Timo's Oven...Because I can!

Welcome to OvenBlog

General — Posted by timo @ 15:36

Hello, my name is Tim and I am building a Pompeii brick oven over the 2009 summer (hopefully). A lot of you may be wondering why build a brick oven in the first place? Well, you're not the first to ask, and won't be the last. It has to do with the process and challenge of the task and the sense of making something totally unique.

That's why I ride an orange Stella scooter from Genuine Scooters. How many people do you know that ride Harleys? Now, take it easy, I love Harleys, too, but the point is to  be unique (and cheap) I ride a scooter. That's my father-in-law on my scooter.orange Stella scooter with Dennis He had something very similiar to it way back when Sears sold Vespas. I'm the other dude.

Now this Pompeii OvenBlog is to document my journey: The challenges and frustrations, the knowledge gained, and mistakes made for others to hopefully avoid.

The next post will offer some background information about getting started and plans for making a three minute pizza and baking 25 lbs. of bread by the beginning of school this fall!


The Plan

General — Posted by timo @ 15:55

The plan for the Pompeii oven is simple. Use about 200 halved firebricks and about 2 tons of cement to create a 700 degree inferno for cooking. The type of cooking here is based on ancient methods.

Here are some of the basics layout requirements put out by the Lake County Building Department

  1. Said structure must be at least 4' from any other structure and combustables.
  2. Property set backs of 7' and 15' must be used. I live on a corner and already talked with my neighbor, Mark. He's cool with the whole idea. I will be sure to share some good food with him.
  3. 5" crushed rock and 5 1/2" of concrete wil satisfied the permit inspector for the oven base. If the base uses let's say (40) 80# bags of concret, that's 3200 pounds. I will survive a tornado in this structure. That doesn't even include the concrete block stand that goes on the base.
  4. Before building can begin, must call in for set back inspection.

That's about it for now. Here's a picture of

location of oven in backyard

where the oven will go.


I had to take out part of the deck. I hate wood decks, so my plot to slowly replace the deck with concrete has begun.



Here's what it looked like about an hour after working.






Here's what it looked like after three hours. That's all for now.

Staked Out

General — Posted by timo @ 12:27

Today I did mostly yard work. Actually I did mostly yard work yesterday, too. The picture shows the location of the oven. Amazingly, the setback from the deck is 4 ' and 69" from that mark is the end of the corner point of the deck and that's the back edge of the oven foundation.

Tomorrow I'll call the Building department for a setback inspection. After that, I begin digging the foundation with digging out the left over 4x4 posts from the old deck.

Digging the Foundation

General — Posted by timo @ 17:02

Today is May 7th and I dug the foundation after work. It took about 2 1/2 hours to do just the sod and dirt for this part. But, I must digress to an event from earlier in the week concerning the Lake County Building Department. Eric from the department called and told me I had to dig 42" down to the frost line a footing to support my oven.


I was almost ready to start digging and this happens out of the blue. After haggling for a few minutes he shared his concern about recent outside fireplaces falling down or developing a lean. I do not want my oven to lean or fall down, but I did not believe 42" frost footing was needed. Eric then wanted pier footings at the corners. I was amazed and told him, look, whatever you think is appropriate for code, tell me and I'll figure it out.

I did tell him, though, that my van weighs about 4000 pounds and it sits on 4" of concrete reinforced with probably nothing more than 6' wire mesh. My plans call for a solid 5" crushed rock base on which 5 1/2" of concrete sits.

A half hour later he called and said he spoke with his department chief and I didn't have to include more support because the over all height is not more than 8-9'.



So, that was the last of my discussions with the building department, hopefully.


Anyway, here are some more photos of the foundation digging. The bottom picture shows what it looks like after taking out 6" of sod and dirt and 2" of clay. The rest of the concrete slab will sit above grade.

I have been very busy trying to get a master order ready for Menards. They usually have the best prices for builder's materials. I can order up to 18,000 lbs. of material and have it delievered for $50. So, I want to get my money's worth. We're talking concrete blocks, a pallet of bagged concrete, rebar, lumber, lanscape timbers, mortar... It's gonna' be special when that truck stops by.


