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ecause most people these da1,s have

iittle experience with masonry con-

struction and have neither seen nor

:,*r: f, masonry oven, I think it wise to pro-

'r:i en introduction to the choices involved.

chapter will review the features of di-


"::-j'u'-fued masonry ovens) and the safety : :rsiderations inherent in their construction

li[:\J USe.

lrrt Safety

. n, :rs built to plans similar to the ones in this t':,, r have been approved by building inspec-

r,:r: h many states under the portions of the

nuJng codes that deal with fireplaces, but

nl ling codes do change and interpretation ,in,: .nfbrcement of these codes varies gready

r r: jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Therefore t: t- ttutst discuss your intentions with the

tn'ui;ing code enforcement team in your area

;r:rr " \-ou build. Ifyou live in an unregulated un:;- shorv your plans to the chief of the fire

department, and document your conversa- tion. Failure to show reasonable diligence in

fire safety could void your fire insurance. Of course) in no case can I (nor the publisher or

any other party) be considered responsible

for your actions, your oven, or any problems (such as a structural fire) that may result from

building an oven-you have to assume the

responsibility yourself, and acr according to

that burden. I will get you started by describ-

ing some common code requirements later

in this chapter.

Design Lessons

foo* Historicol Ovens

You know that traditional bake ovens are

called internal combustion, retained-

heat ovens (or direct-fired) because wood

is burned, the ashes are removed, and

the bread is put into the fire chamber to

bake. Like traditional rowboats and hand

tools, internal combustion ovens possess a



functional elegance honed by hundreds of ],ears of trial and error. Every element of

the oven is necessarl, and errery necessary

element is in place.

Although ovens can be built (and used)

that do r-rot lbllorv tl-re guidelines given in

this chapter, they may have drarvbacks. For

example, over-rs built with a rectangular or oval floor plan (like the one in this book) are

more practical to load with loaves than round

ovens, even though lou'-roofbd round ovens are just as fuel efficient. Orrens with accessory

flues and no way to reqrgls the heat carried

olrtin the exhaust are Lrsuallyless fuel etncient

than ovens that vent out the door. Manv old books refer to the desirability of building an o\ien s,'ith an oval floor plan and a lor,v door, r,','ithout explaining rvir,v.

Lise Boilv and Jean-Frangois Blanchette (in

their 1979 book The Brenrl Oyens of Qrtbec)

were the first to make a sumrharv of the de-

sign criteria fbr successful ovens. B-v making

detailed measurerrrents of scores of existing ovens built of clay in eastern Canada, the1,

distilled for the first time the principles that

make these things r,vork. It is fortunate that Quebec ovens are built to a vernacular design

brought from France three hundred years

ago arrd little changed over timc. since mosr

similar ovens r,vere replaced long ago in urban

Europe, u'here larger hybrid ovens operated

by apprenticeship-trained bakers became the norm.

Oven Essentials-

Intewcally Fi,red. Ot ens

Internally fired ovens can be used in both direct-ireat and retained-heat methods of cooking. By direct heat I mean that a fire

continue s to burn in the oven chamber r,r.hile

the bread is baked, as in the Indian tandoor o:

in Italian roasting alndpizza o\rens. Retained

heat rleans that the fire is removed befbrc

the food is cooked. This is the r,vay loar.es of

bread are baked.

Because retained-heat ovens can onl',

deliver heat drat rvas stored in the masonr-,

as the oven r.vas fired, these orrens must be

healy and thick. Their mass must be sufficier::

to store enough heat to bake the brea.r This requirement for oven mass is one ,-,

the factors that affbcts retained-heat o\-e , useftilness and efficiencl', but oa1t.t fxgtt-,::




An oyen in which the wolk and lmarth are to,, thin won't retain enough be at for baking lon.1'


An fficient d.irectly-Jired open will hape n du:

that is obout 63 percent the beight ofthe hriii,

its d.ome.


.re also important, such as insulation and

-re d1'nx11ics of oven air flou'. Even more

.rportant is the operation or management of

:-r- oven (chapter l0), because firir:rg a cold en to baking heat requires heat that will -:-, er be recovered bv baking bread. (This -.:s been referred to as the preheat b,v oven-

.icienc,v researchers.) If at the tirne a fire is

:i.lrt€d an oven is still warm from a previous

-.e. but not hot enough for baking, only a

,::rall firing is necessary to get it ready for use.

- his marginal or incremental heat could be -, lcrl the baking heat.

