a dome would make anyone's job easier.  As a mason, I take the safety of these ovens seriously.  The way in which the bricks are assembled and the protective insulation around the oven as well as the flue system, is something best left to experienced builders, especially when the oven is built-in or adjacent to a house or restaurant.  Secondly, cutting bricks for kits would transform my work from artisan/craftsman to factory worker or I would need to hire someone to be the less-skilled brick cutter.
  • Not included in any kit is the custom exterior finish of the oven, the place where owner, mason, and style meet.
TBO instructed owner-built oven
There are many kit versions on the market, largely cast refractory.  I prefer the real fire brick dome and have been happy to assist owner/builders in understanding how to do-it-themselves.
I also offer an arrangement where the owner assists me, lowering the costs of the oven build while letting the owner have a literal hand in the project.

For the person who wants to do it all his/herself, I recommend browsing this blog for info and finding sources of materials named.  With care and physical effort, it is possible to build one yourself.  I encourage anyone wishing to do so.

Starting in 2014, True Brick Ovens will be building 32" interior diameter oven cores for shipment.  Contact us for more info.  Go to  and click on "Your Checklist".  That will supply me with sufficient information to fulfill your possible desire for a real brick oven.  Thanks.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Perfecting Brick Ovens

An early post 'Perfect Brick Ovens' generated a lot of interest.  'Perfecting', the active verb tense, describes what I have been working on for the past few years.

Seeking perfection means that I analyse the design and function of each brick oven I build or see, looking for improvements.  Ironically, the more refined my design gets, the closer to the most ancient ovens they appear.

Here are the a few significant improvements over say, internet plans for Pompeii style brick oven that someone might find.

dome building without forms

cut and numbered dome bricks
  • The elimination of any angle-iron from the construction of the dome.
  • The mouth can be smaller than the face making the whole interior accessible from all angles.
  • A wide corbel brick throat that guides the smoke upwards to the chimney tile or flue.
  • The use of specialty bricks to form very tight joints.
  • The precise cutting of all bricks to form the smallest joint possible between dome bricks.
  • Formulation of refractory mortar so that dome forms are not necessary.
large face arch/smaller (20") mouth arch
Once the improved oven is built, the quest for the perfect bread, roast, smoked food moves forward with gusto.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Production Brick Oven

Production wood-fired brick ovens require that the baking temperature remain even and high for long periods of time.  There is not the option of re-starting a fire and re-infusing the masonry with sufficient heat to get the baking results needed.

Three factors will satisfy production needs.
Increasing the mass of the oven (the masonry that holds the BTU's delivered by the fire) is the first and primary goal.  For the current production oven at Pietree  Orchard, doubling the floor and roof of the oven will increase the capacity to hold steady heat for long periods of time.

The length of the firing determines how far into the mass the applied BTU' reach.  This is known as 'soaking' the oven.  With increased mass it will be essential that the oven be fired for a long period of time.  This may be calculable for a physicist/engineer but ultimately, the firing time will be discovered by experience.

Unless there is sufficient insulation around the mass, the transferred heat of a long firing will continue to travel outwards and be dissipated in the oven surroundings.  There cannot be too much insulation. It is only bounded by the dimensions of the oven enclosure.  That is why I prefer square or cube-like enclosures for ovens over stuccoed domes.  A box can have a huge amount of insulation between the curve of the dome and the corners of the box and ample insulation where the circle of the dome is closest to the enclosure's walls.  If it were possible to keep every last BTU in the oven, we could bake forever, but that is equivalent to perpetual motion.

MASS, TIME, and insulation SPACE...hmmm?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pie Tree Orchard Brick Oven Part 2: the numbers

About 600 individual bricks will create the dome for the 54" interior dome oven at Pietree Orchard

Pre-cutting the bricks indoors has given me a jump on the late winter weather in Maine and the project and bricks have moved into the space where the oven will be built (enclosed and heated to 50F until outdoor temps moderate).

