Introduction: How to Build a Temporary Wood-fired Brick Pizza Oven With Cheap, Easy to Find Materials
This pizza oven is just about as simple to build as stacking blocks, but creates a highly effective wood fired oven with an arched roof that can reach the 800-900 degree temperatures needed to make mindblowing pizza.
(in which DOIT reader Tom Niccum builds his own temporary pizza oven following the original writeup my site, and graciously supplied many very helpful tips, supply lists, and info. Thanks Tom!!)
This is a great, low-cost project for someone who wants to test out the ins-and-outs of brick oven cooking. Super fast and easy to build, and with minor modifications, it can be assembled semi-permanently and get you through a season of baking delicious breads and pizzas.
I attended a fantastic pizza making event at Machine Project (instructor: Michael O’Malley) that included the construction and firing of a DIY temporary brick pizza oven – the ultimate in pizza cooking. Hugely educational and inspiring, even for a committed pizza fanatic such as myself. The oven, built, fired up, and torn down over the course of an afternoon, worked amazingly well – I cooked the best pizza I’ve ever made, by far.
Step 1: Tools and Materials Needed
1. I used 190 Firebricks (one sacrificed to make “shards” for roof shimming. (about $1.80/ea)
2. Used 1 50# bag of refractory clay and 1 bag of sand.3. 60 concrete blocks ($1 each)
4. 5 48″ angle iron5. 4 48″ threaded rod
6. 4×4 durock
7. 4×4 IsoBoard (expensive! $12/sf) (at Machine Project we used 16 1' pavers as we built this on a solid metal tabletop)
8. 8.5×8.5x 24″ Clay flue liner
Tools that came in handy:
1. Angle grinder with cutoff blade (threaded rods, angle iron)
2. Circular saw with diamond blade (Durock, Jig legs)
3. Skill saw (jigsaw) – Jig form
Step 2: Base Construction
At Machine Project we used a heavy metal table (for ceramics or welding).
Thomas built his own base from concrete blocks
1. Base is 5 courses of standard concrete block (48×48″) with a line of block down the middle of the interior
2. On top of base is Durock cement board
3. On top of Durock is a 2″ layer of IsoBoard – a refractory insulation – should help keep the floor hot longer
4. Floor of oven is on Iso Board
Step 3: Assemble the Floor and Walls
For the floor of the oven built at Machine Project, we first used a single layer of concrete pavers to create some insulation. 4'x4' grid, 16 pavers total.
Alternatively, Tom Niccum used a 4' x 4' ISO board, an easier (but much more expensive) solution if you don't already have a flat surface underneath.
On top of the first layer, start laying out the firebricks into a square floor that is 5 bricks wide by 10 bricks deep. If your firebricks aren't of standard size, you want the floor area to be square and close to 4'x4'. A few inches short is OK.
Take the 4' angle iron pieces and drill a hole at each end, large enough for the threaded rod to slot through, but small enough that the nut can be screwed against it without going through it. We'll use these metal pieces to hold the sidewalls in place. Place two of them on the floor of the oven, one on the right and one on the left side.
Assemble the side walls by standing bricks on their sides, placed on top of the angle iron that runs them the length of the floor. Starting from the back, put thirteen bricks on each side (see photos for positioning). Add one layer of bricks on their side on top of that layer..
For the back wall, stack bricks on their sides in a staggered pattern. You'll need to break a few bricks in half to have the back wall sit flush with the sidewalls. Go six levels tall and on the last level, leave the sides open as the roof will start arching in here.
Once you have the sides in place, you can put the other two angle iron pieces on top of the bricks and slide the threaded rod through the holes. Screw the nuts into place but don't lock it in yet, in case you have some adjusting to do.
Step 4: Build the Arch
I get a lot of questions about the jig used to place the bricks into the arch. Here are the details and a rough blueprint:
-Legs: 2×4, approximately 12″ long (extending 9.25″ below the arch). Qty: 2
-Arch: 1/2″ plywood, 32.25″ wide, 5.25″ at its peak. Qty: 2
The legs extend below the bottom of the arch 9 1/4″ – however, the exact height was adjusted on-site (by cutting part of them off) by the instructor to match up with the size of the bricks he used. In order for the arched bricks to lock into place, you want the bottom edge of the arch to be just below the walls. On our oven, we did a stack of bricks on their side (about 9″) and one layer laying down (about 2″) . Measure your bricks and adjust the height of the arch accordingly.
The two legs are screwed in between the two sides of the arch
To draw the curve, you want to know the radius of the arch you’re building. After doing the weekend class, the instructor gave me the jig we used, but no specifics on the dimensions. Using an online circle calculator with the measurements of the arch height (5.25″) and the chord length (straight-line distance between the two ends of the arch; 32.25″), I was able to determine the radius of the arch to be 27.39″. With the radius, you just need to make a line at that length, one end fixed and one with a pencil attached to it, and use that to draw the curvature.
If you don’t have internet access and need to figure out the radius, here’s the equation:
radius = (rise2 + (1/2 width)2) / 2 x rise
rise is the height of the arch
width is the length of the chord
Attach the two pieces of plywood with a few screws before cutting, and cut them as one piece to ensure that the curve matches. Use a jigsaw or a router set up to cut curves. Ultimately, the bricks will settle a bit so the curve doesn’t have to be cut perfectly, but try to get it close to make things easy.
Step 5: Stack Bricks to Make Arch, and Remove the Jig
Place the jig at the back end of the oven, against the wall. Put a thin (1/4" or less) shim under each leg.