Tl-re eficiency of a masonrv oven can be


'. ,)i1e7x that is too flat will lose too wwch of its

.;; out the door, and. the d.oor" will be too low for ,)in!.

trtn that is too tall will haye cold spots in the


the rLonoe thtLt nerer get fwlly heated

a hard number to pin dou'n, as it is going to \rary with patterns of use el'en in lhe same

oven. It is alu'ays greater when an oven is

in daily use because no preheat is necessary

A retained-heat oven designed for daily use

ma-v therefore be especially massive, so the heat storage is great and the oven tempera-

ture is stable. For intermittent use, overall

efficienc.v w-ill be higher in iighter ovens

because the or.en must be preheated each

time it is used; the preheat cost is less for a less massive or.en. The drau.back of a light oven is that the oven temperature u'ill be less stable if it is used in a retained-heat mode-it

will cool off more quicklv as it is used. The oven r,r'ill need to be fired more often if a great quantitv ofbread is to be baked, even

though a light oven may be perfectly suitable for prolonged use in a direct-heat mode (for pizza, for example ) . * Each penetration into an oven's baking chamber represents a potential site for losing

oven heat and steam, so an internal combus- tion oven should draw in air and exhaust out

smoke through the same door. Ifthe oven has

a chimney, it should be in front of and above the oven door. Ifan ash-drop slot is provided,

it should be outside the door as well. Presen- ing the sealed integrit,v of the baking cham- ber permits retention of heat r,vhen the fire is

removed and retention of steam during the

early phase of baking.

This lack of air vents and intemal chim- neys in an internal combustion oven places

restraints on its geometry', since air must flow

in the open doorlvalr, lan the fire, heat the oven structure, and flow out without restric-

tion. A too-low oven roof or a too-high oven door will allou. the fire and its heat to spill

out the oven doorway and up the flue. l{eat


*Eric Shirey and fohn Selker mea- sured the bahing heat efliciencies

ofseveral uninsu-

lated r.ernacular

retained-heat ovens in undeveloped countries (ovens in

use e\rery day) and

found that these

average about 0.45

kg offlour baked

per kg ofwood

br-rrned. Efliciencies

in large externallv

fired or.ens (white

ovens, in u.hich the fire and smoke clid

not go through the

baking chamber) were much greater,

but rvhite o\rens are much more com-

plex and expensive

to construct.



wiil be r'vasted. On the other hand, an exces-

sivell, high roof-like the roof of a typical

hemispherical oven of the Southr'vest-will

cause the smoke to stall unless air vents are provided. Firing will be dilficult and the roof of the dome r,r'ill be underheated. (You can

sometimes see a coating of soot in the dome that shorvs that part of it rvas inadequately heated.) Ovens that are deeper (longer) than

Stat,t the f.re in the front of the oven. Add wood

when the ft e is bwrning well, and. let it burn all

the way to the boch of the ot,en.

they are wide tend to drar,vwell and are pror-

abll' p6

elficient than round or square o." -

ens, although careful construction ofthe are;

just inside the door ofa round oven can oti:e:

this problem someu'hat.

Boily and Blanchette determined br- &-

rect measurements that there is a critical be:r

ratio between the height ofan oven door ani

the height of the oven dome. That ratio i:

63: 100, or 63 percent. (Folk tradition some-

times holds 4:7 to be the ratio, which is 5-

percent-quite closel) This represents d:e

average ratio for Quebec ovens that do nc,:

har.e supplemental airvents, lvhichw.as one c,r the r'r'ays that Boily and Blanchette were able

to determine which Quebec designs lr,orkei

best. The further from these proporrions an oven is, the more likel,v it is to have-<':

need-a supplemental vent.

The Quebec oven floors are egg-shaped (longer than they are u,'ide, slightly u4der ia

back than in front). This shape allou's a large

baking area at the rear, vet allorvs a smooth

flow of air and smoke. It encourages the fue

to sweep into the flr reaches of the oven and

turn smoothly back and then out ofthe oven.

This is especiallr, important since most Que-

bec ovens are built outside, u'ithout chim- ne1.s, and therefore u'ithout the extra dralr chimneys provide. This florv of the fire leads

to even heating ofthe rrasonry) and the vase-

like shape makes it easy to see into the rvhole

oven and to use long-handled ash scrapers

and dough peels.


From the outside, a good Quebec-style clar'

oven has a graceful shape, like half a pear l1'-

ing on its cut side. The shape is strange, bur







pleasing. This is possible because the basic material of the oven-ciar'-is a plastic ard

forgiving medium that is eas\r to form into

smooth cuffes and shapes. Unfortunately,,

clay has some drawbacks for oven building,

even if reinforced with stone or brick:





Good native clay can be diflicult to find

and is hard to dig out and prepare in the quantities needed for an oven.

