Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pizza Oven: Step Two

by Birch

I knew nothing of concrete, except that it came in an eighty-pound paper bag that was sure to give me the hernia my grandmother had always warned me about. It was high summer, and I had just finished digging a hole in our heavy clay soil the size and depth of a kiddie pool and it needed to be filled with a whole lot of those eighty-pound sacks. Or I could just call up a concrete company for a delivery. Wasn't pouring concrete slabs a job best left for professionals and organized crime hit-men? To the Yellow Pages!

The foundation work specified in Forno Bravo's plans for the Pompeii pizza oven seemed like serious overkill. But then again, there's no doubt that a solid base is needed to keep the oven stand and the cooking dome from shifting, which would cause the pizza oven's masonry to crack. Several tons of firebricks and refractory mortar need to be supported by something equally solid! So I decided not to improvise this time and follow the plans precisely.

Meanwhile, my calls to local concrete companies were not being returned. Everyone was running full out in the summer construction season and didn't have time for a piddly bit of work. (This was last summer, before the economy cratered.) But I got lucky when a neighbor who had just finished digging the foundation for his new garage came to the rescue when I shared my concrete dilemma with him. The weekend before the crew he had hired was ready to pour, he sent them over to me for an estimate.

Two guys with Popeye forearms swung by to survey my site. They shrugged. I hoped to move negotiations along by suggesting that maybe they could add a bit more concrete to the neighbor's order and take care of my project. The boss nodded without commitment and sucked on a toothpick. Finally they hit on an excuse for their reluctance, explaining that they would have to move the concrete across the lawn by wheelbarrow since they couldn't get the truck close enough for the boom to reach my site. Fair enough, I thought, and I agreed to cover their time for the heavy-lifting. They took my number without commitment. They'd call after they poured the concrete for the neighbor's garage on Monday morning.

Convinced their visit (and word) was golden, I finished the preliminary work over the weekend: spreading a two foot base of crushed stone to level the hole and provide some drainage. Then I built a form from 2 X 6 lumber to hold the concrete in place at the top of the excavation. I covered the stone underneath the form with a plastic moisture barrier, using old shower curtain liners that I had been saving for a good purpose. Then I used a masonry blade on my power saw to cut lengths of iron reinforcing rod, also known in the trade as "rebar." (Note to fellow amateurs: Throwing around the lingo doesn't impress anyone.) I lay the rebar onto plastic spacers that would hold each length four inches into the concrete, criss-crossing the bars into a grid that would add support and strength to the concrete. When I was done my hole looked ready for the pour.

Monday morning brought the threat of thunderstorms, but no phone calls from the concrete guys. That's okay, I thought, they'd come over when they were done. The crew was working across the river, and I could hear their truck's diesel engine rev as the concrete tumbled in the huge barrel. They worked for awhile and by lunch-time, they were gone. Lunch break, right? Nope, they were on to the next big job, and I still had a hole in the backyard.

I could do this, I decided. Two trips to Home Depot with a thousand pounds of Quikcrete dragging bottom in the family car. I stowed the thirty-five bags in the garage on an old wooden pallet. About this time the summer rains hit. Day-after-day of heavy showers made it impossible to mix and pour the concrete. And I wanted to be done.

For years, early August has delivered June's Dad, Hickory, cross-country for his annual visit. He's always quick to help out, especially when there's a hard-to-hide hole in the backyard. Hickory is a super-hero of a father-in-law, and he never fails to help us out of a jam. And as always, he was full-in for helping me out. So I attempted to rent a cement mixer from our local tool rental, but the ground was too muddy to drag it across the yard, so back went the mixer. We set to work by hand with a wobbly wheel-barrow and mixed all thirty-five bags by hand.

Fern and Blossom marked each corner with their footprints and names. And by evening, the whole thing was done. Oh, and then Grandpa Hickory went back home and saw a chiropractor to straighten out his back, and he couldn't sleep for two weeks, but that's a whole other story for a whole different sort of blog.

Coming up in Step Three: A crushing blow with concrete blocks on a rented truck!


Stephanie said...

Good progress ;-) Can't wait to the complete work.

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

Oops - hope this doesn't get posted twice! Love the idea of the footprints - AND the idea of fresh pizza:-)

When hubby and I re-did the kitchen,m we wrote a message on the wall near the floorboards with the dates and our hope & dreams - maybe when we're gone someone will be surprised when they move the fridge!

tom said...

I just had wood-fired pizza this weekend down the road at a friend's house. His pizza/bread oven is built like the Pantheon, so looks like you're off to a great start. And may I say it will be worth the bad back and heavy lifting. Keep your eye on the pie!

gardenmama said...

Thirty five bags!!!!
Oh, my!
Wood fired pizza does sounds pretty fabulous : )