Saturday, December 24, 2016

Keeping the Brick Oven Hot

insulation inner door
We tend to believe that the fire we build in our brick oven will keep it hot.  In fact, it is the mass of the oven, and especially, the insulation under and around the oven that keeps it hot.

The three places an oven is apt to lose heat is:
  1. out the flue
  2. through the brick dome
  3. under the floor
Preventing this loss is easy and best done as the oven is built.

Foamglas and two layers of fire brick
Fiber blanket before roof goes on
  • Heat loss out the flue is slowed by the door, and in the case of an indoor oven, by a damper in the flue.  In some cases, an additional door filled with insulation has been made to prolong baking time.
  • As the fire heats the bricks of the dome, the BTU's migrate from the interior surface to the exterior.  If there is little or no insulation there, they keep going, resulting in a rapid decrease in oven temperature.  The heat can be contained by significant insulation.  I use refractory insulation concrete as a first layer over the dome and follow-up with four inches of ceramic fiber insulation.  In ovens with a rectangular enclosure, I sometimes fill the remaining space with vermiculite.
  • Heat will migrate downward through the floor of the oven.  I use 4" of a product called, 'Foamglas'.  It is a rigid expanded high temp glass product and makes the setting of floor bricks easy.

insulating concrete with my handprint signature

Fiber blanket, flue and make-up air ducts

Fill'r up

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Brick Oven History

One of 20+ brick ovens in Pompeii, Italy
Historical brick ovens are reference points.  Since the brick oven is very old, and clay ovens even older, taking a close look at ovens built and still standing after hundreds, even thousands of years,  is instructive.

print from the middle ages
paper and a stone to test temp

Costa Rican oven with two mouths

Brick oven in foreground at Annaberg on St. John  USVI

St. John oven

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Brick Oven Visits

If you are reading this, you are among an average of 350 people visiting this blog each day.  This pleases me as the purpose of my writing is to provide information about brick ovens.  I have always hoped that it would begin a conversation or correspondence among brick oven fans.

It has.  I've heard, via email or phone, from people in 30 states and five countries.

So, as this blog exceeds 165,000 visits, I hope that you the reader might leave a comment, both guilt free and without the danger of my bothering you in the future without your request.

Sure, I'm in business to build these ovens, but I also support others building them.  I'm interested in your thoughts and questions; they improve my work.

Best wishes to you all as the year winds down,
David Neufeld

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Angel in the Details

An eye on the overall project is essential to brick oven building.  However, the details are what allow a custom brick oven to integrate into the owner's life.  Details, sometimes lightly defined at the start of the project, come into focus as the exterior is in process.  I have made a commitment, written into my contracts, to pay attention to aesthetic opportunities as they arrive.  It reads, "if TBO sees aesthetic improvements that do not significantly increase the labor or cost of the project, they will, upon approval of the owner, be done without additional cost."
The results have been remarkable and as individual as my customers.
Ocean-rounded stone on as the keystone on a TBO 36" in CA

An elongated dome in Missouri

Art-Deco stonework in a loft

Iron Coat and hat hooks used as door handles
Custom Ash drawer for TBO Greenhouse oven 2016

The community oven in Audrix France that inspired some designs of mine

An Irish Limestone keystone for an Irish customer

Decorative bricks and custom cut granite spacers on a TBO bakery oven face arch

Thursday, December 15, 2016

True Brick Oven Pizza

TBO 54" at Brewster Academy
I didn't set out to build pizza ovens.  My first thought was in the direction of bread baking.

However, these ovens are referred to as pizzas ovens, mostly due to the many pizza joints that employ them.  Even in Italy, you would most often see pizza coming out of these ovens (great pizza!)

So, with a nod to modernity and to the hundreds of pizzas that have come out of my oven and the dozens of ovens I've built, I honor the pizza oven...

Eataly Boston

TBO 36" in Winchester NH
Portable TBO 48"

TBO 36

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Brick Oven in Conservatory: part two

Now that winter has truly arrived (snow not date) and the days are wicked short, I have moved to indoor work.  The slab for my own oven was poured last week and today I set the blocks that will support the slab that the oven sits on (after insulating).
lines for oven and masonry heater scribed onto base slab

Block set (unmortared) to support oven slab

The base slab is also the place where any final calculations/measurements are scribed out, allowing for a better informed build on the upper slab later.  This oven, having a masonry heating chamber in back needed some careful laying out as the whole needs to accommodate two functions.

