The sun came out in the south-east of England yesterday so, like any keen oven owner, I took the opportunity to remove the winter cover from the oven for the first time since last September, 2011. It is now March 2012. So what did I find?
As usual, the rather rudimentary, tarp cover which I use to “protect” the oven has not been particularly effective. If you watch the video below you will see that water has clearly penetrated through. The outer surface of the oven is extremely friable. It seems that the water and frost have broken-down and eroded the clay from the mixture leaving partially unbonded sand, to a depth of approximately 1-2cm. Ouch!
OK, it looks pretty bad doesn’t it but apart from that, it’s not really too bad. I fired the oven up straight after shooting that video and cooked a rather splendid roast chicken in it (post to follow). So it works fine still. Clearly she has seen better days, is in need of some TLC and remedial cosmetic surgery but functionally there are no problems. The oven fired well, it retained heat and nothing catastrophic happened as a result.
What to do?
When I get an opportunity I am going to scrape off a decent depth of the outer layer (I may even go back to the insulation layer) then add a new outer skin using the same sand:clay mixture as before. I will also add a new chimney (I might get hold of an old, clay pipe to put there in its place). Finally, I’m DEFINITELY going to build a decent cover for it this year, before the winter sets in. Mark my words….well…errr…don’t hold me to it!
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.
An overview of the damage. Note the build-up of sand, around the base, eroded from the sides.
Detail of erosion along the brick-sidewall interface
A sad looking chimney
It is early Spring (April) in the SE of England where I live. On a sunny afternoon, last week, I uncovered the oven for the first time this year to find some fairly nasty water damage. The video below shows the damage. I talk about “mysteriously disappearing” clay in the video. After a little more consideration it is clear that this is just water damage. Clearly water has been seeping through the covering and has eroded some of the outer clay content. The heavier sand particles are left on the oven surface hence the covering of sand on the dome.
I know have to patch cracks and fix the chimney. Hopefully she’ll be OK for another year once I get these repairs underway. We shall see!