How to Build a Pizza Oven. Part I.

4 years ago I built a cob pizza oven and I love it with all of my heart. And if you start right now, you’ll be able to say the same.  YOU CAN DO THIS.  YOU CAN BUILD YOUR OWN PIZZA OVEN.

cob-oven

So you want to  build your own pizza oven?  That’s the very same thought that crossed my own mind one year ago.

I wanted to build my own pizza oven because I have an unnatural love of pizza and building things. So right up until the point that my knuckles started to ooze blood (more on that in a later post) this was my DREAM project.  And frankly, even with the blood oozing knuckles it was a dream project.

My name’s Karen. My nails are rarely done and sometimes my knuckles bleed.  I’m O.K. with that.

Over the next few days I’m going to give you all the information I can on how I built my pizza oven, but even after reading my tutorial I recommend that you do even more research. I read everything I possibly could about pizza ovens before starting to build mine, so I felt like I had a really good understanding of how they worked and how to do it.

At the end of this post I’ll give you a couple of my favourite resources for information.

Here we go!

Building a pizza oven can be broken down into 10 steps:

1.  Build the base of the oven to sit on.

2. Insulate the base of the oven.

3. Build a sand dome that will be the form your build your oven around.

4.  Mix your thermal mass layer of cob (clay and sand) and build your oven around the sand form.

5. Remove the sand form to create the cavity of your pizza oven (the actual interior space).

6. Mix clay and straw to create your cob insulation material.

7. Build your insulation layer around your cob oven.

9. Finish with a weatherproofing lime plaster.

10.  Make pizza.

Today I’m going to talk about the base that your pizza oven is going to sit on, the insulation layer in that base, and how to build the sand form you’ll be building your pizza oven around.

The base

The base that your pizza oven stands on can be made out of anything (cinder blocks, bricks, rubble) but it has to be able to hold 600-900 pounds (depending on the size of your oven)

My first thought was to use cinder blocks, but cinder blocks aren’t cheap if you need a lot of them and they’re big and heavy to transport.

So I ended up building my base on a series of 3 sets of sawhorses made with sawhorse brackets and 2x4s. I raised the sawhorses on pieces of flagstone so to help stop the ends from rotting. This way they won’t ever be sitting in puddles of water.

 

Pizza-Oven-Base

 

Each sawhorse bracket can carry a weight of around 300 pounds, so a series of 3 can  hold a load of around 900 pounds. Which is more than my small sized pizza oven will weigh.  The actual base I built out of 2×4’s, nailing them into the sawhorses.

Because you don’t necessarily want to build a pizza oven directly on wood, and because a bunch of sawhorses is pretty ugly, I built ANOTHER base out of antique bricks which I got for free from my neighbour.

The bricks are secured with construction adhesive.  (just a tube of extra strong gunk that you put in a caulking gun and squirt on like glue).  At this point you’re forming a pretty base, and a space for the bottom insulation of your pizza oven to go.  Which you’ll see in the next picture.

 

pizza-oven-base-insulation

 

A pizza oven loses most of its heat through the top of the oven so some people don’t even bother to insulate the bottom, but I wanted to do everything I possibly could to hold as much heat in the oven as I could.  The more heat you hold, the more pizzas and/or other food you can cook.

The perfect thing to use for insulating in this case is glass bottles. Just get drinking and then line them all up.

 

pizza-oven-base-insulation-bottles

 

I then added a layer of a mixture of clay, sand and straw to bind everything and insulate a tiny bit more. This will also be the base for my base.  If that makes any sense.

 

pizza-oven-insulation-on-base

 

Once your bottles and clay/sand/straw mixture have dried you can add a layer of sand.  The sand is going to be what you lay your fire bricks on.  The fire bricks are what you’ll be actually cooking your pizza on.  They aren’t the same as the bricks in your fireplace which dissipate heat.  THESE bricks hold heat. You can get them at most stone yards or large lumber yards.

