Build Your Own Earth Oven

Earth ovens are more efficient and environmentally friendly than conventional ovens, and the flavor of earth oven cuisine is unbeatable — and these ovens are just as fun to make as they are to use!

Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century

No matter where you live, no matter your life circumstances, “Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century” has a project perfect for you and your unique pursuit of self-reliance. You’ll learn how to raise chickens, goats and other livestock, how to preserve food through canning, how to reduce your energy bills, and much, much more. Authors Dick and James Strawbridge also provide an impressive assortment of well-designed DIY projects, including instructions for building a solar food dryer, a chicken ark, a cold smoker and an earth shelter.


Content Tools

The following is an excerpt from Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century by Dick and James Strawbridge (DK Publishing, 2010). 

Few tastes compare to the stone-baked flavor you get from cooking in a traditional earth oven. They can be used for everything from bread and pizzas to pies. On an environmental front, the simple clay structure and use of carbon-neutral wood fuel makes cooking in an earth oven a low-impact option. The cost of building one is next to nothing, and the process, while a bit messy, is a lot of fun. (You may find it helpful to refer to this illustration of the authors’ earth oven as you follow the building instructions below. — MOTHER) 

Earth Oven Materials and Tools

Tape measure
Garden sieve
Rolling pin
Clay (dig your own if possible)
Bricks or cinder blocks
Stone slabs

Earth Oven Instructions

Build the Stand 

1. Build a firm base. We used some spare cinder blocks. Keep it level and build the structure up to a comfortable working height for cooking.

2. Prepare a solid floor for your oven. It must have a smooth surface. We used a couple of old paving slabs.

3. Mark the center of the oven. Make it as large as possible. Ours is about 2 feet in diameter.

4. Draw two circles, one 3 to 4 inches inside the first, to show the thickness of the walls. Note the radius of the inner circle.

Prepare the Clay 

5. Sift the clay to remove pebbles and debris if you dug your clay from the ground.

6. Lay a big tarp on the ground and mix your clay — best done with bare feet.

7. Add sharp sand (about a bucketful) and some water if the clay is very dry. Mixing takes time and effort. Don’t slip!

8. Keep turning and mixing the clay.

9. Test the clay to see whether it is ready to work with. Make a clay sausage.

10. Hold it with half in your palm and the other half dangling over your hand. If the clay bends but doesn’t break, it’s ready to use.

Make the Oven Base and Walls 

11. Roll out a circular layer 1/2-inch thick on the internal circle of the base. Trim the edges with a trowel.

12. Wet the clay, then smooth it with your hands. This will serve as a smooth base for sliding whatever’s being cooked in and out of the oven.

13. Cover the circle with a layer of moist newspaper to stop any sand from sticking to it.

14. Pile on moist sand and sculpt the shape of the earth oven, making a dome that is a few inches taller than the internal radius of the oven.

15. Measure the height of the sand dome, which will be the interior height of your oven. Multiply this by 0.63 to get the height of the door.

16. Cover the sand dome with wet newspaper to stop the clay from sticking to it.

17. Shape the clay into sausages, then flatten and squash them into place. Start at the base and work around and up, to cover the dome.

18. Use the width of your hand as a rough measurement: the layer of clay should be around 3 to 4 inches thick.

19. Try to push the clay against itself, not against the mound of sand, as you add each piece. Cover the entire dome with clay, making sure it is still the same thickness at the top as the bottom. Wet your hands and smooth the surface of the finished dome.

Make the Door 

20. Mark out the height of the door using measurements you made earlier. Our sand dome is 15 inches tall, so the door is just less than 9 1/2 inches in height. Mark the width of the door. Ours measures 10 inches — half of the oven’s internal diameter and perfectly big enough for a small pizza to slide in and out.

21. Draw the shape of the door freehand with a pen. Use a sharp knife to cut out the door. Do this in two sections, cutting down the midline of the door.

