Friday, October 30, 2015

DIY Traditional Brick Bread Pizza Oven Review

Holy crap, we actually did this thing. 1 graphic designer + 1 university lecturer + few strange people lurking around + bunch of wine, beer and rakijetine + free weekend = DIY brick/clay bread oven.

I mean, if we managed to pull this off, I don't see any imaginable reason why you, my dear imaginary friend, should fail to do it.

Needed Materials and Infrastructure

1. The clay needs to be harvested, bought, or stolen, about a week before building the oven, and kept in a container filled with water. This is important, because you don't want to work with hard clay, or crushing it manually while it is completely dry (well yeah, we tried that. I won't go into details, but let's just keep that day out of the public domain).

The clay: An enormously idiotic way to prepare it.
I won't go into details, but you should really soak it in water about a week before starting to work on the oven.

The purpose of the clay is the substitute for a standard commercial mortar. This home-made mortar is made by mixing the clay, the sand, and the water together.

How much? A bunch.
About 0.02 m3.
Give or take.
Or, let's just stick with the bunch.

2. The sand.

The sand should be of fine granulation (have no idea what are formal English notions for types of sands).

The sand. There.

How much? Even larger bunch. The theoretical clay:sand proportion is 1:3. So, if we consider for a moment that the clay volume statement makes sense and was indeed serious, than the amount of sand should be about 0.06 m3.

All-natural, home-made mortar. Oh, the joy with mixing it manually.
 (sand + clay + water)

3. The bricks
The bricks are old-school, ancient, solid, and soil-based. No modern stuff. The old-school bricks can survive extreme temperatures developing in the pizza/bread ovens, and have no toxic, poisonous, radioactive, heavy metal-based, thrash or death-metal based, or cancer-causing ingredients.

How much? For the oven which we built and presented in this article, we used about 100-130 pieces. Some of them we've managed to get for free, other ones we've found in local adverts for about 0.15$ per brick.

Dimensions of individual brick: about 30cm x 15cm x 7.5cm. There were also several smaller ones.

4. The alcohol.
How much?
If you remember the specifications for the sand quantities, use that.

The primary fuel for the working class.
5. The insulator.
What godda** motherfu***ng as***pe shi***ece insulator, you are surely thinking to yourself. Well, the thing is, you need to keep your oven insulated, so all the happy heat that you develop in it, mostly stay in it. We will insulate the top and sides of the oven with clay and wood shred/chips (explained later.. much later). But we also need to insulate the BOTTOM of the oven, so the heat does not escape through... the..

In short, we used 2 layers of stone wool insulation sheets, each 3cm thick. And guess what, that made the overall stone wool insulation of 6cm.

Besides the stone/mineral/glass wool, you can also use glass bottles for the insulation layer. The glass itself is not much of the insulator according to the internet [internet, pp. 4654165467], but the air inside the bottles serve as a solid insulator. This will make the insulation layer considerably thicker, but it will do if you are in the desert, alone without stuff to buy, and you happen to have a bunch of empty glass bottles nearby, equipped with an extraordinary motivation to build a pizza oven.

Seriously, a friend made a very similar pizza and bread oven as this one, but using the glass bottles instead of the wool for the insulation layer, and the oven works in a way that we can't really tell the difference.

6. The bread and pizza oven FOUNDATION (base)
Yes, as it happens, the oven won't levitate in the proper altitude for some reason, and we suspect it has something to do with the Force and certain annoying glitches in the Standard Model.

Prepared oven base, because Standard Model sucks. 

Nevertheless, this did not made us stray, so we've prepared a solid, concrete base on the brick support, for an oven foundation. It is about 10cm thick, and has a metal armature mesh inside.

The Process

The pictures tell 0 words, but are more fun than a lots of words, and are fairly descriptive when it comes to building a pizza and bread oven. 

The Complex Nature of the Home-Made Mortar

-> It should be sticky.

A mortar is sticky like this: it won't fall off. 

How to Begin?

Start with laying the outline of the oven which will serve as its base.

Laying the oven outline

You can also use cardboard templates (or anything similar) in order to visually help you with the brick arrangement.

Cardboard template as a visual guide for a brick arrangement

Insulating the Bottom of the Oven

Use the mortar to join the bricks together. If you are working with insulating wool materials, you can also use the following steps (check the pics for more clarity):
  1. Spread the mortar over the concrete base.
  2. Spread the aluminium foil over the mortar. 
  3. Place the bricks outlining the base of the oven
  4. Cut the glass wool to the base oven outline and lay it down to the aluminium foil.
  5. Drink alcohol.
  6. Envelop the mineral wool with the aluminium foil as much as possible. 
Preparing the insulation layer

6 cm of glass wool, covered with aluminium foil

Relax. The oven practically builds itself, so your brain should stay away as much as possible.

Insulation layer done. This makes the base of the pizza/bread oven. Now the real fun begins.

We used aluminium foil because of the irrational fear that the wool might soak in the moist from somewhere (the rain), and this came to mind first. There should be smarter ways to do this. In some parallel universe, we surely did this like pros. 

Now What?

Lay the bricks over the insulator layer, making the oven floor, onto which, one day, hopefully, maybe, pizzas will be layed down in Celsius inferno.

The oven floor: The floor made for pizzas.