When you’re laying your fire bricks you need to make sure they are PERFECTLY even, perfectly level and perfectly mashed up against each other.  If they aren’t level on top, when you put your pizza or bread in the oven on a pizza peel, the peel will knock into the edges of the bricks in an annoying way much the same way when you’re shovelling and you hit a piece of sidewalk that isn’t level with the rest.

 

pizza-oven-building-selfie

 

Lest you think I’m looking too cute and having an easy time of it, behold the wide shot.

 

Building-a-pizza-oven-mess

 

Now that you’ve established you aren’t afraid to get your hands (or planter beds, or backcyard or face or hair or feet or ferns or Buddha head) dirty, you can move on to starting to build your actual oven!  Which is the fun part of course. Because if you’re onto building your oven, you’re clearly just moments away from enjoying hot, crispy, gooey, delicious pizza.

A cob oven when it’s finished, looks like this. I bet you’ve been wondering haven’t you? This isn’t my cob oven, but they all look pretty similar.

 

IMGP2529

This is a really big oven. You don’t need one this big, but build it as big as your space allows. The bigger the oven, the more heat it holds and the larger pizzas you can fit into it.

As you can see there’s a cavity in the middle of the oven, just like a regular oven. Or a fireplace. In order to get this cavity you build your cob oven around a pile of sand. Then when the oven has dried, you scoop the sand out, which creates the oven cavity.

You will need a few large (lumberyard sized large) bags of course sand. Use regular builder’s sand from the lumberyard. The book I’m going to recommend at the end of this post includes all the exact amount of materials you’ll need according to the size of the oven you want to build.

Now all you do is wet the sand and start building the world’s most boring sand castle.

I knew (again according to instructions from the book I’m recommending) exactly how high the peak of my sand form needed to be. So I started building my sand dome, and then stuck a stick into it. Once I got to the top o the stick then I knew I was at the height I needed to be at.

 

sand

 

Building the sand form is easy, but also pretty boring.  There’s no action.  No suspense.  Just sand.

Building sand form for cob oven

 

Building the sand form of your pizza oven is the easiest part of the job. It’s also the most boring. You are building the world’s most boring sand castle. But it will eventually lead to … wood ove…

And that’s it. The base and the sand form of your pizza oven are now complete.

In tomorrow’s post you’ll be learning all about cob. How to make it, where to get your materials and how to start building the walls of your pizza oven with it.

Thinking this is too much work? It’s not. It’s fun and rewarding and … you get pizza out of it.

Now I also know the other thing you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Wow. Karen hasn’t written a single funny sentence since she started talking about pizza ovens.

And you’re right. While you’re normally screaming with laughter during one of my posts, I must confess that may be the end of the funny posts. I’ve lost my funny bone. Literally.  My skeleton is now surrounded by something akin to 7 layers of pork belly due to eating pizza.  A lot of pizza.

I’m a pizza pig.

And I’m O.K. with that.

Now let’s move onto the next step in Building a Cob oven, Step 2.

 

*********************************************

Thinking of building an wood burning pizza oven? Then you need to order the book “Build Your Own Earth Oven” by Kiko Denzer right now.

I also got a LOT of help from Sigi Koko the principle architect at Down to Earth Design. She was relentlessly patient with me and my questions. Watching her 4 part series of YouTube videos on how to build a cob oven will give you a really good idea of what’s involved and how to tackle the project. I watched her videos over and over and over again. I suggest you do the same.

62 Comments

  1. Cynthia Jones says:

    Great job!
    Now can we share pizza recipes?

    My very favourite pizza involves. Mission pizza base as it is extra thin. I used to use Borboli as it had parmesan embedded in the dough but Coles no longer stocks it.

    Lightly brown one side first for those with no fancy schmancy pizza oven.

    Arrabiatta sauce spread all over the base exactly to the edges, don’t be stingy.

