Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Build A Wood Fired Pizza Oven for $300

If you've been waiting to hear about how Dave built our Wood Fired Pizza Oven then wait no more! Here it is- one mammoth post that details the planning and construction of our humble backyard wood fired oven.

This project cost us very little as we prefer to scavenge than spend (well, Dave does). It took us a good few months and we have some very lovely friends to thank for all their help.

So, here you have it. Handing over to Dave....


I've tried to start writing this post several times now, and deleted each attempt. Each one just seemed to me like a boring text book entry... but if I'm going to get this finished, I must now commence regardless! I do apologise if it is tedious; should you at some point throw up your hands and yell "BORING" at your screen, never fear, there are are plenty more articles out there that describe how to build one of these things. I will not be offended if you leave to find something more interesting.

When it comes down to it, a wood fire oven is really a pretty simple structure, albeit with some impressive geo-physics backing it up. They've been around since the roman times (and are hence sometimes referred to as roman ovens) and there are as many shapes and size variations as there are people roaming this blue planet. While you could just go to a hardware store and buy one for around $850, the nice thing about making your own is that you can make it however and from whatever you want (an added bonus for a thrift monger such as myself is that if the conditions where you live are suitable, it is almost as simple as digging a hole to find everything you need).

The basic principal is a chamber that you light a fire in (D'uh); the real key is the insulation properties of the materials you use (to retain heat in the oven). Ideally you want it to retain sufficent heat to get up to mid-high 400 degrees for a reasonable period of time (to allow cooking of pizzas at the peak temps and slow cooking after the fire has died). Generally, the thicker the walls, the better the insulation and longer the duration of retained heat; the trade off here is that the thicker you make the walls, the longer it takes to heat up.

I'll break-up the construction of the different components of our oven with some explanation for each, along with some photos (or "captures" as some of you seem to be fond of referring to ;-) ).

Plinth Walls

Materials: Block, brick or stone to build walls; concrete to pour footings

Although you could build the oven at ground level (which would actually provide rather good thermal properties for the base), for practicality it makes sense to set up your oven at a reasonable working height. You can do this in whatever fancy way you like - I've seen it done with timber railway sleepers, stacked stone, rammed earth - but I had a bunch of 140mm concrete blocks lying around from a previous project so I used those.

Step 1 - decide how big you want your oven, which determines how far apart you want the walls (the space between the walls provided a handy timber storage area as well). Note: I built ours against an existing brick wall so only needed two sides; you may need three...?)
Step 2 - dig some strip footings the length desired and fill them with concrete (about 400 wide x 200mm deep is probably fine)
Step 3 - lay the blocks to the height you want (remembering to make allowance for the thickness of the plinth above). You could also fill the cores of the blocks with concrete / mortar if you felt like it.
Step 4 - Quench thirst by whatever means preferred


Materials: timber to make formwork, SL52 reinforcing mesh, concrete

Once your walls are up, you'll need something to sit your oven on, AKA a plinth. It is important that the plinth / base is as insulated as the rest of the oven, otherwise you'll lose too much heat out the base. This is a failure of my oven and something I need to address with some retro-fitted insulation. The base structure of my plinth is a 75mm thick reinforced concrete slab, cast on the floor of the carport in two sections. I cast it in two sections so that I could lift them into place. I used SL52 mesh as reinforcing and bagged concrete, and 75 x 35 pine for the formwork.

Step 1 - decide on size of plinth and construct formwork to suit
Step 2 - place reinforcing steel into form and pour concrete. Finish the surface however you want it took look (broom finish, wood float, steel trowel)
Once cast and cured, the plinthes can be stripped and lifted into place on top of the walls described above.

Oven base

Materials: Unwashed river sand, clay brick pavers, mortar, beer

The base of the oven is the cooking surface and as such needs to be smooth and level (particularly for cooking pizzas). For mine, I used some scavenged clay brick pavers and unwashed river sand as a bed.