Time to go listen to some snorring and feel the muscles ache.




Framing the Base

General — Posted by timo @ 15:25

Today I was able to squeak out some time to pick up some material, order some materials, and frame the foundation. A couple of days ago it rained at some point during the night and filled the "pit" in a bit. There was about 1" of water in the far end of the pit, but it was dry on the near side. I took this as meaning the pit floor wasn't as level as I thought it was so I went ahead and took a hoe and leveled it a bit more.

Menards is having one of their great material sales going on right now. Last week they had concrete go on sale (4) 60# bags for $9. So I bought a pallet of concrete. That almost 4,000 pounds of concrete. I also picked up some sand, masonary cement, portland cement, 1/2" rebar and some 3/8" rebar. I need to bend some curves, so I thought bending the 3/8" would go a bit easier.

I also bought some lanscape timbers. They were $9.90 a piece for the 4x6x8's. They are going to go on the trench that's yet to be filled with crushed rock.

I have been wanting a nice wall for the garden for a while so this seemed like a nice time to go ahead with this project, too.


PS. If anyone's wondering about the size of the foundation framing, it's 69x43, which leaves a 45 degree angle for the short side where the front of the oven's vent and landing will go. The 2x6x8's will give a 5 1/2" depth for the concrete base. Luckily, I was able to frame this on the part of the deck still there and I measured using the 345 rule and mailed two cross supports to keep it square and in place.

Next up, Menard's drops of the ordered materials on Wednesday. Hopefully the driveway won't crack when they leave it all. In the meantime, my neighbor, Troy, was nice enough to let me borrow his trailer. I think tomorrow I will go and get a load of crushed rock dropped in his trailer just to see how much I can actually move in it. I need to get that rock down ASAP so I can entertain mixing 36 bags or so of concrete next weekend.

That's about all ofr now. Tim

Had a neighbor walk by and mentioned the oven project. Looks like word is getting out and the pressure to get it going is on Laughing

Trailer Gate and Pallets

General — Posted by timo @ 02:46

Well, I didn't get the chance to get the crushed rock after school yesterday, so I'll try again today. I needed to make a gate for my neighbor's trailer, too. I don't know how much rock is going to fit in the trailer. I am guessing about 600-700 pounds worth. In crushed rock terms, that's not a lot, but it's better than paying $65 to drop off $40 of rock. The way I figure it, I can run back and forth 20 times and not spend $20 on gas.

We are expecting heavy storms on Wednesday. I am hoping my daughter will tarp the cement when it's dropped off. If not, I'll end up with $400 of already set concrete in the bag, which is worthless. We'll see if she can pry herself out of her bed. I'll have to be calling to hopefully wake her up.

I also made a pallet out of some of the ripped out deck wood. Not pretty, but should help to keep the cement drier. 

That's all for now. 

My Back Hurts...

General — Posted by timo @ 14:36
See this pile of 60 concrete blocks and 18 landscape timbers? That's what I did after school today. The rest of the bagged concrete, masonry concrete, portland cement, and sand is nicely wrapped in Tyveck, plastic, and a tarp due to the impending giant storms to hit soon. Nothing yet, but it's only 7:40pm. That's all for now.

Garden Wall and Leveled Rock

General — Posted by timo @ 15:43






Today I was able to work on the garden retaining wall. Everyone on the home improvement tv shows always say to never use treated wood lumber for a garden wall. But try driving around and finding a garden wall that isn't using some treated wood somewhere...right. I use 4x6x8 lanscape timbers stacked three high. I used deck screws for the ends and corners, tomorrow I will use 1/2  rebar to stake the walls to the ground. Should last for about 20, or so, years. I might line the inside with plastic to keep the treated wood from touching the inside dirt.

Speaking of dirt, I plan on doing a 1:1:1 ratio of perlite/topsoil/spaghnam peat moss at a depth of 7". I'll incorporate some natural fertilizer within the mix and hopefully the weekend after Memorial Day I can plant the plants and start it all. I want to also line the garden floor with some newspaper to cut down on weeds, too.

