Earth-Art: Maia’s Mud Mural

Earth Art in Oregon

Maia Fischler and friends made this mural on Maia’s house using local earth and powdered concrete tints mixed with waterglass. Maia said “I hadn’t planned to paint the brown areas but as time wet by the mud turned a pretty boring color so I decided to do it at the last minute. Sadly, [the masonry supply place] was closed for the weekend, so I went to Home Depot and got some liquid concrete tint, which wasn’t as nice. (You couldn’t control the consistency so it was pretty runny when mixed — a little less than 1 to 1 — with the waterglass.)

Beautiful work!…

For a Hand-Made Education: Build your own Sustainable Shelter, & More

Make a sustainable, yurt-style shelter, by hand, with materials your can find and harvest yourself. Come June, Kiko Denzer will lead a week-long intensive natural building project to perfect a design for a simple, affordable, efficient and beautiful yurt made of sticks, string, and mud (6/9-15, Aprovecho Inst., Cottage Grove, OR; information and registration here. For design description and photos, click here.)

If you’re interested in a full year learning opportunity in natural building, home heat (ovens, rocket-stoves, and masonry heaters), traditional green woodwork, basic blacksmithing, tool-making, gardening, compost toilets, livestock (maybe) and more. Directed by Kiko Denzer (affiliated with the North American School of Natural Building, Aprovecho Institute, Primitives Skills communities, etc.) Labor for rent trade includes possibilities for long-term collaboration.…

New translations! in Spanish and German: Hornos de Barro; Lehm Backofens

Thanks to muddy friends Ian Miller, Christo Markham, and Xavier Rodriguez, there are now German and Spanish editions of Build Your Own Earth Oven. The German edition is published by Stocker Verlag, (click here). The Spanish edition is published by EcoHabitar (click here).

A few words of thanks are in order: Ian’s first oven inspired him to start a bread business and build his own natural house; when his (Austrian) wife Andrea got accepted for an educational program in her homeland, he wrote me out of the blue, proposing an oven book for a German speaking audience. He took on the project, found a publisher, did the translation, and made it happen.…

Bottle insulation for a yurt floor

Rusty Orner, of Quiet Creek Farm, in PA, took the idea of insulating an oven floor with recycled beer bottles and applied it to a yurt he was building as a classroom and bunk space for students and interns.

On leveled ground, they made a rubble trench, covered with gravel bags and capped with mortar and slate, to support the lattice walls of the yurt. They filled the thirty foot diameter donut with packed shale, a thin layer of sand, and then 5,000 beer bottles. The empty bottles provide four inches of insulation and a thermal break to keep cold from migrating into the floor.…

Improving woodstove efficiency: Rocket Stoves & Masonry Heaters

Improving woodstove efficiency: Rocket Stoves & Masonry Heaters:

Editor’s introductory note: Masonry heaters, many of them self-built, warm millions of homes in the former USSR, where Alex Chernov grew up. Now working as a certified heater mason in Canada, Alex designs and builds heaters and ovens, and consults on projects all over the world through his company, Stovemaster (his website offers a wealth of background info). In the article below, he combines his professional expertise with his own background and experience in a culture where most people have long experience heating with wood, and where building one’s own heater was not unusual.

Wood-fired oven recipes: Hameen Eggs

I don’t normally get excited about hard-boiled eggs, but these aren’t your normal fare. The color alone gives them a quality like deeply polished mahogany; the flavor is nutty and sweet; the texture of the white is firmer, while the yolk is softer. The trick is simply to boil them gently with onion skins, overnight, in the declining heat of your oven. Red onion skins give a deeper color — these were cooked with white onion skins.

I forget who got us started with these, but when I went looking on the web I found many references to “hameen” dishes — so-called simply because they were slow-cooked overnight to provide warm food on the Sabbath, when traditional Jews weren’t allowed to do any work at all — even adding water to a pot of soup, much less lighting a fire to warm a pot of stew — or eggs.…

Wood-fired earth ovens: experiments in DIY firebrick (aka “castable refractory”)

I’ve been experimenting with cheap ways to improve lo-cost wood-fired earthen ovens. How can I make mud denser, harder, and more durable? Without going to bricks and/or spending a lotta dough? Adding sand to mud reduces shrink and increases density. But clay and sand are generally still less dense (hold less heat) than a good, hi-fired dense firebrick. Hmmm…

Experimental Goals:

1. to increase the density and toughness of a clay/sand thermal mix appropriate for building wood-fired ovens (and other wood-fired appliances?), 2. to fabricate a higher quality cast dome (“earth-oven”) style oven. Strategies: 1. adjust the mix of particle sizes to maximize density, and 2.…

Combining Earthen and Masonry Techniques in Wood-Fired Oven Construction

Is it made of earth or brick? This is a common distinction in the world of wood-fired ovens and comes with a whole slew of assumptions. “Earth ovens are cheaper, easier to build but less durable.”  “Brick ovens are expensive, harder to build but more professional and will last longer.” The oven build documented below is an exploration of the combination of these techniques to leverage the advantages of each. We use earth where its sculptural quality allows us to perfectly mold it to the shape that we desire. We use brick where it will give a good durable surface for cooking and in the entrance way to withstand the abuse of heated and passionate cooking.…