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Build the Perfect Backyard Wood-Fired Pizza Oven

Build a super-efficient, easy-to-use backyard oven that’ll never put cinders in your pizza.

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A barrel oven is a versatile and highly efficient wood-fired oven that’s relatively easy to build, and easy to use. It can be the seed for a small-scale baking enterprise or the heart of a community’s wood-fired cuisine. All kinds of food can be baked in the barrel oven, including bread, roasts, pizza, cookies, cakes, pies, casseroles, and stews.

The barrel oven offers surprising convenience because it’s hot and ready to bake within 15­–20 minutes of lighting a fire, unlike traditional domed or vaulted pizza ovens, which can take 2–3 hours! It’s also easy to maintain at a desired temperature for long periods of time. With its highly conductive metal barrel surrounded by a thermal mass of masonry, this type of oven is often called a “mixed oven” because it has the capability to cook with direct as well as stored heat.

The barrel oven can be built from recycled materials or brand new parts. At its center is a steel barrel, with racks inside and a door at one end. Two deep shelves offer the ability to bake eight to ten 2lb (1kg) loaves of bread, four 12″ (30cm) pizzas, or four cookie sheets at a time.

The secret to the barrel oven’s efficiency is in its construction. The firebox is located beneath the barrel. The fire hits the bottom and wraps tightly around the barrel as it travels through the carefully constructed air space between the metal barrel and the surrounding bricks. This extended contact between fire and metal concentrates the heat for cooking inside the barrel and is what allows the oven to heat up so fast.

barrel-oven-artistic--c

Since ash and carbon are not introduced to the cooking chamber, it stays clean and you can use baking pans interchangeably with other ovens. The wood-fired “smoky” taste is not present in the food cooked in it.

Building a barrel oven is a manageable project for experienced builders or beginners. Once made, it becomes a gathering place for good meals and good times. Your barrel oven could easily last for many generations.

This project is adapted from Build Your Own Barrel Oven (Hand Print Press, 2012), available in print or PDF from handprintpress.com/barrel-oven.

Steps

Step #1: Choose a Site

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Plan the area around the oven as a gathering place, so that you can both tend to the cooking and participate in the entertainment. The easier it is for you to engage with your oven, the more likely you’ll use it. Design an outdoor kitchen site with:

  • easy access to your indoor kitchen
  • countertops for food preparation and service
  • storage for some firewood right next to the oven, and a pathway to your main wood storage
  • a rough footprint of 38"×42" for a 55gal barrel oven.

Step #2: Plan a Roof

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  • A roof is essential to protect the oven, keep it dry, and offer a place to cook in rainy weather. We recommend covering enough space for a small gathering of people.
  • You can create a small, independent roof structure, which could also include work counters, a sink, benches, and wood storage.
  • Or you can locate the oven so that the firebox and oven door are part of an indoor kitchen wall and the body of the oven is protected by a simple shed roof outside. This lets you use your oven indoors.

Step #3: Lay Out Your Oven

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  • Draw on paper the dimensions of your barrel and work out from there, including the width of the airspace and the width of your bricks. We generally use a 2" air space surrounding the sides of the barrel and a ½" air space in the back.
  • Transfer your layout in full scale onto cardboard or scrap plywood. This will be a useful template throughout construction. Mark the dimensions and locations of the foundation, base pad, stone or brick walls, ash drawer, firebox door, chimney, and details like space for your plaster.
  • Draw a vertical cross-section too; it will help you anticipate materials needs and plan the height of your roof.

Step #4: Prepare Your Barrel

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The minimum amount of metal work necessary for a barrel oven is to fashion at least one rack on which to place baked goods, and a door with a latch that provides a tight seal to keep the heat in. For the racks, we typically use angle iron and 2"×2" welded wire grid. This work can be done using welding gear, or using simple hand tools including a drill, with nuts and bolts for attaching metal pieces. Or you can use our kit (see Parts list) and let us do the work.

Step #5: Foundation and Pad

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  • Prepare a level, well-drained site. Draw the perimeter of your template on the ground, then dig it out, about 12" deep, to reach compacted subsoil. Fill with drain rock up to 3"–5" below grade.
  • We recommend building a “pad” that provides connection and continuity at the base of the oven. You can pour concrete or explore alternatives such as stone, urbanite (recycled concrete), or other repurposed materials. An existing concrete slab, patio, or driveway can also serve as a pad.
  • The pad should be made of units that are as wide as possible (or of one piece). This will unify the load of the smaller bricks that you’ll place above. Ensure that your pad is square and level, and that it’s nestled partly above and partly below grade so it won’t slide in the event of earth movement.

