Kiko Denzer


Greetings. Below is a brief introduction, followed by updated announcements for classes I may be teaching. If you’d like to get in touch, please goto the contact page. Farther down please find my most recent Hand Print Press postings (for books, see the bookstore).

INTRODUCTION: In 1994, I left my last day job to try and make a living by art. I had no idea what that would look like, but a friend who taught anthropology invited me to a slide presentation by a guy who had worked with peasant craftspeople all over the world — mostly helping them to build better devices for cooking with wood. His name was Ianto Evans, and he had returned from traveling when he realized that the problems he was trying to solve were not in fact caused by poverty, but by the wasteful and disconnected practices of the wealthy.

That spring, as part of a larger vision for de-consumerization, Ianto was teaching a workshop on how to build a mud house for next to nothing. So I gave him some of my shrinking funds and, with a wonderful  group of folks, mixed mud to build a beautiful little cob cottage, as well as a wood-fired oven. That summer, I sculpted Minnesota and New York mud into a couple of ovens for family members. The ovens, in addition to giving me a wonderful medium for larger-than-life sculpture, also gave me the key to making the kind of truly wonderful bread I had eaten as a child in rural France. I sent Ianto pictures, and he invited me back for more mud work with more wonderful folks.

My vision of art up ’til then had been dominated by a love for stone carving — but I didn’t like the art world, which seemed frivolous, driven by ego and money rather than beauty and service. To me, beauty is what we live by, and cannot live without — like sunshine, grass, and water. The point of life is to participate in those gifts, and to give all we can to insure that they continue.

By another set of lovely coincidences, I had been invited to fix up a little cabin in the country where I could build an oven, bake my own bread, and learn to grow my own food. Eventually, I also built myself a little cob cottage there. Without being able to explain any of it, and mostly by what it was not, I knew that I would not truly be able to live by art unless I could I re-find a real, living connection to nature. Building home and garden became my university, and ovens became the vehicle by which I could share what I learned.

Since then, I have been fortunate to meet and learn from many marvelous, brilliant, and inspiring teachers, all of whom live by a whole variety of arts. I have also discovered that my inchoate feelings about art and beauty constitute, in fact and in practice, what amounts to a universal cornerstone underlying all of culture. The literature is well known, but poorly taught. Ananda Coomaraswamy summarizes it well:

The basic error in what we have called the illusion of culture is the assumption that art is something to be done by a special kind of man, and particularly that kind of man whom we call a genius. In direct opposition to this is the normal and humane view that art is simply the right way of making things, whether symphonies or airplanes.
    Manufacture is for use and not for profit. The artist is not a special kind of man, but every man who is not an artist in some field, every man without a vocation, is an idler. The kind of artist that a man should be, carpenter, painter, lawyer, farmer, or priest, is determined by his own nature…

This is not to say that any mere practice constitutes art, but that goals such as beauty, proportion, and harmony can be pursued in any vocation — so long as the vocation understands its purpose as defined by use and not for profit. In other words, art cannot and does not serve self or wealth, but others.


I am just about finished building our new house, which has been my main focus for the past two years. Grateful as I am for the all that has made it possible, I’m looking forward to being able to move in and move on with more “normal” activities, including more spoons, ovens, writing, etc. We welcome WWOOFers and/or intern/apprentice/volunteers. In addition to house, garden, wooden spoons & bowls, shape-note singing, swimming, walking, biking, birding, and wood-fired sourdough bread, we’re also building an earthen garden wall and conducting various classes, including, so far:

April 30-May 6, if all goes well, I hope to be at the Buckeye Gathering near Chico, CA, teaching green wood work and spoon-carving.

June 13, I’m on the schedule at Plymouth Craft, talking (and demonstrating) about earthen building (I expect to be fairly high from attending the greenwood fest, where I’m going to enjoy learning more about greenwood from some of the best in the world).

June, August, and September I have three or four days on the schedule at Nana Cardoon, in Forest Grove, mostly for carving spoons, but also for a day of mowing with traditional scythes.

July 15-16, I’ll be leading an oven workshop at Pringle Creek Community in Salem (email “info at pringlecreek dot com”)

July 23-29, I’ll be teaching greenwood at Echoes-In-Time, near Salem, OR

18 Responses to Kiko Denzer

  1. Bjorn Bayer says:

    Hi Kiko, I just wanted to say a big thank you for the inspiration and clear instruction from your “Build Your Own Earth Oven” book. I would love to share some photo’s of my finished oven with you, so what’s the best way for me to do that? All the best

  2. Donald Stepanovich says:

    Hi Kiko, Thanks for the great book “Build your Own Earth Oven”. I’m in New Mexico where I get 8″ of rain so I’m building an uncovered Horno. I have some old broken stabilized adobe bricks (something like 1 to 3% asphalt). Can I soak those down, sift them and use the fine leftovers as a clay slip on the horno when I’m done? I’m thinking it would make replastering every 3 or 4 years instead of every year but your book mentions the need for ovens to breath. Will the small amount of asphalt ‘breath-back” into the oven through the insulation and cob?

    • Kiko Denzer says:

      Hi, Donald, thanks for the note. I haven’t worked much w/asphalt emulsion, but I suspect you’d be fine using it for a finish plaster. My understanding is that the small percentage of asphalt just increases resistance to water rather than effecting a complete waterproofing. And assuming your insulation is thick enough to prevent the exterior from getting hot, heat should not be an issue. Is it common practice to re-use old stabilized adobes? I’m not sure what happens to the asphalt once it dries… I would not want it any where close to heat, however, as I suspect burning asphalt would not only smell horrible, but also potentially taint anything you might cook in the oven.

