Clay Oven at the Community Garden

I had seen clay ovens at various sites I’d visited over the years and always liked the mixture of sculpture and practicality. We decided that we could build one at the community garden in time for the Transition Shipston Garden Party at the beginning of August so work commenced.
 Several of us levelled the ground, dug out a circular foundation and started to build the stone plinth that the oven would sit on. The base of the oven was fire bricks laid on a bed of sand giving a smooth and heat resistant cooking surface.

Next, we needed clay for the oven walls. Simon had been working on a building site in Stratford that had already donated all sorts of timber for our use. He noticed that the material coming out of a hole being bored for a heating system seemed to be pure clay. I went along and took a sample and the clay seemed perfect as a base for the walls being slightly sandy, not just pure clay that would be too brittle. The guys on site scooped the clay into my trailer and I dripped my way back to the Shipston. Firstly, a sand dome was built to support the clay. The walls were then built up in layers being careful not to push against the sand former and risk the whole lot collapsing. I finished the walls just in time to go away for a long weekend and had to wait until I got back to see if it was still standing! Luckily, it was and a door was cut out of the clay to get the food in and out and to remove all the sand leaving the clay dome to dry.

We lit a small fire to help dry out the walls a bit and a few cracks started to appear which I had expected but were still worrying. The day of the party arrived, the cracks hadn’t expanded and the whole oven was still standing. We lit the fire to heat it up and kept stoking it, the internal temperature cooks pizzas in less than 10 minutes!. Many years ago I had salvaged a piece of marble that was now set up to make the dough on for the pizzas and we were soon cooking. Pizzas came out beautifully cooked and enjoyed by all. The cracks re-appeared in the fierce heat but a few days later, I filled them and the whole structure seems very stable. We now need more clay to mix with straw to add a second layer that forms insulation helping to retain the cooking heat and this is the point at which we can make a fancy shape if needed. I have seen several shaped as snails, dragons and various creatures so if you’re feeling artistic and would like to help with this next part of the build, let me know. Now when’s the next party…?

Mike Ashton

1 comment:

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