Author Topic: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.  (Read 4855 times)

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Offline johnrbek

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Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« on: June 20, 2006, 11:10:20 AM »
No offense to anyone, but I'm really interested in hearing from folks who have experience building their own brick oven (Pompeii, Scott/Rado, Pre-Fab) or are in the trade.  Pleast be patient while I explain where I'm coming from.

Long time lurker.  Read all the books (bread builders, etc.)  Seen all the web sites (ovencrafters.net, traditionaloven.com, fornobravo.com, etc). Read all the threads here, on pizzamaking.com, and fornobravo.com (their brick oven sections). 

Evaluating the various oven types and trying to come up with the best compromise of design and cost.  My oven will be used predominately for pizza making, so I'm looking for a relatively quick heat up time (<2 hrs) and capacity for high maximum heat (950F).  I don't envision myself baking bread, cooking roasts, and/or drying fruits using retained heat after a pizza party.  These will be done, but with their own firing the next day probably.  So.. I'm not really interested in an oven that takes 3-4 hours to get to 900F and then requiring 50 lbs of wood to maintain that fire over a few hours.  I will bake bread and roasts, but only one batch per firing.  No artesonal visions here.  Just family/freinds stuff.

After much research, here are my observations:

Napoletano style oven (round, lower ceiling than Tuscan style)- hard to build "properly", easily reaches and maintains goal temps, available in pre-fab, but expensive. 

Tuscan style oven - (round, higher ceiling) - not considering this type.  No as good for pizza.

Alan Scott / Rado Hand ovens - (barrel style, with lower ceiling arch than Tuscan/Beehive/Igloo) - easier to build, appears to be over built for my purposes, longer firing times, questions about ability to hit 950F and maintain it with reasonable fuel loads. Not expensive.  Not roundish like the napoletano ovens (unclear whether this is an "absolute" negative, heard opinions, but no "evidence based fact").   Seen folks cook pizza in these, but haven't seen alot of data around ability to reach 950F and maintain that temp, as well as fueled required to achieve this level of performance.

So... when I look at the aforementioned options (not aware of any others) and attempt to find the best compromise, what I come up with is the following:

A Rado Hand oven (prefer his floating hearth slab to Scott's rebar supported slab as I live in humid Florida/rust) with a higher insulating portion of the slab than recommended given same slab height, less cladding on the oven itself (maybe 1" instead of the approx 2" recommended) and everything else very well insulated with insulating concrete / vermiculite, etc.  I am considering a more square format rather than a rectangular format to give me more lateral room to fit multiple pizza's in the center of the oven with fire on the sides.

This type of oven seems like it would offer the best match of attributes given my requirements:

- The lower dome roof and lower thermal mass of the round/pompeii type ovens.

- The lower cost and easier build of the Scott/Rado Hand ovens.  That is easier to build a bullet proof oven.

*No doubt Pompeii ovens can be built, but from my research, I've concluded that there is some question whether they can be built effectively and with the same longevity that the Scott/Hand ovens can be built by a novice.  Scott/Hand ovens seem much more durable when built by a novice.

Overall budget is approx $3K "tax, tag, and title". 

Questions (only for those who have experience building ovens or have built their own oven):

1.  Given my requirements mentioned above, have I missed anything that I should have considered in my evaluation?

2.  Have I drawn any invalid conclusions?

3.  Given the changes to the basic Scott/Hand oven I am contemplating (primarily wider oven with less conductive concrete in slab) am I creating any structural deficiencies by making these changes.    Regarding the wider option, I am considering building an additional supporting wall down the middle of the wood storage area... Will I need additional structural concrete along the sides to support greater lateral load?  Can I put this outside the insulative layer? Thoughts?

4.  Would be interested in suggestions on overall oven dimensions, dimensions/depth of both components of hearth slab (structural & insulative), as well as depth of cladding that will be geared toward my baking requirements...   

The LAST thing I want to do is make some assumptions, build an oven, then find out the assumptions were wrong and have to live with an oven that won't perform to my expectionas. Would rather be safe than sorry.

Appreciate your patience in reading this post. I am looking for experienced responses.  No conjecture, no thread hijacking please.  No veiled sales pitches.  After reading many of pizzanapoletana's posts, I think I already have his opinion, though additional input is always welcome.  (I checked Forno Napoletano's prices and they are significantly outside my budget). Many thanks in advance for your time and consideration...

