This is our backyard brick oven.

It’s not finished, it still needs a ceramic blanket for insulation and a couple coats of stucco. It works great making pizza, chicken and bread. Tonight we are going to make Stromboli.

Pompeii style brick oven.

My boyfriend has told me many times that he has wanted a brick pizza oven in the house. We both knew that wasn’t going to happen without a major overhaul. (I never thought it would happen, period.) But one day, while on Facebook, a friend that I went to college with was hosting a “Learn to make a temporary brick oven” class at the Borner Farm project, an organic farm in Prescott. It spurred my attention, and I googled DIY brick oven. There was a plethora (I love that word) of information on the subject, and I sent my man an email stating that I have decided to make him an outdoor pompeii style brick oven. That was February of 2012 and in April I started construction.

I got a big nail, the kind that go into railroad ties and I tied a 24 inch length of twine to it. I walked into the backyard, just off the patio and stuck the nail into the Earth. I had another nail tied onto the opposite end and I scratched away at the ground, forming a 48 inch diameter circle. Then I grabbed the shovel and started to dig. We live in an area of Wisconsin where there is considerable glacial till, so once I got into the B horizon there was a variety of poorly sorted pebbles to cobble. It took a couple days but I dug the hole 28 inches deep.

The next step was multiple trips to the gravel pit, ironically due north 1 mile. We share the same address. Perhaps I live on a glacial moraine? Anyway, I lined the the diameter with chicken wire and lined the chicken wire with some sort of black building fabric I found in the basement. I attached it to the chicken wire with twisties that I stash from the produce section of the grocery store. I started to fill the void with gravel, and then mortared rock around onto the chicken wire.

Brick oven foundation.

Ok, a little lie here. I actually filled the whole thing with gravel, 3000 pounds of gravel! I didn’t have the rock mortared around for support, and the darn thing started to lean, like the tower of pizza! I had to dig all the gravel out. That was a sad day. I was so mad, I didn’t work on it for 3-4 days.

It is starting to lean, but you can’t really tell. Notice bulging, too.

So, time to start over. This time I filled with gravel as I mortared rock up. Worked much better!

Rock solid foundation.

Next was an insulating layer. And another confession. I daily checked Craigslist in search of recycled firebrick, and found 60 in the Cities. I went to St. Paul to pick it up. When I got home, I realized that I had bough insulating firebrick, not heat holding firebrick. Oh well, I decided to use it as insulation. A little pricey at $1/brick but at least it was useful.

Insulating layer complete.

Next, a thin layer of fine-grained sand to help level the firebrick for the oven floor.

Level and ready for firebrick!

Next, you lay out the firebrick for the oven floor. Of course, I over-thought this and did it about 6 times. I wanted it to be perfect so the pizza peel wouldn’t get hung up on a brick when I put the pizza in or take it out!

Not good enough! Check out that gap!

After you get the brick laid, you need to make a form for the door. I decided to go with an arch. I found a piece of not-quite-rotted-pine, and made the door. Wish I’d had a table saw. Then I made the arch. You use 1/2 bricks for the arch, and set it up using little pebbles.

Lookin’ good!


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