Join me for an in-depth chat about my wood fired oven. I discuss what was involved in planning, building and finishing my oven. I also discuss what motivated me to start the four month build, and why it is now such an important focal point at our family home.
If you are thinking of building a wood fired oven, already enjoy your own oven, or just curious about cooking with fire, check out this episode.
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Gday, welcome to the wood fired oven podcast, where I take a deep dive into the techniques, recipes and history of wood fired oven cooking. My name is Mark, an obsessed and somewhat curious fan of outdoor cooking, especially with my wood fired oven. Follow my podcast in your favorite app and listen in as I go searching for the best recipes, tips, and advice to both super-charge our cooking skills and motivate you to light up your favorite outdoor cooking gear, this weekend.
In this episode, I'm going to be chatting about my wood fire oven, what it took to build it, and the lessons I learned along the way.
My oven is a pre cut kit from the folks at the Melbourne Fire Brick Company. And I've got a link in the show notes to their website. They're absolutely fantastic to deal with, and Ben who heads up the company up is a real delight. The kit itself 900 kilos. Yeah, it was pretty heavy, arrived at my door by truck, which was pretty cool because often when you buy these kits, you need to go to the truck depot. They often won't deliver curbside. I was really lucky and we managed to negotiate that and get it delivered to home. I didn't fancy driving a trailer to pick it up at the depot and bring it back and then offload it off the trailer, just myself. So having it delivered to the curb side, basically onto my driveway, was absolutely fantastic. And in Australia, there are a few companies that will do that for you. Inquire with the Melbourne Fire Brick Company if you are going to purchase one of their kits or whatever manufacturer at you're choosing. So it arrived at by truck. I helped the driver get this almost one tonne, pallet of bricks and mortar and cement onto my driveway. And then it took a couple of hours, with a wheelbarrow to drive all this stuff to the backyard. The overall build took about three and a half to four months to get finished in between work and weather, and I didn't think that was too bad, that included a building, the very thick foundations and learning all about concrete and bricks. I'd never done any brick work, before doing this, uh, built in fact, I'd never done any concrete ever. So there was a small learning curve involved. YouTube is a great resource. The guys at the Melbourne Fire Brick Company, we're a fantastic resource and their instructions were really great.
So it was a fairly straightforward thing to do it seriously. Wasn't that difficult to build? I did 99% of it on my own. A couple of times I got my daughter to help lift a few things into place. And that was great. There are some times when having somebody to help will definitely help you. The total weight of the oven is probably around four and a half to five tonne, that will include, the brick dome and the concrete base and the very thick foundations that I built up below the oven and reflecting on that, that was an awful lot of weight to, to lift, by and large by myself. So one of the tips I could offer you next time, if you're building one of these is don't hesitate to ring up your neighbour or a good mate to come around and give you a hand with some of their heavy lifting, that will make your job a lot easier.
So, let's get down to specifics. The first thing I did before purchasing the kit was I rang up the local council and actually the council in my area was very supportive and building a wood fired oven. There were no restrictions and no planning restrictions involved with having a wood fire oven, the lovely woman at the end of the phone, simply gave advice on how close to the house it should be, or shouldn't be and fence lines and those sorts of things. One of the things I was initially concerned about was the smoke generated by the oven and my neighbour's. Where I live our neighbour's are pretty close in fact, on three sides of our backyard, we have fairly close neighbours. So I elected to position the wood fired oven straight off our outdoor room and right in the middle of the section and the back part of our section.
And that mean that the chimney and any stray smoke would be as far away as possible from my neighbours. It turns out I get a little smoke on start-up, but as I'll chat about in a future episode, I've modified the way I light up my fire to mitigate too much smoke from effecting the neighbour's. I've got a great relationship with all of my neighbors and they're very supportive and they really don't care about any smoke anyway. In fact, a couple of the neighbors around here have smokers anyway. And so we will enjoy, smelling good food at the weekends over each other's fence. So, but I would suggest if you are thinking about doing your own wood fired oven, contact your local council and have a chat to them to make sure that you're building within the legal parameters of your area.
So my design specs were fairly simple. Like I said, I wanted the oven to be in the middle of our back section for smoke reasons really, but that also coincided with the flow coming out of our house, into our covered outdoor living area. And then about two and a half to three meters beyond that I built the oven outside. And that allows a really great view of the mouth of the oven from the seats and the outdoor room. So that took quite a while to figure it out exactly where I wanted it placed, what views I wanted, what height of the oven was going to suit me. I'm about six foot, so ensuring that the height of the oven was built so that when I stood at the oven at the mouth of the oven, I got a great view of the oven floor and a view of the gorgeous refractory bricks that glow at night are just fantastic when I stood in front of the oven. The instructions that came with this particular kit, gave some really good guidance on how high to build the oven base, which we'll talk about shortly.