Having done the work of fitting bricks dry, it made sense to number them for re-assembly.
I have also laid out the dimensions of the oven on the concrete slab.  Scribing lines for flues and dome allow me to accurately plan the depth of the spaces needed for auxillary masonry such as warming shelves and exterior insulation.

A sub-floor of firebrick has been laid upon which the second layer, herringbone pattern, will be set for the finish  floor of the oven.
Tune in for part 3 next week.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Seacoast Home and Garden Show

This coming weekend, March 23 and 24, I will be at the Whittemore Center of the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH for the Seacoast Home and Garden Show

In addition to displaying my work as a brick oven builder, which includes computer slide presentations ongoing at my booth, I will be a speaker.  The talk is:

1:00 – 1:45
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, Lovell, ME and Wolfboro, NH

North Star Stoneworks has for 20 years been the heart of my work as a landscape designer and stone mason.  True Brick Ovens grew out of that work and my design skills come into play in every project I undertake.  Visit:   to see a gallery of projects ranging from residential to institutional.

 I look forward to these events because even when people can find neither the location ("I live in a condo.") or the resources ("maybe someday."), they get excited about the qualities of brick ovens.
I am frequently asked questions from people who want to build their own oven. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Monolithic Pour

Various materials can be used to construct the base of a brick oven.  A monolithic concrete base is the strongest by dint of the reenforcing materials and the inherent strength of concrete.

At the current project in Maine, Henry Hudson and crew have created a grid of rebar and wire mesh tied to the rebar in the side walls that will make this slab virtually unbreakable.  A simple screeding of the surface is sufficient since three layers of masonry products will be built up to form the floor of the 54" interior diameter oven.
Despite the frigid weather, the 'polar mix' of concrete and insulation placed above the slab allowed the slab to set up and cure properly.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pie Tree Orchard Brick Oven

By March 18th, the building for the Pie Tree Orchard brick oven will be enclosed and heated to mortar-friendly temperatures.
In preparation for that, I have laid out the brick plan, the arch dimension for the dome and the mouth bricks on the floor of the indoor workspace.
Cutting and fitting the bricks for the first nine courses has been done and I can proceed to pre-cut and fit the mouth arch bricks.
I am often asked if I can supply 'kits' for people to build their own domes using these pre-cut bricks.
On the surface, it seems like a good idea (although tedious for whoever is doing the kit brick cutting).  However, the assembly of the oven bricks with a thin layer of mortar and the fitting of the dome to the mouth is an aspect that is difficult and custom even when experienced.  (Gaps shown in arch and dome account for future mortar joints.)I feel that for the oven to have long-term durability, performance and safety, I need to be there for assembly.  Sometimes this means that I build only the 'core'; most often I build the entire oven structure which allows me to create the aesthetic appearance of the oven in accordance with the owner's tastes.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ice-Cooled Brick Saw

Work has begun on the 54" interior dome oven for Pie Tree Orchard in Sweden, Maine.  Since the land is still covered in snow and the temps are near freezing, I did the initial work pre-cutting the custom dome bricks for later construction of the oven.

In the past, I have used water to cool and lubricate the saw blade.  I've done this by either soaking the bricks in a barrel of water or applying a mist spray to the brick as it is being cut.  This also cuts down on the dust produced by the cutting process.

Here I have used a current and local resource to cool the saw blade: snow.  Chunks of snow set behind the saw blade and held against the blade on the side of the brick have worked perfectly to cool the blade, making it last longer and cut efficiently.  Fortunately, the cutting area is set on a southern exposure in temps that have been in the mid-30's, warm for Maine.

new wind generator
This is one of the many projects Pie Tree Orchard is initiating to make it a comprehensive net-zero energy farm.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lighten Up

St. Thomas, USVI bakery brickwork
Present-day masons are serious.  Sure, the wall must stand up to what it is built to hold but history tells a more practical, and even whimsical story.

French door filled in

In the past, wall building used materials at-hand.  Wall repair sought to fill gaps, fill window and door openings (which in some countries were taxed per opening!), or simply to create pattern.

Because much of craftsman masonry today is closer to artisan work than straight utility, we have the chance to make it look like we are fun people.