In 2016 I decided to build my own pizza oven and after many hours reading posts on various forums along with watching YouTube videos I came up with a project on how to build my very own wood-fired pizza oven.
I opted for what is called a ‘Pompeii oven’ and this article will take you through, step-by-step, on how I did this.
The budget for a pizza oven can vary wildly with a few variables:
- Design and Size
- Who’s building it
I was looking to make my build as cheap as possible, scavenging materials where I could, buying only the essentials, and in the end I spent around $350/£300.
Location of the oven
This is the most important thing to consider as once it’s there you aren’t going to be moving it!
You’ll want a location that is away from buildings but also as close as you can to the kitchen, as that will help give you a nice prep area and cut down on your steps back and forth.
Pizza ovens will create some smoke though so here are some things to also consider.
- Check if there are any laws or building and fire codes prohibiting you building the oven. Are you in a “smoke control area” which prohibits the emission of smoke from a chimney of a building, furnace, or fixed boiler?
- Could it impact on neighbours? Consider whether the noise, smoke, and smells could affect them. You’ll want to ensure it’s away from boundaries/buildings.
- Consent from the building owner. If it’s your house then cool, but if you’re a tenant of a leased property then it’s best to check.
Dimensions of the oven
Once you’ve decided on the location of the oven it’s time to start planning and consider the size of the oven you want to build.
The height of the dome and door both affect the air circulation and heating, making its measurements essential, and this table will help you decide on the diameter oven you want.
|Cooking Surface Area
|30″ diameter (76cm)
|53″ x 66″ (135cm x 145cm)
|34″ diameter (86cm)
|57″ x 70″ (145cm x 180cm)
|42″ diameter (106cm)
|65″ x 78″ (165cm x 200cm)
|50″ diameter (130cm)
|73″ x 86″ (185cm x 220cm)
Bigger isn’t always better though. I decided upon building a 30″ diameter oven and this smaller size will allow you to get up to temp quicker, use less fuel, and then cook pizzas at the maximum temperature possible.
It’s at this stage that I found it useful to draw a rough idea of what the oven would look like along with the dimensions for the base etc to keep me on track.
Building the foundation
A pizza oven is going to be heavy, so you’ll want a foundation that is strong and level, and in my case I built a concrete foundation.
I’m no construction expert so it was a little guesswork but once I’d decided on the location I dug suitable depth down and inserted a wooden frame which had the dimensions for the foundation. This would allow me to make a nice square base and also meant I could get it nice and level, using a spirit level across the boards.
Into this frame I added some hardcore that I had laying around and then added the concrete. I ended up having to buy 13 bags of 25kg concrete mix which works out as 325kg or 716 lbs or 51 stone! I’m not sure how that happened but it’s definitely going to be a strong base!
You may already have a patio or foundation that can be used so do consider that if you want to make things a little easier.
Building the base
Now it’s time to get your bricklaying skills out, but honestly don’t worry too much as this will be rendered with plaster later on, so it doesn’t need to be pretty.
I opted for a diagonally facing oven and whilst going for this design is a little trickier than just a square structure it works better with the space I have.
The image above will give you an idea of how I used the following materials:
- Dense Concrete Blocks x 30
- 1200mm Concrete Lintel
- 600mm Concrete Lintel
- 600mm slabs x4
- 25kg Pre-mixed Mortar x 2
You will need the following tools too:
Many plans for oven bases don’t call for a lintel and instead build a wooden formwork and then pour a concrete top but I decided lintels and pre-made concrete slabs would be a cheaper and quicker option.
Cutting the concrete blocks
You will need to cut some blocks and manually doing this with a bolster chisel is much quicker and cleaner than using something like an angle grinder.
Here’s the exact video that taught me how to do it.
Laying the blocks
Once you’ve got all the gear and an idea of what you’re doing you can start laying the bricks.
Check every brick to make sure they’re level and you’re not building a wonky wall. Yes there are more accurate methods that bricklayers will use, but I’m just an amateur DIYer and this all worked out fine.
Once the sides and lintels are added in it’s time to add the slabs. As I’m using a 1200mm lintel I knew that 4 x 600mm slabs would fit perfectly.
My plan was working perfectly!
For the final block I measured it off and then used an angle grinder to cut the angle I wanted before cementing it in place.
Insulation Floor Layer
Concrete doesn’t perform well under high temperatures, plus it has poor insulation properties, so it’s important to put an insulation layer down before laying our fire bricks which the actual fire will go on.
Perlite is a low density volcanic rock used in building and gardening, and it’s perfect for this insulation layer as it’s a great insulator but also really light.
You can get bags delivered direct from Amazon and all we need to do is mix 5 parts perlite to 1 part cement. A 100 litre bag will do the trick.
Manually mix the perlite together with the cement so there is no white left and then add a little water to bind it all together. Don’t be tempted to use a cement mixer or any too rough and it will break the perlite down.
Most of the guides I read said about building a frame, pouring in the perlite mix and letting it set… so I did this, but I found that the mix just wasn’t strong enough as was crumbly. I was going to be plastering over the sides anyway, but I just didn’t trust it so switched up my plans.
It may have been the wood drawing some moisture from the edges, so wetting the wood form beforehand could’ve helped but I’m happy with how it turned out.
I just used some paving bricks to frame the perlite mix and it doesn’t matter what bricks you used at this stage as these won’t be exposed to any real temperatures so it’s just what looks good.
This worked great and so that’s what I would suggest you do first of all. Build a brick surround and then pour in the perlite/cement mix.
This is now the layer that the actual fire bricks will sit on.
Fire Brick Base Layer
Whilst I was able to scrimp on some areas of the build the actual oven base is one area where I needed to buy the following materials to make sure oven worked as intended. If you can get them free or buy second-hand then great.