Step #6: Ash Drawer and Grate

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  • Lay the first layer of masonry around a long, relatively narrow cavity as shown in the first step photo. This will allow you to collect the ash that accumulates from firing your oven. Our kit includes an ash drawer that fits snugly in this space and doubles as an air register. If you’re building with adobe brick, use concrete block or fired brick for this first layer, to protect the adobe above from ground moisture.
  • Across the ash cavity, place a metal grate with 1/4"–3/8" openings. You can fabricate this from steel plate or from ½" rebar, welded or tied with wire.

Step #7: Firebox and Outside Walls

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  • To create the funnel-shaped firebox, you must first build the outside walls in order to rest the diagonally placed bricks against them. This shape helps to keep the fire organized, burning well, and concentrated over the grate, and begins the sculptural form that will take the heated gases up and around the barrel.
  • Mortar all points of contact and fill the triangular spaces behind each brick with sand, clay and sand, rocks and clay, etc.

Step #8: Firebox Door and Lintel

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Plan for the top of a course of brick to coincide with the top of your firebox. This will enable you to place a lintel across the firebox opening at the right height. We generally make a lintel across the top of the firebox door with a length of steel “angle iron,” then place a single course of brick on the lintel to span across.

TIP: Metal expands more than masonry when heated. Mortar the bricks only to themselves (not to the angle iron) and before the mortar sets, tap the angle iron so that it moves ¼"–½" in either direction, to create an expansion gap.

Step #9: Barrel Supports

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  • Place 2 lengths of angle iron, pipe, or other strong metal across the firebox, from the lintel to the rear wall. Make sure they’re centered and level — shim them with pieces of brick or rock if necessary — then mortar them in place.
  • Test-fit the barrel on the supports and check that the cooking shelves are level in all directions. You don’t want to make slanted birthday cakes!

Step #10: Build the Vault

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  • There are a few ways to support the bricks of the vault while you lay them. You can make an arch-shaped armature from metal rod covered with diamond mesh and leave it in place, but we suspect this may contribute to expansion cracks in the plaster later on. Or you can make a rustic arch form out of flexible branches or saplings, and just burn it out on the initial firings of the oven.
  • We like to make a removable wooden form for the arch. Cut 2 plywood semicircles with a radius 2” (5cm) greater than the radius of your barrel. Then connect these 2 faces with boards the same length as your barrel. You can cover this form with a membrane of lath, mesh, melamine, or cloth to create a solid skin that assists in laying the brick.

Step #11: Place the Arch Form

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Place the arch form so that its top corresponds to the height of the barrel sitting on its supports plus the additional 2" (5cm) of air space above. Then lay your masonry to cover the arch form (leaving room for the chimney) and complete the back wall of the oven.

Step #12: Chimney

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  • Locate the chimney at the top of the oven, centered along the length of the barrel.
  • If you used a metal armature, cut a hole in the mesh, then attach the chimney to the armature and lay the final bricks around it.
  • If you used a removable arch form, you’ll need to notch the final bricks on top of the oven so that the chimney has a stable seat. Carve them with an angle grinder, then mortar the bricks and chimney securely in place.

Step #13: Set the Barrel

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Let your masonry set at least overnight, then remove the arch form and place the barrel. We place a 4"-wide strip of ceramic wool insulation between the barrel and the seal that surrounds it. Create this seal by filling in the space between the barrel and the arch with cob or carefully placed brick pieces joined with mortar. A stiff mix made of 1 part clay and 3 parts sand will help to prevent cracking.

Step #14: Plaster

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  • We plaster our ovens with an earthen plaster. Cement and lime-based plasters are also options. The color for your earthen plaster will come from the beautiful natural colors of the clay and sand you use. Mineral pigments such as oxides and ochre can also be added. Here’s a basic recipe:
    • 1 part clay or clay-rich subsoil
    • 2–3 parts sand
    • ½–1 part fiber (short chopped straw or manure)
  • Mix well and apply with your hands or a trowel. To ensure good adhesion, wet the oven surface thoroughly before applying plaster. We find that 2 coats or more work best.

Step #15: Decorate (optional)

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Tiles and other decorations can be embedded in the wet plaster.

