Tuesday, October 9, 2007


There are several things about my oven that I find, well, amazing.
For one thing, it works! It has no chimney and it doesn’t need one. It draws very well and has from the very first time I fired it up. It draws well even after I rebuilt the door arch – but that’s a story for another post.
It draws well because it was constructed based on the traditional clay ovens of Quebec. The ratio of the height of the door to height of the inside of the oven dome is 63%. (The inside dome height of my oven is 17 ½”. The door is 10 ¾” high.) This relationship means that the cold air is pulled in along the bottom of the doorway to feed the fire and the hot air comes out the top. Works like magic every time. Ingenious. Amazing.
My oven also burns without smoking. If I keep the fire small and hot, it doesn’t smoke. If it is smoking, I know I am doing something wrong – too much fuel, too little flame or wood that is too wet. It took me a while to master the technique.
Another thing that amazes me is that I made it with my hands, with the help of many friends. We didn’t need fancy training or advanced skills. We just needed organization, willingness to play in the mud, and the ability to think through the steps.

There are a couple things I don’t like about my oven.
I think it loses heat a bit too quickly but I haven’t figured out whether that is operator error or something related to the insulation for the base. This assessment is not based on any scientific testing or record keeping. Just a casual observation. Many times when I fire it up, we are baking lots of pizzas to feed a group of folks. The door is open which means the heat has a quick escape route. So this is not a good test. I want to do more baking with the door closed and pay attention to the inside temperature over time. That being said, the interior temperature of my oven then next morning is still 200 degrees. Amazing.
It also takes a bit of time to fire up. I usually fire for at least three hours. The oven does have a fair amount of mass – at least 8 inches of thickness, maybe more, which is probably a factor here. I am not complaining. If I wanted an oven that I could fire up when I come home from work just to cook a pizza, I’d have gotten something with a switch.
It’s the simplicity of this oven that charms me into spending time with it. Simple materials, no moving parts. It doesn’t ask much from me but time. And gives back good food and good times. Not a bad exchange if you ask me.


Susan said...

Melanie, I discovered your blog through the SF Chronicle article. I am intrigued by cob ovens and am planning to build one myself in the coming months (I have Denzer's book in hand). I am so happy to find your blog and look forward to reading more about your oven and your baking!


Melanie said...

Great Susan. I plan to describe our building experience and also how I rebuilt the brick arch last month, so do watch for new posts. Hope they can give you some pointers. Good luck and have fun with the building!

Steve Schaefer said...

Wow--I never thought about mud ovens for a single minute before, but your obvious enthusiasm and interesting details of the story kept me reading. Keep posting your further adventures.

Dana Dillard/Willie Welker said...

Ex-Rail makes good. We enjoyed reading the article about the mud oven and seeing your photo in the Chronicle. It sounds like you have a nice community of friends.

Jennifer Roberts said...

Hi Melanie,
What a great article in the Chron. A neighbor of mine is talking about getting people together to create a community oven -- I'll steer him to your blog.

I started a blog recently to show off our hens. Check it out at www.jens-hens.blogspot.com. I hope you keep up your blog -- I want to read more!

LynnAnn's Path to Nature said...

heya there, My project for next summer is to build an outdoor oven here at my little garden center in the far northern reaches of Wisconsin. I intend it for year round use.
I saved the article about you from last Oct,2007 and wondered if you'd done anymore about a "how to" book for your oven?
check out my photos of my little corner of heave at:

Anonymous said...

Hello: I have been thinking about a small oven, using a large terra cotta pot on its side, to start as my oven. Line it complete with fire brick. insulate the outside cover it with mortar. Then blocking in a front. Any ideas on this?

brandon lewis said...

I read that SF Chronicle article almost two years ago, and since then i've been wondering if you are still using it and if so whether I could come to one of your baking sessions. Do you have a mailing list or news letter I can subscribe to?

Nils Peterson said...

Hi, I just found your oven experiments a contemporary of mine. http://www.nilspeterson.com/category/architecture/fire/

I'm getting ready to retire my first oven and build a better insulated one. The third edition of Kiko Denzers book has some new ideas on insulation.

I've also started looking at rocket stoves. Try searching YouTube for some examples

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