Everyone has a list, either secret or public, of things that they would like. Obviously these things will change and vary depending on who you are dealing with. Sometimes these wished-for items will forever remain outside of our grasp for a myriad of reasons.
But, sometimes, you have a few awesome sons who decide that it’s time to give you something that you have been wanting for a very long time — a wood-fired pizza oven.
The person that wanted this magical creation so very, very badly was my dear mother, and one of the sons that swooped in out of the clouds to grant her this wish was…well…me. My brothers also did their fair share of swooping, and shall receive their fair share of credit.
So here we are, it’s a couple weeks before Christmas and I have yet to buy something for my mother. What does she want? The list is simple and I could easily fill a box with a pot, pan, pair of knitting needles, or a handmade knick-knack and she would be very pleased. But something that she wanted seemingly forever was a wood fired pizza oven. Now, I’m not quite clear when this obsession first started, but it’s been years and the stars have never fully aligned to make this dream a reality.
So, I thought it was time.
Now, to be fair, this wasn’t just “step out in the dark” when it came to the construction of this beast. My brothers and I often work for a distributor for Forno Bravo (a company that builds wood-fired pizza ovens), and we assemble his prefabbed pizza oven on trailers for him which he then sells. This has helped my brothers and I become somewhat familiar with the layout and general construction of these delightful ovens.
My brother and sister have also, at one time or another, managed the wood-fired pizza restaurant that this distributor owns and operates. In doing this, they have become very much familiar with a classical way of creating and cooking these delicious pizzas.
All in all, I thought going into this project that it would be an all-around great gift, and that we would be able to use it for much more than cooking a few pizzas now and then for our family. This could prove to be a wonderful avenue of bringing a diversity of what we can offer at our farm. Images of utilizing a pizza oven as a way to culminate a farm tour filled my mind.
Then, I pictured the sauce being made from the tomatoes from our garden and topping it with some of the sausage made from the pigs that I’m raising and selling.
Then I got really, really excited. It’s a beautiful picture. So it was decided. A pizza oven for Mom. Merry Christmas (and happy birthday, anniversary and Mother’s Day…).
Now, there are many different forums, chatrooms, and instruction manuals that can be easily found online describing the step-by-step procedures of how to build an oven. I’m not going to go into crazy detail about the different nuances of the different styles of ovens, or try to lecture you on what size it should be or what materials you should use. I’m just going to let you see what we did, and if you are inspired, than awesome! Use this as a stepping stone to begin your pizza oven dreams.
Construction started with the base. There are many different designs and thoughts on how a base should be sized and what a base should consist of. We just decided what would work best for us, and in our situation we wanted something that was semi-permanent and could (once in a blue moon) be moved if the need arise.
We chose to mount the base on skids. Even though it would be extremely heavy once finished, we could potentially drag it to another location by hooking it up to a tractor. We followed (roughly) the building steps outlined on Forno Bravo’s website designated for building a pizza oven at home. Our dad is a mechanical engineer, so we had him go over our plans to make sure that the base would be strong enough to hold up the massive weight of the oven.
This was our first time building a pizza oven from scratch. As I said before, the ovens that we normally build were pre-fabricated and shipped to us in pieces to assemble. The hard work that goes into building a domed shape was already done for us! But this time around we needed to do all of that ourselves. Easier said than done.
I sourced the materials from local businesses when possible, and Home Depot for items that I couldn’t find other places. So once the base was done, we laid out the floor, and started building up the walls. I didn’t realize how long it was going to take to cut all of the fire bricks in half (a step that’s needed to give the right size bricks to form the dome). It took a while.
We laid them out, created a wedge that would give us the right spacing to attain the shape we wanted, and then started mortaring away! The mortar also proved to be a little tricky, as it needs to be able to withstand very high heats (up to a thousand degrees). In the end I did some research and calling around and borrowed a recipe that I had found online that mixed different parts lime, sand, Portland cement, and fire clay. It worked great!
The majority of the dome we were able to do just by free stacking it, but towards the top of the dome we found it necessary to build a mold on the interior using thin lattice slats that could support the bricks until the mortar firmed up.
The next step was to wrap the whole oven in three inches of a ceramic insulation blanket from Alpha Bravo, then cover it with chicken wire. Normally we would then put stucco over the whole sucker and call it good, but since this was our baby (and we don’t intend to make another for ourselves) we decided to make it extra fancy and do some custom stonework on the outside. This meant that we used some standard mortar on the chicken wire and then placed on it native rock that we gathered from our farm. We used a mortar dye when mortaring the rocks in place, and we were supper jazzed with the results.
All in all, construction took several weeks due to the added complexity of this specific oven as well as some inclement weather. One of the main draws to building it ourselves was the ability to save some money. Building it ourselves took much longer (we can build a prefabricated oven in a day) but we saved a lot of money. Purchasing an oven can run thousands of dollars, while ours ended up costing right around $1200.
So now it is finished. It’s a good size (42 inches interior diameter) and has a footprint of 6x6.5 feet. I have no idea how much it weighs, but it is constructed of over 200 bricks, close to 20 bags of stucco, plenty of 4x4 beams, and Hardie Plank siding….let’s just say I hope we don’t need to move it anytime soon.
But now that we have it, we have big plans for it. We have already enjoyed several pizza parties, and as I said before we plan on utilizing it with agritourism. It’s hard not to enjoy yourself when you are sitting by a campfire eating a fresh cooked pizza right out of the oven. The stars are above and the sparks from the fire seem to want to dance up and join them to create new constellations. Food brings people together, and we are happy to help further that tradition here at our farm.
If you would like to see a short video created while our oven was under construction, click here and enjoy a glimpse of the joy that this creation has already brought to us.
Happy pizza eating and oven building to all. And Merry Christmas, Mom!
Interested in seeing more of what Tim Rohrer does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username FullBarnFarms, or on Facebook at Full Barn Farms. And read all of Tim's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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