Step #16: Cook!

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  • Make a few small fires over a week or so to season your oven and prevent any initial shocks. Now you’re ready to cook.
  • You can bake, roast, toast, warm, and dehydrate in a Barrel Oven. Imagine your oven filled with 4 cookie sheets at a time, pizza stones with bubbling pies for your party, stockpots filled with soups and stews, and cast iron skillets baking your cornbread and frittatas to perfection. Casseroles and Dutch ovens are well suited to the barrel oven for long, slow cooking.
  • The Barrel Oven is hot and ready to bake (350°F–400°F) within 15–20 min of getting that good full fire going in the firebox. It can get to 500°–700°F by making a hot, blazing fire and maintaining it — ideal for pizzas, which cook best hot and fast. Once your oven reaches the desired temperature, you can keep a much smaller fire going to maintain the heat as you bake. Use an oven thermometer and experiment!

Step #17: Read More

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The Barrel Oven is a very simple pattern that can be modified and varied to improve the cooking experience. What we’ve presented here is just an overview. For detailed construction tips and materials lists, FAQs and troubleshooting tips, improvements suggested by other barrel oven builders, and table-tested barrel oven recipes, pick up our book Build Your Own Barrel Oven, available in print or PDF ($10) from handprintpress.com/barrel-oven.

Max Edleson

Max Edleson

Max Edleson is a professional artist/builder who is dedicated to using natural, local materials to create energy-efficient and spiritually uplifting elements of homes and public spaces, primarily masonry heaters and wood-fired ovens. He has a passion for farming, homesteading, and other traditional crafts.


Eva Edleson

Eva Edleson

Eva Edleson is a professional natural builder, cook, gardener, and craftswoman with more than a decade of experience specializing in natural wall systems, wood-fired cooking, and earthen paints and plasters. She has trained and worked with many of the most-respected natural builders in North America and Argentina.


  • Jonathan Orr

    If I wanted to impart a slight smokyness to my oven what would be the best way to go about doing it? This is why we cook with fire. Would it be wise to put a few holes on the bottom and top of the barell to allow some smoke to flow through?

    • Cleanairmatters

      Please help protect healthy smoke-free air instead, especially if you live in a residential area. Clean air matters.

    • alrui

      Ive helped build some true wood fired pizza ovens and the smokiness thats imparted on the food is what helps make it taste great so in that regard this design is lacking, some holes that could be shuttered of like the top of a Weber kettle would be a great addition.

  • Mike Dietz

    That sounds like a good idea. What about a couple of dampers in the barrel to allow smokiness when it’s wanted. It looks like this oven could then be also used to smoke meat. Anyone have any advice? Also, the door on the firebox looks like it may not be needed unless someone really needs another place to bark their shins on. It would have to be open while there is a fire in the firebox. Am I missing something?

  • Matt in the Box

    Morons. Only scientifically ignorant, psychopathically selfish dickheads burn wood in a residential area.

    Woodsmoke is cardiotoxic, carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic. It is also highly annoying. If you built one of these and your neighbors cam and destroyed it with sledgehammers it would be completely understandable.

    It is completely irresponsible of Make to have projects like this. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

    • http://www.varunthautam.com Varun Thautam

      http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/woodstoves.html.
      In the list of EPA certified stoves, quite a few were non-catalytic. There were 31 pages of EPA certified wood stove, hardly a ban on woodstoves..

      While I hate to call you a moron. We all know that.. Every country has the government it deserves. – Joseph de Maistre

      Dumb dumb dumb.

    • buzzerco

      I burn wood out side in the smoker yummy ribs get the smoke from the burning wood,yum .and also have a small pit to do out side cooking.

  • Matt in the Box
  • AlanFSmith

    A troubling idea. The last thing our increasingly-polluted urban centres need is an other source of wood smoke. Did no one think about the effect of smoke on neighbours; particularly if the have children. Wood smoke is responsible for a host of diseases and children are particularly susceptible.

    • Buddy Love

      seriously – who gives a rats ass: do you drive a car to work or fly to your vacation destination?

