When it came to designing my brick oven, I had a few ideas from others I’d seen and from images found online. Working to a budget, however, meant I had to balance what was desirable with what was feasible, especially as I’d be picking up the building skills on the job! A little bit rough and ready was fine, so long as it looked good, but I would have to forego the built-in mini-bar, six-burner barbecue hotplate and Balinese style all-weather shelter system!
I wanted something permanent, and large enough to cook for a big family gathering. I’d seen some nice looking cob earth ovens, which really can be made very cheaply, but decided I would go with rendered brick, because (a) I had a bunch of red bricks sitting around, (b) I figured it would weather much better over time, and (c) it would be more in keeping with the style of our home.
(When I build my own straw bale house in the New Mexico desert, then I’ll build a cob oven).
I also wanted a clear dome shape, because it’s so pleasing on the eye. Many domes are completely covered to maximise insulation, but I wanted mine to stand proud. I wanted some of the brick-work to show too – maybe in the chimney – as our house is made of red bricks once manufactured at a nearby foundry. But my initial concern was what kind of base to build – what was the darn thing going to sit on?
A fantastic reference book that I highly recommend is Russell Jeavons’ Your Brick Oven: Building it and Baking in it. Here it is:
I’m not the first to have visited Russell’s wood-fired eatery (Russell’s Kitchen) in South Australia’s McLaren Vale and to have thought ‘Gee, wish I had one of them ovens at my place!’ And his books is written precisely for people like me.
This book has good general advice on designing, building and operating a decent size brick oven. The advice is not overly prescriptive, however, which I respect – Jeavons wants you to put your own stamp on things by investing some mental energy, as well as physical labour, in your creation. So that’s what I did… I spent a lot of time thinking, doodling and even playing with Lego bricks, trying to imagine what my oven might look like and how I might construct a solid base. Here are some of my efforts:
Eventually I decided I would build a base out of concrete bessa blocks (also known as cinder blocks, or breeze blocks). Mucking around with the Lego helped me to see how they could be laid out to build a solid base, complete with an alcove for wood storage. Also, knowing the dimensions of the bessa blocks (400X200X200) meant I could calculate the size of my footing, or foundation, which is really the first step in constructing the oven.
You can see here that I was had in mind a base around 1600X1600. If I built it up four courses, on top if a 100mm footing, I calculated the height of the oven floor (basically a layer of bricks on top of the base) would be around one meter – a comfortable working height for a tall chap like me.
With all this in mind, I set out to begin construction by laying down a slab footing (foundation), slightly larger than the dimensions of the base – approximately 1700X1700.
You can read about that and view the pictures on the Foundation page.