Tuesday, February 19, 2013


It's official; the Brick Oven is up and running! We hosted our first pizza party on Sunday, after Alan's race. Tamzin, Allan and their crew came, and so did Mark and Jessica. We put out many bowls of toppings, had a pan of pizza sauce ready to go, and a stack of proto-pizza dough discs.

Alan (and later, Tamzin) got the dough discs stretched and placed onto wooden peels coated in semolina flour. These were then given to each person in turn, to coat as they wanted. Here's Tamzin getting her pizza together:

L-R: Mark, Allan and Alan hoisting a few beers at the oven, while Alan cooks.

A pizza lies ready to be cooked, while Alan turns one inside that is in progress.

The finished result!

I think the evening went pretty well; folks seemed to enjoy their pizzas and certainly mine was tasty. The oven was cooking them in 3-4 minutes I think; a bit longer if you had more toppings. It was a lot of fun.

Austin Half Marathon

I am very proud of Alan for completing the Austin Half Marathon at the weekend! 13.1 miles of running, which he felt he was not properly prepared for, but he did it in a very respectable 2 hours 15 minutes and 17 seconds.

I chased Alan around the course on Sunday morning; I spotted him and cheered him on at the bottom of South Congress and later on by the Long Center, although I didn't take pictures there. Here he is (above and below) having just come up the very steep hill up to 15th and West.

Then I made a dash for the finish line, which wasn't all that far away. The runners took a slightly more roundabout route than the shortcut I was able to make, which put me in sight of the finish line...

Just in time to see Alan coming through!

Last corner :-)

There was a very long chute after the finish line through which the runners had to go, first to pick up their medals and then there were many refreshment stations. Alan found me at the fence by the banana stand.

We waited there for Tamzin, who also ran the same distance, and she completed it in 2 hours 37 minutes and 29 seconds. Here's the two of them looking pretty happy about it :-)

And finally, here's the medals they earned. Pretty cool, eh?

The Shelf

We made a test pizza last Friday night. Partly to try cooking one at all, and partly to test a gluten-free pizza dough since we were going to need one presently. So here we are; the first pizza cooked in the oven! It came out pretty nice.

Here's the shelf Alan made for his oven. It is an extension of the brick surface which allows him a pausing point for pizzas, without them (or him) getting burnt.
Alan is not entirely happy with this shelf though so it will probably get redone at some point, with nicer hardwood that doesn't warp, for instance. But it will do for now.

Feline interlude

Here's Patchy, who lives next door. She is waiting for her dinner, which I was feeding her while our neighbours were away for the weekend. She is not usually visible so I grabbed a photo while I could.

Meanwhile, evenings in our house have become a race for the sofa. If Alan and I are too slow at making dinner, this is what greets us upstairs, and I am relegated to sitting in the middle...

If we win the race, I get to sit in my proper seat, and end up with a cat on my leg. Smokey wins either way...

Friday, February 15, 2013

More Flames

Here's the third fire to be lit. You can see Alan used the traditional pyramid fire stacking method here. We were having a devil of a job trying to get the fire to go properly. We think the wood we were using was too wet - even though it felt dry. Alan resorted to the internet and watched some videos about how to stack fires inside brick ovens.

Our feline helper, who likes to hang around and see what we're doing, from a safe distance :-)

Alan is making a shelf that will protrude from the front and give him some extra area on which to load pizzas. This is still in progress, what you see here is a test fitting of the frame.

Here's last night's fire; day 5 or 6 I think. Notice how the fire is arranged differently; we have big logs on the bottom and it is stacked with smaller wood as you go up. The kindling burns through into the bottom and gets the big logs going. This works so much better (and we're also using wood from a different supplier which we suspect is drier) that the temperature went off the charts last night; our thermometer only goes to 999F and the temperature in the top of the dome surpassed that. So we should be good for cooking now :-)

Here's a wider shot showing the whole oven. We're going to try making pizza this weekend. This will involve getting the fire going, and then pushing it to the back of the oven to make room. Then you need to sweep/mop clean the cooking surface, before adding pizza. Watch this space!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

First Flame!

If you scroll to the bottom of this post, there is a link labelled 'brickoven'. Click on this, scroll waaaaaay down, and the first post is something well over two years ago, when we dug the foundation for this oven. We expected it to take maybe six months, but weather, obligations, temperatures and other obstacles came between Alan and building.

However, we are delighted to report that we have commenced seasoning the oven. First Flame! We can season and use the oven before finishing the coating; it's all cosmetic from here on, although we do still need to keep the rain off it so we hope to be applying the stucco very soon.

So here it is, the first fire to be laid in the oven. We took it to 200F this first time, then we have to take it 100F higher every day, to gradually drive moisture out of the brickwork, until we reach 700F, at which point it will be ready for cooking.

Second Flame! The second fire to be lit. This photo was taken with flash which explains the nasty white balance, but you can also see how much soot has accumulated on the inside of the dome even with just these two small fires. It won't be long before the dome is completely black with soot, but that's just how it goes.

We can report that the chimney draws the heat very nicely, you can see the smoke rising from the top. So far the heat does not penetrate the thermal insulation either. The chimney is very slightly warm to the touch, maybe a couple of degrees above body heat. I suspect things will get warmer with hotter (and longer) fires but so far, so good.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thermal blanket

Here's a shot of the inside of the oven dome; we removed the ball this morning and it all stayed in place :-)

Next up is the thermal blanket layer. This is made of fibreglass and is thoroughly nasty. You need a breathing mask to work with this stuff. We had two rolls of it, to layer on top of the dome. We cut slits in so that it would lie flat.

Here's the dome completely covered in the fibreglass sheeting. We took some wire and tied it down, using turnbuckles to tension it. You can also see here that Alan has cut away some of the heat stop layer on the bottom, just tidying up the corners.

And here's a view from the front. Alan has also cleaned up the bricks at the front of the tunnel, using Hydrochloric (muriatic) acid to take the cement off them. He's also using the old former as a temporary door; he drilled holes and installed tie wraps into the holes as handles - it should be enough to keep the worst of the crap out. We are, however, covering the whole lot in a tarpaulin until the stucco layer is in place, since we must not allow the fibreglass to get wet.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

We have a dome!

Alan did it; he finished the dome!
Here, look at the hole at the top.... Going....


Alan had to do a lot of brick cutting to complete the hole, he ended up needing lots of wedge shapes to get them in there.

All Alan's work. :-)

And another view, from the front. Yes, we still have tools and detritus scattered about, but here you can see the size of it.

Now Alan needs to finish covering the dome in cement, and then the thermal insulation blanket will go on, followed by some reinforcement, and finally a stucco coating for the outside. As always, watch this space...