Clay is warer soluble, and the outside of

the oven will never get hot er-rough to

fire the clay into terra-cotta or brick, so

it r,vill soften and slump if it gets wet.

Clav is not a good insulator, so the oven

will not hold heat well from one dav to

the next.

Some clay ovens wear away from the

inside (drop pieces of clay) and eventu- ally need to be repaired.

Some of these problems can be over_

come when a clay oven is made of tempered

high-temperarure clay and fired in a kiln,

l-hen it is built up of individual hunks of

clay soil that have been dried and are then

bonded u'ith wet clay (adobe), or when

the clay oven is roofed over. In Mennonite

cominunities on the Canadian prairies the outdoor ovens were built by farm women,

using native cla1. xs mortar and cladding tbr an arch of used bricks. The ovens r,vere

then col'ered with burlap, pasted to the

outer laver of clay with a mixture of flour

and lvater. When this rvas dry the oven was

',r-hitewashed, giving sufficient rain protec-

lion lbr a dry rsgien.

Although these techniques wili extend the

lsable life of a clav oven, for most intents and

purposes it is more practical to build ovens

out of more durable and easily available

building materials. The oven construction

details I describe later are suitable for an oven

built out of red brick, firebrick, refracrory

cements) stone, concrete, steel angle, and so

forth, each used in such a \l/av as to provide a balance between aesthetics, cost, and ef_ ficiency.



Practical experience has shown that a ceiling

height offifteen to eighteen inches is optimal

for baking loafbreads, because a lower ceiling

will necessitate an impractically low door, and

a higher one will reduce the moisture content

around the loaves and reduce crust fbrma_

tion. (This rule does not have to be follorved

so exactly for an oven built primarily for pizza or for mixed baking and roasting. The door

and dome may be somervhat higher, but still

at the 63 percent ratio.) Experience also shows that the thickness

of uninsulated masonry in the hearth or floor

of the oven should be slightly greater than tl"rat of the oven walls and dome, so that a

little extra heat fiom the hearth can flow up

into the oven during the baking cycle. Heat

from the hearth is very important ro good

baking ofloaf breads.

A masonrv thickness of eight inches in the

hearth and about seven inches in the dome

rvorks well for an oven that is used intermit_

tentl),', or is used for both bread and pizza

(the fire is pushed ro the back of the oven

but continues to burn rvhile the pizza bakes).

An oven used only for pizza can make do u,ith tr,vo and one-half to three inches of

masonry in its walls, and five inches in the

hearth. (This may nor pass rhe building code



Richard. Fteetnnn has hpo brick oyens in ome: nn innet'at'ch of brichs, n layer of insulotion, and. an

enclosut'e of brichs.


in some areas) and may require the use of a

much thicker outer oven, or enclosure. ) Such

a thin oven will be easy to bring to proper

heat. An oven used to bake loaf bread on a

dnilybasis should have at least ten and one- half inches of masonry in the dome) and a little more in the hearth. A good brick oven is insulated below the hearth mass, all around the walls, and above

the dome mass. This allows the use of the

graduall,v decreasing heat in the oven over a

period ofdays (for cooking casseroles, dryint

herbs, and similar uses). The heated mass of

the oven should be isolated from the foun-

dation to reduce I'reat loss and to prevent

cracking of the fbundation when the oven

is heated.

Modern internal combustion ovens will

retain the advantages of their predecessors

while avoiding the drawbacks mentioned above by employing these critical features:






one door and no vents;

external chimneys and ash drops;

the 63 percent ratio of door and dome;

baking chamber is deeper than it is


oven mounted on a slab that can expand


and contract without crackinq the or-er.r foundation;

a smooth neck to permit unhindered air

flow and easy ash and bread removal;

r'vell insulated;

mass and wall thickness appropriare ro their intended use;

thermocouple (heat sensor) svstems to

assess firing ar-rd baking conditions;

o firebrick hearths that transfer heat to the





bread at the correct rate $.hen the oven

is properly heated.

Externnlly F'ire d. an.d Exh auste d.

Ovens-White Oyens

The principles for the construction and use of

white ovens are different than those fbr the

internally fired black ovens, and a detailed

discussior-r is bevond rhe scope of this book.

