Saturday, January 28, 2017

Brick Oven in Conservatory: Part Six

Keep it level
Getting from a complete face arch to setting the damper involves bringing the brickwork toward the flue.

long  bricks frame the opening at the top of the flue and provide a base on which the damper assembly is set.  The cavities on either side of the flue are filled with insulating concrete.
Signing the dome
A layer of insulating concrete covers the dome, filling any voids and strengthening the buttresses.

Damper temporarily set on the flue awaiting connection to the chimney.

Climbing inside to inspect and clean any mortar from brick surfaces

Friday, January 27, 2017

Brick Oven in Conservatory: Part Five

Because much of the precision work on the brick oven dome was done in the shop, constructing it is efficient.

This oven has a particularly wide mouth so that a grill can fit into it.  Over the years, I've discovered that virtually all foods can be cooked in the these oven if appropriate hardware and cookware is found.

mouth arch form leveled and ready for fitting
Mouth arch done and ready for dome to be spliced

The last chains will close this hole
Finished dome interior

A wider face arch mirrors the mouth opening

Ready for the bricks that will support the damper

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brick Oven Cooking: the first few firings

"Getting ready to smoke the Christmas ham!"  Customer.
Most of the people or restaurants I build brick ovens for dive right into the cooking.
Since brick ovens are extremely versatile cooking 'devices', this includes a lot of food.

Last fall, just before Thanksgiving, I completed most of a brick oven project for a large family.  As the season was getting cold and a slate roof was due to be installed in the next Spring, we left the oven waterproofed and functioning.

The customers went all out to use it since.

This quote from one customer:
"We had turkey cooked in the oven for lunch.  It was hands down, the best turkey I have ever had.  Our dinner guests even asked if they could take some home as it was the best turkey they had ever had.  We are loving the oven!"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Form-free brick dome building

 Some time in the distant past I saw plans on building brick ovens that required a form to support the bricks while assembling the dome.  It struck me that without access to the inside of the dome as it was constructed, I would end up with hardened mortar in the interior ceiling.

With the proper mortar mixture and technique I've been able to build the dome and clean them as-I-go.

This results in a clean dome.

 There are 'tricks' to this.
Sticky mortar. Tightly fitting bricks.  Thin joints.
Missing any of these three factors and the bricks slip making the sharp angles on the upper two-thirds impossible.
The last  bit of cleaning is done through the smallest hole in the dome before cutting and fitting the keystone.
Finally, whereas a very large brick might fulfill the needs for a round keystone, I have also developed a way to cut this piece from two full bricks and four wedges.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Brick Oven in Conservatory: Part Four

 Once the top slab has hardened, 4" insulating blocks (brand name Foamglas) are laid and scribed with the dimensions and placement for the oven floor.

At this point, the woodbox form is used to support the face are below where the oven hearth will go. This oven has an entirely faced brick woodbox.  The chamber in back to the left is intended to be a time capsule.

Every oven base I've built has a dividing wall halfway to the rear for supporting the top slab.  noticed that this aft chamber usually gets shut off when the top slab is poured and can, if desired, function as a time capsule, sealing something in this chamber that can be found generations later.

It may serve other purposes.  In the search for vernacular elements to the  brick oven, this one seems somehow natural.

 I've written in the past blogs that the herringbone pattern of the oven floor goes beyond decorative.  The angled bricks allow the baker to slide the peel in without it catching on minute differences in the floor brick edges.
The woodbox front and the oven floor

Because of space constrains, this oven has a slightly shallower depth for the dome.  To accommodate this, I have sliced the back of the first three courses of dome brick to meet the rigid insulation again the wall of the masonry heater.  Above that height, the oven will resume its normal construction of chains of brick.

Masonry heater front in progress

Monday, January 16, 2017

Brick Oven Planning

Stone building for TBO 54"
As with anything, the bigger the project the greater amount of planning it needs.  Given that a brick oven is a significant project, I most often propose an interval of planning that allows for insights and readjustments. 
Five years ago, I was asked to build a larger bakery oven and the enclosing stone building for Pietree Orchards in Sweden, Maine.  The orchard wanted it to be  up and running for Mother's Day of that year.  Fortunately, the staff at the orchard and a number of local subcontractors were able to do the ground work and initial concrete pour prior to my starting the masonry in Maine.  I generated a CAD design that gave the concrete company dimensions for the slabs and gave me a quantifiable material list.

All this took some planning and the three months leading up to the project start allowed for anticipated space, time, and heating needs.

Details such as the bread rising chambers at both sides were the result of planning.

 The oven and building progressed well and we met the deadline.

Sometimes, insights or additions to the project extend the completion time.  The balance between customer's patience and the quality of the final product is then tested.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Essential Brick Oven Proportions

The BIGGEST mistake that brick oven designers and builders make is in the mouth and face proportions.  The mouth is the opening to the oven proper.  The face is the front of the oven.  The space between contains the flue, and on my interior ovens, the combustion air channels.

The face of the oven is 'sprung' off the side masonry
If I was your athletic coach I'd shout, "LISTEN UP!"

NOTE: In all these photos, the mouth is LOW: about 60% of the height of the interior dome.
The face is about 2" higher and can be much wider.  I have altered the common on-line designs that cramp the face to provide easier visual and physical access to the oven interior.  This actually is closer to the original oven found in Pompeii, Italy.  The cramp faces found on manufactured ovens are an industrial convenience (theirs not yours).

The flue is between the two arches.

The hearth should be at BENT-ELBOW height.  This makes handling food and wood ergonomically smooth.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

True Brick Ovens is Trademarked!

Ten years ago, when I began building custom brick ovens, I didn't consider trademarking my work.  Since then the market has exploded with various kinds of wood-fired ovens making it difficult to distinguish between products and confusing customers as to why prices vary so greatly.

I've attempted on this blog to offer information that would make choosing ANY brick oven on the market based on quality,  performance, and purpose.  I've also offered alternatives to the relatively expensive brick ovens I build and technical tips on how to build one yourself.

So, today my registered trademark has arrived from the United States Patent and Trademark Office declaring that True Brick Ovens is mine.  In the olden days (like medieval Europe) masons didn't sign or claim their work.  Each artisan was valued as an integral part of the community.  There were no labels on food products.  Business signs didn't appear on the road in front of a house under construction.

You knew who could, would or did build something.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Brick Oven Checklist

photo from web sent by potential customer.
It gives us a starting point for design
California TBO oven
For the past three years, my website has contained a button that allows people to fill out a checklist detailing their wished-for brick oven.

Chef David Ross of '50 Local' with TBO portable

What has been interesting is that of the hundred or more times the checklist has been filled out (I respond to all who do), actual contact with the wisher occurs about 8%.

The list is a way for prospective owners of brick ovens to quantify what they are looking for and I suppose it helps them (you) to make choices.

Oven I consulted on in friend's colonial
The fields include: location, purpose, size, foods, and experience.  The field that describes experience ranges from: None, I've Watched, I've used, It's second nature, and I Know More Than You;).

These do help me, whether the contact continues to a conversation or consultation.

Most people choose, "None" or "I've Watched".

Recent TBO 36 in NH
From this I surmise that there may be an experience obstacle to getting their own brick oven.

My website also includes an "Operation Manual" for brick ovens taking the owner from the first firing through temperature and fire management.

Granted, once you have a brick oven, there is a learning curve.  However, it is very steep for most people.  Unless you've never lit a fire with wood or fed a wood fire, you should have the hang of using the brick oven after three firings;  you'll have pizza after the first.

So, whether you get one of my ovens or ANY other oven on the market, this is something you should follow up on for the enjoyment and the quality food that you can make.