PHOTO: KIKO DENZER

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By: Kiko Denzer
Source: Motherearthnews.com

How to Build Your Own Wood-Fired Earth Oven

Did you love to make mud pies when you were a kid? Even if you didn’t, you can still build this easy outdoor oven that works as well as a custom-built masonry or ceramic model. Cost? Next to nothing. Material? The Earth under your feet — one of the best building materials on the planet. And the skills you need are just the ones you were born with.

Follow the steps outlined below and you’ll enjoy crusty, chewy and richly flavored bread, pizza and other baked goodies in no time.

Preparing to Make Your Wood-Fired Earth Oven

Collect your shovel, a wheelbarrow and/or some buckets, a tape measure, scraps of lumber, a plastic tarp and kitchen utensils (for sculpting).

To start, prepare a base for the oven. If you’re going to use the oven a lot, you’ll want to build the oven floor at waist-height. Use what you have — rocks, broken-up concrete, logs, old metal barrels or even sawhorses. If you don’t mind working low, build on the ground.

The Wood-Fired Oven Floor

Twenty to 27 inches is a good size to the oven floor, but to determine your exact needs make a mock-up of what you want to bake and calculate how much space it takes. Make your oven floor by setting standard red or fire bricks on a level bed of smooth, tamped sand, 4 to 6 inches deep. Used bricks are great, but should be free of old mortar. Set the first one level and solid. Hold the next brick level and just above the sand; gently kiss its long side to the long side of the previous one. Set it down flat and firm. Don’t wiggle it. If one brick stands up a bit proud, tap it down to make it flush with the rest.

Make a Form

Shape a pile of moist sand on the floor bricks. (This can he any kind of sand, or even loose topsoil. The form will be covered with your mud mix, then removed to form the oven’s interior.) The form should be a few inches higher than half the oven floor’s width. [For example: An oven 27 inches wide (one-half of which equals 13½ inches) should stand 16 to 20 inches high.]

Hold a level across the top; measure the distance to the floor to calculate the interior height of your oven. Multiply it by 63 percent (0.63) to determine the proper height for your oven door. Write this number down!

Mixing Mud for Your Outdoor Oven

Good oven building soil usually is found below the topsoil. It contains clay which, like cement, holds things together. Use it straight out of the ground or mix it with sand. If you have nowhere to dig, look for construction sites, road cuts or river banks. Clay subsoil should feel sticky, slippery and a bit greasy (in contrast, silt and organic matter feel floury and crumbly). Wet, you should be able to roll it into snakelike ropes and bend it easily. The mix is usually one part clay subsoil and anywhere from one to three parts sharp sand (also known as builders or masonry sand); pure clay subsoil also works, but tends to shrink and crack more. Make a test brick or two by mixing sand and soil. Dried, the bricks should be dense and hard with few or no cracks. Read full article…