      • AlanFSmith

        The effect on neighbors health is many times greater than the effect of vehicle emissions or a distant aircraft.  Wood fires emit the equivalent of several hundred vehicles. Alan
        From: Disqus
        To: [email protected]
        Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 3:00 PM
        Subject: Re: Comment on Wood-Fired Barrel Oven

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      • PutinOnTheRitz

        There are certain places in the country where you would, indeed, give a rat’s ass. I used to live along the Russian River, in California, an area that became a bowl in the winter, with little to no air circulation. Just about every resident had a wood-burning stove, as well, and you couldn’t go outside on certain days. The air was unbreathable. Wood smoke may seem natural, but it’s nasty stuff, with both large and small particulates. One wood fire? Not a big problem. Thousands? Problem.
        You might want to do a little research into the emissions from wood-burning stoves, etc., vs. the emissions from a modern car. And just so you know, I’m a big fan of wood-fired pizza ovens. That doesn’t make them a good idea, though.

    • Mallory25698
    • Ran Dome

      If the alternative is a long healthy life with perpetual nagging and nannying by folks like you then I’ll install 2 and hope all my neighbors do the same.

    • alrui

      Do what my dad did when the neighbor bitched – give em smoked salmon & shut them up:-)

  • Cleanairmatters

    Wood burning harms health and the environment. “Wood fires fuel climate change – UN” – The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/27/wood-fires-fuel-climate-change

    • http://phelps.donotremove.net Phelps

      The Guardian — that’s where I go for “the truth”.

      • Cleanairmatters

        This is the United Nations Environment Program report to which the article refers: http://www.unep.org/dewa/Portals/67/pdf/Black_Carbon.pdf

        • http://phelps.donotremove.net Phelps

          The first rule when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.

          • Cleanairmatters

            Re. my providing you with the link to the UN report, above: You’re welcome.

        • alrui

          Screw the UN!

      • Essloyd

        I go there to learn the latest stupid vanguard slogans from the useful idiots who read that publication.

  • HealthyPlanet

    Please.

    Deliberate wood burning is no longer cool.
    How come?

    Modern day science has already proven it’s extremely unhealthy to
    inhale wood smoke, and to eat wood smoked foods laden with PAHs.

    What is a far better option than cooking with wood?

    Google words like these below:

    solar stoves for sale

    how to make a solar stove

    solar camping stove

    solar oven

    solar power stove

    solar appliances

    solar kitchen appliances

    solar stove plans

    • Chris Poupart

      Those would all be good, except none of them can actually bake a pizza. A lot of work needs to be done on the field to get a solar oven to the required temperatures (around 480C).

      If I want to replace my crock-pot, I will use my solar stove, in the summer (solar stoves are useless this far north in the winter). If I need to bake breads, I need something a lot more energy intensive.

    • alrui

      Cant cook with solar in the dark or on a cloudy day, oh wait you say use batteries? well those are toxic as well arent they.

      • HealthyPlanet

        These kinds of thinkings and contributions of excuses of why not to protect our health from wood smoke, if anyone has been reading these over and over again, are simply uninspiring and fall flat time and time again. They are neither clever nor helpful.

        • alrui

          Hard to argue with FACTS isnt it. You guys are another group of enviro terrorists out to “save the planet” – hey guess what the planet will do just fine when were all gone, it doesnt care!

          • HealthyPlanet

            Yeah? Facts? Here are more FACTS:

            1. I chose to honor the important FACTUAL reasons for clean air for MY lungs now, and

            2. I chose to respect the important FACTUAL reasons to care about other’s lungs too.

          • alrui

            Go smoke another J for your lungs sake & F off you burn out hippie.

          • HealthyPlanet

            Hm.

            So instead of being mature and kind and choosing to say, “I’m sorry for hurting others with my wood smoke” or “Thank for the information” or “I understand. I’ll work on fixing the problem” you instead resort to violently expressing old worn out prejudices online here?

            Over here, there is no smoking of marijuana, or any taking of any OTC or street drugs. The people who directly and indirectly experienced the excruciatingly inappropriate Vietnam war were of the Hippy Generation, and I feel for them all.

            As for your ability to withstand reading different viewpoints without caving-in to online violence, and if you have the ability to focus long enough with studying your own thinking, here is this to read, for your edification. Good luck.

            http://files.meetup.com/391323/Fallacies2006-DC.pdf

          • alrui

            Your group and others like the Sierra Club are the violent ones, Eco Terrorists – its an appropriate term, youve done far more harm then good.

          • HealthyPlanet

            Before providing specific examples, with factual details, of exactly what you are claiming to be true, think long and hard about how this effects you personally, and if you would, share this with the online world. Then add the factual evidence that backs up your claim, and provide credible links so we can all determine for ourselves how true your claim is.

