How To Build A Wood Fired Pizza Oven

I'd always harboured thoughts about building my own pizza oven but never really given it any serious consideration. That was until it became my next mission.

So where do you start ? Well, ... buy a good "How to ..." book.

I bought two books, the best of which was "Your Brick Oven : Building It and Baking in it" by Russell Jeavons. I then visualised what I wanted, and drew an alarmingly Simpsons-like pizza oven. (Mmmmm pizza.)

Amazon.co.uk

Months then passed as I was actually having doubts about my own capabilities. It's one thing drawing a cartoon pizza oven but it's another thing buidling it!

I have a proven track record of being utterly hopeless at DIY and this just seemed far too complex of a project to take on. Having a builder for a father I've quite lazily relied on his intervention but now he's retired and hasn't got the same access to resources.

Not counting "watching my father" I had no experience whatsoever, I didn't even know how to mix cement. The closest I've come to building is Lego!

So to cure my trepidation we forced the issue by setting a date for a Pizza party for my 40th birthday. That gave me a deadline, in three months time, of when I had to get it finished. It then rained almost constantly for those three months!

Within the pockets of sunshine I eventually made a start, firstly creating a base from breeze blocks and paving slabs.

My first cement mix was shambolic but I soon got the hang of it. The greatest fear was how solid was this base? I was about to build a brick dome that would weigh half a tonne and then heat it up to 450C. I had visions of a molten ash destruction.

Anyway, there was only one way to find out. Build the damn thing and fire it up. So the next phase was to build the oven itself, which was suprisingly straightforward.

The oven's dimensions was a 55cm radius dome with a 55cm diameter door arch. I've lost count how many bricks I used (approx 225) but they all needed cutting in half!

The key to success all hinged on having this central point that could swivel around so that you could lay the bricks at the right distance and right angle to the centre.

The book bizarely passes the buck on "How To .." do this critical part.

In a flash of inspiration I had the idea to use a hinge that once held a shopping trolly wheel to provide me with the swivel.

Genius!

Once the first layer was laid, I set about making the arch for the doorway, using some board that my father had provided.

It proved to be straightforward enough until it met in the middle where I had to improvise a little. Not exactly a perfect arch but it did the job.

For the oven's base I used the same household red brick as the rest of the oven.

They were however laid down without cement. This was apparently to make it easier to replace any heat damaged bricks in the future.

Guided by my swivel stick the oven gradually began to take shape.

One by one, placing a layer of brick on top of the other, using the angle of the paddle on the end of the stick to show me the correct incline.

It was relatively easy to have a neat "butt joint" on the inside, and the rough exterior was not a problem as it would eventually be cemented over and painted.

Where the dome met the arch was a little tricky but using a brick cutter I was able to slot pieces in reasonably accurately.

The next challenge appeared a few layers above the arch where I had reached the angle where it got too steep for the bricks to defy gravity.

So it was time to enter the second phase.

I discarded my swivel stick and replaced it with a suspended floor.

I was actually quite apprehensive about this phase and put it off for a few days but when I finally got down to business it wasn't that difficult.

I basically cut to shape two pieces of board and placed them on brick pillars.

I almost made a mistake and put a whole board (instead of two halves) before realising that I would never have got it out of the 55cm door!

Next step was to place a breeze block in the middle as a guide to the highest point of the dome.

This uppermost point was obviously meant to be the 55 cm distance from the base. A few paving slabs and pieces of board later I eventually got it to be as close as possible.

I then filled the area with sand which provided the support as I laid a new layer of brick.

I kept on going around in circles; guessing the best I could the angle which the brick should be positioned.

By that time, having already laid nearly 400 half bricks, I suppose I had quite a good intuitive idea!

As the circles got smaller, it was taking less time to complete a layer, and the sense of acheivment was building up with every cycle.

The book said you could remove the suspended floor almost immediately but I left mine 24 hours to set before pulling away the support.

Even so I was still worrying that it would collapse once I removed the sand. Thankfully it didn't!

It took sometime to pull out all the support bricks and the four sacks full of sand.

Luckily I had placed a thick sheet of polythene on the base as to avoid the sand from getting everywhere.

We would have been eating gritty sandy pizzas for the first few weeks!

I must admit to standing there, proudly admiring my work.The dome was a work of art. The base was tight and level. My only disappointment was the slightly raised middle brick. (This was the replacement brick that was put in position when the swivel stick was removed.)

I couldn't wait to fire it up and did so before finishing the outer skin of the oven.

It was so exciting!

My first attempt was a disaster however as the fire went out! I started it nicely enough, but it began to rain, so I retreated to the house. By the time I ventured back out it had lost it's will to burn.

The second attempt was much better.

I whipped up an almighty inferno, and kept it going for over three hours before brushing the embers to one side and placing my first wood-fired pizza on the brick base.

It took the usual electric oven time of about 8-10 minutes to cook, so I suppose the temperature had only reached 250C.

One thing that's on my Xmas list is one of those infra-red thermometers, one that is capable of measing up to 450C. This oven needed to be much hotter so that the pizza cook in 90 seconds, giving that perfect texture to the base.

None of that mattered however as the pizza tasted fantastic with that "only-from-a-wood-fired-pizza-oven" flavour that made all the hard work worthwhile.

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