Nearly everyone likes a good pizza. They are easy to make and easy to customise and can be tailored to any particular taste no matter how fussy you are. As a result garden pizza ovens are becoming more popular. You can buy basic complete units for your garden for £800 (makes one pizza at a time) but prices rise quite quickly for larger and more ornate models. Surprisingly ‘build your own kits’ are even more expensive.
At these prices you are going to have to be eating pizza for every meal all year to get your money’s worth. A better option is to make one yourself without buying a kit. It’s actually pretty easy and does not require many materials or specialist tools. It’s a great project to complete over a weekend or two with friends or family. The ovens can be used to make pizzas, bakes, bread and slow roast meat so they do make a good investment.
There are lots of different ways of building an oven. The method outlined here is very simple and can be completed by the novice. A more experienced DIY’er can have fun with it and build something more impressive or unique. The oven will not last forever as cracks in the interior will eventually form. At that point just build another one! The River Cottage Pizza Oven has published a very detailed printable method so have a read of theirs and ours and do whichever you feel more comfortable with.
The basic plan is as follows;
- Identify or build a base and make a flat fire proof top
- Create a mound of damp sand in a dome shape
- Coat the sand in clay, bricks or stone. Cut an opening and remove the sand.
- Build a door
All these steps can be simple and rustic for beginners or more involved for those with more skills.
The Base & Top
You need a base to retain the heat in the oven, form a flat cooking surface and raise the oven to a level you can safely use. You want the central fireproof bit of your plinth to be about 80cm wide with a bit more room to form the sides of the oven and the doorway. You might already have levels in your garden that you can use or you might need to build one. You can create a frame with wood and fill it with packed rubble and concrete. Remove the wood after the concrete has set or top the structure with brick or concrete so the center of the oven never comes into contact with the wood frame. Alternatively construct a base from stone, breeze blocks or bricks. You could buy the materials or just use whatever you already have in your garden and garage. If you already have a raised section of your garden simply dig out a square base and fill it with concrete which you can top with London bricks if you wish. It is important that the base is flat.
If you are building a base with concrete or mortar you need to leave time for it to set before you start to to build the oven on top. So build the base one weekend and the oven the next.
Now you need to form the shape of the center of your oven in the middle of your base. Use damp sand and mound it up into a dome shape. Later on we will discard all this sand – its just there to hold the roof up while the outer layer dries. Therefore the sand will be where the really hot air is when the oven is working. The sand should not touch anything flammable such as the wooden cladding to your base. You need to leave room around the sand mound to form the walls of your oven and a doorway – so think about the available space and mark out the maximum width of your sand circle before you start.
We love these; easy to light and clean the Pizazz Pizza Logs are great for your Pizza oven once it’s finished. This company even deliver direct to your door.
We want the dome to be as round as possible so if your base is 80cm wide the height should be half that – however there are no hard and fast rules. The oven will be hottest round the edges so a wide base is important for even cooking of pizzas. Pack your damp sand tightly in place and shape it until you have a reasonably neat dome. Then coat it in sheets of damp newspaper. This is important preparation for the next step. If you don’t coat the sand then the next stage will be messy and your oven is more likely to crack.
Coat The Sand
You now need to form the oven wall around your sand. For this you need to use puddled clay (this is a method of mixing clay with your feet to get an even mixture). It is tedious to puddle clay on your own but it’s actually a really fun thing to do with mates or kids. To find out how to do it read here. Form the clay into sausages and wrap them around the sand merging each sausage well in to the next so there are no gaps or cracks. This is really important – if your sausages are not blended properly your oven will crack and be useless. Leave the clay to partially set (about 4 hours) and then cut a doorway. You might want to make your walls from bricks and mortar or mud and straw mixtures instead. Either way all you need to do is build up your walls and cut or form a doorway large enough for a pizza to slide in and out. Leave the exterior to dry
If you are using clay; mark out the doorway on the exterior. Once you are happy with the size and shape just use a carving knife to cut through the clay. Leave everything to set for at least 24 hours. Then remove the sand. Light a small fire in the center of your oven to help drying. Some small cracks might form – just fill them in with more clay. See what happens to the smoke – if it builds up in the top of your oven you need to make your doorway higher just to the point where the smoke gently flows out.
Build A Door And Chimney
The door is important to help heat retention, protect the entrance of the oven from wear and to create a chimney. It is best to build the entrance from stone or brick. To fuel your pizza oven the easiest way you can buy specially made pizza oven wood briquettes.
Use your sand to form the internal shape of the entrance way which will support the bricks. Use clay and bricks to build the entrance way around the sand. Where the entrance meets the dome; use clay to form a small chimney to let the smoke out. Leave to dry for 24 hours and then remove the sand again.
For best results you should coat the oven with a layer of insulation. To do this mix clay with water until you have the consistency of cream. Then add wood shavings to make a workable paste. Coat the oven and chimney with this. You can leave the brick doorway uncoated if you like the look of the bare bricks. By the way at this stage feel free to personalise your oven.
Ta da – all done.