First I want to thank the members of this site. When it comes to purchasing a WFO there are quite a few choices out there. The differences can be a bit confusing for a newbie like myself. This site has so much information that was instrumental for me to make a sound choice and avoid some of the pitfalls with regards to the ovens that I did not purchase. In particular there are a few members that went above and beyond in helping me with my tireless barrage of questions. I won't name names, as I am not sure that they would appreciate that, but you know who you are. Especially one of you. Thank you for your patience, and for inviting me and my family into your home to see your beautiful oven in action.
Ok, on to my decision. I looked at mugnaini, earthstone, forno bravo, la panyol, a couple different units from craigslist, and four grand mere. I think that is it, there may be a couple others in there, it is a bit of a blur at this point.
By the time that you factor in all the costs, the pricing across the different kits are fairly similar. Some are a bit more, some a bit less, but if you compare same size to same size, plus all the "extras" that you will end up needing, they work out to be within the same general range.
Every oven had its plusses and minuses. The conclusion that I came to is that I likely would have been happy with any of them. At the end of the day, it would come down to learning your oven and being able to manage it correctly. Ultimately, I narrowed it down to the La Panyol, and the FGM. The others seemed to have just a little more chatter online about issues than those two. To be fair, the LA Panyol is on the higher side of the price scale, and the FGM seems to be a new comer to the U.S. WFO scene. So, it could just be that there are far less people using those models than the others and therefore less data on the inter webs.
Both the La Panyol (via Maine Wood Heat) and the FGM (via Antoine at Bread Stone Ovens) have fantastic pre-sales support. They are very patient, will answer any and all questions, and will even go do research if they donít know the answer off hand. I have a friend who has the La Panyol and it really is a stellar oven. I helped him build it when he got it years ago and I really liked the design. I have only had bread and pizza out of his oven, but both were excellent.
In the end, the feature that pushed me over the edge and made me choose the FGM was the raised door option. I know that will make some of you NP purists cringe, but my intentions for this oven are more broad than just pizza (did I just blaspheme?). I fretted a bit about it, as all the other ovens out there have a much more extreme dome to door ratio than the raised FGM, but I figured that really it would come down to oven management, and I could always dome my pies if needed. Then Antoine came out with the throat reducer, so that seemed like a happy compromise. Now I can fit my thanksgiving turkey, a suckling pig, etc., and also make good NP pies (all of which is yet to be seen, but that is my theory and I am sticking to it.).
I decided to purchase from Antoine. So I went with the 950 raised, brick. I also got the stand, his complete package, and an embers rake and oven brush. I decided against buying peels from him as everyone on this site raves about the GI peels, so I figured I would go that route. I went with the complete kit and the stand because I thought it would be nice to have everything I needed delivered to my doorstep, ready for assembly.
So, now that I have gone through the purchasing experience, and have built it, here are my thoughts. I will add to this thread as I learn more through using it.
Antoine was absolutely fantastic with all my pre-sales needs. He was patient, answered questions I had about the ovens, tools, and even did his best to answer questions that I had about some of his competitors ovens, which btw, he never had an ill word to say about any of them (I really appreciated that).
This oven is beautiful. The brick and the outer door really make it a show piece in my opinion.
Although I have only really done curing fires so far, the heat retention on this oven is phenomenal. It has been pretty cold at night at my place (well, cold for the west coast). When heated up to 60 to 70 C (on the dome thermometer) overnight heat loss is less than 10C (over more than 12 hours). Granted I went extra on the insulation in both the floor and the dome. This seemed to hold true as the heat crept higher as well.
Assembly was pretty straightforward. Putting the oven together is time consuming. Be prepared for that. Also, it is heavy. Not just a little bit either. I mean, freakishly so. I had planned on having another couple to come over and help me put the dome in place. I am reasonably strong, as are they. While we could certainly lift the dome pieces, there is no way we could have lifted it high enough to put it in place. As luck would have it, I had a neighbor stop by the morning that I was planning on doing it. He had some friends visiting, so we ended up having 5 guys lift the dome pieces into place.
I had some items get damaged (the stand was pretty scratched up, and the door had some damage), either in shipping, or prior to packaging. Antoine took care of sending me replacements/ways to fix them.
The oven shipped within a couple weeks of payment. This was pretty fast as I know that he had to have the stand made, the throat reducer made, gather the items for the complete kit, and get it out the door.
While Antoine rocked during pre-sales, that experience did not carry through to post sales for me. He went from being very responsive to being hard to reach, and slow to respond. To be fair I think he has been in the middle of some personal things, so I do not know if my experience would echo with what others would experience. Also, I do not want to exaggerate things, its not like he went MIA completely, just that he went from same day responses before I purchased, to several days between responses after my check cashed. Under many circumstances, this would be fine, but seeing as how I just spent a ton of money, I was a bit disappointed. Since my experience with him pre-sales was so stellar, I did not expect this. I have been in contact with him a bit, and whatever he was going through seems to have subsided. He has returned to his previous state of being very responsive. I am going to write this off as bad timing, even though it was frustrating as hell when it was happening.
The stand sways a bit. This oven is big and heavy. The stand could be a bit more re-inforced. I will likely tack on some cross members to get it more stable. I don't think it is going to tip over or anything, but the sway when you push on it is a bit disconcerting.
I ordered some tools with the oven. Those didn't show up with the oven delivery. This was fine, as I figured that they were coming shortly there after. The oven shipped on 1-21, The tools didn't ship for a whole month after. I had to follow up with Antoine about this many times before getting an answer. I think this was likely related to the problem above. Antoine did upgrade my brush that I purchased to a higher end one, free of charge due to the delay. That was nice.
There was a considerable amount of mildew on the bricks. This is not a huge deal as the heat will kill anything, but it takes away from the over all experience to be handling mildewy pieces as you are putting it together.
The complete kit, is not really complete. While it has the bulk of what was needed to put the oven together, I still needed to purchase several things to get it assembled per the directions. This would have been fine if it were my expectation up front. However, I was under the expectation that it would come with everything I needed to put it together.
In a nutshell:
If I had it to do again, I would still get the same oven. However, I would not get the complete kit. Since I still had to go to the store to purchase items to get it together, I would just buy all of those components locally. Also, I would ask around to see if I could get a stand fabricated locally. The stand is nice, I think it looks good, but it needs more reinforcement, so I will end up getting a welder to do that anyway. If I wasn't able to find someone local to do it easily, then I would purchase the stand again.
I am hoping that this thread will help those of you that are looking to take the plunge and buy an oven. It would be nice if I could give something back to this site which was so instrumental in my decision process. Thanks again to everyone that helped me.
Now on to the build pictures.
I cleared out my side yard to prepare the new space