    A layer of thinly sliced pumpkin, some schlepps of crushed tomato, a whole bunch of coriander or cilantro for you Canadian and US peeps, some ginger grated over the top, dried chilli flakes & either chunks of cauliflower or chorizo depending on whether I am wanting to suck up fat or not. For cheese I use Haloumi or feta. At the last minute of cooking whack on some spinach leaves which I visuallize sticking to the sides of my intestine and therefore preventing any calories from being absorbed.

    I let it cool for a few minutes and then do several tiny schlepps of either sour cream or Lite greek style yoghurt on top.

    The flavours of the pumpkin, ginger, chilli and cilantro are just great together.

  2. Laura says:

    Do you think I can build a pizza oven right next to my fire pit? Would a fire out side of the pizza oven cause issues?

    • Karen says:

      No, it should be fine. I don’t see any issues with it. The only thing I’d be careful of is making sure you have enough room around your pizza oven for a big long handled peel. You want to make sure the handle won’t be hanging over the fire pit. ~ karen!

      • Laura says:

        Thanks! I need to build something to cook in. Cooking over a fire isn’t child friendly but they will certainly respect a pizza oven.

        • Karen says:

          You can cook anything in it! It’s great. I made 3 loaves of no knead bread today. Which was stupid because now I’ve been eating bread all night. Slices and slices of warm, crusty bread. omg. I need more bread. ~ karen!

        • Stephanie Hobson says:

          No knead bread? Recipe please?

        • Karen says:

          The one I tried last night was 1.5 Tablespoons yeast, 1.5 Tablespoons Kosher salt, 3 cups lukewarm water, 6.5 cups flour. Mix. Allow to rise for 2 hours. Divide, pull and shape into loaves. Let proof 45 minutes. Bake. ~ karen!

        • Nancy Blue Moon says:

          What temperature would I bake it at in a regular oven Karen?

        • Lynne says:

          There is literally nothing like bread baked in a wood fired oven – especially when it’s still warm. We had that every day in Italy – the local village bakery made bread in a huge wood fired oven. You would buy the bread, brush the ash off the bottom and then sit down to warm crusty bread with fresh cheese. Mmmmmm.

  3. Cynthia Jones says:

    I forgot mango. I put little bits of fresh mango on it too. Sounds weird but it goes so well with the other flavours, espcially the ginger and cilantro. Any other pizza recipes to share?

  4. Mother ship says:

    Ok…
    Thanks to your explanation I feel I could attempt to (start to) build a cobb oven…
    but where??? It looks like you are right up against a wood (read flammable) structure…
    & while I have ignored my provinces chicken laws…
    I do feel some (possible fire hazard) codes might be more relevant…
    Please explain the WHERE part!!!
    & why it’s safe!!!!
    Thank you!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mother ship – In my area a pizza oven is not restricted because it is a contained fire (inside an 8″ thick non flammable oven), that’s always supervised that is used for the purpose of cooking. The fence is behind the non flammable oven and is regulation distance. It’s safe because as I said, the oven itself isn’t flammable and the opening, where any flames or sparks are is facing nothing. Just a slate patio. ~ karen!

    • Kristin Ferguson says:

      I built one myself in my back yard, and believe me, the back of the oven is not an issue. My oven is so well insulated that the top of the dome remains cool to the touch even when the inside is 1200 degrees F (c. 650 C.) In fact, the cape plumbago shrub drapes itself over the oven if I don’t cut it back.

      • Karen says:

        Thanks Kristin! I’d forgotten to mention the inches of insulation, lol. I can’t say I’ve ever got my oven up to 1200F. You must load it up with big fires! The outside of mine is the same. No danger at all on the outside of the oven. My Blue Star range is more dangerous than my pizza oven! ~ karen

  5. Tigersmom says:

    Geez, your eyes are so blue. I would not look nearly as cute if I were building a pizza oven.

    And whose recycling bin did you raid to get all the alcohol bottles? I know they’re not yours.

