Friday, November 7, 2014

Earth Oven Build, pt 1

After the Storm by Renee Williams,
acrylic on canvas covered board
Editor's Note: Rhi has kindly switched days with me so I can play with my buddy Oleg Volk, who is in Florida this week. Thanks Rhi!

I mentioned in my last post that I had been given one of those rare but wonderful opportunities to do something that's both incredibly fun and incredibly useful.  In my case, it's taking part in the building of a reproduction Viking village in northeastern Oklahoma. 

We began building the first mini project in the village during the last week of September of this year.  And what is that first permanent addition to the Village Project?

An Outdoor Cob Oven!

Village Project Oven as of 10/12/14

When you start considering what you want for a usable oven emplacement outdoors, you really need to look at several factors:
  •  Am I likely to be moving from this location in the near future?
  •  How much space do I have available to me that isn't too far removed from my shelter?
  • What sort of materials do I have on hand?
  • Are my water resources sufficient, and close enough, to make building in my chosen spot practical?
  • What am I going to have to scavenge or purchase to complete the build?
  • How much time am I willing to invest in building something of this nature?

The reason I put size of location as a primary issue is simple: If you're going to dedicate the time and resources to a project of this sort, you want to be certain that the finished oven is adequate to your needs over the long term.

The same goes for how long you're going to be in that one location:  If you're planning on packing up and moving to a better spot, it's best to put off a major building project until you're sure you won't be moving on again soon.

If your group is small - only 2 or 3 people - then it's not likely that you'll be needing enough space to bake 10 loaves of bread all at the same time.  But if your group is large - 30 or 40 people who've managed to come together as a community - you'll be better off having spent your efforts on building something of sufficient capacity to feed everyone at the same time, which means an interior space large enough to bake 20 loaves of bread in a single firing. 

There are a lot of places out there where you can get a basic set of plans for a good outdoor oven, most of them advertised as "outdoor pizza ovens".  One of the best places that I've found for looking over plans and getting an idea of what it would take,  in terms of labor and materials, to build an outdoor oven is These folks really know their stuff.

They have basic plans for a wide variety of outdoor oven styles, as well as kits that they sell to help you build one the easy way.  The kits are a bit pricey, ranging from as low as $1200 to as high as $5000 for a "residential" installation.

I went through their library materials for 2 weeks prior to beginning the build on The Oven, just looking at basic plans and layouts. I also took a close look at This Site for further ideas, since we were specifically looking for a Medieval-style oven rather than a more modern pizza-type oven.

What we finally settled on ended up being a unique set of plans personalized for our location and needs.  Our oven out at Knight's Rest Retreat utilizes materials we already had on hand, particularly the high quality natural red clay available in the creek that runs through the property.

In part 2, I'll go over how we laid out the base of our oven, and built the fire box.

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