Such ovens rvere once common, and some are

still being made (see the visit to HomeFires

Bakerv). In good designs the thickness of the masonry ofthe oven serves to temper the heat

delivered, as urell as to store it-several inches

of masoilr\r (at least tw.o inches) separates the

fire and its exhaust from the cavity of the

oven. The added cost and complexity of this

flpe of oven construction (tvhich re quires a

firebox, a double n all, and nrultiple flues and ciean-outs, all of lvhich mlrsr be built by or

under the guidance of an expert mason) onlrr

make sense lbr a commercial oven, or if a ma-

sonry heater is being built at the same time, incorporating the oven. Masonry heaters are

usually expensive, but including an o\ren may

create little additional expense.

Plnnning Tour Ouen

A little thought ahead of time will save you a

lot of head-scratching later. Let's look at the

major areas you must consider.


The size and style of your oven must be ap-

propriate for its intended use. A brick oven

should not be depended Lrpon to heat a room or a house, unless it is built as part of a ma- sonry heater. It is possible to recover some

heat from any indoor oven when it is not in

use, but this is a secondarv effect. Ifthe pri-

mary goal is house heating, several designs of

commercially available masonry heating ap- pliar-rces incorporate a small oven, and there

are masons in the United States u'ith experi-

ence custom-building masonry heating ap-

pliances on-site that have o\rens, or in which the firebox can be used as an oven when the fire is removed. Another possibility is to build

a small oven (as described in this book) and

have it share a foundation but use a separate

flue in the chimney ofa neu'fireplace orr.vood stot'e. All of these are better $ra).s to heat a

house than to try to build an or.en according

to the plans in this book, and then try to heat

your hor-rse u'ith it.* Thal said, a masonry

oven is the bestw,ay to bake bread and cook other foods you need, and it can be a pou.-

erful architectural statement in or outside a house or restaurant/bakerlr. Sizing the oven to y6llf intendecl r-rse is

important. A 4 x 6 foot or 6 x 8 foot oven

may bake ten large pizzas or ninety loaves

of pan bread at a time, and will ahvays re -

quire more r,vood than a small oven. A more

modest oven makes better sense for domes- tic use, indoors or ollt. Masonrl, ot ens work


*Members of the

Masonry l{eater

Association are sorted bv geo graphic area on

their Internet

nebsite xt: \\,\r.\ mha-net.org. See

the Sources list-


;; i -ih -st\tle

; \ lJtnter,

'.'. Dou11 Wootl,

iuhe otem

, itt Jtreplace . DotLg



\\4tat do lrou intend to bakef In general, those

wl-ro wish to make predominantly pizza u'ili

\vant the widest possible oven and the lvidest

possible door (and thinner masonry in the

dome), r.vhile those u.ho concentrate on loaf

.nches. Sor

',r'icler, ancl

irere; ther-

as tbr btea




bread will \\rant a deeper, longer oven u,'ith



smaller door. Some oven builder/ou.ners

The next

have chosen to build very small or.ens (20 x

ansu.er is

30 inch) because thev u.ere sure thelr would

\-ollr o\-er

not \\'ant to cook more than a feu' loaves at

';lreas: the


time) onl1, 1e discover that the bread 1r'as

Besides, it's not easv to leave a fire going

slabs ar-rd

so good, thev u.ished they had a larger oven.

.lome. Tl 204 and .

u'hile cooking a series of pizzas in such a


small oven.

betn'een t


The smallest oven AIan Scott recommends



is a24 x 30-inch size, u4rile most household

increases -

ovens are the size of the one presented in

use. If th,

this book: 32 x 36 inches, with a door that

a feu'tim,


16 inches wide and 10 inches high. Larger

crete \\'ill

familv ovens are 36 x 48 inches; interestingll',

grees Fah

better lbr cooldng loaf bread u'hen they are

this is the size of most old flrmstead ovens

standard l

fully loaded, or nearly so, since full loading

in this country and Europe, lr.'here all the

that just I

keeps the moisture level up in earlv baking. A

bread for a famil,v was baked once a \\reek. By

it retains

smaller oven will bake just as \\,ell as a larger

using modern thermocouples, you can esti-

ever, \'oLll

one, bur it u4ll bake a smaller load. As Selker

mate hou'much firing you need to bake ser-

heat in) a

and Shirey point out, the geometr_v ofa dome

eral batches once the oven has been heated.