Step 1 -  layout the bricks as a “dry” run to suit the perimeter of the oven you want to build and mark the perimeter edge on the pavers onto the plinth.
Step 2 - Set the height of the bed by laying the perimeter course of bricks in a mortar bed - I set mine up off the concrete plinth by approx 40mm to allow a decent sand bed under the pavers for insulation (as mentioned above, this needs further work).
Step 3 - Once the perimeter is laid, fill the inside with the 40mm sand screed and start laying the pavers, checking  that the joints are tight to ensure your bricks will fit the perimeter.
When complete, the base should be level with no “lips” between pavers
Step 4 - Sweep washed river sand into the joints between the pavers to prevent movement. Base complete!
Stand back and admire your handiwork so far. You’ll likely have worked up a sweat so a cold beer is also appropriate at this point in the process (preferably a golden ale of local production and procurement).

Brick Arch / Oven opening

Materials: Plywood and timber for arch support, mortar, bricks

Laying a brick arch is not actually that difficult, but if you keep that to yourself everyone will think you are awesomely talented!
Dry pressed solid clay bricks are best if you can get them (you can use extruded clay bricks but they are not as good).

Step 1 - Using plywood and some blocking, knock about an timber arch that you will lay the bricks on. The dimensions of this are important! Work out what you want the internal height of your oven to be; the top of the arch/opening needs to be 66% (two thirds) of the internal dome height. This will ensure the oven works effectively; any higher and the heat will escape too quickly, any lower and the fire will not get enough oxygen (fires need oxygen). Also, the width of the arch should be wide enough to get a pizza shovel through the door.
Step 2 - Place the arch in position and stack your bricks on the timber support to determine the thickness of joints required and any cutting required. Check the support arch face is plumb so that it can be used to set the line of the arch (you don’t want the arch leaning in any direction).
Step 3 - Lay the bricks using mortar (it’s easiest to buy bagged brickies mortar from the hardware shop) up and over the arch. Keep the joints as tight - tight joints mean that the bricks will be bearing on each other as much a possible giving the arch maximum strength.
Step 4 - The arch should be self supporting straight after laying (if the mortar mix was not too wet and the joints were kept tight), but to be sure, let the mortar set and then carefully remove the timber support arch.
Now you’re ready to build the main oven component.

Main Oven

Materials: Corrugated cardboard, packing/brickies sand, river sand (washed or unwashed), clay, water, hydrated lime, beer

Step 1 - First you need to make a shape to form the dome mould. Find some corrugated cardboard and draw out a dome shape to the desired dimensions, making sure the apex matches the internal height noted down previously. It’s worth double checking the height of the brick arch (to the underside); adjust the apex height of your dome form to suit.
Step 2 - Cut out the shape you have marked and trace around it to make a second replica. Draw a vertical line from the apex to mark half way on both pieces of cardboard. On one of the cardboard pieces, cut from the apex down the line half-way to the base. On the other, cut up the line from the base half-way to the apex. Slop the cardboard pieces together and you should have the shape of your dome laid out in quadrants.
Step 3 - Place the form against and centre on the brick arch; you should get an idea what the oven will look like. Start piling up  the packing/brickies sand in the corners of the quandrant working up and out until you have pile that is in the shape of the cardboard form. Smooth over the entire dome making sure the curve is consistent and the cardboard form is just covered at all points.
Step 4 - Get a few mates to come over, lay out a tarp and start to mix the clay (40% ish) , sand (60% ish) and water - using your feet is best as it gets the job done quickly. It is also very lovely for your feet. Once the clay is mixed well, form it into bricks/logs and lay them around the sand form in stretcher bond (each brick half overlapping the ones below) until the whole lot is covered in clay - the bricks should be about 70mm thick to form the internal wall of your oven.
Step 5 - Once the clay is sufficiently dry, you can clear out the packing sand. The only way to do this is to get your head inside the oven so make sure the clay is dry enough to support itself. Keep the sand to re-use in the lime render in step 6.

At this point, repeat Step 4 until the desired wall thickness is achieved.

Step 6 - The final construction step is the rendering to further insulate and weather protect the clay. I did three layers of render and in layer used a combination of straw, lime and sand - this is optional. Mix the sand & lime in a ratio of 1 lime : 3 sand and water sufficient to work the render (don’t make it too wet). Make sure the sand you use is not too soft / fine otherwise the render will crack all over the place - the sand is in large part reinforcement / structure in the render. Wrap the clay dome in chicken wire and start rendering - keep going until the whole lot is covered.