John


Pizziaola

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2006, 12:16:05 PM »
John,

You should check out Earthstone Ovens out of Los Angeles, they have the very best wood-burning oven kits. There a few others like Mugnani, but their quality is not as good. Alan Scott ovens are works of art, but they are seriously inefficient--especially for pizza making. The Earthstone units have the highest quality and thickest refractory material, which means extremely efficient ovens that fire-up faster and maintain temperature without using half a cord of wood.

I have a model 90 which is their smallest commercial size, but the best size for any kind of serious pizza baking. I can go months without using the oven and it never takes more than 1 1/2 hours to get up to full temp (about 900-1000 degrees). When I'm using it on a semi regular basis, it takes 45 minutes to an hour to crank up. Earthstone includes an excellent video with step by step instructions for installation. I installed mine into my house 15 years ago and I love it.

With wood-burning ovens, it's all about the refractory material and of course, design. Some of the higher chambered ovens are more suited to bread than to pizza where temperatures of 800 plus are not requirements. There are a lot of wood-guzzlers out there, unfortunately, people don't find that out until they start using them.  Another plus, Earthstone was the only manufacturer who sold residential and small commercial kits for years and they are very attuned to the amateur cook and to those types of installations.

Check out their website.

Pizzaiola

Offline Fio

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I am building a round oven.
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2006, 02:27:43 PM »
I am currently building a round "Pompeii" style, so I don't know if that counts as "experienced."  Check out my thread in this forum (it links to my thread at Forno Bravo).  I plan to have the dome finished this weekend, and to be cooking around the fourth of July.

I considered and rejected the Alan Scott design, even a low-thermal mass version, because I feel that the round shape of a true pizza oven gives more flexibility with fire/pizza placement.  There are no corners.  Plus, you don't need to add cladding on the sides to support the dome.  I do believe (with no scientific or empirical data) that the dome is more stable because of the way it's built.  The rectangular barrel dome produces outward thrust, i.e. the sides are forced out by the dome.  In fact, the most stable design is a catenary dome (check out my post in FornoBravo about the catenary arch) but I'm not sure if that's necessary.

Archaeologists have dug up ancient round dome brick ovens that are still standing.   

Take this with a grain of salt - because I am building one, and I don't want to believe that I am building a flop - but I do believe that the round pizza oven can be built properly, out of fire bricks, to last a long time.

My cost is now about $2 grand, and I anticipate I'll end up spending $2500 total.  That's for everything - the slab, the base, the oven, the insulation, the enclosure, and all the tools needed to build it.  Compare that to a pre-cast kit and for $2K all you get is the dome casting and that's IT.

Whatever you do, consider the following:

1) It is a waste of time to mortar your base blocks.  Use the Forno Bravo stack and fill method.

2) Don't cut corners.   Don't compromise.  You are going to sink a LOT of work into this.  The extra effort you put in now will pay off; corners cut now will hurt every time you use your oven.

3) Don't waste your $$ on buying plans.  Forno Bravo plans are free; you already have Alan Scott's book, and there's enough knowledge in this forum to get you by.

4) Do NOT fall for the oft-cited perspective that a round oven's height MUST be d/3.4.  My oven is 35" diameter, with a dome peak height of 16."  Neither a perfect hemisphere, nor a true "flattened dome."  Some will tell you that it is impossible to build an oven worth owning unless it is made by Italian artisans using volcanic sand, moon dust, and the cremains of Leonardo Da Vinci.  It's bunk.  You CAN build a great oven yourself with firebrick and fireclay mortar. 

5) Buy a brick saw.  A cheap 14" abrasive cut off saw from Harbor Freight is all you need. Use a good dust mask, eye and ear protection.  Renting a saw is expensive. 

6) In my opinion, pouring a floating hearth is a waste of time.  I'm using 2" of fiberfrax insulation directly under my firebricks and I'm sure it will be ten times better than a concrete hearth.

Most importantly:

7) No matter WHAT you do, whatever you build you will have a BLAST, and you will enjoy yourself and the oven immensely.   Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew, and have fun.

Disclaimer: My oven is not done yet.  But I'm nearly there, and it's rock solid.  And when it's done, I'll be happy to share pix and stories.

PM me if you have specific questions.   Good luck and have fun,

- Fio
Since joining this forum, I've begun using words like "autolyze" and have become anal about baker's percents.  My dough is forever changed.

