Monday, December 15, 2014

Earth Oven, pt 4, The End of the Road

After the Storm
We've discussed the planning stages of building the Oven.
We've discussed building the Firebox of the Oven.
We've discussed building the Cob Dome of the Oven.

In today's article, I'm going to briefly go over a few things that we learned along the way while building the oven, and where we'll go from here when we have the time and resources to start planning and building the Mark II Oven.

Theory vs Practice!
Frankly, this is something that all preppers should take note of, regardless of what they're trying to be prepared for. There is a huge gulf of difference between Theoretical Knowledge and Practical Knowledge.

Nothing shows this quite as thoroughly as taking a group of people who have practical knowledge in a diverse set of areas, but only theoretical knowledge in the area you need, and asking them to collectively tackle a practical project.

I joke that my main "talent" actually lies in the area of being able to surround myself with extremely talented and knowledgeable people. This project proved to me that I wasn't joking.

Location, Location, Location
One of the first things that I realized was that we should have spent a bit more time considering our placement. While we built the oven in a location that's very convenient to the industrial kitchen on-site, the location we chose is such that the person (or people) manning the oven are fairly removed from the majority of activity taking place out at Knight's Rest Retreat. This has both advantages and its disadvantages.

One advantage is that the cooks manning the oven don't have the opportunity to get distracted by other things going on at Knight's Rest. The disadvantage is that the cooks can easily get bored, and therefore become unwilling to man the oven.

Another issue that I realized could be a problem with our oven is its location in relation to the resources needed to build it. We were fortunate that we had a functional backhoe to use for bringing clay from our clay bank to our location, and our water source was a spigot with a convenient hose to drag closer to where we were building.

Remember that your resources will have to be hauled to your chosen location, so pick a spot where you're not going to wear yourself out before you ever actually start building. The less hauling of resources you have to do, the less energy you're expending. Less energy used = less need to rest and refuel later.

Flattening Out 
Just how flat is the piece of dirt where you're planning to construct your oven? Have you got a nice, level spot that just happens to have a concrete pad already in place?

If you have a concrete pad available to work on, use it! If you don't, then either build directly on the ground, or make sure you build a platform that is going to be both stable and level, without the possibility of it sinking or caving in.

We've run into difficulties with the long-term viability of the Mark I simply because the earth platform we built for its placement has shifted quite a bit, and some areas have compacted much more than others. There have been a few minor earthquakes (something we never used to experience in Oklahoma!) that have caused portions of the packed earth platform to no longer be completely level.

If you're building directly on the ground, bedrock would be a great choice. At the very least, look for an area that's not going to be making its way out from under what you're building, and make certain it's well packed and solid.

Is it getting hot in here?
Temperature control has been something of an issue. We still haven't gotten it completely right yet, but we're working on that!

Have a thermometer handy that can withstand the anticipated temperatures inside your oven, and use it as you do your progressive firings to cure out the cob dome. This will give you a much more accurate idea of what size fire you're going to need to achieve specific temperatures.

Having a good in-oven or in-grill thermometer handy during cooking uses will also help you maintain your fire, and know exactly what temperatures your oven space is reaching during the cooking process for specific dishes.

Adjusting recipes is much easier when you actually know what internal temperature your oven happens to achieve.

The Mark II Project
Eventually - probably in late spring - we will get started on the Mark II Oven build. This will address problems that have arisen with the Mark I either during construction, or since it was finished.

We've chosen a spot not far from where our current Mark I Oven happens to reside, but situated closer to where our Main Hall is being built. This will put its placement more centrally located, which should help keep the boredom factor down.

The change in location will also cut down on the amount of foot work to go between the oven and the Feasting Hall while carrying hot food straight out of the oven, like fresh bread.

We will be taking the time to do a few things to the location chosen for the Mark II prior to starting on the actual building. First, we'll be leveling and grading the area. Once it's leveled and graded, we'll be pouring a single concrete slab of the proper size to accommodate our Mark II, and allowing the poured concrete to cure for several days.

Another major difference between the Mark I and the Mark II will be use the exclusive use of refractory cement, rated for extremely high temperatures, as mortaring for our firebox. We used regular cement mortar on the firebox in the Mark I, and it was a mistake; we've had a lot of cracking and expansion due to the high temperatures in the firebox, and it has caused issues with the stability of the entire structure.

We will also likely have a much longer cure time in firing the cob dome on the Mark II, because we feel like it got slightly rushed for the Mark I.

All in all, it's been both educational and fun, and I'm looking forward to working on the Mark II and other ongoing projects out at Knight's Rest Retreat.

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