Heat your masonry oven with a clean, top-down fire

Heat your masonry oven with a clean, top-down fire

The top-down fire works well for masonry ovens, stoves, and fireplaces, as well as outdoor fires. It’s simple: dry fuel, small sticks (plenty of surface area), plenty of volume where fuel and oxygen can mix — and kindling on top, so the fire burns down, clean and hot. Think of a candle: the flame on top pre-heats the fuel (wax) below, as well as the incoming combustion air. The wick burns hot, bright, and clean, so all you get is light and heat — a perfect fire! If you use it in your oven, your neighbors won’t have to breathe your smoke for hours while they’re waiting for the invite to the pizza party.…

Adjusting mass for optimal performance

Here’s a valuable perspective on the benefits of smaller, easier, cheaper, “faster-cooling” ovens, and a working baker’s comparison w/the classic Alan Scott brick oven design (which isn’t always the best option for someone who wants to start small and simple).

The baker is Noah Elbers, who runs a small bakery in New Hampshire. There are some nice photos of him and his oven(s) on the web, but he’s clearly spending his time in the bakery rather than on the computer — hurrah! He does participate in the brickoven group on yahoogroups, which is where this comment came from.

It is worth noting that Noah fired his 4-5 inch thick cob oven for 5-6 hours every day and used it to run a business.…

Guest Article: An Earthen Oven Odyssey by Joe Kennedy

I have been making earthen ovens for over twenty years now. I made my first one in 1991 when I was working with architect Nader Khalili at CalEarth in the Mojave Desert. We were making a lot of adobe bricks at the time (friendly Persian-sized ones – 8”x8”x2”) and also building domes of regular fired bricks. I’m not sure what got it into my brain to make an oven, probably an old picture of the ovens at Taos Pueblo. One day I made a round foundation of adobe bricks in a mud mortar bed right on the ground, then hammered a string in the middle and used that as a guide to lay up a dome of the half-sized bricks.…

Alan Scott, Brick Ovens, A Marriage

Alan Scott’s Ovencrafters provides DIY masonry oven plans and hardware (doors and pyrometers) for bakers wanting to start their own small business, or just to bake large amounts of bread and other food for family and friends. It was set up on Gandhian principles of “Policy with principles, commerce with morality, wealth through work, and science with humanity.” Many ovens and many small bakeries now feed good bread to their communities as a direct result, and the book Alan inspired and co-wrote, The Bread Builders, has become a bible for a growing circle of builder/bakers.

Alan, an Aussie who inadvertently became the godfather of wood-fired baking in the US, originally wanted to farm, and his time at an agricultural college taught him the many skills required by that undertaking.…

How Wide A Door?

This seems to be one of the bits of the book that could be improved in the next edition.

Yesterday, I got it again in this lovely note from a lady named June:

Hello Kiko: I am a 68 year old woman making my first mud oven following the design in your book – I’m really excited about it, and have a question. Does the width of the door matter? A friend gave me a beautiful peel ahead of the oven and it is 16 inches wide. I am making a 27 inch oven and would like to know if an 18 inch wide door would work.

Kiko’s Recommended Oven Links

This is a somewhat random list of sites and sources of information–mostly free. It also bounces around between earthen and brick ovens, traditional and modern, simple and complex. If you have any recommendations, let me know!

— Kiko

The Masonry Heater Association’s oven page: A goldmine! Le Four a pain de Jean-Marie: Mobile ovens ala Francaise Brick oven plans: free from Forno Bravo (vendor of hi-end modular ovens) “Nifty, easy-to-make (earth) oven”: the quick and dirty version, as printed in Mother Earth News in 02 (before I got really serious about insulation!) Bread Ovens of Quebec: a classic ethnographic study of traditional Quebecois ovens, with stories and directions for building an oven on a framework of alder saplings, by Lise Boily and Jean-Francois Blanchette, who took the measurements that resulted in the well known “63% rule” for the height of the oven door.…

Dan Wing on Trailers for Mobile Ovens

Much as I try to discourage them (see pp 98-101 of Build Your Own Earth Oven, 3d ed.), lots of people want to put their oven on a trailer and tow it long distances at high speed. Dan Wing, co-author of The Bread Builders and builder of fine gypsy trailers, as well as the maker of a well-travelled oven, kindly wrote up a thoughtful and practical set of notes on the safe and proper construction of hi-speed auto-trailers suitable for heavy ovens. It’s a downloadable word file that you can get by clicking here: Oven trailers. If you want to read the 2004 NY Times article that featured Dan and his oven, go here.…

Michael Pollan, a Cob Oven, & the NY Times

“Communal table: A 36 Hour Dinner Party”

The NY Times Magazine recently published this article by Michael Pollan about a 36 hour dinner party cooked in a mud oven. Best, for me, was how he explained the purpose of the oven:

The idea is to make the most efficient use of precious firewood and to keep the heat (and the danger) of the cook fire some distance from everybody’s homes. But what appeals to me about the tradition is how the communal oven also becomes a focus for social life (“focus” is Latin for “hearth”), a place to gather and gossip and escape the solitude of cooking at home.…

Adding masonry to increase wood stove efficiency

Adding masonry to increase wood stove efficiency

By adding masonry and mud to an old cast-iron wood stove, I greatly increased its efficiency — and it even has an oven! (note the wooden door on the right, just above the iron stove door). The wood that used to over-heat me, briefly, in the morning, now keeps me comfortably warm all day, and into the next morning (depending on how long I fire it and how cold it is). And, unlike most iron stoves, it no longer generates that fierce, dry heat that you can only moderate by burning wet wood, or by damping the fire down to a messy, smoldering smoke generator (both strategies will cause dangerous buildups of creosote in a chimney — a major fire hazard).…

the upside down fire

You can greatly improve how your oven performs by how you lay and manage the fire. Here’s how and why I build what Pat Manley calls “an upside down fire.” (Follow the link to an overlong video version). The first principle of fire requires applying to heat to fuel. When the fuel gets hot enough, it bursts into flame. But if you pile many pounds of wood on top of your kindling, it will take a long time before all your fuel can really start burning. Meanwhile, you’ll get a lot of smoke in your (and possibly your neighbors’) eyes, and you’ll lose a lot of fuel (all that smoke counts as unburnt fuel).…