Offline pizzanapoletana

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2006, 09:20:08 AM »


4) Do NOT fall for the oft-cited perspective that a round oven's height MUST be d/3.4.  My oven is 35" diameter, with a dome peak height of 16."  Neither a perfect hemisphere, nor a true "flattened dome."  Some will tell you that it is impossible to build an oven worth owning unless it is made by Italian artisans using volcanic sand, moon dust, and the cremains of Leonardo Da Vinci.  It's bunk.  You CAN build a great oven yourself with firebrick and fireclay mortar. 

- Fio

I really respect your opinion and confidence, but you are telling someone that your "belief" is truth!!!!,

Then let's talk about how many ovens you have used/baked into, or what difference have you seen with anyone refractory materials vs "Biscotto di Sorrento" baking floor, what is the benefit of using some natural materials vs refractory cement and what is the difference between firebricks vs "pressati" bricks....

It is about managing expectations: Everything produced by DIY give you a sense of satisfaction and you surely will enjoy the results (I have just finished building my telephone/broadband/ethernet network at home, very proud of the results but I know that it is not as efficient as a professionally installed one...) as far as we do not expect the moon.

A well prepared meal at any low cost "trattoria" will be very enjoyable as far as we do not expect the experience we would discover at "The French Laundry"

Offline Artale

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2006, 05:08:41 PM »
I really respect your opinion and confidence, but you are telling someone that your "belief" is truth!!!!,

Then let's talk about how many ovens you have used/baked into, or what difference have you seen with anyone refractory materials vs "Biscotto di Sorrento" baking floor, what is the benefit of using some natural materials vs refractory cement and what is the difference between firebricks vs "pressati" bricks....

It is about managing expectations: Everything produced by DIY give you a sense of satisfaction and you surely will enjoy the results (I have just finished building my telephone/broadband/ethernet network at home, very proud of the results but I know that it is not as efficient as a professionally installed one...) as far as we do not expect the moon.

A well prepared meal at any low cost "trattoria" will be very enjoyable as far as we do not expect the experience we would discover at "The French Laundry"


Take this for what it is worth !  I read alot of your post because you made this your
life's work to making the best neapolitian pizza and the tools that are needed to
accomplish that but many times as I read your posts you have a way of being
too picky and in some cases being rude. There are many here that are looking to
better there craft at making pizza and also at aquiring better tools and you can
educate without being pompus. Many here want to get better at the craft not
in some cases be the best. Have a little more compassion and patience you seem
very tense with your posts and it comes off very nasty sometimes.

Just some constructive criticisim to one who gives out lots of constructive criticism.

Artale

Offline pizzanapoletana

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2006, 04:26:03 AM »

Take this for what it is worth ! I read a lot of your post because you made this your
life's work to making the best Neapolitan pizza and the tools that are needed to
accomplish that but many times as I read your posts you have a way of being
too picky and in some cases being rude. There are many here that are looking to
better there craft at making pizza and also at acquiring better tools and you can
educate without being pompous. Many here want to get better at the craft not
in some cases be the best. Have a little more compassion and patience you seem
very tense with your posts and it comes off very nasty sometimes.

Just some constructive criticism to one who gives out lots of constructive criticism.

Artale


Artale,

Thanks for your feedback.

My objectives about participating to this forum have been made public more then once. One thing you should have drawn from my post is that those needs to be read in context.

I can assure you that there is never tension, but alway a smile on my face when I read post of people that all of the sudden have become expert without having ever done something and tell other people what is the truth (in this case someone that has never built a brick oven, never cooked in one, tells someone else that any oven will do... he should says that to people I know that have spent 10,000 dollars for ovens that had later to be demolished and substituted. There are a couple of posters on this forum that are about to do that...)

Whenever I will feel like posting, I will still do it the way I like too. If it hurts you, do not read me, that is simple! This will be when someone is writing about things I am trying to defend, and that is all. However, rest assure that my expertise do not stop at Neapolitan pizzamaking. I do not need to do Web search and post my summaries everytime I am writing an answer. Everything I write about is the results of studies and hands-on experience.

Just 2 days ago I received a private message from a frequent poster that was ending with something like : "everything I know is due to you". That is the main reason I will keep posting

Best regards




« Last Edit: June 28, 2006, 11:05:51 AM by pizzanapoletana »

Offline Artale

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2006, 10:29:58 AM »

I am not hurt or offended. It was a simple observation on my part
which you dont agree with and I was not surprised by that.

In any case I still respect your value to this board as a member
and a poster that helps this community.

Chao

Offline David

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2006, 11:15:54 AM »

 Have a little more compassion and patience you seem
very tense with your posts and it comes off very nasty sometimes.