IMPORTANT TIP: Use any tool necessary to make these floor bricks as smooth/straight/even as possible, because you don't want your pizza peels or pizzas themselves stuck in the unequal heights between individual bricks. But don't worry too much (some worry is always reasonable) about the space between the bricks - it will fill itself with the ashes in time.

If the bricks have an uneven (not smooth) surface, make them even and smooth by any means necessary.
Oven floor is important.
I sh** you not. 

Oven floor: nice and smooth. More or less. Handled with care. More or less.

Pizza/bread oven floor is set. But the night is nigh...

...and altough we've sent the official request with all the forms and papers properly filled and registered for the restraining order, the night tricked us somehow and casually showed on our workspace. 

Physical Contact Between the Bricks

The one important thing to keep in mind in the process of laying the bricks is the physical contact - always have in mind, especially when making the angles (and there will be lots of angles, because the oven is, or should be, well, round-ish), that bricks need to stay in physical contact at some point, regardless of the amount of mortar between them.

The idea is for the structure to hold itself, not to be dependent on the treacherous nature of the home-made mortar made in the foggy process of using Needed Material no. 4.

Than, start building up the oven. Use the mortar to glue them together, and keep the physical contact when making slopes. Use proper mortar quantity to adjust the angles.

DAY TWO. Here it began. 

REMEMBER, REMEMBER THE Physical Brick-Contact Rule:
"There Shall Always Be a Physical Contact Between Bricks."

Altough, it might also work just fine if there isn't one.
As you may guess, building pizza/bread ovens is not exactly a strict science process. 

Oh, a small detail. We cut some of the bricks in half, so we could make more precise swerves. 

The popular Neighbor-Pleaser Method: the noise and the dust and the all-round mayhem

Questions are beggining to emerge: Is this thing going to hold?

Starting to look like a real pizza bread oven

How to make the arch?

Use anything that will keep it from crashing down until you place the one last "nailing" brick, or part of the brick.

Constructing the arch with using exclusively pro supporting tools. 

Please, Lords of Kobol, let it not all fall apart to hell for a just few more minutes.

NAILED! See the last piece on the arch, the smallest one, looking like a retarder triangle?
That is the key to mechanical stability. Now the arch basically supports itself.

Finishing up

Constructing the arch is the most demanding activity for one simple reason: gravity. After you've succeeded in this quest, anything is possible, including you surviving the suspicious bottle of local alcoholic experiment which you've acquired from a strange person lurking nearby.

Lay the bricks down until you finish. Use the mortar for angle adjustment.

Time to fill up the giant hole in the oven, because the oven feels funny with the giant hole in the middle of it. 

Up in The Hole....

Feeling so smaaaallll... 

Yep, the hole again.

We've begun to question things in general, so decided to put the stop to it immediately. 

Hammerbanging some bricks..

The important last step of the oven building process:
standing and jumping on top of your new oven.
Because physics, that's why.

... aaand just a small amount of cosmetic tweakings... showing how to connect electrical appliances properly,
following the strict laws of the profession.
Right, electric guys?

The Aftermath

The following steps are important:
  1. Let the oven dry for the following 7-10 days (keep it covered if raining)
  2. After the initial drying period, ignite small fires in it every day for the next 7 days (use small amounts of paper, cardboard, and similar). This enables the oven to slowly dry from the inside. 
  3. After steps 1 and 2, you are free to burn the hell in it. 
Believe me, I know the temptation.. But in the second week, small daily fires only!

To be completely honest, we have no idea what would exactly happen if you fail to follow these steps, but we've heard from one case that the oven was unable to heat itself to the working temperature, and was extremely difficult to cook any food in it. This makes sense, because the energy in this case is probably spent on drying the oven, instead of accumulating in it. Or does it? No idea.
Ask someone who speaks thermodynamics.

NOTE: The work on this oven is not concluded. We still need to insulate it with about 10cm clay + wood shreds mix. More about this on some other post.

UPDATE: A few people asked me for dimensions of the oven. Here is the picture.

Oven dimensions

Building the Traditional Brick Bread Pizza Oven THE GOOD:

  1. The pizza-bread oven!!
  2. It has magical properties: you can use it, and it works.
  3. It looks cool in front of your house, or in any placement in the near vicinity of your house, or somewhere else where there is no house at all. 
  4. You learn some physics and some architecture stuff, or you just do it without learning anything, but still.
  5. It is fun to build. 
  6. If you ask us to build one for you, we will happily do it, and take a lot of your money in the process. Nah, just kidding. A reasonable amount. And boy, can we eat and drink. 
  7. The bread-pizza oven. All other arguments are invalid.

Building the Traditional Brick Bread Pizza Oven THE BAD:

  1. You need about two full days to make it.
  2. ... and then, you need more time to insulate it.
  3. You need to have some wood and you need to know how to burn that same wood inside the oven.
  4. There will be a constant inflow of hungry people to your home. Some of them will be complete strangers, but most of them will be docile.
  5. For the complete story, you would need to build or acquire a pizza peel, a door for your oven, and some kind of brush for all the annoying people who don't like the taste of ashes on their pizzas. 
  6. It is not waterproof. Seriously. Not in this stage.


  1. Looks awesome! Had lots of fun reading it, I guess now I need one too :)

    1. There. Tnx. Of course you need one. Everyone needs one! :)

  2. Daydreaming pizza oven, your writing reminded me of Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, fun