8. Firing the Oven

Burning Kindling in the oven entrance

Burning Kindling in the oven entrance

I discussed the process of firing the oven in a previous post but I thought it warranted its own posting because if you don’t get this right – you wont be cooking anything!

This is the way I do it.

  1. Prepare a nice big pile of kindling
     
  2. Roll some balls of newspaper and pile them just inside the mouth of the oven in a cone shape
     
  3. Pile kindling sticks around the newspaper like you are constructing a wigwam
     
  4. Light the newspaper and let the fire catch.  Now at this stage I have a handy cheat that you might find useful.  I have a weed burner which I bought a few years ago and never used and it is perfect for getting these fires going in the oven.  It isn’t very Eco-friendly through so I won’t encourage you to buy one but if you have one lying around and some spare gas then go for it!
     
  5. Gradually keep adding kindling to the small fire until it builds to a nice little blaze.  At this stage you can move it a little further back into the oven.  I push the fire using a shovel or, and I find this works well, my bakers peel.
     
  6. The process is then to gradually add more wood (gradually larger pieces) and when roaring, push it back more until the fire is blazing near the back of the oven.  This might take about 40 mins to an hour.  Be careful when you are pushing the fire backwards as it has a tendency to go out.  If you find it has died back try adding some small pieces of kindling and blowing and/or some balls of newspaper.
     
  7. In order to get the oven up to temperature (and I mean so that it is capable of retaining heat, without a fire burning in it for several hours) you need to keep the fire blazing for at least another 1.5 to 2 hours.  If you intend to cook with a small fire still burning (how I cook pizzas), the oven will be ready after about an hour.
     
  8. If you intend to remove the embers and use the oven without a fire burning it’s a good idea to spread the glowing embers across the floor of your oven for 10 minutes before removal.  I then scrape them out with the peel or shovel and dump them into a metal bucket to cool.
The fire is roaring at the back of the oven

The fire is roaring at the back of the oven

Hot embers spread across the floor of the oven before removal.

Hot embers spread across the floor of the oven.

Finally a word of warning.  If you have any sort of hair on the front of your head and want to keep it that way WEAR A HAT OR CAP when you fire your oven.  You will need to keep looking into the oven and when it is throwing out 450-500 degrees Centigrade of heat you will singe your hair.  You may not find this as hilarious as my wife did! 

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45 thoughts on “8. Firing the Oven

  1. Hi Simon

    I have been wanting to do this for such a long time since I saw Hugh build one in an episode of River Cottage. It’s Easter weekend in Australia and the weather is beautiful so I am hoping to have a good bit of the oven built by the end of the 4 days. Can taste the pizza already.

  2. Hi guys. we finished building our pizza oven for our restaurant but just wondering how many days after completion can we start making pizzas…ie will the oven crack to much if not left long….will food taste of bricks and clay? All tips appreciated. Cheers

    • I would recommend drying it out slowly. Light a small fire inside it and keep it burning (on a low heat) for several hours until you see that it has dried out. Be aware that regardless of how slowly you dry it though, it will still crack. These ovens do because of expansion. However, don’t worry about it. They still work perfectly well with cracks. Keep some clay:sand mix in a bag and patch her up periodically.

      Finally, I’d love to see pics which I can add to the “Your Ovens” section of the blog (email to simon.brookes@gmail.com)

      Best of luck.

      Simon

  3. Hey Simon

    Awesome guide on making a clay oven, I’ve been inspired!

    Quick question, I’m thinking about building mine in the corner of the garden in front of some wooden fencing, does the outside of the oven get very hot, hot enough to damage the fencing?

    Thanks

    • outside of the oven does not get very hot at all (you can easily hold your hand on it). The chimney and entrance kick out lots of heat though.

      Simon

  4. Where do you get your hardwood from?

    I’ve found it relatively easy to source softwood (pallets) but finding a supply of hardwood is proving difficult.

  5. Thanks Simon.
    was just asking as i may run out of room on the plinth,will it be a problem if the final layer overhangs by an inch or so ????

  6. Hi Simon,
    could i add something like vermiculite to the clay on the second layer to improve the insulation properties and if so would there be any need for the last layer if i did ?????…Dan (Sedgefield,U.K.) .

  7. Hi Simon,thankyou for this site and all the tips and instructions,we had a fantastic time building the first layer of our oven last weekend,and are going to finish it next week.its a bit lopsided due to the overindulgence of beer ,we will send some photos when its finished as it may look a little less wonky by then…Dan.(Sedgefield,U.K.)

    • Fantastic work Dan. I find that beer generally helps with any project and I’m sure a little asymmetry won’t cause you any problems! Best of luck with the rest of the build – you have perfect weather and a long bank holiday weekend to complete it. Send the photos once you are done (email address on the “Your Ovens” page.

      Cheers

      Simon

  8. hi i have used paper bricks in mine you need a mixture of wood and paper bricks im told using old newspapers in form of bricks is even more ecologal than using all wood they do not burn as hot as wood and if you use them on hot fire leave no nasty taste in cooking

  9. Hi Simon

    Just wondering if there is any specific type of wood you use? Some of the wood ive used isn’t burning too well (been stored in a shed but maybe it still has too much moisture) so i am going to order a bulk delivery – the company suggests hardword – any thoughts?

    • Hi Sel I use a mixture of both. I tend to use lots of softwood kindling to get the fire started then use hardwood to build and maintain the fire. Softwood burns more quickly and with inense heat. You might have trouble getting the fire going if (a) the wood is damp and (b) the oven is damp. I had difficulty when I fired mine the first couple of times earlier in the year. I think the problem was moisture retained in the clay. After it dried out it worked fine. Finally make sure you use small “pencils” of wood, particularly at the start and don’t be tempted to push the fire back too soon, make sure it is quite large and roaring otherwise it is likely to go out.

      Best of luck

      Simon.

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