Introduction: How to Build a Temporary Wood-fired Brick Pizza Oven With Cheap, Easy to Find Materials

Picture of How to Build a Temporary Wood-fired Brick Pizza Oven With Cheap, Easy to Find Materials

If you like DIY projects (and pizza projects), check out my site, mikesenese.com/DOIT and follow me on twitter @msenese

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.

Originally posted on my site:
How to Build a Temporary Wood-fired Brick Pizza Oven with Cheap, Easy to Find Materials
and
Tips, Notes and Photos from a Reader’s Temporary Pizza Oven Build

(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

Picture of Tools and Materials Needed

Materials:
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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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!

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

Remove.

Slice.

Devour.

Step 10: Final Notes From Tom

Picture of 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…

Notes:

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

Future experiments:
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."

Comments

Roddy Harrison (author)2017-01-10

First of all great post! Now, one thing that is almost never mentioned in these DIY:s is how to add a door. I've found a place where I can buy a door https://vurb.eu/products/double-door but it's very rare that it's in these DIY that they explain for example how to attach a door etc. Also I would like to know if I should pick the door first or descide on the oven structure first.

mikejs (author)Roddy Harrison2017-01-10

You don't need a door.

mommywoman (author)2014-08-07

This is really nice. You could make it permanent by using something (like mortar ?) to adhere the bricks. Your title says cheap. I'm sorry, but I don't think of this cheap. I tried to calculate the cost of the supplies and I came up with a figure in the several hundred dollar range. With a somewhat limited budget that's a lot of money to me, maybe not to other people and I'm sure it must be cheaper than hiring someone to make it. It is very nice though.

apopivker (author)2014-05-25

Can this be built as a permanent oven? What modifications could be made? Thanks!

mikejs (author)apopivker2014-05-27

Yes, in fact I know of one person in Minnesota that has done just that. Simply replace the clay with refractory cement and affix the bricks permanently. An external housing will help protect from the elements.

Info about his build here: http://www.mikesenese.com/DOIT/2010/06/diy-temporary-wood-fired-pizza-oven-build-tips-notes-and-photos/

Let me know if you build one!

apopivker (author)mikejs2014-06-03

Ready to cook!

leovalk (author)2012-09-26

This looks like something I can try, but where did the durock go? it is listed in the materials but I can't see it and there is no reference to it on in the text.

andyk75 (author)2010-08-18

Hey, very good description of the oven! In the last step, did you put a closed beer can in the chicken, or was it an empty one? Andy

Jason91887 (author)andyk752010-08-19

Its an open, full beer can I believe. A full one would explode and no one wants shrapnel in their chicken. Nice instructable btw. I have been wanting to make a brick oven/grill and I might take a few cues from this.

We always mix half can of beer and half can of BBQ sauce together and insert the open end of the can into the chicken. It not only gives the bird a little more flavor, but it comes out real moist.
Originally called "Beer Butt Chicken".

dondonjordan (author)andyk752010-08-19

if you put a closed can in the chicken you'll be picking aluminium shards from your dinner all night long. Your meant to pour yourself a glass and put the opened can up the chicken. LOVELY JUBLY!!!

gabriel_guia (author)2010-08-26

pizza in belly = pizza en panza ;-)

lanceearlhaines (author)2010-08-25

very cool! I mean Hot!

Morpheus (author)2010-08-23

Have you thought about using a scissor or hydrualic jack (like one from an old (or new) car ie the one you tow the trailer with, to lower the arch jig instead of knocking out the shims? Just put the jack on a piece of plywood in the centre of each course of bricks. Next, wind it up to the correct height, then lower away when you are finished placing the bricks on the jig. Should be a lot easier and no collapsing/jarring etc. to worry about.

themarkd (author)2010-08-21

Very cool. May give it a try. But, at just shy of $700 bucks it ain't cheap, and (around here) firebrick isn't "easy" to come by. With some mods, could cinder block replack some non heat conductive portions? If there are any.

mikejs (author)themarkd2010-08-21

Yeah, firebrick is definitely a lot pricier than the generic type - but keep your eyes open on Craigslist and other places, I've heard stories of used refractory (fire) brick being given away. The instructor/guide on this project, Michael O'Malley, told me that it should be fine to use standard red bricks if there is no long-term intent for the oven. Eventually the heat should cause them to crack and degrade, but I have a feeling you could get at least a few firings out of it. If you test it out, leave a note to let us know how it goes.

themarkd (author)mikejs2010-08-23

Roger that, thanks, Mike.

Wazzupdoc (author)2010-08-23

Great Instructable and very inspiring. Here's an idea: why not use a small hydraulic bottle jack to hold up the arch during construction. You could then lower it gently and make any adjustments to the arch along the way. I like the project. It's something I've been thinking about for a long time.

