Monday, September 19, 2016

Brick Oven Cost: the competition

TBO 36" in Ventura CA
Up front, let me state that I am a very small company.  I have one part-time assistant.  I am the mason who builds your oven, brick by brick.  So, in making comparisons to the giants of cast refractory ovens (kit and assembled), I harbor no illusions of competition.

That said, I am always (ALWAYS) confronted with the cost constraints of potential customers.  I have empathy with those who do not have the budget for a custom brick oven.  I encourage, even supply, would-be owner-builders with ample information on this blog.

So, how do my base prices for 36", 42", and 48" interior diameter custom brick ovens compare to the leading (and original) importer of cast refractory ovens from Italy, Mugnaini.

Andrea Mugnaini has written my favorite brick oven cookbook, which I include with every oven I build.

Here are their prices: Medio=      from $7550.00
Mugnaini Prima 100
                                   Prima 100= from $8950.00
                                   Prima 120= from $9550

It is assumed that this does not include shipping, or the slab you need in your backyard to put it on.  The metal base, though easy for a machine to move, will rust.

I could not discern what from meant aside from shipping.

Here are my base prices, which include the ground slab, the woodbox, the oven floor with insulation, the dome with insulation, and the face and flue:
                                          TBO 36=  $8000.00
                                          TBO 42= 10,000.00
                                          TBO 48= 12,000.00

It's easy to see that value-for-value there is no comparison.    What my customers get is a permanent installation with not just plug-and-play customizations.
TBO 48" Baker's oven in NH

TBO 36" in home
I recently built a TBO 48" for a baker, who later told me that the same oven would have cost more from Le Panyol without the customizations we agreed on.

Again, I cannot compete with the factories that make refractory wood-fired ovens; I don't want to.  I can offer a true brick oven at a cost that, at least, makes a buyer think twice: do you want a manufactured import, or do you want a brick oven mason to build it the 'the old way' but with 'new thinking'?

New thinking means that the ergonomics of cooking in these ovens is taken into account: i.e., a wider face than mouth so the entire interior is accessible.
New thinking incorporates 'make up' air channels for all indoor installations allowing the combustion air for the fire to enter at the right and left of the oven mouth under the flue.  This eliminates smoke problems, increases draft, and negates any air removed from the room by other appliances.  No other brick oven builder or built, offers this.

An example of this is a recent project built into a glass greenhouse/sunspace in NH.  Working with the owner we found a logical location for the oven prior to the greenhouse build.

The volume of the oven was placed on a slab outside of the greenhouse perimeter.

Oven prior to installation of an ash dump drawer below hearth and the custom steel door
The face, wood box and hearth came 8" into the interior, making it space efficient.  The New Thinking that made this possible combined experience, thought, and flexibility of design.

Below is a comparison of a shipped-in oven.


Getting a Stefano Ferrara oven can be a challenge. For one, importing an oven from Naples is expensive. Here's at look at what it costs in US dollars to buy a Stefano Ferrara oven, untiled and not including shipping fees, with data provided by Denver-based importer Wood Fired Pizza Oven. Though there are more sizes available, this table displays the costs of the 120, 130, and 140 centimeter diameter iterations as they are the most commonly found in restaurants:
Stefano Ferrara fixed oven
120 cm$16,693
130 cm$16,693
140 cm$17,410


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bakery Brick Oven- Part Six

These posts might go on a while as the baker has already fired the oven for hearth loaves twice.  However, a final shot of the oven with tools at the ready is posted here.

It has always been my intent to advise brick oven customers on ways to maximize their enjoyment and use of the brick oven that I build for them.

The primary was is to have it be part of a living space.  No every home or business can or wants to do this.  Portable brick ovens have advantages as do outdoor ovens: an unlimited number of people can enjoy them and they provide an alternative space to the home kitchen or restaurant kitchen environment.

Monday, September 12, 2016

New Hampshire Mushroom Company

Chef Stephanie, Kaylan and Fiore owner Pat
Every Spring I bring my 45' portable brick oven to the Northern New England Home and Garden Show in Fryeburg, Maine.  The oven is run through its paces by chefs at Meet the Chefs pavilion.

NHMC owner Eric Mulligan

TBO portable at NHMC
One of those is the New Hampshire Mushroom Company.  After the show this year I offered to leave the oven in Tamworth at the headquarters of NH Mushroom Company for the summer.

They have set up an outdoor kitchen where professional chefs prepare dishes with mushrooms each weekend for guests.