Just some constructive criticisim to one who gives out lots of constructive criticism.

Artale

I think you should give people who are not posting in thier native tongue the benefit of a little more understanding.Marco does an admirable job of poviding information that would normally elude most of us.He is obviously justly proud of his native home and is rightly  IMO protective of his culture and heritage.If he was part of the "Pizza Police" that visited New York many years ago,thier would have been a Court Order issued to shut down most of our Pizza establishments  ;)Unfortunately,as I have learned, TIC comments and transatlantic humour do not always translate (even in a common language!)It's gratifying to have a voice on a forum that is both an authority and trustworthy.We have progressed well past  "It's in the water" myth,thanks to people like him.I personally have been cooking for 30 years,and have been on my search for my Pizza Holy  Grail for about 20 of those.More has been learned from Marco and others in this forum in recent months than anything published by any authority I personally know of? Thanks.
                                                                                                         David
                                                                                             
                                                                   
If you're looking for a date... go to the Supermarket.If you're looking for a wife....go to the Farmers market

Offline johnrbek

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #8 on: June 28, 2006, 02:37:51 PM »
OKaaaayyy!   Now that we got all that out of the way, can we get back to oven building advice?

It's clear to me now that we're not all masons here on this forum now, so I would appreciate advice from anyone and their experiences with respect to my original post.  That would include comments from pizza oven manufacturers, etc...

I'm still undecided about which way to go, but am leaning towards the round pizza oven style with lower ceiling..  Not sure if I should build or buy...

Thanks!

JB

Offline Harv

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2006, 02:43:54 PM »
John,
I may not be an expert since I am in the middle of building my first oven, but , I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night and the thread appears to be diverging from your original questions.

Based on your post, here is my two cents.  I'm building a modified Rado Hand type oven.  It will be rather squarish when completed ( approximately 38" by 40 ").  I plan on baking and roasting many different types of food.  Ovens of this type (even with reduced cladding) typically  have 4.5" of firebrick plus several inches of concrete below the hearth bricks and whatever cladding you put on top.  The thermal mass is fairly substantial.  If quick heating for pizzas is your primary goal, you may want to look again at the prefab ovens.  As I'm sure you are aware there are lots of companies to choose from but it seems many have refractory materials that are 2-3" for home ovens.  It would certainly save you a lot of work.  But, if part of your goal is the desire to build your own then here are my observations for that.

For the hearth, check out the "island hearth" in the FornoBravo forum if you haven't seen it already.  Build the center wall if you feel it necessary, but a pillar could also help support the slab and not compartmentalize your storage space.   Plan on extra insulation to help reach and maintain high temps.  Also, since pizzas will cook in just a few minutes It may not be necessary to build it big enough to cook two or three at once.  The bigger it is the longer you will have to fire it.

One question.  What style of pizza do plan on making?  950 degrees is pretty hot and If chicago style is your weakness you may not need to achieve those temperatures.





Offline Fio

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Cost of buying vs. building
« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2006, 03:41:48 PM »
This topic was addressed in some depth on the Forno Bravo forum:

http://www.fornobravo.com/forum/showthread.php?t=584
Since joining this forum, I've begun using words like "autolyze" and have become anal about baker's percents.  My dough is forever changed.

Offline johnrbek

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2006, 04:09:27 PM »
Fio... your link doesn't seem to be working.. maybe it's my laptop... not sure.   I have followed your threads and have read bunch of stuff on the forno bravo forums.. there is a great deal of archived material there and I haven't been through all of it...

Of course, the forno bravo site is predominately about pompeii ovens.. There's the occasional thread, but opinions certainly seem slanted toward the round pizza ovens, so it's hard to get an unbiased opinion.  That's why I originally came here.

Don't wanna sound like a flip flopper, but I just haven't made up my mind yet.  I wish we were able to test a round italian pizza oven against a modified AS/Rado oven (both with the same thermal mass),  both with known specifications against heat up time to a specific temp and the pizza quality output...   Perhaps some day, someone will help us test this out.  Give same/similar thermal mass, is there really a pronounced difference in the quality of the output based on the shape of the design itself (round low ceiling italian oven vs barrel vault style).  I've read alot on forno bravo about round being better, but then when I look at rado's oven, the barrel vault looks low as well.  Hmmm...

Harv.. I've talked to Rado and of course he's very pro cladding and higher thermal mass.  He's stated that he can hit high pizza temps in 1.5 hours, but I hear the opposite from a lot of other folks (e.g., forno bravo forums).  Last time we talked, he wasn't opposed to consulting me on reducing cladding and changing the oven dimensions into a squarer format (much like you're proposing)...    He's been busy and hasn't been able to get back to me on his more detailed comments...