Beekeeper (author)2010-08-22

I've always wanted to make an outdoor oven for bread making using clay and straw mixed but it is a slow process compared with this. One thing I would like to point out is the difference between lie and lay. Lay is a verb of action like chickens laying eggs or laying the bricks on the cement blocks. But when the bricks are in a nice straight row they lie side by side. My neighbour always said to her dog, 'lay down' to which I replied 'even eider ducks cannot lay down (eider down)', but she never got it. Nevertheless, an interesting instructable. Thanks for doing it.

mikejs (author)Beekeeper2010-08-22

Yikes... corrections coming. Thanks for the tip.

Eiswulf (author)mikejs2010-08-22

As long as we are making grammatical corrections you might want to change buy to by in the same area that prompted the above corrections. Otherwise this looks like a project to add to my to do list. Thanks for the 'structable.

mikejs (author)Eiswulf2010-08-23

Double yikes. Corrections have been made, thank you for lending an editor's eye.

Ace918 (author)2010-08-22

Nice Inst. But at over $700.00, for a temporary, I could sample a lot of store bought Pizzas and find the one I like best. Craigs List is at best a hit or miss proposition unless you live in a highly Urban area.

mikejs (author)Ace9182010-08-22

That's true, $700 will get you a lot of pizzas (35 of them, at an average of $20/a pie) – but there really is no store bought pizza that can compare to a good one from a wood fired oven. And good point, CL is pretty limited once you leave one of the big areas. There are other options for finding good deals too – Pennysaver, bulletin boards, word of mouth. CL is just one suggestion.

HollyHarken (author)2010-08-22

I’m curious, why would you make this pizza oven temporary? It seems like an awful lot of work for something that isn’t permanent. Or is it permanent? The heading on the instructable say How to build a Temporary pizza oven. I’m just wondering.

mikejs (author)HollyHarken2010-08-22

Holly, Good questions. Compared to the process of building a proper "permanent" oven (which can take a few weeks of work), this build is amazingly quick and painless – there aren't many oven designs that let you go from nothing to cooking in a few hours as this one will let you do. And in the case of the course I took at Machine Project, when we were done cooking, the whole thing was hosed down with water, disassembled brick by brick (they were still warm) and packed into the trailer. Pretty cool if you want to throw something together for a special event, or don't have the space for a permanent installation. Does that make sense? Maybe I should add some of the disassembly info to the writeup.

winterfresh (author)2010-08-21

Sir, you are a genius. Five stars! Would it be possible to build this on grass or sand? Or could it sink and tip? If so, how would that be resolved?

mikejs (author)winterfresh2010-08-21

Oh, and two other things: 1. Thanks for the compliment and the stars 2. I am more than happy to redirect any credit for this to Michael O'Malley, who guided the course that it was built in at Machine Project.

mikejs (author)winterfresh2010-08-21

Depending on what you use as a base for the oven to sit on, you should be just fine in grass or sand. It is not lightweight - there are a few hundred pounds of brick used, not to mention the other components that are involved. But a base with a wide footprint should keep things stable and resist sinking in soft soil. Try to make sure that the base is fairly level and sturdy – it's no fun when a pile of red hot bricks fall over onto someone who carelessly leaned against the side of a wobbly table that's holding something like this up.

mikejs (author)2010-08-20

Anyone else noticing that the embedded YouTube videos aren't playing? Is there a reason/solution for this?

canida (author)2010-08-19

Wow, that's great! I love it.

Scupper (author)2010-08-18

fantastic job making the pizza oven. great job with the instructions

mikejs (author)Scupper2010-08-19

Thanks Scupper! Your feedback is encouraging.

davedave12 (author)2010-08-18

Awesome instructable. At first glance, it looked as if this oven was on a small trailer. that got me very interested. Do you think this 'ible would hold up to the bumps of light trailering? Would be an awesome thing to take to a beach or camp site.. or even friends house or park. perhaps if you poured some more of the refractory clay over the top of the whole thing.. or some more flexible clay material that would help? Any comment would be helpful

mikejs (author)davedave122010-08-19

Dave, Not sure this would be a good one for trailering - the construction is pretty simple and doesn't have much that locks the bricks in place. The options to make it trailer-able would be to give it a good slathering of mortar and let it set, to try to cement it together firmly (which I'm not convinced would work), or to bring it in pieces and assemble it on site. Which is pretty much what the instructor, Michael O'Malley, did for the course he taught us at Machine Project. For him and for Thomas Niccum, who followed the writeups on my site, it only took a couple hours to pop it together. I bet you could assemble it even faster if you had some pieces pre-set.

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