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Building a Wood-fired Masonry Oven

Last year we began a journey into the ancient world of wood-fired oven bread baking. Of course, the first thing one needs for this journey is a wood-fired oven, else how can you make the trip? Ten years ago we bought the book The Bread Builders, Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens, authored by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott (1999 edition). Mr. Scott is something of a legend in the world of wood-fired ovens, and perhaps the main impetus behind the current renaissance in "artisan" bread-baking. Having read the book and getting much inspiration from it, we then went to sleep for ten years, with only dreams emerging every now and then about building a wood-fired oven here on the farm.

In the 2009 fall edition of our electric co-op magazine, there was a feature article about a gentleman west of Nashville who had built an oven using Wing and Scott's book as a guide. We ventured from the holler long enough to visit with this gentleman who was kind enough to tell us about his oven and bread-baking experiences. At his suggestion, we joined the Bread Baker's Guild of America . . . and, the adventure got underway. It'll take about a year to get it done (this was a morning, part-time project—when it wasn't raining or snowing or something—and, yeah, we had to earn a living some of the time!), so sit back and enjoy the journey with us. Be inspired!

We went out one day to build a wood-fired oven . . . but first . . . you've heard about that "but first" problem, haven't you? You set out with good intentions to accomplish some simple task, "but first" you encounter a slew of other things along the way, and at the end of the day, you wonder why you never got anything done. You know you were busy the whole time!


First, there was the little problem of where to put the oven. It was generously decided that the existing shop (white structure in background) would become the new bakery. Behind the shop was an old smokehouse, that some persons might think was in need of repair—but, they ain't from around here and just don't know any better, poor souls.

This old smokehouse was such a fine example of Tennessee architecture that we just hated to destroy it. It had only begun to tilt a little about 25 years ago and was still usable for storing all kinds of things when you just couldn't find any place else to stick 'em.

But eventually, we knew we had to make space for the new oven, so . . .

smokehouse coming down

One fine day in October we got out a chain, attached it to the smokehouse, and with the Rhino, gave it a yank. To the ground it tumbled in nothing flat—amazing, it seemed sturdier than that! Who woulda thought it was so fragile? Underneath it all there was some mighty nice century-old hand-hewn timbers, cedar slabs, and limestone cornerstones (all of which we salvaged). This old smokehouse had been built to last. Back there next to the pickup truck is where the new shop is going to be located, where you can see a shed with a tractor. Things are about to change here on the farm.


Remaining junk from smokehouse needs to get cleaned away so the oven footer can get poured and foundation blocks laid up . . . but first . . .

But first . . . there needed to be a new shop built to receive all the "shop stuff" from the old shop that was now dubbed the "bread bakery." That meant tearing down the old shed, pouring a concrete slab, and putting up a new shop building, all before anything could happen in getting underway with building the wood-fired oven. It's always something, if not one thing, then it's another . . . and winter was just around the corner.

new shop slab prep

new shop walls coming up

Jeremiah is our general inspector and some times construction assistant. He's pretty handy at toting things around.

footer digging started
footer dug

Finally, the footer was dug and poured for the oven. And it hadn't even gotten cold yet! Making progress.

footer finished

What?—you don't think it looks like much? Well . . . just wait . . . NEXT PAGE

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