Step 7 - Review your work with an appropriate mix of self congratulation and humility, all whilst considering the lovely pizza filled afternoons and evenings to come. Beer is also most warranted at this point in the process - stick with the golden ale mentioned above if it was to your liking.

TA DAHHHH (I added that bit).


  1. Brilliant Dave! We have been "planning” to build one of these since moving in, almost 6 years ago. But my engineering minded hubby keeps over thinking it. I’m off to get him to read this right know.
    Beautiful photos as always Em. Your little Pippy looks like the tinest wee thing there.

    1. thanks Kate! thats one thing we don't do enough of here- over think!

      xo em

  2. My word! This is beyond both my husband and I but wow! Those pizzas must taste all the better for all the time and energy put into building it. If you ever fancy a drive, we're in the Hunter Valley Dave! You can knock one up, our kids can play and I'll chat to the lovely Em and provide beer and wine! ; )

    1. offers of beer and wine are accepted! ;)

      xo em

  3. How awesome is that? It would be so cool to have your own wood fire pizza oven.
    I love home made pizza mmmm pizza...... ;-)
    I'm putting this one on my husband's list of future projects, thanks Em!

  4. I have been waiting for this post...duly forwarding to The Husband now ;)

  5. Wow this is supremely impressive! Pizza night every night!

  6. Wonderful! what an acheivement! Hubby and I would love to build a pizza oven! now we know how...thanks Dave x

  7. Oooh! We dream of doing this..one day, hopefully sooner than later!

  8. I am so relieved to see the importance of maintaining hydration is addressed in these instructions. We have a pizza oven workshop in the planning stages for the community garden at Kincumber- would it be OK if I recommended you guys to present? Maybe?

    1. do it!

      p.s I AM going to email you back.... I REALLY AM!!! big love lady xx

  9. I'll be showing this to my parents, they have had plans to build a pizza oven, they have laid a small concrete slab in preparation for it but that's as far as they've gotten. They are into recycling & scavenging so this project is right up their alley. Thanks Dave!

    1. so exciting! i wish them every success, and by that I mean,I wish you delicious pizzas!


    1. YAYAYYYY!!! You are so welcome! Thank YOU for the thank you!

      xo em

  11. You will use this Pizza Oven so Much Emily ,my son has offered to build one for us as he is landscaper I might take him up on his offer xx Lisa Mckenzie

  12. I read this post when it first came out and didn't reply, because it was too much for me to take in at once, I've revisited it and I'm still in awe of Dave and his building skills! I think this one is on the backburner for us at the moment ... but I'm pretty excited about the tutorial sitting here and waiting for us to be ready! WELL DONE!!

  13. Wow! Excellent work Dave. What an achievement. Looks amazing.

  14. Thanks Dave. I have looked at a lot of sites for home made pizza ovens and being the impractical git I am, I might even have enough confidence to try your model. See how I go.

  15. Hi Dave, Do you have any pics of the clay logs/bricks you formed up to cover your internal frame annd packing.

    Looks amazing too Cheers Jimmy

  16. Nice post - have been looking for something like this as a mini project. Do you have any more details around how you retrospectively added insulation to the plinth layer? I agree that loss of heat via the oven floor could become a problem if trying to cook something other than pizza if you were relying on the stored heat of the oven. Keep up the great work!!

    1. Hi mate. You can add additional insulation at any point. It is generally made of either fire blanket, insulating fire brick, or vermiculite cement mix. The floor / hearth insulation is more difficult and you will usually want to have finished that first. I think adding just wall insulation will help a lot anyway. You can get more information here: http://pinkbird.org/w/Pizza_oven_insulation

  17. What a colorful looking pics! Love those two adorable kids! xoxo

  18. Thanks for the inspiring post. If you had your time again, how would you do the base different so it was more insulated? Also, with the render done, is the outside hot to touch when in action (ie. how kid safe)?

  19. Hi, what would be the maximum length you would recommend for the plinth? Also I wish to create a wood fire in the under section for warmth and effect. So if using besser blocks how would I insulate them?

    thank you

  20. Great article! I love how this guide is so much more elaborate than most of the guides that seem to take a lot for granted. However it would be great to know if you can also add a door. I have found one that I really like https://vurb.eu/products/door-with-glass-and-thermometer
    but now exactly sure how to do it.


Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, advice and solidarity.

xo em