Building a Bread or Pizza Oven : The Base

I built my first oven on a wooden base made of scrap wood.The oven itself was made of refractory concrete based on the dimensions I had found in Elisabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery. I kept oven for years and the scrap wood base held it up as well as a concrete or brick base would have. As I had intended that oven only as an experiment, I’d made no effort to make the base look good. But could have.

Researching in a heart-baked bread for my book, The Magic of Fire,  in the mountaints above Modena, Italy (this was about the time I was ready to build a new oven) I was amazed and also very happy to discover that the super massive bread ovens in the farmhouses I was visiting were also built on wooden bases. The enormous front legs were made from the trunks of chestnut trees and the header that held held up the base was the dimension of beams that hold up ceilings.The ovens were situated in chestnut country. Up until fairly recently chestnuts was what people made their money from. Chestnut wood was free for the labor of cutting it.

When I cut down a plum tree in my backyard, inspired by what I’d seen in Italy, I made the legs and base from the tree. I have since used the same wooden base for three ovens. One advantage of a wooden base is that you can move it so each oven has actually been in a different location in my yard.

There are different traditions for the bread oven bases. In many cultures the base is the earth. One sees this in the United States in New Mexico where ovens are called by their Spanish name, horno, and are built directly on the ground or at most on a small raised mound of earth. Letting the earth carry the weight of ones oven works in cultures where people are used to sitting or squatting on the ground. If you want to stand while baking then you need an oven base.

Structurally, there is no point to the massive concrete bases that are almost universally specified for bread ovens. Friends of mine had a base built for theirs that I swear one could built a three story house on top of.  In the United Sates we build houses out of wood. Wood is more than strong enough to hold up an oven, no matter what you build it out of. And a wooden base is much less costly and much more flexible than a concrete base.

Also, perhaps more fundamentally, building a base that is in balance with the actual structural loads is more in keeping with the spirit of returning to traditional country ways. One of the most traditional of all traditional country practices is to save money whenever and however one can.

One of the pleasures of building ones own oven is developing the plans — making up the dream. The table that the oven sits on needs to be bigger than the oven itself as the oven walls, including insulation, are likely to be as much as 8 inches thick at the base. As wider is never a problem, while not wide enough can be, I suggest adding 10 inches to 1 foot to the interior dimension of your oven. Thus, if your oven is 3 feet in diameter on the inside, build a base that is 5 feet by 5 feet. If you oven is 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep, the dimension of my oven, make the table top 5 feet wide and 6 feet deep.

 

 

 

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My current oven is built on a wooden base made with the trunk of a plum tree that I had removed from my backyard (the legs are from the trunk, the cross supports from a large branch, and the floor is made from from branches of a redwood tree).

 

If you have so much money that you really have no need to watch how you spend it, or if you know that this oven you will buy or build is the exact precise oven you want for your entire life, if you want people to gasp in wonder at the edifice that is your oven, then

 

Whatever oven you buy or build it must sit on something. Looking around oven websites and perusing online oven building videos as well as reading books on building ovens — and seeing those of my friends — I am convinced that the oven base is where so much oven angst and money and waste

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