Building the stone pizza oven
During the summer of this year, we built a stone wood-fired pizza oven. It was entirely of our own design and we wanted it to have a traditional rustic character with a nod to traditional features and yet also feel contemporary in appearance. The external stone structure encapsulates a refectory brick oven, built with heat resistant mortar, to cope with the high heat of the wood fired oven. The stone is cylindrical and it formed such a tight curve that each stone block needed to have it face chiselled to the right curvature as well as having its sides tapered. However, the extra effort was worth it as the circles and curves complement each other, the curve of the arch over the oven mouth and the domed corbelled roof are reflected by the curved shape of the body of the oven. The archway had to be built across the curve of the oven, which took a lot of skill to achieve. The arch is very tight and we managed to find a nice long stone to chisel into a lintel for below the arch. Having two large jumper stones to form the base on each side of the arch added a nice symmetry.
The stone was handpicked by us from a Yorkshire quarry and it is an extremely hard sandstone. One of the nice things about using a local natural product like this is the naturally occurring patterns and colour variations that create pleasing character rather than being uniform. We also took a lot of effort to 'grade' the stone into courses so that the larger stones are toward the bottom and the size of the stones diminish in height further up until we reached the slate-like pieces for the top of the corbel. As well as good practice, this helps the masonry to look right on the eye. The roof curves in on the top of the chimney pipe of the oven and the smoke rises out of the hole in the top. We had to carve a domed stone finial for the top to hold down the top course of stone slates with a hole in the centre to let out the smoke. Finally, we made a thin circular piece of stone to sit on top of the finial to keep out the rain when the oven isn't being used, which was more visually pleasing than a metal chimney cowl.
It was surprising in the end just how much stone was required for a feature like this. The entire base up to the chimney opening is solid dry stone with the centre filled in with larger stones which are then packed tightly around with the offcut stone chips that chiselling produces. Overall, it is a dense structure but it ought to be around for a long time to come.
Using the stone pizza oven
Since the construction of the oven we have used it to make pizzas several times already during the summer. We first had to light a fire just to 'proof' the oven. Then on a dry day we tried making pizzas, which it turns out is quite an art form. It does take a while to get the oven up to a high temperature and the type and dryness of the wood is important in this. Once to temperature, however, a large number of pizzas can be produced.