- Fire Bricks x 45 (230mm x 114mm x 64mm)
- 25kg Fire Clay
I bought these from businesses trading on eBay and at the time they cost around £1.50 / $1.90 each plus postage which was a pallet delivery. This totalled £67.50 / $80 plus £45 / $57 for delivery.
Yes delivery was a lot compared to the price of the bricks but it still worked out at an okay price as these bricks measured 230mm x 114mm x 64mm and it’s important to note the 64mm thickness. There are some bricks out there at the same cost and with free postage but these are half as thick so are a false value and will retain less heat.
In order to get a level surface for your fire brick base you will want to put a dry levelling mix down of 50% fire clay and 50% sand. This mix is basically a heat resistant mortar. You can use a wet mix too but dry allows for you to move bricks around without whilst you’re working on the base.
Your bricks will need to be arranged in a herringbone pattern when viewed from the oven mouth entry. Not only does it look nice but there’s a very practical reason too in that it will stop your pizza peel catch on the edge of bricks.
Make sure the bricks butt up well against each other and use a wooden or rubber mallet to knock them into place
For the bricks on the angled edge I used an angle grinder with a brick cutting disc.
Keep any brick off-cuts in case you need them, and I did just this for a few bits on the edging. These were on areas that won’t actually be in the oven, and i actually didn’t need to cover the whole base with fire bricks but that’s how it turned out.
Preparing to build the dome
Using the dimensions from the table at the beginning of this page I opted for a 30″ (76cm) diameter oven. It can still cook a couple of pizzas at a time but I don’t need a larger one and it will also take less time and fuel to heat up.
|Cooking Surface Area
|30″ diameter (76cm)
|53″ x 66″ (135cm x 145cm)
Circular plywood base
Based on these dimensions I cut out a plywood circle with a 30″ (76cm) diameter, and the cut this into 3 pieces which would allow me to build the dome and still be able to remove the wood.
The circle outline was achieved by screwing a length of wood into the center of the board and then measuring the radius (half the diameter), marking it, and then holding a pen at that point and rotating the wood around like a clock arm.
These 3 pieces are narrow enough to fit out through the door opening even once the whole dome is built, so can stay in there through the whole build.
This plywood base has three functions:
- It will allow me to build a completely round dome and set my bricks correctly.
- It will allow me to screw down my ‘indispensable tool’… more on that later.
- It stops any mortar from falling onto the oven floor which we want to keep nice and clean for pizzas.
Door arch form
Again, using the set dimensions from the table I created a form for the door arch which would support drying bricks and ensure I had the correct size door opening.
I cut one section, then used it as a template for the second section and finally screwed them together with some offcuts.
Here you can see I’ve laid out the base and arch forms on my firebrick for their final location. This shows that I didn’t really need as many fire bricks but hey it looked nice!
Whilst I used fire bricks for the base, my budget didn’t stretch to buying them for the dome, and so I used regular bricks. I scavaged these from skips (after asking the owners) and built up a good stock for this project which kept costs down. I believe I used somewhere between 50-70 whole bricks for this part of the build.
These probably don’t retain the heat as well as fire bricks would, and you will want to ensure you have good quality house bricks that will be able to cope with the intense heat of a fire.
Finally you will want to start cutting bricks so that you have half-bricks (obviously). I used an angle-grinder with a diamond cutting disc which made light work of the bricks and as the dome is going to insulated and rendered then you don’t have to worry about the cuts being exact or too neat.
If you are tempted to cut the bricks by hand then I’d suggest you rethink that and buy a cheap angle grinder as you’re going to need a lot of bricks!
The indispensable tool
Now that you have your half bricks you’ll also need a tool to help maintain the correct brick placement and angle when laying the bricks.
This is just a simple length of wood which is hinged to the exact centre of the wooden base with another piece of wood to temporarily support the brick and show the correct angle for your brick dome. Use this and you’ll get the perfect dome shape.
You can see how this will work in the photos below.
Heat Resistant Mortar
After all that prep it’s finally time to start building the done which is all about bricks and mortar.
We’ve already talked about the half-bricks but we will need a special mortar mix to cope with the high heats as regular mortar will break down under the intense heat of the oven.
You can buy high heat refractory mortar but it’s expensive and not always available locally, so I made my own.
High Heat Mortar Recipe
- 3 parts sharp sand
- 1 part portland cement
- 1 part building lime
- 1 part fireclay
You can buy the first three ingredients at your local DIY store but I had to buy the fireclay online.
You’ll only want to mix the amount you can use in an hour so what I did was mix a large amount of dry ingredients in a wheelbarrow which I stored in my shed to keep it dry.
I was then able to take a smaller amount in a bucket, mix with water to the required consistency, and know I wouldn’t be wasting any. As I was building this in my spare time it meant I could easily add some bricks to the pizza oven build after work without too much effort.
Building the dome
We now have everything we need to build the dome and arch. As you go along you may find you need to use a smaller brick to keep the stagger on the bricks. Every layer you add strengthens the layer below so just keep going!
As I’m did this where time allows I would often just complete half a row in the evening after work, and I think this actually helped as it gave the mortar enough time to set between layers.
I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t tie in the arch blogs better (as you can see in the photo above) so if you’re using this guide then maybe consider that, but I only realised by the time I’d gone too far to change. It didn’t affect the build, but it would’ve just been a little neater.
As you build up, you can fill in any external gaps with mortar so you end up with something very solid. As long as the inside brick face looks good and the bricks are tight together then it doesn’t matter what the outside looks like as we’ll still need to add insulation and plaster.
I’m in the process of writing this mega post but all the original content is over at my other blog so here are the links to the final stages of the build.