Starting from the outside, add the bricks on their sides, moving inwards from each side. The middle brick (keystone) ended up fitting perfectly into place. Break one of the firebricks and use the shards in between the gaps to keep them from shifting and falling during the jig removal.
Once the arch is in place, you want to gently slide the shims out from underneath the legs. The jig will drop down and the bricks will settle a bit. At this point, you can gently pull the bottom of the jig towards you to slide it out from the bricks. If everything was done correctly, they should remain in place. I have never seen this not work, but still, do it gently.
Watch the attached video for a demonstration.
Once the first layer is done, repeat for two more - the arch ceiling is three brick lengths long.
Step 6: Build the Opening and Chimney
You'll still have a bit of space past the archway towards the front of the oven – this is where the chimney will go.
Make sure to consult the photos to see that you have the bricks oriented well.
Start by adding six bricks, stacked sideways, on each side of the wall. This will create the entryway.
Four bricks, on their sides, are placed on top of both walls. At the back side, a strip of angle iron is placed against the arch to create a lip that runs between both sides of the oven entryway.
A second angle iron piece is placed on the bricks at the front, to create a ledge for the top of the entryway. Place bricks, on their side, across this angle iron.
Three bricks are placed on each side wall, leaving a space in the center that the chimney flue can fit over (the back of the flue rests on the angle iron that goes in front of the arch; the front of the flue goes on top of the bricks that make the top of the entryway.
Place two more bricks on each side of the chimney to block any remaining opening from the archway.
Step 7: Cover the Oven in Fireclay
Mix up a batch of fireclay (available at pottery and clay suppliers) and sand, with water.
Apply this mixture to the outside of the oven, concentrating it on all the gaps between bricks. The idea is that this will help keep the smoke, and to a lesser degree, the heat, inside the oven. Be liberal with it. You'll have plenty.
We found a few spots on the back of ours that didn't get enough fireclay. And as Thomas noted:
"Clay/Sand – we did a 1:1 mix. It seems very grainy and brittle – lots of cracks. May try another batch with less sand and put over the current one."
Step 8: Fire It Up!
At this point, you should be just about ready to go. An advantage of this "temporary" design over other cement or mortar styles is that you don't need to wait for anything to cure before heating it up.
Start by lighting a very small kindling fire. We used some scraps we cut from an abandoned wooden pallet. In fact, we did the entire fire using scraps from that pallet.
As long as you go at a slow pace, you'll minimize the amount of smoke generated. Let the kindling burn for a bit, then add bigger pieces slowly. You'll notice the roof of the oven collecting black soot.
Eventually, you'll have a very nice fire raging inside the oven. The soot will start to burn off, leaving the bare bricks exposed again.
Keep feeding the fire, while watching the temperature. A good oven cooks around 800 degrees. Use an infrared thermometer to gauge the temperature. I got this one which goes up to 952F, and it didn't cost much at all.
Once you're up in the 700 degree range, you'll have no problems making some seriously tasty pizzas. Push the burning wood and embers to the back of the oven (make a simple tool for this if you need to by nailing a short 2x4 to the front of a longer piece) and sweep using a natural hair brush. Oh, and wear gloves if you have them. I use welding gloves.
Step 9: Make Your Pizza
Make your pizza to your liking.
With a hotter oven, you can use a wetter dough.
Slide it into the oven with a peel (read my writeup on how to make a perforated pizza peel). Keep your eyes on it though, this one will cook a LOT faster than your home oven does. About 45 seconds in you'll want to rotate it. Give it another rotation about 45 seconds later. 30 seconds after that, you're just about done.
Step 10: Final Notes From Tom
Finished up in time for lunch…
Pizzas were great – I think I need to get the oven hotter – they were taking 4-5 minutes to cook fully. but they still tasted fantastic.
Start time to finish – roughly 10 hours. Five hours Friday night – much of that was hauling the concrete blocks and fire bricks from the front of the house to the back. I did all of that myself. Also got base assembled and hearth laid.
9am-2pm (5 hours) on Saturday had 2 friends assist. Built side walls, drilled angle-iron, built curved roof jig, built roof and applied the mud. Fired oven for one hour to heat/cure.
Pizza in belly by 2:10pm…
1. I did add another set of bricks on each side of the door to make the opening smaller, it seemed too large to me (that took six bricks)
2. Oven was still pretty warm 4 hours after fired died out. I’ll try to take some temps with my infrared thermometer of heat decay
3. Clay/Sand – we did a 1:1 mix. It seems very grainy and brittle – lots of cracks. May try another batch with less sand and put over the current one.
4. Clay flue liner cracked within a few minutes, seems to be holding together, but maybe we need to heat more slowly the first time
1. Wrap exterior in ceramic fiber insulation blanket while running… try to get heat up.
2. Build a door
3. Fire to heat then record temp decay with as is, and with blanket, and with door. Want to test feasibility of pre-heat then baking bread or roasting chicken with out fire burning.
UPDATE:I got an email and a photo from Tom telling me about his attempt to cook a whole chicken in the oven. From the description and the looks of the photo, I think he got it right on the first try.
"Tried roasting today… have to keep a small fire going as the temporary oven doesn’t hold enough heat. Otherwise, fantastic.
Did two chickens. One in a roasting pan, one “Beer Can” style. Plus a dish of potato, carrot and zucchini.
Best chicken I’ve ever cooked.
Took about 90 minutes to roast, stayed nice and moist, outside was deeply browned."