So, if you want to have a look at some pictures of my wood fired oven, check out my website at WoodFiredOven.Cooking. I've also got a fair amount of pictures on Instagram as well, which you can take a look at if you like. So my particular kit, it's called a D105 pre-cut brick oven. Now the '105' refers to the internal diameter and that's 105 centimeters, just over a metre. It's big, it's a big oven on the floor, which is perfect. It's not commercial size big, but it is still a big oven. And it has a beautiful large presence in our backyard. Now the dome itself for the internal dome is made from individually cut refractory bricks and Ben and his team at the Melbourne Fire Brick company did all the hard work in precision cutting all of these bricks And really all ultimately all I had to do was follow the plans and lay them in the right place.
The bricks themselves are absolutely gorgeous. The block work below the oven was made from individually reinforced masonry Versalock bricks by Adbri. And that's a company here in Australia. Lifting the wet concrete, however, into the block work by hand that was pretty hard work and, and probably was the hardest part of the build - just from a physical perspective. I think I had three deliveries of concrete over that period, big concrete mixers turning up on the driveway, but I had to get all the concrete in a wheelbarrow out to the backyard and then lifting it into the, the slab initially, and then inside the brick work in the base was really hard work. The guys who helped deliver the concrete were actually really great. And I think two out of the three guys actually helped me put the concrete where I needed to put it, and that actually made my job a lot easier. Next time, the lessons there would be to get a mate around, to help me do it, would speed things up and not waste the concrete mixer drivers time.
So the base itself has two openings, one at the front of the oven and one on the left-hand side. These plans too, were provided by the Melbourne Fire Brick Company. And there are a number of options that you can do. You don't have to follow those plans. You can do whatever you like, but I really liked the concept of a opening at the front where I can beam down and get wood out. And one on the side for more longer term wood storage. I built wooden doors that hinge shut to keep the weather and any critters that might like to find a home in the pile of wood underneath the oven. And you probably know Australia has a fair few number of these lovely little critters. So I use these areas under the oven to store the wood and some cooking gear, but mainly it's the wood.
I chose to tile the block base with gorgeous travertine, natural rock tiles. They've weathered really well. I'm really pleased with them. You can check out the photos of those if you're interested online. It was really hard rock and I needed to cut it with a diamond saw. It was sealed eventually with a natural stone sealer, and it protects the stonework and helps to prevent the worst of the staining, that might happen either with food or with dust and mud that might flick up after a good rain shower. And it does a pretty good job by and large. I've been very happy with the the rock work.
The landing in front of the oven - about 35 to 40 centimeters, I think, that's finished with three standard size terracotta porcelain tiles, and I've trimmed the outside of those with more travertine, many tiles. The porcelain tiles, I have to say are incredibly durable, amazingly scratch resistant, actually. Yeah, they're pretty amazing. Actually, they withstand very hot cast on pots scraping across the top, the heat of the pots. Yeah, no dramas - really, really pleased with them. Couldn't recommend porcelain tiles enough for the landing just in front of the opening to the oven. I am really pleased with them.
Now, the dome brick work itself was probably the easiest part of the whole build. It was also a lot of fun to build. It absolutely helped a lot for me that the bricks were so well cut and labeled. So you follow the plans, you picking up your bricks off the ground on a pallet, that's next to the base and you're positioning bricks, a couple at a time onto your prepared surface.
A simple matter of following the instructions and taking my time. The bricks were placed with a trammel tool, which was included as part of a kit. And this tool us great, a simple tool, lots of kits from different manufacturers require the use of a trammel tool. A number of other kits need you to make one, but this particular kit came with it. It fitted the bricks well, it turns up pristine condition, and by the time you're finished with it, it's absolutely covered in mortar and it's it ends up a real mess, but using it, is a real delight. Basically what a trammel tool allows you to do is to lay each brick in the right place, and then successive layers of bricks - It allows you to create the natural dome as you build up your brick layers. And it's really, as I can't speak more highly of this tool, it's an amazing way of building an oven. I've seen other wood fired ovens built with different types of devices to build the dome. I've seen rough pieces of wood used. I've seen a huge exercise balls used. I've seen sand used, so there are a number of ways of doing it. But for me, it seemed like a very sensible, quick, elegant, efficient solution to use this trammel tool, which, which was just great. So the actual dome itself didn't take very long to build. Actually, I think I did it over, a long weekend and that was pretty easy. The kit also includes a castable precast flue gallery, and this sits above the, front Arch bricks, right above the mouth of the oven. It's pretty heavy and it needed the help of my daughter to place it in the right position. And then that locks all the bricks in it provides a lovely finish to the front section of the oven, and it has an opening to attach the stainless steel chimney as well. And actually it's an ingenious and elegant solution to the often challenging prospect of neatly installing, a 'round' chimney into brick work. It's painted black. You can paint it, whatever color you like. Black high temperature paint is what I used. And I think it finishes off the brick work really, really well. And a welcome addition to the kit. No doubt about it. The brick dome itself was covered with two layers of ceramic fire blanket. And once that's all put on, it's wrapped and chicken wire, and the purpose of the ceramic blanket is insulation and it's quite thick by the time you've put it on. The chicken wire provides a good bedding for the layers of perlite render, which then gets applied to the finished shape and the installation, the heat retention inside the oven is amazing. It's absolutely great.