  3. I’d like to be on mailing list to know when you’ll be in Neb, Col area. I’d like to attend your spoon carve with my son.

    • Kiko Denzer says:

      Hi, Fernando, it might be a while before I get to your area. Meanwhile, however, there are a lot of resources out there. Willie Sundqvist’s book is perhaps the classic one; Barn the Spoon just put one out that’s also good; there are more. They’ll all come up on Amazon. And there are LOTS of videos on youtube, some traditional and some new. (I really like Stuart King’s videos, from before the current craze.) There’s a Facebook group that I don’t know much about. But Barn the Spoon’s Greenwood Guild in London has just started a subscription series of carving videos that might be the best place to spend money if you can’t find someone to whittle with. Best wishes from here.

  4. David Dawson says:

    Hi Kiko

    I’m currently making an earth oven. I had a photocopy of your book for years then this year I decided to actually get on with making the oven and couldn’t find the copy but my local library kindly bought a copy for me and eventually for other library users. As well as your book I have watched dozens of YouTube videos and decided to make the thermal layer from a clay/sand mix with an insulation layer of compressed mineral fibre (ROXUL) with chicken wire and stucco on top. I’ve been documenting progress in a PowerPoint and would send it to you if I had an email address. Anyway, what are your thoughts on the stucco? I notice your father used stucco and it wasn’t successful so I am anxious to not make a major mistake.
    Thanks from Canada

    • Kiko Denzer says:

      If I was going to stucco an earthen oven, I’d leave a generous (3-6″) air gap between the insulation and exterior cladding — cement stucco, brick, etc. I would also vent the cladding, so moist air could get out, as well as providing a pathway for condensation to escape w/out saturating the earthen material. Moisture will condense when it hits the dew point — which could saturate your oven mass and possibly collapse it. I have seen it happen.

      • David Dawson says:

        Thanks for your thoughts Kiko. Though worrying and a bit late now as I’m almost at the stuccoing stage. I am including 5 vents to allow any water vapour to escape from the insulation that is between the thermal layer and the stucco layer. I hope it doesn’t collapse but I guess time will tell. If it does collapse I will probably re-build with fire bricks instead of clay/sand, though I admit this defeats the object of having an ‘earthen’ oven. I am documenting progress with a PowerPoint and have tried to email you an earlier version. Did you get it?

        I’m looking forward to my first batch of bread to come out of my oven.

        Thanks again – David

  5. Geoff says:

    I’m working on gathering materials to build one of your mud ovens! One thing I can’t get though is bricks. I can’t find any information about making a mud oven with a mud floor. Is it possible? I thought about making my own bricks, but test bricks weren’t turning out well. Basically falling apart. Would it be detrimental to build the floor out of mud as well? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Kiko Denzer says:

      Hey, Geoff; I haven’t tried the mud floor, but in principle, it should work. Typically, bricks are fired at a higher temperature than you’ll get in your mud oven, but adding ash to the clay as a flux may lower the temperature at which the clay vitrifies — not sure just how much — too much will probably not help. The next step might be to build a little kiln and fire your bricks hotter, then install them in your oven. I have heard of earthen ovens that used pebble or stone floors — they baked flatbreads on the pebble floors, leaving buyers to pick out any pebbles that might adhere to the bread. Soapstone is an option, but typically makes a much hotter floor than brick. There may be other stones you could use, but exercise caution, as some rock will explode in high heat. Please do let us know how it goes!

      • Geoff says:

        Thanks for the reply. Almost all the stones we have around here (a rugged mountainous region of Papua New Guinea) explode when heated! It’s a white chalky stuff. We have nice clay though! I could probably get some river rocks, but I’d think I’d need to have something in between them.

        So if I were to use clay/sand for the floor, you’d recommend making bricks of them first? Would there be a problem just building up the floor as a solid mass of clay/sand?

        I’ll definitely have to experiment with the ash! Hopefully that will help.

        • kiko denzer says:

          building up a solid mass of sand/clay mix and firing it will produce a soft brick. The hotter you fire it, the more it will shrink and crack and the harder it will get (until it melts, but I doubt you’ll get that hot). The difficulty of firing large objects in clay is one of the reasons why bricks are the size they are.

          • Geoff says:

            So I was finally able to make, dry, and fire my bricks. I used 5 parts clay, 4 parts sand, and 1 part wood ash. Used the thrown clay wedge method in a mold to make 30 bricks. Dried them for about a month. Then fired in a one time use updraft type kiln I made from a fuel drum, covered with earth. They actually turned out OK! Would show pics, but don’t see a way to do that here.

          • kiko denzer says:

            very cool to read your report (below; some day I might figure out a way for you to post pix.) Is the ash the only difference between these and your previous bricks? Or was the kiln hotter? Or both? Let us know how they work in your oven…

  6. Gary Bradley says:

    Looks interesting. Outside of Penticton, B.C, Can, there is an old abandoned railway right of way. It’s now a walking path. Every few thousand yards or whatever, you can still see the stone ovens used by the Chinese cooks for the railway construction workers. The ovens are all probably still useable, and had a shelf that the cookee used to bake their bread etc on! Just thought u might like 2 know! g

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