Monday, November 2, 2009

Pizza oven part 5: The arch

by Birch

The arch: It brought fevered visions of ancient Roman aqueducts, the rounded stone curves of the Catacombs, the arch on the Champs Elysees, and the monument in Washington Square near NYU. . . Heck, I even took a good, hard sideways look at June's Volkswagen Beetle parked in our driveway. (That's an arch, right?) The strength. The grace. It was the perfect entrance to my pizza oven. A pizza piazza, if you will.

The dome needed a proper terminus and landing area for the pizza. It had to be large enough to load the oven with wood and pizza, but not so big as to let out the heat. Forno Bravo's website has several examples of oven entrances, and I decided to go with the traditional design of a double arch. One inner arch about eighteen inches wide connected to an outer arch that was about twenty-two inches wide. That way the oven could be sealed off with a metal door to trap heat after the fire has died down so we could even cook a Thanksgiving turkey. Pizza and bread would be cooked with an open entrance needed for the high heat of a blazing fire.
An arch was also important to support the chimney, which would be mortared to an eight-by-eight inch hole in the top of the outer arch. A good chimney would provide the right draft needed for those hot fires.

I had left just enough room for the inner arch with the dome halfway constructed. I had also cut a plywood form in a very nice angle, which I would use to keep me from going astray. On each side, I mortared four split-firebricks together to meet the dome walls. Then I cut a brick in half horizontally at a forty-five degree angle—a challenge that took several tries to get right with my saw. These pieces were mortared in place and would help form the gentle angle of the top bricks. Then I balanced bricks along the top edge of the form, mortaring in one at a time and giving them a few minutes to set. I cut a keystone to fit the top of the arch and tapped that in place with a rubber mallet. I wiped down the excess mortar with a wet sponge and left it to dry.

The outer arch proved to be tougher since it was made of whole bricks, and heavier than the first arch. Storm clouds colored the sky charcoal, and I hurried to get everything in place. The inner arch had dried for few days and I mortared in whole bricks set flat, using a larger template set in front of the opening. Four bricks went up on each side, and I began to bring the arch over the top. A few drops of rain fell. Mortar likes it damp, since slower drying makes for a stronger bond. I pressed on toward the keystone that would lock the whole arch together.

I made a cardboard template to get the shape of the keystone right, but after I cut the brick, it didn't fit. So I slowed down, measured again and cut another brick, hoping that the rain would hold off. But it didn't. No sign of lightning or thunder, but the skies opened with a steady rain. I ran the power tools inside and rushed out to finish the job.

Fern and Blossom followed me out. I pulled a tarp over the dome to keep it somewhat dry as I layered on the last bit of mortar on the arch. My dear little helpers worried about me getting wet. An umbrella suddenly opened overhead—thank you, Fern! I gingerly placed the keystone in position. It worked. The arch stood. We covered the new mortar and dashed inside where June had hot tea waiting for us.

Coming soon: It works! Our first pizza!


Unknown said...

This is fabulous! What a great pizza oven! Congratulations, Birch - and family! I can't wait to read more.

Garden Girl said...

Wow, wow, wow! Very impressed. And just in time for winter...

The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...

AMAZING!!! Your own pizza oven! How cool is that? I am very impressed at your work. Bravo, bravo! Lavoro piacevole! (nice work in Italian!, lol)

sarah said...

June! Look at that dome. Wow! I am clapping, can you hear me? :)

Toni said...

Yeah Birch!!!! I know that you guys are REALLY REALLY going to enjoy your pizza oven! Congratulations on completing it! Please post about the fabulous pizza you cook in the future... oh my... my mouth is already watering...

Conny said...

Oh yeaaah! Pictures of pizza emerging from the oven would be nice, and greatly anticipated.

Your girls look out for you Birch - hot tea and umbrellas in hand. So sweet. :>)

The Unusual Farmchick said...

How absolutely georgous! That is an impressive Pizza Oven! I so love the pic of your wee one holding the umbrella for ya. LOL. A labor of love which will give back a million folds more!

Magnolia Handspun said...

I smell pizza all the way to Montana...and I also smell sweet sucsess!
Fantastic, way to go guys.
I adore the shot where your daughter is holding the umbrella.

So now we have to droooool over future pizza images?
Bring it on.
You inspire!
One day hopefully we'll have the mean time I'll look at your beautiful images and eat my frozen Red Baron pizza.

Lyanda said...

Beautiful! My dad is a mason, and has made several pizza ovens, which he designed. We don't quite have space for a full-sized pizza oven like yours, but we are pondering a Quebec-style bread oven. Your project inspires me! Can't wait to hear about the results. Well done!

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

well now, you've brought a whole new meaning to the 'arches' when eating...McDonnalds - eat yo heart out! None of their golden arches will EVER compare...

I see you had a very dedicated and able brave to have weathered the storm to be the official umbrella holder! Sweet child..

You are blessed beyond compare :-)

JGH said...

A gorgeous oven and I'll bet the pizza is outstanding too. What kind did you make? Very jealous :-)

a tasteful garden said...

what a beautiful oven! i am totally jealous. i've dreamed of ovens like that. a fabulous family project as well.

Wren said...

It is looking fantastic! Love the photo of your helper...

Country Girl said...

Very cool. I would aso love to have one. Maybe I can talk my Maine Man into it. Love the pics, perfect for the post!

Anonymous said...


Now that is a labor of love.

farmama sara said...

What an incredible job you did on this functional work of art! I love that your helper held the umbrella for you! i would love to have an oven like this! I can't wait to see the food art that is cooked up in there!
Love, Sara

Country Girl said...

Hey June,
Not sure if you are local to me but if you are you I'm sure MM would let you borrow the plucker. I do not post my location on my blog but if your ever interested I will exchange e-mails with you. I have several full grown live cornish rocks (meat birds) for sale and a few meat rabbits if your interested as well. ~Kim

Anonymous said...

Lovely. I don't think I have what it takes to build my own brick outdoor oven so I opted to buy one. Nonetheless, you did a magnificent job!

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