The bottom of the pit was once again full of water. I finished pumping out the water with a handy drill pump. Then I added the rest of the crushed rock and tamped it down rock hard in most areas. Problem being there's a 2 square foot are where the crushed rock won't compact becasue the darn clay floor was super saturated. I am hoping that it will STOP raining long enough for the whole thing to completly dry out. If I have time tomorrow I would like to cut rebar and place it along with the 6" wire mesh screen on top.

I won't be able to actually put it all together and leave it though because I'llhave to see if that wet area is dry and retamp it down.

Oh, yeah, I still have to move that 4,000 pounds of concrete to the backyard tomorrow, too. I have to move it tomorrow, or we can't get the trailer out of the garage for camping next weekend.

This is the messy looking picture. That's all for now.


Sunburned and Grateful

General — Posted by timo @ 14:35

Early today I got set to cut rebar with my new grinder. I have never used a grinder before, so I slapped on a metal cutting disc and took off on that rebar. I have tried to cut rebar before with a hacksaw- that's nuts. The grinder went through it like butter.

I was very happy about my $17 grinder purchase. I cut rebar at 2' and pounded it in and all went well until I lost the drill bit in the lanscape timbers. I fished it out eventually, but I still have a few more holes to drill.

I moved about a yard of old soil from my garden to my neighbor's house- he needed it and I didn't so that all worked out well.The bottom of the garden was leveled and awaits the topsoil.


I really have to get the garden done so I can get back to work on the oven.

Dang Garden

General — Posted by timo @ 16:35

That dang garden. After taking the top layer of old garden soil out (The layer containing all the weeds, weed seeds, and sucky clay) and leveling it I went and picked up a yard of topsoil from Lester's Material Service. They have the largest paved brick area I have ever seen in my life. Think parking lot times two.

The dude on the payloader dropped the topsoil a bit rough on my neighbor's trailer. It popped one side out a bit and so when I hit a bump, a bit of soil would scramble in front of the car behind me. I could feel Jackass vibes directed at me from many angles. I have to take a picture of that trailer as it's getting a bit more work out of it lately and looks like poo.

I borrowed my next door neighbor' Mantis 2 stroke tiller to work the garden mix together.

So, the one I borrowed is 18 years old and needs a lot of work. The kill switch broke the first time I touched it. The gas filter was clogged. The dang spark plug wasn't even tight, and to pull on the thing to start meant curling your back in some strange way that was torture. Be sure to buy yours today. Laughing

All told, the garden now has cow manure, topsoil, peat moss, sand, perlite, chicken manure, and wood ash in it now. The stuff is like potting soil.

Now, after tilling hte soil over and over and lining the bottom with layers of newspaper it's done. I layed some older 2x8x8 boards down the middle on blocks so I don't have to step on the soil, too. In a perfect world the garden would only be 4' wide, but that's the way it goes.

Now here's a video that pretty much explains what I have ahead of me this summer. I am on step...#1. Dang.


Garden Planted... Dang Rain...Rebar and Mesh

General — Posted by timo @ 15:36

With the Memorial Day vacation, there wasn't much time for working on the projects, but I did managed to plant some things in the garden. I hurriedly stuck tomatoes, peppers, and beans in the ground. Some are small plants, some are seeds directly sown. Anyway, I tossed some cilantro and cucumber seeds in too.

The oven has been on the back burner. I was able to cut the rebar and tir wire it all together. The rebar is set on some nifty rebar stands from Menards. Everything is all tied together and the 6" wire mesh is on top of it all. I have to make a bull float and edger, or just buy an edger for $8. I am thinking that this Saturday, if the Dang rain stops, I will be able to pour the foundation. I have to rent a mixer from Home Depot for $40 a day.

Hope the rain stops...

First Major Step Completed: The Foundation

General — Posted by timo @ 17:26

Today, May 30th, I was able to pour the concrete for the foundation.

I read a bunch of info about rebar reinforcement, placement of the rebar, mesh, tie wire, and on and on. I just about had it all put together. It has to be strong enough to support...about 4000-5000 lbs. of more masonry.