It has been a good collaboration.
Kayla at work in Tamworth

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bakery Oven- Part Five: curing

the baker's daughter lights the first fire
The penultimate step in building a brick oven is the curing of the oven.  A slow firing allows the water contained in the masonry to escape before it reaches explosive steam.

This is also when the draft is tested.  A cold chimney needs warming before it will draw well.  Dry wood and patience at the start of a cold start-up firing pay off with a clean burn.  Once the oven temp and the fire are established, draft will improve.
Using the door as a baffle also assists this step.  Make-up air channels on either side of indoor installations insures that air for combustion comes from outside and not from within the room.

Note: air channels on either side of mouth.

The door controls the amount of air coming into the oven

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Bakery Brick Oven- Part Four

The oven face is one of the places where custom attention to detail makes a difference.  The brick work of the oven itself forms the lower substrate for the granite and brick arch.
Just before the face is applied

Brick face elements dry-fitted with form prior to mortaring

Steel damper mounted above the flue

 Because the owner and I had chosen a special brick shape for the arch, granite wedge-shaped spacers were cut (from the same material as the hearth) to allow the curve.  Every oven has this possibility; to add a detail that makes it both unique and beautiful.

The oven prior to lining the wood box with red brick, tiling the floor, and getting ready for the first firing.  Other special shapes were used to support the heath shelf and at the top of the wall.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Bakery Brick Oven- Part Three

TBO domes are made from precision cut fire brick and built without forms
As the dome reaches completion, a keystone is required to close the top
I'll let you figure out how this works

The finished dome from inside

Note: the space in front, where a tray will hold coals, will be covered by a steel plate during operation.
This is the ash dump.  The oven is ready for a face and flue.

Bakery Brick Oven- Part Two

Foamglas insulation with ash dump excerpted 
4" Foamglas block insulation follow the pouring of the concrete slab that supports the floor of the oven.  Floor insulation is critical to maintaining temperatures in brick ovens.  Any plan that omits this results in heat being sapped downward and a constantly cooling oven floor- the last thing a baker wants.

The brick floor is set on top of the Foamglas in herringbone pattern.  Though decorative,  this pattern prevents the peel from catching on lateral seams in bricks, no matter how minor.

Herringbone floor, ash dump, and beginning oven dome

Bakery Brick Oven- Part One

View of bakery room from outside.  Oven floor slab
to be poured on top.
It is a pleasure to plan the construction of a brick oven that will primarily be used to bake bread.  Brick ovens have a long history of bread.  Pizza, although famous in Napoli in the old days, and now ubiquitous worldwide, is a comparative newcomer.

I began planning this oven with the owner, a German man, U. S. citizen, and a bread baker of loaves akin to those from his home country.  Even before the brick oven began, his house and bakery wing exuded the aromas of yeasted bread, rising and baking. But in a conventional oven.

Wood box arch form in place
red brick that will for wood box ceiling

oven floor slab being poured with section for ash dump

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Affordable Brick Ovens

This one is 2500 years old
Whenever someone says something is 'affordable' two things come to mind: 'Affordable to who?' and 'How cheap are we talking about?'
The two questions put me on opposite sides of the value scale.  To my mind, 'affordable' should mean within the reach of the average person (if there is such a creature:).
I have tried to make my ovens, which have many custom aspects within reach of cooking enthusiasts, start-up bakeries, restaurants, and caterers.  To do this I have streamlined the various steps in making an oven out of the highest quality materials.  I then allow the budget to stay 'affordable' for simple finishes and to climb in cost for really artistic exteriors.  Sometimes this includes the surrounding terrace and landscape.

Large farm/orchard oven
For restauranteurs wishing to have a true brick oven (as opposed to the cast-refractory shells that are mass-produced) I offer more than competitive pricing.  I also consult with the owners on possible money-saving steps that can be taken by them or standard block an mortar masons they currently know.

But, the fundamental principal is durability.  A poorly made or designed oven is not worth even building.  Because the ovens I build (or show you how to build) are made from precision-cut fire brick, hand-fitted, they will last hundreds of years.

failed cast refractory oven
All brick construction prior to exterior
Perhaps  you don't want to think beyond your lifetime.  Fine.  In many places in Europe, the brick ovens of hundreds of years ago are treasured as both living historic structures and centers of community activity even today.

I would not suggest anyone go way beyond their budget for an oven.  However, I'd recommend considering the story behind an 'affordable' choice.

Owens Farmhouse portable by TBO

Family brick oven by TBO and local masons in West Virginia