Oven Basics Complete: Laying the Hearth, Building Forms, and Casting

Edwin provides a dumping platform.

Laying out hearth brick, herringbone.

I know I’ve really let my blogging duties fall by the wayside. It has been a very busy month. Work and play duties took me to Spain and Big Bear, CA for two weeks in early June where I filled roles as tour guide and bachelor party guide, respectively. In between trips were sandwiched a handful of work days at the bike shop in NYC. Suffice it to say, I hit a major road block in the progress department for TRUCK Pizza. 

The finished brick component of the build.

Laying the firebrick hearth and first course.

Nonetheless, I’ve made up for lost time in the last two weeks: Today I had the pleasure of ducking my head into the cavernous interior of my new oven, in all its glory. Of course, the oven is but a small component of the project as a whole, and I am painfully aware of my quickly approaching starting date of the 15th of July. That was the goal anyway. I’ve put down my deposit for the lease with 3FortySeven, the retail lot space where I will be operating from. I submitted my application to the Department of Health for Columbia County. Edwin the step van has been delivered to the doctors office in Athens, NY, where I am hoping to avoid bankruptcy as he is updated and repaired for state inspection. I am working with designer and housemate Cara Turret on developing my logo and printed vinyl signage for the truck.

Sam delivers the oven to its new outdoor work space.

Chase Chase. Hanging out with her motorcycle.

But let’s back up. Let me fill you in on the oven. The oven build was far more challenging than I anticipated. I underestimated how time-consuming building forms would be. You see, the idea was to use the firebrick sparingly, and in geometrically simple areas, to avoid having to make a lot of cuts, and to create a more solid oven without joints that could be sensitive to vibration. The alternative has been building plywood forms that allowed me to cast refractory concrete in the shapes that I’ve needed. I also built up a mound of shaped sand to cast the dome shape around.

The vent form.

Here I've cast most of the form and set up the chimney vent opening form.

Both casting sessions were extremely stressful and nearly catastrophic. The first cast was for the oven opening and vent, which I did alone. It was my first time using my handy dandy new concrete vibrator, which looks and feels like a sex toy for an elephant. The refractory mixes very very dry– it almost appears to be sandy gravel.

Poseidon shapes the sand form delicately.

But once I shoveled it into the forms and inserted the vibrator, it liquifies and becomes pliable at once, self leveling in an instant. The problem was that it allowed all the pressure from the concrete’s mass to stress the seams of my poorly built forms. I panicked when I looked down and saw the concrete I had just painstakingly mixed spilling all over my clean brick hearth. I had to rip out the whole form and make some fast repairs by hand before the stuff set and became rock hard.

Paper mache with veggie oil to keep a waterproof barrier.

Mixing, slowly.

The second cast I had the help of my dear friend Gideon, a local musician with some mean building skills. He informed me that all Vermont boys grow up strong but sensitive. His other features include bearing a striking resemblance to Poseidon when near water. He generously offered me his assistance on the night of July 4th, if you can believe it. For six hours, we labored away with a rented cement mixer from Home Depot, using the back of the truck as a dumping platform. We worked into the darkness, desperately trying to prevent the concrete from sliding down the form and off into the grasses below. KO Campbell, the guest of honor for the weekend, was our photojournalist. More importantly, she oversaw the creation of vegetable sandwiches for us during our break.

Gideon showcases our haphazard technique for building up the dome-- we used the vibrator against this curved metal piece.

Today I dug out the sand from the inside of the dome. Once the concrete has some more time to cure, I’ll start lightly heating the inside to get the dome used to its large temperature fluctuations. More to come soon…


The baking chamber, with paper waiting to burn.


About bikedrumtao

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