So one of the last steps to protecting your dome is to paint the perlite render. And I used a flexible acrylic render coat just purchased from my local hardware store. And I, I did it in a white, off white color and being flexible, allows it to stretch and contract depending on the temperature of the oven. It really has created an amazing waterproof membrane over the top of it. It also glows ever so slightly at nighttime on our dark back yard, and it just looks fantastic. When balanced against the flames coming from within the oven, it's just gorgeous. So we get very heavy rainfalls in my part of the world over summer and not once have I had any issues with moisture penetrating the dome. Very, very pleased with it. In fact, the landing at the front of the oven is angled slightly away from the mouth of the oven, and this directs rainwater away from the opening as well. I've cooked in the rain many, many times now, and I never get any water coming into the oven. And that's a big deal, with outdoor cooking gear, in general.
Now the question to put a roof over the whole structure was one that I pondered for a while, but ultimately decided not to put a roof over the oven. For me, there is something quite special about staring into the oven, pondering the dancing flames and being able to cast my eyes towards the heavens to see the stars on a still clear night. I just love it. And if I had built a roof over it, I would lose that ambience for me. I can handle a bit of rain. I can handle a bit of heat. I didn't feel that I needed to have a roof over the oven.
So what wood do I use, I've tried a number of different types of wood. I've settled for now on ironbark. Ironbark is a popular hardwood in my part of the world. It's easy to source for me. I know other wood fired oven cooks in Australia, use red gum, and that's more prevalent, I think, down in the south of the country, but I'm used to ironbark I get very predictable results now using the wood. So I think i'll probably stick with it, the one downside with ironbark. And I'm not sure if it's a downside with red gum as much, but, I get splinters, if I'm not wearing gloves when I handle it. So it's just a matter of getting into the habit of putting on my big gloves. I use welders gloves when I'm dealing with my oven and I use those when I'm chopping wood and when I'm stacking wood into the into the oven It's also great, obviously for handling pots and glowing embers on occasion, to redistribute wood around the mouth of the oven.
So the oven is very efficient actually for about 40, 45, 50 kilos of wood for a burn. That'll definitely give me three days of cooking. So our schedule, if I'm doing pizza, which I don't actually do that often, but if I do, it needs a hot oven. Somewhere around 485 degrees Celsius on the dome, it takes me about two and a half hours, maybe just a little over to get that up to temperature. So the walls are very thick and the heat that's generated in the oven is retained both in the floor of the oven and in the dome, brick work for two to three days. And that is actually amazing. So day two is excellent for baking bread. I love my ciabatta breads. I can fit about a dozen large loaves in the oven at a time. And that's one of the advantages of a, of a large oven. You've got plenty of room for pots for cooking gear and for food breads. It's absolutely fantastic. The day three is for slow cooking, including gorgeous recipes, like slow cooked beef cheeks, which will be the subject of next weeks episode. So after about three or four months, the oven was completed. I had a little bit of work to do on some of the doors, which had took me the following summer to finally get finished. And I think it motivated me to get around the yard and do some other work to tidy up the yard and to let the oven sit nicely and its space there, which it is now. And it's an absolute delight to use. It is without question, my favorite outdoor cooking piece of equipment. I don't know actually why it took me so long to build the oven. It's a real delight.
We know humans and fire have co-existed a very long time. We have been cooking with it well forever really. Harnessing the heat from the flame, the flavours in the smoke. There is something strangely evocative, reassuring in fact, with cooking with an open flame. It helps to connect us with our past I think, and creates comfort and community around the fire. Embracing the dry warmth that radiates off the hot bricks and enjoying a glass of red while standing under the stars on a clear night is a delightful and yet truly peaceful experience.
In Pompeii, Italy stands a fantastic example of an ancient baker's brick oven. Rising now, thankfully above the ground, carefully exposed from its tomb of Ash caused by the erupting Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. Hidden for about 2000 years. To see the brick oven in person was quite something quite connecting actually. It tells a story of the thousands and thousands of people who once enjoyed bread and probably other food from that very oven all these years later. I think that's what ultimately motivated me to build my brick oven to, to share a fire, food wine, and perhaps most importantly time with those that are close to me. It's no wonder really that it's a central place in our house. It allows time to slow down, to reflect, and to well... eat fine food!
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