    • Ruth says:

      Betty (her mom) probably… unless she’s been fibbing about Betty’s drinking habits all this time. How about we set the record straight, Karen? 😀

  6. Jody says:

    What is a pizza peel? And could you please post your no knead bread recipe. Or will that be the final post–all the things you have made in your new oven and the recipes?

  7. On a construction note, it might be a good idea to add an angled cross brace between legs to prevent lateral movement of the platform.

    While this looks intriguing, my better half would have me committed within two seconds if she saw me building something similar to the mounds of potatoes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind on our new patio. Seeing that I’m just learning about making grilled pizza though, I’m all for learning more about your pizza recipes. Maybe then I’ll be able to convince her that a pizza oven would be perfect addition.

  8. Donna says:

    Doesn’t the sand collapse when it dries out?? You lost me at that part?? Very interesting though.

  9. Ruth says:

    I’m curious…. what was the brush (third photo from top) used for?

  10. Jennifer Daily says:

    Like your choice in beers! Cheers! Make sure you get some good goat cheese for all those pizzas- maybe you can get some goats to hang out with your chickens and you can show us how to make goat cheese!
    Yum!!!

  11. jeannie B says:

    If I had that oven in my yard, for sure, a gang of raccoons would move in.

  12. Niki Dee says:

    Oh. Em. Gee. My husband has been giving me weird looks regarding the pile of bones I’m accumulating for my Halloween bone wreath. He scratched his head (but was proud) when I made two of your chicken feeders. But now this….! I can’t WAIT to build this! I’m pretty sure after I build your pizza oven I can ply him with cheesy pizza…”look at the pizza dear….don’t mind the power tools”

  13. kate-v says:

    As I watch your pictures and read your descriptions I wonder about the base. I live in northern California – on the Pacific Rim – and we have earthquakes. Also, our ground sinks or rises depending on if we are in a drought (as we are now) or if we’re getting rain. Right now several of my doors are wonky because of sinking – that’ll reverse that when we get rains again. I like the idea of the outdoor oven but would take great pains to build something that would withstand our predictable movement of the earth. Your base is flimsy but maybe that earth movement problems are covered in the references you cite.

    • Kristin Ferguson says:

      I live in Los Angeles, and I built one three years ago right on some pavers on the ground (smoothed sand over an evened-out patch of dirt, laid pavers, then built a brick base about 3 feet high, filled it in, then proceeded with the wine bottles and such.) It hasn’t even cracked a little bit, and we have had some minor earthquakes.

      • kate-v says:

        Thanks, Kristin, that is good to know. What was the filler you used in the brick base?
        Thanks

        • Kristin Ferguson says:

          That is a good question, Kate–I agonized over that one. I had a bunch of rubble/urbanite around, so I bought a few cinderblocks and mortared them upright to the pavers at the bottom, then I filled in the areas in between them with rubble and some dirt, then I poured a bag’s worth of concrete over that. Then I laid bottles on top of that, packing insulation around them. If you are interested in seeing a Facebook album I made of my process (you don’t even have to have a Facebook account), you can see it here (feel free to friend me if you like):

          https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1705811643512.2088731.1184650787&type=1&l=1e0b3474e3

          My process was different from Karen’s, and I made a slightly bigger oven. Actually, a few months later I was asked to lead a group (the Los Angeles Bread Bakers Meetup) in building a much larger oven for community baking. That one was a BIG one.

        • kate-v says:

          I saw your facebook account of the oven building – thanks for sending me there. I like the style you chose. also, I like that your base is SOLID – that is what we need out here – it was good to see your process.
          So how big was the oven the LA Bakers made?

  14. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Oh why can’t I be younger and stronger..(thinner and richer would work too)..I would so love to do this..sigh..

  15. Anti Kate says:

    Kids don’t respect anything. Really small ones will decide it’s a play house. Or, mine would, anyhow.

