pizza oven

How to build a wood-fired pizza ovenOur step-by-step instructions on how to build a pizza oven in your own back garden using items from your local DIY shop or, better still, picked up for free.

Meet the expert 

In 2008 Simon Brookes attended a Build and Bake course at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage HQ in Devon, where he learned how to cook in a wood-fired oven and how to build one. “I came home and thought, ‘I’m going to build my own pizza oven,’” recalls Simon. “I’m not practical; I can do basic DIY, but construction is out of my comfort zone. If I can do it anyone can.”

While building his pizza oven Simon started a blog about the project and the food he was cooking in the oven. Soon, would-be oven builders got in touch from all over the world, sharing photos of their ovens and swapping tips. Eventually he put all his experience into an e-book called How to Build a Traditional Wood-fired Clay Pizza Oven.

Simon’s project hasn’t been a mere flash in the pan. “It’s replaced our barbecue,” he says. “A clay oven takes an hour to get up to temperature, but once it does, you’re cooking pizza in 60 seconds, with a crisp base and a fantastic smoky flavour.”

Wood-fired ovens cook at very high temperatures – around 400°C. Domestic ovens can’t get that hot. They’re not just for pizzas, though. Once you sweep out the embers and let it cool a little, the oven’s perfect for slow-roasting. “I’ve cooked joints overnight at around 130°C,” says Simon.

A bit of history

Far from being a new-fangled invention, clay ovens are thousands of years old. The ancient Egyptians used clay ovens and examples have been unearthed in Roman Pompeii that would still work today if cleaned out and fired up. Ovens like these were built in communal areas and shared by families. By Medieval times, the ovens had become bigger and were used to bake bread for entire villages. Many Italian homes had wood-fired ovens inside up until the middle of the 20th century.

Pizza ovens: where to learn to DIY

  • Simon runs courses on building and cooking at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire
  • River Cottage offers a Build and Bake course
  • Manna from Devon runs two courses on cooking in wood-fired ovens. One focuses on the ovens and cooking at high temperatures. The other looks at using the residual heat for cakes, pastry and slow-cooked pork and lamb. There’s also 
a free two-hour taster session.

Planning

First, decide where to site your oven. Unlike a barbecue, you can’t move a pizza oven around the garden once it’s built. Choose an area with plenty of space around it – somewhere in full sunlight is good.

How long will it take? You should be able to build it over a summer weekend if the weather’s fine.

What you’ll need…

You can get most of these items from builder’s merchants – if not, we’ve given other options

  • About 30 bricks: at least 20 will need to be smooth and solid, with no recess (frog) or holes (perforations), to form your oven floor.
  • 20 breeze blocks and 5kg tub of cement or twenty 120cm x 20cm x 20cm wooden beams, an electric drill and long wood screws (for the plinth frame)
  • Rubble and big stones
  • 10-14 bags of builder’s sand (20kg each)
  • 125-175kg clay (the cheapest will do – try angliaclaysupplies.co.uk)
  • Assorted glass bottles
  • Chimney or plant pot (optional)
  • Large bag (14 litres or 6kg) of wood shavings (from pet shops)

You’ll also need…

  • Wheelbarrow
  • Tape measure
  • Large heavy-duty plastic or tarpaulin sheet
  • Plenty of water
  • Old kitchen knife
  • Heavy duty gloves
  • 10 litre builder’s plastic bucket
  • Wellington boots
  • Lots of newspaper

Essential technique: puddling

  • Mixing the clay and sand is the hardest, most time- consuming part of the building process. It’s best to mix this in batches as and when you need it.
  • For the first layer (step 3) you’ll need about three buckets of clay to six 10 litre buckets of sand. The final shell (step 7) will need four buckets of clay to eight of sand (1:2 ratio clay:sand).
  • You do the mixing (puddling) with your feet. Tip the sand onto a large plastic tarpaulin sheet, break the clay into thumb-size pieces and, wearing wellies, tread the two together with a little water. This is called puddling. The mixture is ready when a tennis ball-size piece dropped from shoulder height holds together. If it splats, the mix is too wet; if it cracks, it’s too dry.

Step 1: Make the plinth 

Takes about 4 hours

Step 1a
Step-1
Step 1b
Step-1b

This is the foundation of your oven, so it needs to be solid. You can build the plinth frame out of bricks, breeze blocks or wooden sleepers. Clear the ground and dig a shallow trench 120cm x 120cm square. If you build the frame from bricks, or breeze blocks, use cement. If you’re using wood, screw the pieces together. You’re after a solid, square box approximately 1m high and 120cm square.

Put a layer of rubble and stones in the centre (1a), then add a layer of sand and glass bottles. These will act as a heat sink, warming up, then radiating heat back up through the oven. Finally, top with a layer of smooth, solid bricks (1b) to form the oven floor. Bear in mind this is the surface you’ll cook on, so the bricks need to fit snugly together.

Step 2: Make the dome mould

Takes about 1 hour

Step-2

Make a mound of damp sand to form the clay around. You’ll need about 120kg sand. Centre it on the plinth you’ve already built and gradually construct the dome up like a giant sand castle. It needs to be 80cm in diameter at the bottom and 40-45cm high. Keep checking on it from above to make sure it’s round. When it’s finished, cover with wet newspaper to stop it drying out while you puddle the clay (see photo).

Step 3: The first oven layer

Takes about 2 hours, plus 4 hours drying

Step-3

Roll handfuls of the puddled clay/sand mix into 20cm long, 10cm thick sausage shapes, then build them up in circles around the sand dome, starting from the base (leave the newspaper on), until the dome is completely covered. Work the clay lengths into each other, then smooth the outside with your hands. The layer should be about 7-10cm thick. Leave the clay to dry for 4 hours.

