In October, Robert and I had the opportunity to spend 10 days outside Joshua Tree National park building a wood fired oven.
This was a project we had been wanting to do for a long time, but found it hard to block off a period of time to do it. So we booked off 10 days got a flight down south and packed our plans. This oven was designed by Robert. I call it the macho man model, for I had something smaller and less elaborate in mind. Many hours were spent going back and forth over what each of us wanted to see and the design. Finally we came up with step one. Get Ron to pour the pad! Our friend Ron and his lovely wife Sue live part-time in the desert and are the recipients of the first oven. The pad was poured in sand just outside the casita.
When we arrived it was ready to go.
Day one we sourced out supplies. My first call was to Julie Brooks at Laguna Clay, www.lagunaclay.com in L.A. She was very helpful with ideas and resources. The next trip was to Whitewater rock. www.whitewater-rock.com That place blew our minds! They have acres and acres of stone, brick and every kind of mortar imaginable. We loaded the the minivan with refractory mortar and firebrick. ( which is dirt cheap in California)
On the way home Robert and I had a heated discussion about what we were going to use for the heat sinq in the floor of the oven. That was the most controversial issue in the whole project.
We decided on a plywood form which we poured a concrete base of 4″. On top of that we added a layer of fire brick 4″ thick. ( we placed the firebrick sideways for the thickness) The firebrick was placed on the concrete when it was wet so we could tap it tight
together. We let that dry for a day, while Robert designed the dome and arch for the opening. The design had to allow the smoke to escape from the opening because we didn’t want to use a chimney. The design worked like a hot damn!
Next day we laid out the floor of the oven which was made of kiln shelves. On top of that Robert laid out the outline for the form and Ron and created a dome with water bottles filled with water and bags of sand. We used wet sand to fill any holes and create a perfectly smooth dome.
Once that was done we started to mix the refractory mix for the dome. We mixed all the concrete by hand in a wheel barrel, next time we will get a cement mixer!
Once it was mixed it needed to be applied to the dome immediately. The whole dome and arch were covered with approx. 6″ of the refractory mix.
That was allowed to dry for a day and at the beginning of the next day we pulled all the dome material out the opening to allow the hollow cavity to start drying. A couple of hours later we started a very small warming fire to encourage drying inside the
dome. The rest of the day was spent applying the last coat to the outside which was 2″ of finish coat which we stained and sculpted to look like a giant turtle. This was so tricky because it was 36C that day and really sunny. Ron put up a canopy over the oven and we had to constantly mist the finish so it wouldn’t immediately dry and crack. The fire was still slowly burning in the oven.
We kept a fire going for a day and finished off the hearth and inlaid glass tiles to the front for some color.
As the oven was drying we made a few test dishes and then we roasted our first chicken. A beer butt chicken completely roasted…. one hour. Beautiful.
The next night was Sue’s birthday so we fired the oven up and made pizzas one after the other, taking about 2 minutes each to cook to perfection!