  16. Susan G says:

    You beat me to making a cob oven – you are always a step ahead of me Karen! I have been researching and reading books about making cob ovens for about a year now, but unfortunately my life is in a transition period. We will be moving in a few months, so I haven’t wanted to build the oven and then have to move away and leave it! Well at least now I have the advantage of learning from your tips, which will make it a little easier for me when I settle down and build mine. Keep up the great site. I think our minds work on the same wave length because every time I get obsessed by some new idea, you seem to be doing it too!

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  18. Melissa says:

    You never cease to amaze. And you always make it look easy. Do you have outtakes where things go wrong? I bet even if/when that happens, it’s probably funny.

    Either way, this is an impressive and inspiring post. We have been grilling pizza on the gas grill, but the cob oven — OMG! That would elevate pizza to a new level in these parts, not to mention make us 100s of new friends ^_^

  19. Maria says:

    Right now in SC it is 200 degrees in the shade and I can’t imagine building a fire but in the fall, winter and spring this would be fabulous. I really like it a lot. If I made one, I would get some wood, maybe pallets or something, and build a false wall around two sides so that I couldn’t see the ugly sawhorse legs. Like in the pic you posted, the bottom is made of different kinds of stone?

    Nice job
    PS. You are a beautiful creative strong woman if you don’t mind me saying so.

    • Karen says:

      LOL. That’s a pretty good temperature as far as I’m concerned! That picture is stone and it’s beautiful. I boxed my sawhorses in with antique barnboard. You’ll see it in a later post. And incidentally, no. I do not mind you saying so! Who would?! Thanks. ~ karen

  20. Cynthia says:

    Karen, I bought six silky chicks a week ago. I am setting up their Palazzo Versace- style chookie area in my front garden.

    I wanted to make a hobbit style nesting cave just to be extra fabulous. The material for the cave is going to be a mix of mortar and builder’s glue which is called Bondcrete here in Aus. I almost had myself convinced to make the dome out of compressed newspaper stacked up, build the cave over it, then burn off the paper.

    Then my brain cells lit up and remembered your blog and how much you have already used your brain cells to do the hard thinking.

    Exclamation to self. “Sand …..doofus, Karen used sand for her cob oven. Wet sand.” Thank you so much, could have got ugly with me and matches.

  21. I own a culinary team building business in Vancouver, BC
    I’m looking for new ideas for my clients especially one day programs. Is it possible for a small cob oven(s) be built in one day and to ready for baking pizza?

    I would have anywhere from 10-30 people so number of cob oven could be in process.

    Your feedback would be great!!

    Julie

    • Karen says:

      Hi Julie! No. Not a chance I’m afraid. Like the post says it takes several days if not weeks in between the various stages in order for the cob oven to dry properly. ~ karen!

  22. Lynne lessard says:

    when building the insulated base of the oven, did you put bricks under the bottles or just directly on your wood base?

  23. John Carr says:

    Karne, you ARE looking cute. But too cute? I don’t think so. A good looking woman who can do stuff? I think I’m in LURVVVV…

    Thanks – just what I was looking for – great site!

  24. Debbie says:

    Hi Karen
    I know this is an old post but was wondering if you could tell me what size sawhorse brackets you used and where you purchased them. I saw some at Home Depot but there are different ones, also if you could direct me to the plans for the actual sawhorses (if there are some) yours have a brace at the bottom, most plans that I have seen don’t. Also where you purchased your pizza peel from and the scraper for the coals. I want to make a cob oven this summer, and would appreciate this info. I live in Barrie so shopping in Canada, for me. Thanks love your oven, very cool (or hot)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Debbie. I can’t remember what size sawhorse brackets I got actually. I just bought whichever ones said they held the most. There aren’t any plans for them in terms of bracing. I just took it upon myself to do it to make them a bit stronger. I got my pizza peel from a local kitchen store but you can get the same one here on Amazon. 🙂 I got the scraper/brush from Amazon. You can get it here. The one other thing i’d recommend you buy is an infrared thermometer. It takes the guesswork out of judging when your oven is at 800 degrees. 🙂 Have fun building it. And make it as BIG as you can. Also, the bigger your oven the bigger your pizza peel can be. Mine is smaller than I’d like but it’s what I had room for. ~ karen!