I will say that I don't want an oven that will only cook pizza.  I want one that will cook a single batch of bread ( a few loaves) or do a large pork roast over over 3 or 4 hours at a lower temp without a fire in place.  However, pizza is what I'll make most.  I'm not in to deep dish.. mostly the higher temp NY style you'll find on the other pizzamaking.com forums (e.g., Jeff/Verasano's threads & pages)...   So.. okay, if I have to fire it 2 hours to hit that 850-900 and be able maintain and cook 8 pizza's at that temp, that's okay.. but I wouldn't want to lose the capacity to do at least a single full load of bread using retained heat.

Since it sounds like your goals are not that far from mine (are they?) I would be interested either way in hearing your progress... Have you documented anything on your build yet?

Well.. I guess I've beat this to death already.. Appreciate your input!

John

Offline Charleston Pizza

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2006, 04:27:51 PM »
Hi John, I am new to this board and I hope you don't mind me putting my 2 cents in. About 3 months ago I finished putting together my Fogazzo oven. It was not a very difficult to do and, I have been enjoying wonderfull Pizza Napoletana ever since. The oven comes in 6 pieces and costs about $2,000. My son and I were able to frame the outside ourselves, and trust me we, we had no experiance in this. I have taken pictures along the way and would be glad to share them with you.
                                                  Ciao a tutti  Luigi

Offline pizzanapoletana

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #13 on: June 28, 2006, 05:19:38 PM »
Sorry, but who told you that a pizza oven doesn't have a good thermal mass?

A proper neapolitan pizza ovens ( design and built for professional use in a house or commercial establishment) can bake three batches of bread (each filling the oven) 12 hours after the last firing (and can demonstrate any time- and that what is done in all restaurant/pizzeria I have consulted). Each batch bakes in an average of 45-50 minutes (that is the time for a 1kg loaf to cook in an italian way, very brown outside-not golden).

Ciao
« Last Edit: June 28, 2006, 06:13:56 PM by pizzanapoletana »

Offline Harv

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #14 on: June 28, 2006, 06:02:28 PM »
John,

     I have been taking pictures at various stages of construction and do plan on posting them at some point.  The reason I made mine a little wider was because I wanted a 20" door to make 20" pizzas.  You just can't get big New York slices from a 14" pie. (well you can but you have to cut it funny and you get one slice).  I also wanted to be able to place full sheet pans (aprox.18" wide) in my oven.

     I wish I could give more info on temperatures and firing times etc.  Like you,  I found a lack of science with regard to oven size, shape, temperature.  If you wait a few months I'll provide some data.  I'm installing five thermocouples in my oven and will do temperature profiles for different firing times and so forth.  I want to know what my temperatures will be if I fire it for 2 hrs or 6 hrs and what the temperature decay looks like.  Even with this kind of information, each oven and person is different.  If I say my oven gets to 900 degrees in two hours with a medium fire, someone else may build what they consider a medium-sized fire and only get to 700 degrees.  It would depend on your idea of medium and what size the wood is, how hot it burns etc.  But, I would love to see this type of information for all the different oven styles.
So at this point I'm not quite sure what my firing time will be.  I also don't really care.  If I can make dough 24-48 hours in advance, planning for a fire 2hrs or 4hrs before cooking is no big deal.  It's not like you have to sit there and constantly poke it with a stick.
     I have 2inches of vermiculite concrete under the 3 1/2 hearth slab and will do 2-3 inches of cladding.  I also have access to all the free ceramic blanket I want, so I plan on using several inches of that for insulation.
     I have CAD drawings of my foundation and slab, but unless your running Linux you wouldn't be able to open them.

« Last Edit: June 28, 2006, 06:07:03 PM by Harv »

Offline bakerbill

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Re: Looking for experienced advice on "pizza" oven build.
« Reply #15 on: June 30, 2006, 04:51:24 PM »
I would second that recommendation about Earthstone. While not inexpensive, I didn't have the patience or skill to build one from scratch. The directions and video, while not perfect, are helpful. I used concrete blocks and then coated them inside and out with a surface bonding cement which eliminated the need for mortar betwen the joints.  My oven gets up to about 700 degrees in 2-2-1/hours from a cold start. I am very pleased with it after three years of use though more information on installing the chimney would have been helpful.

Bakerbill