My adventures in building a brick oven in my backyard

About me

This page is a collection of things I have learned building this oven and hopefully will help you in building yours.

  • Cost:
The total cost of the oven is in the neighborhood of $1,500.
Here is the break down.

  • Permits and zoning:
I would strongly recommend you check with your local authorities before starting to build your oven. It took me about three weeks before I got a clear answer to all my questions.  The biggest problem with calling your local authorities in regards to a backyard brick oven is that they usually have no idea what you're talking about :) In my case they also liked to refer me to other departments. One day, I was transferred 6 times and I ended up talking to the first person again. I found out from the Zoning Department that the setback should be 5'  from the property sidelines and 15' from the front/back of the property. They also suggested I keep the foundation at least 10' from any tree in order not to damage the root system. I then proceeded to write to the Fire Marshall who replied that they have no specific codes I had to follow (scary, right?). He did suggest I check with New Construction Services to see if they had any codes. When I contacted them they replied that a permit was needed and referred to the Florida Building Code to find the details. I wasn't convinced I needed a permit because somebody else in that department told me the day before that no permit was needed. They then referred me to Residential Permit Services for further clarifications. All I was trying to find out (for the last 2 weeks) is whether or not I needed  a permit to build this oven. I finally talked with somebody who knew his stuff and got my answer. I will quote the conversation as I love the answer I got. Me: "Do I need to have a permit to build this oven in my backyard?" He: "Is the oven going to be more than 15' tall?" Me: "NO" He: "Is the oven going to be bigger than 150 square feet?" Me: "NO" He: "Have a ball"
Anyway, do your due dilligence as you don't want to break down your oven once it's built.
  • StandMixer:  
The first mixer I bought was a KitchenAid "Artisan" model. This is the model you can find very cheaply in most stores. It worked very well but the motor defenitely was not strong enough to mix more than one batch of dough at a time. After doing some research, I decided to buy a KitchenAid "Professional 600" model. It has a 6 quart mixing bowl, 575 Watts of power and is cinnamon red. Retail price is around $500, but I bought mine refurbished from for $239.  I've had it for over a year now and love it!  However, on the night before our annual neighborhood pizza party, I might have pushed it past its capacity. I was making double and tripple batches of pizza dough and during the final batch, it made a screeching noize and stopped working. I was pretty sure I broke the gear shift. I could have sent it in for repair but thought it would be more fun to try to fix it myself. 
Click here to see a detailed photo diary of my attempt to repair a KitchenAid StandMixer gear shift without any prior knowledge or experience.

  • Thermocouples:
Until I read "The Bread Builders" book I had no idea what a thermocouple was. I Googled "thermocouple" and started reading and reading and reading. Anyway, here is what you need to know:
    1. When metal is heated, it generates a very low electric current
    2. Different metals generate different kinds of electric currents when heated
    3. A thermocouple wire contains 2 wires (one positive & one negative)
    4. Each wire is a different kind of metal
    5. A thermocouple thermometer converts the difference is electric current between the 2 wires into degrees Fahrenheit (or Celciuis)
    6. A thermocouple will measure the temperature where both wires touch
    7. There are a lot of different types of thermocouples. The one you are looking for is Type K
To measure the temperature in the oven, you will need 3 components:
  1. Thermocouple wire
  2. Thermocouple connector
  3. Thermocouple Thermometer
You can buy thermocouple wires (and connectors) pre-assembled but after doing some research I decided I could assemble everything myself a lot cheaper. If you have a basic wire cutter, and you are not afraid to use a screwdriver, don't go for the pre-assembled stuff.
I bought my supplies online from Here is what I bought:
  1. One HH-K-24-25 (= 25 feet of High Temp Glass insulated 24 Gauge Thermocouple K wire)
  2. Four SMP-K-M (= Glass-filled nylon Thermocouple K Male Connector)
    This will give you enough to make four 6 foot thermouples. When you get the wire, cut it into the desired length, connect one side to the connector and twist the wires on the other end together. The twisted wire side is where it's going to measure the temperature. Drill a hole into your firebrick and insert the twisted wire. The tip of the wire should be inside the brick and about 1" from the fire chamber. Fill up the hole with fireclay mortar or refractory cement. Voila, you got yourself a thermocouple. One thing that can be confusing is trying to figure out which wire is the negative or positive one when connecting the wire to the connector. Thermocouple wires are usually color coded but unfortunately they're not always color coded the same:)
    Here is a fail proof trick: The wire that is attracted to a magnet is always the negative one.
Oh, and one last thing I learned: the smaller the gauge of the wire, the thicker it will be. Just think: "Small is the new Big"
  • Thermometer (type-K):
Although Omega does sell special thermocouple thermometers, they all seemed more than I was willing to spend (even the "value" ones). After a good amount of Googling, I determined that Sears was my new best friend. I found out that some of their multimeters can also read type-k thermocouples. Make sure to read the fineprint and see up until what temperature it will read.  For $30 I bought Craftsman model #82139. These multimeters are not as accurate as the dedicated type-k thermometers but  that's ok with me. I didn't find it worth to pay $100 extra to know if something was 700 or 710 degrees.

  • Concrete:
I learned that it always takes more concrete than you think you need (same goes for vermiculite). I also learned that for most concrete truck operators, it's just not worth it to come and deliver one yard of concrete. I used two methods to mix the concrete. For the foundation, I used the wheelbarrow and shovel method. This is HARD. For everything else, I mixed the concrete inside five gallon buckets with a handheld power mixer. This second method KICKED BUTT.
I also learned that when mixing concrete, dryer is better. Although a soupy mix is easy to pour, it will not be as strong as a dryer mix. However, once the concrete has set for about 12 hours you can actually increase the strength by keeping it damp or moist for a week or so. I used the garden hose and wet concrete bags to accomplish this.
I used 80lbs bags of Quikcrete 5000 for all my concrete.
  • Baking Books:
"The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart.
"The Bread Builders" by Alan Scott.

Suggested Sites
Brickoventampa Map (Tell me where in the world you are and share a picture of your oven with the rest of the world)
Traditional Oven. (This is a an extensive site with lots of tips and pictures).
VillaGok brick oven (beautiful oven being built in Denmark)
Frankie G's Wood-Fired Pizza Oven (great site with cool pizza party pictures) (An oven that will make you go "Wow")
Yahoo! Brick-Oven group. (I wish I discovered this place before I started building the oven)
Masonry Stove Builders (lot's of links to other oven pages)
OvenCrafters (Alan Scott's site)
Brick Oven Cooking (some good links here also)