22. Slide the knife under one half of the door. Slide the excess clay out. Repeat for the other half of the door.

23. Cut away the excess clay on the inside of the door to enlarge it slightly. Leave the oven for a few days to a week.

24. Remove the sand when the walls of the oven resist denting when you poke them.

Finishing Touches 

To repair any cracks that emerge on the oven as it dries: Wet the surface, then score it with a cross-hatch pattern. Apply more clay to the cracked area. Repeat if cracks appear after the oven has been used.

To fit a wooden door: Use a paper template to get the shape right. It doesn’t need to be a perfect fit, however.

Reprinted with permission from Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century, published by DK Publishing, 2010. 

6/30/2011 8:30:23 AM

Teaser articles inspire me to dig deeper, do my own research, think and stretch. There's a very detailed book on building earthen ovens: "Build Your Own Earth Oven" by Kiko Denzer which has EVERYTHING you need to know. It's inexpensive and, I think, from M.E.News. We have plans to build one this summer.

6/29/2011 4:23:33 PM

Excellent introductory article. I highly recommend a good wood fired brick oven. A bit more involved to build, but very permanent!! We have a 42"er that I built last summer using the free plans and helpful forum at We can heat soak the oven with two or three armloads of wood and, since it is properly built and well insulated, we can cook in it for 4-5 DAYS!!! Talk about efficient. Saves electricity and overcoming a/c having to overcome the heat ion the house. We've cooked everything from cookies and sweet rolls to pizza, stews, prime rib and casseroles! Read up on wood fired brick ovens!

6/29/2011 1:57:50 PM

Many of these articles assume that the reader knows at least the basics of operation. They are intended only to teach the building concepts. There are many cookbooks available that will let you know how hot the oven needs to be for what you want to make, and other articles, videos, etc, on how to build a fire. They are all different concepts, some overlap, others don't, and the authors can't necessarily cover every facet (building, usage, recipes, etc) of a piece of equipment. The whole idea of books like these is learning to be *self*-sufficient. As far as wood containing all of those chemicals that are so hazardous - that depends largely upon the wood you choose (chemically treated wood would be very unwise), and how you compare it to using coal or gas - or electricity that depends on coal or gas for your cooking/baking needs.

reynard loki
6/29/2011 12:47:01 PM

The smoke produced from woodstoves and fireplaces contains over 100 different chemical compounds, many of which are harmful and potentially carcinogenic. Wood smoke pollutants include fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, dioxins, and furans. Breathing air containing wood smoke can cause a number of serious respiratory and cardiovascular health problems. Those at greatest health risk from wood smoke include infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those suffering from allergies, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, or any other heart or lung disease. N.H. Department of Environmental Services Air Resources Division New Hampshire – Doing Our Share for Clean Air!

janette gamble
6/29/2011 12:16:32 PM

Judi, I certainly understand where you're coming from and have experienced such frustration when trying to implement some of projects. In this article you need to click on link to "illustration to author's earth oven" (via blue underlined links throughout article) which answers some of your questions.

keith hallam_1
6/29/2011 10:45:43 AM

Hi Judi, perhaps you read through once and too quickly.... like me ;-)). No firebox, no chimbley. You light a fire inside and when it's all burnt out you remove the ash and put the food in. The cooking is done by the retained heat. Thicker walls, more retained heat although thicker walls tend to crack more, so for a while, you would be repairing cracks until the unit had settled down. Clever people (not me) can make a Pitta Bread mix, spin it out to a thin flat pancake and flip it up onto the inside roof of the dome, where it sticks until it's cooked. Great fun trying....

6/29/2011 9:55:15 AM

This article leaves a lot left unsaid. Where is the firebox and chimney? It told me lots about constructing the oven part but nothing about how to build the fire, how hot to keep it. I am getting very tired of reading "lite" articles that really don't give enough depth to truly do anything with the limited information presented. Most of these articles don't share enough information to be able to actually do what the article is talking about. This is not the only publication that does this. I just got a subscription to Grist. The articles have great titles, "Grow delicious Peppers" and it tells about variety of peppers but not the details of how to grow or best conditions and practices.