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.

Fire is what truly distinguishes humans from all the other species — not our brain, our music, or any of our wonderful “achievements.” The one thing we do that none of the other animals do is to make and use fire. Only humans rely on external fire for our survival… All the others keep their fires inside.

The video shares pix, processes, and some tips on fuel prep. It’s also worth looking at the technical articles on the Masonry Heater Association website.


  1. Hi Kiko
    good to see your video on building up a fire in the oven.
    I am wondering if you have ever used charcoal to keep a fire going when making pizza. I have been given some locally made charcoal and thought it may be worth having a go. Have you any thoughts on this?
    best wishes

  2. Hi, Bex, good to hear from you. What you need for pizza is a live flame. Charcoal was traditionally made for burning in a forge with a bellows, or in a kiln. With the kind of strong draft you get in a forge or kiln, it provides much higher temperatures than regular wood fire. It generally burns much cleaner than wood, so it was also traditionally used for indoor cooking and heating fires. Until coal production got big, charcoal fueled the beginnings of the industrial revolution — as such it was, and still is, a major contributor to deforestation, as well as to good management practices like coppicing. The ovens themselves produce some charcoal, but what I do with that now is grind it up and add it to the compost, where it improves fertility and sequesters carbon (for more about that, see this post on Terra Preta and The Biochar Solution: http://www.handprintpress.com/authors/terra-preta-and-the-biochar-solution/). Best winter wishes from chilly Oregon!
    — Kiko

    1. To Kiko: I am new to this type of communication. I don’t know if you will get this message or not. I want to find some books on subjects you may have knowledge about.I live in the south (northeast Louisiana) and ranch and do some limited farming, among other things. This winter it has been unusually cold for us and I had to turn on my greenhouse heater to keep all my vegetables and flowers going. After one month every thing was looking good and then I ran out of propane, that had been in the 500 gallon tank for four years, hardly ever having to use it. I have multiple smaller tanks at the barn and some smaller houses here on the place that go most of the winter months with not much cost. When I had to fill this big tank for over $1300, I decided that my tomatoes were costing me about ten dollars a piece. I ran the heater for another two weeks and then decided to shut it down because of cost. That night it was 24 degrees and all my beautiful plants are dead. That is when I decided to build a wood burning furnace and heat with it. I have been looking thru the internet and I am finding all sorts of things that I know little to nothing about. “mud ovens, rocket stoves, gasification for fuel, etc.” Kiko I have seen some of your videos and very much enjoyed them. I want to buy books and plans to help me learn about these things. We raise Bison, horses, and trees. Right now I have close to a million hardwood seedlings still in the ground that are 10 to 15 feet tall and have no market. I am going to have to destroy them soon. They may make firewood. Please let me know if you have any help or advice. God bless, Louie Crook

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