Step 4: Cut the entrance

Takes about 1 hour

Step-4

Using a kitchen knife, cut out the entrance to your oven. It needs to be big enough to fit a roasting tray through it, but small enough to keep the heat in – about 30cm wide by 20cm high. Once you’ve cut the entrance, scoop out the sand inside (you can reuse it). Let the dome dry overnight. The next morning, light a small fire inside to help dry out the clay further.

Step 5: Build the brick opening

Takes 2-3 hours

Step-5

Build an arch to fit around the entrance using bricks and more sand/clay mix as mortar and to create the angle for the arch. Secure the arch to the clay dome with more clay mix. Next, cut a hole in the roof of the dome near where the arch joins the dome and build a clay collar to hold the chimney. You can use a plant pot as a chimney, buy one, or build up rings of clay to make one (as in the photo).

Step 6: The insulation layer

Takes about 1 hour, plus 2 hours drying

Step-6
Make 4 litres of slip (a mixture of clay and water with the consistency of cream). Stir in 14 litres/6kg wood shavings until well mixed. Slap the insulation layer onto the clay dome, then leave to dry for 2 hours.

Step 7: The final shell

Takes about 2 hours

Step-7

This is the same as the first oven layer, just slightly larger. Mix the clay and sand together by puddling. Make sausage-shape bricks and press firmly together to cover the insulation layer until 7-10cm thick all over. Smooth the surface as in step 3. Once the finished oven has had a chance to dry out for a day or two (a week would be even better), clean out any remaining sand or debris… And you’re ready to fire it up!

How to use your pizza oven

Cooking Obviously you need wood, and proper dried hardwood is best. “Light a pile of newspaper and small sticks of soft wood in the entrance under the chimney,” says Simon. Slowly build the fire by adding pieces of hardwood such as oak then, once it’s going, move it towards the back of the oven – not too quickly, though, or it may go out. “Once it’s roaring, add just enough wood to keep it ticking over,” says Simon.

Care and protection

When not in use, protect the oven from damp with a well secured tarpaulin.

Now you’ve got your oven, get cooking! You can find our favourite pizza recipes here.

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  • "
    fin johnston19:55 Oct 10 2017

    I would recommend using fire brick for the floor. We’ve used them for years inside fireplaces. You can get full size and splits. I built a very similar “horno” as my mexican friends call it about 3 years ago. It’s amazing ! Love it..

  • "
    thomas spencer12:48 Aug 03 2017

    Hello! Great instructions. i am building my oven at the minute and am just looking at the oven floor. I have looked at fire bricks but they are very expensive. Specifically what bricks can you use? I’mm worried they might crack with the heat

  • "
    lilliana grandy11:19 Dec 13 2016

    Hi Simon, I just love wood fire pizza. My farther has one and it is great for parties!

  • "
    john burbridge9:06 Nov 15 2016

    Do you smash up the glass bottles that are used in the base? How many would you suggest?

  • "
    charlotte eve18:44 Nov 14 2016

    I’d recommend http://www.cobcourses.com for fantastic pizza oven workshops! And there’s lots of info there too on building your own pizza oven. They do a pizza lunch to die for and the cost is £120 and takes place Devon/Dorset border near Lyme Regis. They do gift vouchers too – makes a great Christmas present.

  • "
    chris salman7:07 Nov 02 2016

    Really helpful instructions to build own wood fired pizza oven.. superb…

    Hi..Cian Matthews.. If you want to have outdoor wood fired pizza oven which is portable and can be move easily at any location then you can go for ilFornino’s wood fired pizza oven. I have already bought this oven and love pizzas made on this oven..

  • "
    cian matthews22:04 Jul 27 2016

    Would I be able to take this with me if I moved house?

    • user avatar"
      delicious. magazine12:54 Jul 28 2016

      Hi Cian,

      Unfortunately, as it is made with cement, it would probably be too difficult to move.

      Thanks,
      The delicious. team

  • "
    firsttimebuild oven17:01 Jun 12 2016

    Hi great article. I have a lot of patio bricks and was wondering if I could use them as the base or do I need to use London bricks?

    • user avatar"
      delicious. magazine16:12 Jun 13 2016

      Hello,
      You can use any bricks you can get your hands on but try and look for ones with a nice flat surface, without cracks and any that look too porous. You can find lots more information here too: https://clayoven.wordpress.com/

  • "
    erica schwiening23:04 May 13 2016

    I am really keen to b build one of these ovens. I am wondering about the heat sink base, does it store enough heato that far from the fire to make a difference or could it be built on an open frame. If so is it possible to source a 900 x 900 concerte slab to use as a base and then use fire bricks inside the oven to cook on?

    • user avatar"
      delicious. magazine10:27 May 18 2016

      Hi Erica,
      Here’s Simon’s reply: You only really need a heat sink base if you intend to slow roast (meat joints in particular). If you want to bake pizzas and bread, you don’t need the substantial base and so can use something akin to what you suggested.
      Happy building

  • "
    lyn cabral16:48 Apr 02 2016

    We’ve got the oven now lets have some récipes not just pizzas!!

  • "
    marcusbawdon13:08 Apr 02 2016

    Great article, SImon is an inspiration, there’s also the UK WOod Fired Oven Forum for lots of info, I built my own Wood Fired Oven in a few days with mostly recycled materials. http://countrywoodsmoke.com/build-day-1/

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