Sunday, 10 January 2010

Christmas, new year 2009

Fortunately the roof was finished before the bad weather set in, ie. the rain wind and snow that heralded the onset of winter proper. Looks really pretty and it made it eminently possible to cook christmas dinner outside which proved to be a great success. Rib of beef and roast potatoes were cooked in the oven with a minimum of fuss, lit the fire, had a few drinks and went to the pub, kept stoking the fire for a couple of hours and then put the meat in. Browned it first for about half an hour and then covered it in foil and left it for 2 hrs. Put the potatoes in, uncovered the beef and let it cook for another 1/2hour. Took the beef out and let it rest in the house whilst the roast potatoes finished cooking. Result was a beautifully cooked piece of beef, moist, slightly pink and incredibly tender with a slightly smoked flavour. The roastpotatoes were good too! New years day was hangover party time and we did about 30 pizzas. Unfortunately no photos which is a shame as we had a brazier by the oven to keep the chill off everybody whilst we cooked the pizzas.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Roof building

Now comes the technical part - putting together the framework to enclose the pizza oven! This couldn,t have been done without the expertise of Simon, who supplied the oak timber and worked out the pattern for joining it altogether, although it did cause a lot of head scratching for both of us. This all took place from the beginning of the summer with Simon coming down in the evening and laying things out and leaving me the homework of cutting out the joints. All the joints have to be scribed as there are no square faces to mark off: lines have to be drawn on the timber to get reference points. Basically the frame is laid out on a horizontal plane on trestles with everthing being levelled up and then marked and cut. The joints are all mortise and tenon - the tenons being not so bad to cut out, but the mortises requiring a lot more time and effort. To facilitate matters I made 2 bigger mallets to make things alittle easier. There is alot of banging bits together and then taking them apart until finally a good joint is made. This quite naturally took a while, most of the work being done in the lighter evenings and always being accompanied by a beer or two!
Eventually all the joints were done and the moment had come to raise the framework into position. This was the time to see whether all our endeavour had been in vain! Iniatally we thought it might require more than two of us to raise the frame, but one evening we decided to just go for it, and hey presto, it all clicked into place much to our relief and surprise!
Amost there now, just had to locate some tiles. After a weekend at my sisters, I discovered that my brother-in-law had some left over from a previous project so my problem was solved. Then it was just putting on the lathes and laying the tiles. I had to increase the height of the chimney as the frame was a little bigger than we had originally anticipated and the chimney wouldn't have gone through the roof. Simon had a piece of chimney lining which fortuitously dropped into the tomato can: it was as simple as that! As yet I haven't covered the lining with clay but I might get around to it sometime. Once it was all completed it was time to stand back and admire the whole thing. What started out as I thought would be just a pizza oven was now an eyecatching piece of work of some substance. All the hard work put in by various people is much appreciated and all the bits and pieces that I have aquired has made the whole project incredibly satisyfying. Of course the proof of it all is in the food that has been cooked in the oven, all of which has been eaten and praised by those that have tasted it. Obviously I am biased but to date there have been no major disasters and I am learning more about how to use it and how to control the temperature. There is now a dampener on the chimney which means it can be closed off once the fire has finished and this means that less heat escapes up the chimney. Also when it is closed whilst the fire is still burning I can throw on damp wood chips and this creates a superb way to smoke a variety of food.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Having completed the basic structure, it was then a process of adding more layers of insulation and building up the chimney with more cans of tomatoes. I used clay,sand and horseshit. I thought this would be a good plan from doing a little bit of research where I found that on old houses and in different parts of the world this was considered a good and cheap way of using natural materials. Although it was somewhat smelly, I was able to mix it to a beautiful smooth consistency which could be trowelled on. The chimney I just built up and packed the mixture aroud it. Unfortunately I don' t have any pictures of the chimney construction but it was really quite simple as long as the mixture wasn't too wet. So, thats about that for the initial completion of the oven which was finished in AUG 2008 and has been successfully used ever since. We had a really good party for its official opening (lots of interest from everybody) and cooked about 40 pizzas which turned out very successfully even though it poured with rain all night. It wasn't used extensively throughout the winter and I was concerned that the cold and damp would affect it, even though it was covered with a tarpaulin. However it survived ok, we even had a hangover party on new years day which was a great success.
Having got this far I decided to put a roof over it - will cover that next time.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Things seem to be running from bottom to top - not sure what to do about this so you,ll have to bear with me. I'll get onto the dome now - need lots of sand to create it! I put some bags of gravel at the bottom of the dome to help give it a higher base to build on. Then it was a matter of forming a dome and trying to maintain the shape. I mixed quite alot of water with the sand and beat with a piece of wood to try and compact it other wise at a certain height it just starts to fall off and you don't seem to be getting anywhwere. Damp newspaper was laid on the sand dome to prevent the clay sticking to the sand and making it easier to get the sand out once the clay dome has been formed.
The clay mix was 25% clay and 75% sand mixed to a smooth consistency.
Once the first layer of clay has been put on, I left it for about 24hrs before cutting out the door and removing the sand. Then had to cut a little more out for the chimney, constructed from industrial sized tins of tomatoes with the bottoms cut out. This gave achimney of about 6ins diameter which works really well and gives a good draw for the fire. Having done this I felt I had to try it out and lit the first fire to help dry the clay!
Now it was just a matter of adding more clay to the dome for insulation. I mixed clay, sand and horseshit to get a really smooth consistency and then just kept lathering it on - can't remember how many layers I eventually did but I guess the oven is about 6-7ins thick.

Thought I'd add alittle more on building the oven. Once the blocks were up I had to shutter the top and lay the base for the oven to sit on. It was a sand, gravel and cement mix with some old bits of reinforcing rods that I had lying around in the garden. As I recall I did this and then laid about 2ins of vermiculite, sand and cement to give a bit of insulation.
The next job was laying down a bed of sand to lay the fire bricks on. I managed to scrounge some bricks from a skip for the base and then retrieved some more from a friend's old storage radiators that he was going to throw out. This gave me enough fire bricks to lay the base and construct a first course of bricks upon which I could then start building with clay.

Monday, 10 August 2009

I hope over the days,weeks I will be able to describe with photos how it all came together.
This was the start, laying a concrete slab and building a base with concrete blocks. Not a lot of skill required, just sweat! 2nd picture shows completed base. It looked huge at this point but when its all done it all looks to scale.
This project started after a few holidays in italy where we had use of a pizza oven and after much prevarication and sceptism from many people decided to go ahead and build one for myself. Did a lot of research on the net and read various books before deciding on a clay oven as it seemed to be the simplest and most importantly the cheapest way to achieve what I wanted. Like all projects when starting out it seemed quite daunting and it progessed slowly to start with and then built up a momentum all of its own. Lots of hard but enjoyable work and so satisfying when each stage has been finished.