Neglect!

If my oven were a dog I would have been arrested for cruelty!*

Yes it’s true; I have been a bad clay oven owner. Earlier this year I uncovered my oven for the first time since putting it to bed for the winter. It had sustained some water damage as usual (the tarp I used was clearly not totally impermeable to the UK winter rain and snow) but on the whole it wasn’t looking too bad. After the first firing of the year (pizzas) I left the oven to cool down over night with the intention of covering it up again the next day. Then it rained. The following day it rained again, and then again and again for several days – heavily! I know I should have covered it up after the first night but to be honest I had lots going on at the time and just didn’t bother. After a couple of weeks I made a decision to leave the oven uncovered so I could see what happened, a sort of oven-sadistic experiment if you will. And so it has remained open to the elements for several months now.

So what have I learned? Firstly the oven has not collapsed. The internal structure seems to be intact. There are some cracks but none of them appear to permeate to any great depth from the internal layer outwards. Externally the picture is slightly worse. The rain has partly eroded some of the clay:sand mixture from the outer layer creating a rough texture which is rather friable when touched. This only seems superficial though. There are a few cracks but this is not unusual. The chimney has suffered somewhat, with a large chunk falling out of one side. The other, most noticeable sign of damage is at the interface between the bricks of the oven entrance and the external side wall of the oven. Clearly, water has run down this natural channel and eroded some of the mixture.

So is it ruined? Is it time to knock it down and start again? Well no, I don’t think so! I fired the oven up for a large party two weeks ago and it worked just perfectly. I cooked pizza for over fifty guests over a period of six hours and the oven performed as brilliantly as it always does. It’s fine – seriously.

This experiment has demonstrated to me that the ovens are much hardier than I had imagined. I don’t recommend that you leave your oven unprotected (I will do some repair work and re-cover mine soon) but if, for whatever reason, you do forget to cover it and it gets wet, it should not lead to disastrous consequences.

By the way, if there is a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Clay Ovens (SPCC) I am deeply sorry. I promise it will never happen again Your Honour.

* No ovens were hurt during the making of this post.

Clay Oven Damaged

An overview of the damage. Note the build-up of sand, around the base, eroded from the sides.


Clay Oven Damage

Detail of erosion along the brick-sidewall interface


Clay Oven Damage

A sad looking chimney

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5 thoughts on “Neglect!

  1. Pingback: Resilience | The Clay Oven

  2. Hi Simon

    I’ve just made my own clay oven and have started out with small fires and so on, and today I wanted to make it big so I could start baking pizza. It all went well, but the clay on top started to crack. Not just one, but about 10 cracks all over, mostly small ones, but also some rather big ones, where you can see throu them. So, my questions is: what can I do to fix the cracks and prevent more cracks from coming?

    Best regards from Kristian (from Denmark)

    • Hi Kristian

      Firstly, is the oven complete? I mean have you built all three layers? If you have, well don’t panic. These ovens will crack due to expansion when they get hot. It is very unlikely that the oven will crack to such an extent that it collapses so, I normally keep a quantity of clay:sand mixture in a bag and periodically fill the cracks (do this when it has cooled down though).

      Be great to see a photo of your oven so I can add it to the blog.

      Let us know how things go.

      Best wishes

      Simon

      • Well… I have used another method, done by a danish dude, and he doesn’t write about 2nd and 3rd layers… but my oven is thick around 15 cm all around and it heats up good. So when you fill up the cracks, do you do that both outside and inside?

      • OK. I fear with only one layer that you will always be filling cracks. However, it should be OK for pizzas if you keep mending the cracks.

        Simon

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