I knew that today there was a chance of rain, but I wouldn't have a day to work on this until at least another two weeks, so I went ahead anyway. I got up really early- Gus gets up at 5:05 these days and I was worried about getting the last tie wires done and a tarp over the "Pit".

As your can see, the day was gray and it started to rain as I did the last tie wires. Then I was off to Libertyville Rent-Alls.

I highly recommend them for all your rental needs. I was able to reserve a 6 cuic foot cement mixer by calling them and leaving my name. The rental fee was $50 for the day. I thought the day meant until they closed at 5:00pm, but it meant until 8:00 am the next morning. Many places say their "day" rental is 8 hours.

This is the mixer. You can actually pick it up at the tow bar and bring it chest high and it's balanced pretty well. Problem is with all the wet weather it was a real bull getting to the backyard. As a matter of fact the rims of the tires scraped the fence gate as I brought it into the back. I call and asked how wide it was and they said 46" so I thought great, the gate is 48". Problem is I measured the gate at the top and not the bottom where the wheels actually would be going through. My great neighbor Troy helped me weasel it through with some kicking. By 9:00 am I was ready to begin pouring.

 I had planned pretty well in moving the bags next to the deck and the mixer near the deck. The first batch was a bit dry. Everyone and everything I've read about pouring concrete says to pout it dry, rather then overly wet. It's easier to pour wetter, but loses some strength from being over hydrated. The second batch was more wet

and off I went. The picture shows about 14 bags poured into the forms. Speaking of forms, I forgot to oil the wood, so I took a moment during the mixing of the next batch

to oil the forms. I was worried about taking too long and the concrete would begin to set and I would have it all poured, but it stayed pretty much wet during the time it took to mix it all (about 3 hours).


Everytime I see these pictures I smell Portland cement. I understand why there aren't many old mason guys around. A word to the wise- always make a slurry then add to it. Don't ask, trust me learning the hard way stinks.

This is my before my arms cramped up and I could still hold the camera up like this. Screeding is hard, too. I ended up mixing about (40) 60# bags of concrete.

Here is after a first screed. I had to screed 3 times to get the middle to come down to level. It really brought the cream out quickly and because it was so long after I started it began to set really quickly after the screeding. I probably waited a bit too long before edging and troweling, but it worked out in the end. Word to the wise: Get rubber protected gloves and use them.


 After the first edging and troweling it set up faster and faster. Probably because it began to clear up and it was warming up, too. Here you can see the sun has come out.





 I made sure to clean the drum out really well and returned it about 3:30pm. They checked it out and that was that.

After a while I put the plastic over the foundation to slow the curing rate. They say to bring it to full strength you don't want a rapid cure, but a slower, wet cure. So, tomorrow I will take the plastic off and spray the concrete and put the plastic over it again.

 This is what we scratched into the concrete. Gus' paw print and Tate '09. This might get covered with concrete block, and brick, but it will always be there. (EDIT: Since he died, I will have this part always.)

This was a long morning and afternoon but well worth it. It was rewarding to get this far and best of all I don't care how much it rains for the next week because it's just going to help the curing. I was really getting frustrated pumping the"Pit" out for the second time, but I know it really helped to settle the fines and provide a nice solid base.


That's all for now.

First Taste of Mortar and Blocks

General — Posted by timo @ 17:44

This was the goal for laying the foundation blocks today. I would like to keep the first row as level and plum as possible. This actually turned out alright. I was able to adjust the blocks pretty well with the 2# rubber mallet. The only problem was keeping it all square. I used a chalk line to place the blocks, but after the first side, it all kinda went down the drain.

So, now I am off by about 1/2".  I think I can putz that when I dry stacked the blocks.

Some notes about mortar. I use type N masonry cement and mixed in my own sand. I used one 50# bag of sand (about four buckets full) to about two parts cement. I was worried about having too much sand in the mix so I kept adding more cement. Then I added too much water and had to add more cement to thicken it. So I ended up with about half a wheel barrow full of mortar and it turns out I needed just that much to do the first row of blocks.