rant or b:

shape means that the radiant heat reaching

Changes in the r,vay you manage your oven

mav be c

a loaf from a small oven is the same as for

u'ill let you bake two or three times as much

thermal c

a large o\ren, if tlle masonrv is equally hot

bread as the nominal capaciq'of your oven,

is advisab

(see bibliography). Of course, the conduct-

u'hen you need it (see "Otren Management,"


ed heat liom the hearth is dependent on its

chapter 10).

ding (see

temperature and the specific heat ofits brick,

Commercial ovens for small bakeries are


not on the size ofthe oven. You should avoid

typicallv 4 x 6 feet up to a practical limit of

easier wii

an excessively large oven; if necessar,v, a small

6 x 8 feet (iarger ovens are possible, but are


oven mav be refired (reheated) if you oc-

usuall1, fired r'vith gas, or are either hvbrid or

ner oven

casionail,v need to bake a larger quantity of

u.'hite ovens). The maximum practical widrh

-YoLr plail


lbr the mouth of such an o\ren is about 24

time t ort


inches. Some restaurant ovens are higher,

wider, and shorter than the ones described

here; they are designed for roasting as r.vell

as l'or bread and pizzas.

This same kind of reasoning applies for

using red brick on the oven u'alls and dome:

red brick r.r'ill last your lifbtime if you heat

\rour o\ren graduall.v and bake a feu'times a

week, but it will probably last

onl1, a few years if the oven is

in constant use or is exposed

torapidtemperaturefluctua- tiorls, especiallv from exces-


In the latter cases, it is bet-

- ^ ^r^ ^-,-




Thc rrcxt questiolr

you mtlst

a.swcr is about materials ficr

vour o\ren, especiall,v in tr,vo

A fWASOnfy 7ten iS

thebeSt WAy tO bOke









fOOdS yOW rueed: A'nd'

areas: the concrete for the it Cnn be n pOWeff^l ter to use firebrick. In some

lictions that follorv the

slabs and the bricks lbr the c1ome. The charts on pages

204 and 205 shos, that the

temperature at the interface betr'veen the bricks and the

concrete cladding graduaily

lncreases rvhen the oven is in

,,rse. If the oven is only fired

a.rcnne ctural





Uniform Building Code,

oven domes may need to be

l0 inches thick (including

sta'teywent 0n 07/

OUtSi,d,e A hOUSe Oy

resta,Lrrnnt/bakery. bricks) when lined s'ith red

brick, and only 8 inches thick


r,vhen lined with firebrick.

That could be a deciding

fbctor fbr -vou, if you want

an 8-inch dome. Also, some code enforcers

*rees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius), and may require that the outer walls of the oven

;rete rnn'ill never get much hotter than 450 de-

r tbrv times a week, the con-

(the enclosure) be 8 inches thick if the oven


:rat just fine; even at700 degrees

Fahrenheit chamber is lined with red brick, and only 4

:: retains 50 percent of its strength. If, how-

-\.er, your oven is both insulated (keeping the

:eat in) and in use every da1' (as in a restau- SPACE PLANNING

::nr or bakerv oven), concrete temperatures Ask yourself r,vhat will be taking place in the

:.ilv be excessive, especially in vieu' of the

-:ermal q/cling that occurs. In that case, it

inches thick if it is lined with firebrick.

area surrounding the ol'en. Consider that

ovens draw peopie together and become a

. edr,isable to use alumina-based refractory focus of activity, indoors or out. It is a good : increte for the hearth slab and dome clad- idea to plan not only the extra space neces-


sary for manipulating the long oven tools,


.rnstant use (for bread, notpizza) becomes but to allow plentv of room, somervhere

-.sier with a thicker ol'en because the oven near, fbr the peanut gallery (people love

:::lperatureismorestable. Ofcourse,athin- to rvatch!). It is essential to have a flat sur-

-.:: oven will be more e conomical with fuel if

face onto rvhich you can place dough, pans,

l plan to bahe onl,v one or trvo loads each boards, cornmeal, your fire gloves, and er'

erything else you need. Ofcourse, you need

-:re vou heat the oven.



foam insulation




steel mesh

2 " clearance

51/z" foundation


A 32tt x 36" oyen with a l}tt x 16" d.oot.

a table, a rack, or baskets for the bread you

have baked. For outdoor ovens) it is good

to have a covered area in front ofthe oven,

with a counter at hearth height running

out lrom the side of the oven facade. Also

consider the locations of the hose connec-

tions, neighbors, and the prevailing wind.

Cross drafts should be avoided, but can be

managed with a draft door if necessary. If

possible, position the oven downu'ind from

the house. Try to keep the oven close to the

kitchen door, or if indoors,