All of the cores now open will be filled with concrete, adding to the mass and rebar will be inserted in every other core.  Then forms will be built in which the top slab is poured level.  Starting out level helps a lot.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Brick Oven Entertainment

TBO oven in Ventura CA

Entertaining is easy with a brick oven.  Once you light the fire, the oven becomes the center of attention (okay, there's also wine and the stand-up comic guest).

TBO Tuscan Room
 Early in my work as a builder, I was asked to build an entire Tuscan room.  It came to be called, "The smallest restaurant in the world."

Since then, I've built ovens in big places, in home kitchens, outdoors, and restaurants and each one has added an entertainment factor to the owners' lives.
TBO 54" at Brewster Academy, NH
Professional chefs have fun too

It may be wondered whether this device is capable of doing all the entertaining, in the event that the host or hosts are shy people; the answer is YES.  An entirely silent host need only be good at managing the fire and cooking (twirling the pizza peel is a bonus) and he or she will gather a crowd.  Furthermore, the knowledge that your guests may make and cook their own pizzas removes any pressure from you the host.
TBO 48" portable as mobile entertainment

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wild Hive Farm

Five years ago I met Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm in the Hudson Valley town of Clinton Corners.

He was an exuberant proponent of sustainable and heritage grains.  We've talked over the years about the struggles and hopes of locally grown and made food, especially grains and bread.

Both of us got into a business when interest was restricted to a niche group of consumers.  We hoped that would expand.  It has.

Don is one of the primary suppliers to the Eataly marketplace/restaurant company.  His knowledge (I know about his ability to taste flour and identify its constituent types of wheat and protein levels!)  His mill in Clinton Corners, New York is designed to mill grains without overheating them (which is what high-speed milling does).

Good to see his picture and credit in Eataly Boston.

Eataly Yourself Silly

Just returned from Boston and among the many old attractions, the newest Eataly was jammed with passport-less people who were enjoying an Italian-like experience without jet-lag.

Eataly tends to be a happy place where the variety of markets, the open plan of a European market, and places to sit down and actually eat.  The quality of the foods compares to the best anywhere and, like many trendy places, the staff are personable.

Offering the 'Italian' market experience without the friction or joy of language, old architecture, or expense or adventure of travel, has its pros and cons.

Oddly, it is what I do too.  I offer old-world artisan masonry skills in the building of new-world brick ovens which will then cook or bake old-world delicacies with new-world convenience.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Artists who Inspire

A couple of weeks ago I stopped in Pittsburgh, PA on my drive back from building an oven in North Carolina.  Two friends of mine who lived locally had connections to two artists each.  We set out for a studio visit.

Nick Babash
We spent both an evening and next day with sculptor Nick Babash.
Besides assemblage, his work spans the genres of drawing, printmaking, realistic bronzes, and tattoo.  As often happens, the work of others allow me new insights into my own work or in some instances, an energy boost to my exploratory self.

The last day in Pittsburgh was more packed.  We stopped in the studio of Thad Moseley, a dynamic and warm sculptor surrounded by a cavernous room of carved pieces larger than himself. Next to his small desk were walnut logs averaging 400 lbs each awaiting inspiration.
Tadeo Arimoto, an extraordinary woodworker was in the studio above. He led us through his maze-like shop and we talked about the qualities of wood, the reverence a hundred year-old section of an elm can invoke.
Tadeo Arimoto

Lastly, we stopped in at Diane Samuels' studio.  It is hard to describe the impression that a 47 foot wall piece made up of thousands of torn hand-made paper strips and inscribed, in its entirety with the text of Moby Dick can make on a person.   It seemed like I had come upon a modern-day Jewish monk, who both hand-copied a manuscript and illuminated it in larger-than-life form.
Her other pieces containing the entire text of Scheherazade, The Odyessy, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and Midnight's Children are equally magnificent.

I left Pittsburgh (or tried to given the tangle of highways and the delay in my GPS) awash with inspiration.

These encounters occasionally have an immediate effect on my work but more often soak into my consciousness for a delayed arrival at a later and appropriate time.  It always reminds me that artists, as Nick Babosh said in one conversation, are a Tribe.

a small detail from Moby Dick

part of The Odyssey work