      • Debbie says:

        Thanks Karen. Looks like I will have to find my Hippie dresses and do some stomping this summer (ala Lucille Ball, oh wait that was wine, LOL)

  25. Suzanne says:

    Love your oven. Just wondering the measurements on it. What the base size was and what size your oven measured. Decided how big I want it. Can you give any details on clay and sand used? Thanks.

  26. Syble Wright says:

    Did you recently post a DIY on a chandelier for your kitchen you purchased at Habitat and spray painted?? I thought I saved it. I have a project I want to do an d I need your help. I want to spray paint a gold colored chandelier dark like the one I saw on your post (I think). Can you help me??

  27. Dan says:

    So excited. We’ve just taken possession of a new house and will be moving in next week. Backyard is a blank slate, and big enough for one of these 🙂

    To add to my excitement, I found a discount card for Chapters in my wallet, which expires today. So I ordered the book you suggested for $10 off.

    Basically, the rest of my day is going to go downhill from here.

  28. Alex says:

    Hi Karen,
    Your blog is an inspiration and extremely helpful and fun. The one thing we are struggling to understand are your layers. It looks like you have 3 layers of bricks on top of your 2x4s (one as “floor” and 2 as containment). But if we add bottles, mud, sand and full size firebricks we can’t see how that all fits within the height of 2 containment bricks…. can you help?
    Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hey Alex. Thanks! Yup. It all fits. 🙂 The bottles are covered only by a thin layer of the insulation layer of mud. It fils the space between the bottles and then just covers the top enough so they’re covered. Then enough sand is added (I forget how much so that the firebricks ended up level with my regular bricks. ~ karen!

  29. Jerzy Heczko says:

    Witaj Karen
    Widzę tu bratnią duszę – mam podobne przemyślenia , nawet dość szczegółowy projekt pieca . Niestety z powodu choroby musiałem przerwać prace . Może kiedyś wrócę do tematu , ale na razie czegoś się u Ciebie nauczę . Pozdrawiam serdecznie , świątecznie i noworocznie : Wesołych Świąt , świetnego Nowego Roku 2017 , Jerzy .

  30. Joe Sulak says:

    Hi Cindy, I’ve probably read this bloog at least 15 times over the past 3 years! I’m actually going to attempt a build this month. A couple questions… what is the height of the base before the bricks? and I suppose this depends on teh cook, but what is teh desired height of the opening to the stove?

    Thanks Joe

    • Karen says:

      It does depend on the cook, Joe. I just built it to what I felt would be comfortable for me. But anything in between table and countertop height would be good for most people. ~ karen!

  31. Joe says:

    Hi Karen, I’ve probably read this bloog at least 15 times over the past 3 years! I’m actually going to attempt a build this month. A couple questions… what is the height of the base before the bricks? and I suppose this depends on teh cook, but what is teh desired height of the opening to the stove?

    Thanks Joe

  32. Chelsea says:

    Hi Karen

    How is your pizza oven holding up? Do you cover it at all in the winter.

    I keep reading the elements can be bad for it if it doesn’t have a roof over it.

    I love your ideas of saw horses. I really wanted to build a brick oven but am thinking of trying your clay method instead

    Thanks for sharing all the info

    Chelsea

    • Karen says:

      It’s holding up perfectly Chelsea. The lime plaster protects it from rain. And once fall hits I make sure to cover it up so it doesn’t get wet and then freeze (which will cause cracking and crumbling). So I don’t cover it at all in the summer, but cover it in the fall and keep it covered in the winter except for when I’m using it. ~ karen!

      • Chelsea says:

        Thanks so much for taking the time to reply.

        Not only has your blog made me want to build this oven.. I think I’ve convinced my husband to let me get chickens too

        Take care

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