But don't forget with all the global warming these days temperatures have been over 100 degrees for the last month and it hasn't rained for two months. This reminds me of a a story I read as a kid where it turns out that instead of heat and the misery that accompanies the heat, it's the opposite. 55 degrees and rain today...


So, here's my tarp again. After setting the blocks it began to rain pretty good so I am glad I listened to the weather reports and set this up before it rained. Don't worry, I pulled all the screws and nails out of that stack of wood you see.

Here you can see the layout of the first course of blocks.

Trying to correct a block after it was set took its toll on one block and it cracked. I was not happy, but I knew that this might happened (breakage) so I have a few extra blocks. Now the next thing to do is dry stack the blocks.. This should only take a few minutes. Then of course it's time to mix more concrete to fill in the cores. I will probably fill in the corners and every other core. It will take about 1 11/2 bags to do each core. I have about 24 bags of concrete left from the pallet of 63 so I will have plenty for the cores, but will need more to finish the hearth structural pour.

My goal is to have the stand poured by June 22nd, or sooner. Once school gets out we'll see how much faster I can go. In order to pour the hearth stand, the cores have to be filled, rebar in the cores, rebar framing in the hearth, forms set and reinforced and more concrete and perlite bought along with 2x8x8 wood.


Good thing Jackie doesn 't read this so she doesn't know I'll need to spend a few dollars for wood and concrete again.


That's all for now.


Drainage and Rebar

General — Posted by timo @ 12:51

Well, we are getting even more rain then I ever thought possible. I had to pick up about 3/4 ton of river rock to lay the drain tile in and around. Landscape fabric around the tile and once again between the rock layer. I plan on placing #8 river rock on top of the #6 because I have a bunch of #8 from my first attempt at drainage issues.

Here's a picture of the rebar angles I bent using a vice and an $8 black pipe from Home Depot. I found out that you can't put too tight a bend on rebar without it shattering. I am glad I had on safety googles and leather gloves. I found I had to give it a slight bend, then move the pipe

back a bit away from the bend, then bend some more. I finally got the hang of it and it went pretty fast. The hardest part was bracing the vice so it wouldn't twist when I pulled on the rebar. I used two C clamps to secure the vice to the table to stop it from moving.

This picture shows the top of the river rock drainage system. The trench around the perimeter of the foundation is about 8" wide. Any water in the crushed rock layer will drain out to the tile and any water that leaks in from the surrounding grade will fall straight down the rock to the tile.

 Someone gave this the name of Stage 3 French Drain. It runs out through the middle of the yard out to the side of the house.

This is a clean out, maybe. Really I just wanted to see how much was draining and maybe I can shove a garden hose in it to clean out some sediment, but that's probably not going to work with the corrigated pipe. Either way, it's in the back of the oven so it's not going to be seen much there.

Anyway, here's the rebar in the cores. It takes about one bag per core to fill. I chopped an old chewed up waste paper basket to aid in shoveling the concrete into the cores. The sun really made it set up fast. I will have a few cores left to fill after I get the hearth floor placed along with the 2x8 forms for the hearth pour. Yes, that's right, another 3 1/2" rebar reinforced slab followed with 4" of insulated perlite concrete. The reinforced concrete will need about 25 #60 bags.

Hopefully I don't have too many spelling errors :)

Gus's Corner - Authentic Brick Oven Cooking

General — Posted by timo @ 17:19

This is in tribute to our late great dog, Gus. We all miss him so very, very much. I wish he didn't have to go. I wish it didn't hurt so much to say goodbye.

Here's the mock up of the naming for the brick oven. Maybe when I finally get it done and know how to use it, I can print one of these out with some info on the other side. Like how to reheat and perhaps ingredients. I came up with the idea for Gus's Corner because he always sat next to me and waiting until I left my cooking corner in the kitchen. Then he would clean up any food that had fallen on the floor.

If you have any suggestions please leave some input about the layout. I was thinking of having Alex put mosiac tile on the oven, but I need a design and color scheme.


Anyway that's all for now.

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