KIKO’S PAGE

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 when he returned from his travels, he realized that the problems he was trying to solve were not in fact caused by poverty, but by the economic systems required to establish and maintain a wasteful, exploitative, profit-driven consumer society.

That spring, as part of a larger goal of 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. The need to build a 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 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.

UPDATE & CALENDAR OF CLASSES, May, 2018

Our new house was the main focus for three years until I finished last spring. Grateful as I am for the all that has made it possible, I’m happy to be doing other things again, including more spoons, bowls, 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 things (with mud and sticks), and conducting various classes. If you’re interested, please get in touch (potlatch at cmug dot com or call 541-929-4301). Current agenda includes:

Spoon carving & Greenwood:
• April 29 – May 5, The Buckeye Gathering, I’ll be spoon-carving; others will be hide-tanning, fire-making, flint-snapping, and everything else
• May 8-14, I’ll be teaching a full week of greenwood at the post Buckeye pathways event: spoons, bowls, shrink pots, the lathe (foot-powered), decorative and sculptural work, tools, techniques, etc.. There may also be possibilities for tool-making w/Bryce Wood, a great smith who uses simple, minimal technology to make metal tools.
• June 2 and 3, two one-day classes at Wildwood View Garden in Portland, $75, Registration and info: potlatch at cmug dot com or call 541-929-4301.
• June 9th, June 16, two one-day spoon carving classes in Corvallis. Info and registration at the Corvallis Art Center.
•  July 22-28, spoon-carving at Echoes-in-Time
I’ve been selling sell spoons and bowls locally in Corvallis, and hope to have retail space in the near future. If you want wares, please get in touch.

I’ve been adding some things to the youtube channel.

27 Comments

  1. 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

    Gary Bradley
  2. 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!

    Geoff
    1. 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!

      1. 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.

        Geoff
        1. 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.

          kiko denzer
          1. 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.

            Geoff
          2. 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…

            kiko denzer
  3. 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
    David

    David Dawson
    1. 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.

      1. 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

        David Dawson
  4. Hello! I’m interested in making an oven! I did a search to find clay, but no luck finding any to dig or buy. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! Tim from Massachusetts

    Tim st. Amour
    1. to find clay you just need to look under your feet. MA is rich in clay. Construction sites, backyard holes, road cuts — all the old brick buildings in Boston are made from local clay — it’s everywhere. There are a lot of books that will help you recognize it, and I won’t repeat what I wrote in Build Your Own Earth Oven, but I hope you’re able to get out and look. Just pick up pinches of dirt wherever you go — wet it out (spit works well), and see what it feels like. If you decide to buy it from a ceramic or building supplier (ask for fireclay), fine, but it all comes from underfoot. One author (Wm. Bryant Logan) says if we took all the clay on the planet and spread it out evenly, it would cover the earth a mile thick! A Google “search” won’t work (unless you’re looking for your friendly neighborhood masonry or ceramic supplier — but you’ll learn so much more if you use your own eyes and hands. In fact, visiting my brother in Cambridge awhile back, I talked to the guys who were tearing up Huron Ave to work on the sewer system. Their hole was full of beautiful, pure gray clay. You could have made pots with it. I wasn’t building anything at the time, but I’ve often gotten buckets or truckloads of great material from construction crews, many of whom are really interested to hear about what I’m using it for…)

    1. 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.

  5. 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?

    Donald Stepanovich
    1. 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.

  6. 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

    Bjorn Bayer
  7. Kiko –

    I built an earth oven several years ago using your book as a guide. The results were great! I’ve fired a LOT of pizzas over the years to the delight of family and friends. A wood-fired pizza is a taste revelation and it’s great fun to watch them finish in about 90 seconds when the oven is super hot. I now have a few cracks in the oven that require repair. I attempted to schmear on more mud last year, but I didn’t get good adhesion. What is the best way to get additional mud to adhere? Thanks for your help! By the way, my oven and your book has inspired others. I plan to help a neighbor build one this summer.

    Glen Scheele
    1. Hi, Glen, if the cracks aren’t actually leaking smoke, you probably don’t have a lot to worry about. It also depends on whether you insulated your oven or not. In an uninsulated oven, cracks can be widened a bit w/any kind of scratchy/scrapey tool and filled, preferably with a fine-grained mix (mason’s sand, clay w/out big lumps). If the oven is insulated, you might want to remove the outer shell and inspect the insulation prior to re-plastering. Insulation can be filled/fixed/replaced.

      One way I’ve dealt with cracking is to isolate the insulation from the dense inner layer so that when the oven material expands, it doesn’t push on the outer layers. This insures that cracks won’t pass thru to the exterior. The process is as follows: after the dense layer is complete, cut strips of cardboard into long triangles. Dampen them until they’re flexible enough to lay over the outside of the dome. Use enough so that when the cardboard burns out, you’ll have a gap of 1/8th to 1/4 inch. Apply insulation over the cardboard, and finish plaster over the insulation.

      I hope this helps; let me know how it goes.

  8. Hi. I have built a 22″ clay oven using your book. We have cooked several delicious pizzas, calzones, apple galettes and baked sweet potatoes using it. I have not yet installed the insulation layer. I used 3:1 sand to dry powdered clay mix for the inner dense layer. The powered clay was purchased from a ceramic studio that also supplies clay to other studios for only $5 for 50 lbs.

    However, I can not find straw or saw dust near us. I bought a bale of 50 lb compressed Timothy grass but later read that such dried grass/hay it not recommended for the insulation layer. I am now hesitant to use it. Is the problem with dried Timothy grass serious enough to be worth making a 120 mile round trip to purchase straw from the nearest feed shop advertising barley/wheat straw for erosion control?

    Robert Mahoney
    1. eeesh. Yup, 120 miles is too far to go. The reason I don’t like long fiber for insulation is because it tends to bunch up and make pockets that are large enough to create a combustible situation when they get hot. That said, if it’s all you’ve got, I’d recommend chopping it up (about an 1″) before you mix in the clay slip. Shorter fibers will take a coat of clay easier and pack better, w/out bunching. (If you’re in the country and have access to any (fresh) horse or cow manure, that would also be a good addition.) Basically, any organic matter that can be turned into smallish particles will work. When mixed with clay, it should make a sticky, doughy, packable material. Whatever you use, I do recommend making a small test ball and putting it in a fire for at least an hour to burn out all the organic matter. It should have enough clay to make a reasonably solid foam (i.e., after firing, it shouldn’t fall apart in your hand, tho it will crush easily).

  9. Hi kinko I have a bakery here in goa India, I have been trying to build one of your Ovens the big one..
    I’m having trouble finding good sand recently I went to a granite seller they have a lot of pieces that they just throw away. My question was could I somehow grind the granite and mix it with the sand for the fence oven mix.. Please help I have been stuck on this oven many months.. Thanks a million love your work. Ziggy Flourdust baker at FlourPower Bakeria Goa

    1. Hi, Ziggy,
      sorry for the slow reply. Are you wanting to replace clay w/ground granite? If so, well, I’ve never heard of it being done, and would not expect good results. That said, clay comes from decayed granite, so…maybe? I suspect grinding would be a LOT of work. If, however, you’re wanting to replace sand w/ground granite, then yes, absolutely. In fact, if you’re near a quarry where they manufacture gravel, they may have waste (fines) that would work very well in place of sand. Again, however, just grinding rock-sized chunks of granite into sand sounds like a lot of heavy labor. If you’re anywhere near a river, you should be able to find sand deposits on the banks or nearby. I hope this helps. Hard to assess materials via emailed descriptions…

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