          • alrui

            Oh yeah – Im going to go out in my yard and burn a bunch of old lumber I have laying around and while I watch the bonfire burn and the smoke rise I’ll be laughing my ass off thinking of you:-)

  • Vince Vespa

    Do you writers realize how many morons living in our neighborhoods are going to run with this irresponsible idea of yours? PLEASE STOP INSPIRING THE MORONS TO KILL US WITH WOOD SMOKE! We’re already sick to death of their fire pits and chimineas and piled up concrete blocks holding their urban campfires in their backyards. WE’RE SICK TO DEATH OF WOOD SMOKE WHERE WE LIVE!

  • Alex

    LOL, no please no, this will be some crazy stuff hahaha

    Powerbank

  • Michelle Hlubinka

    Make sure the barrel you use has not been used to store any kind of oil. There was a terrible accident in Ottawa a few years ago when reusing a barrel that had stored peppermint oil. There’s a discussion about the tragedy here:

    http://weldingweb.com/archive/index.php/t-56004.html

  • http://www.varunthautam.com Varun Thautam

    I think the roof was an overkill unless it had more space to sit around or enjoy a warm pizza when it rains. I would just waterproof the oven . And just to ask.. did you make sure you used fire bricks (vermiculite.. or any other denser clay brick) for the thermal mass?

  • natural

    This idea is great. All natural. small scale wood burning can’t kill. hellooooo..

  • natural

    This is just a small scale wood burning. You are all over reacting.

    • Cleanairmatters

      “Small scale” pollution is no different than the “small scale” throwing out of recyclables, instead of reusing and recycling. Small actions add up.

      • dudebuddypal

        Calm the F down dude. How often are people going to use this ? a few times a year? You’d save yourself a heart attack if you concentrated on larger issues like the Supreme Court just re-legalizing mercury poisoning in the atmosphere by power plants.

        • Cleanairmatters

          Air pollution from all sources, including coal plants, biomass power plants, and residential wood burning, is an important issue. Air pollution is now, according to the WHO, the world’s leading environmental health risk.

          As for your question asking “how often are people going to use” a polluting device like a wood oven – how many times is it acceptable to throw garbage on the ground? How many times it is okay to put garbage, like smoke, into the air?

      • Walker

        Small-scale throwing out of recyclables only makes sense. The duplication of effort, the training of populations to spend time on doing what could be done more efficiently, is nothing but waste. Let the garbage pickers keep doing their work, taking chairs and whatnot that people leave out, but garbage should go, not to landfills, but to large mining operations that will mine the gathered resources for recycling. Plastics, metals, etc., would much more easily be reclaimed, and without the wasted time taken by populations to sort things into the proper bins. Less energy used, more time saved, more recyclables reused.

        • Cleanairmatters

          Why not reduce, reuse, and recycle wherever possible – and why not also help to protect clean healthy air?

        • alrui

          Yes & we should put trailers there to house the homeless and they can pay their rent by mining the materials. We just solve 2 of the worlds problems in on fell swoop!

      • alrui

        I say put the pedal to the metal & leave a big ass carbon footprint!

  • Vince L

    I’m in the process of building my oven now. Just curious if anyone else has tried this too and would like to trade notes.

  • Selin Destiny

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  • van56
  • brad

    Now combine this with a rocket stove

  • MaryWMorris

    you like me makezine give you chance … Online Job Help

  • Chris Poupart

    A shocking amount of negativity here.

    Clearly, if you live in a residential area where wood burning fires are now permitted, this is a bad idea for you.

    Personally, I have been looking at creating a traditional Quebecois bread oven (http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/tresors/barbeau/mbp0501e.shtml) as part of unschooling my kids. It is a useful piece of history, and on our family’s farm, it isn’t going to bother our neighbours anymore than a campfire does. Plus, it will be nice to be able to cook even when the power is out (you know how rural properties can be…)

    Brad makes the good point below that this would be a good project to try to integrate with a rocket stove (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_stove), which would allow for a much cleaner and efficient burn.

  • Dan R Braucht

    Apparently few are familiar

    • Dan R Braucht

      Here are is more info. as the project evolved . . . .
      https://flic.kr/s/aHsjGQUFVa

      • alrui

        Nice work Dan & the pizzas look fantastic!