Masonry Oven Building Workshop

So in May this year I’m heading to a Masonry Oven Building Workshop on Hurricane Island off the coast of Rockland, Maine. My wife saw a post from Richard Miscovich on Facebook about it:

Join us on Hurricane Island for a 5-day hands-on workshop to build a masonry wood-fired oven, led by Pat Manley and Ladleah Dunn. Over the course of the workshop we will build a professional sized masonry oven (5’ x 5’). The workshop will be highly interactive, focusing on the entire process, from insulation and construction of the hearth slab, to construction of the fire box– the oven walls and vaulted arch.

What’s cool about this workshop is that I know the instructors already. I met Pat Manley at the Kneading Conference and worked alongside Ladleah Dunn at the Common Ground Fair. You can checkout more info on the workshop here.

Masonry Oven Building Experiences

My bread mentor, Carl Shavitz who runs the Artisan Bread School, has just successfully built a masonry oven. So I asked him to share his feedback & impressions:.

How it’s working out so far?

“I’ve been working with wood-fired ovens for 14 years and the second thing you learn is that no two ovens are alike. Some retain their heat for longer, others require constant firing. The difference is ceramic mass. The greater the mass the longer the oven holds the heat, but the longer it takes to heat from cold. Less mass, and the oven holds the heat for less time. With a proper bread oven (as opposed to a pizza oven) you must learn how long you need to fire the oven and how long it retains the heat. The next trick is marrying up the oven at baking temperature with the proved breads.

I am in the learning stage. When I know how long it takes to fire my new oven and how long it will retain its baking temperature I will then know at what time I need to start firing the oven.”

Are you happy with it?

“So far so good.”

Newly Built Masonry Oven (Photo Credit: Carl Shavitz)

Will you be making any future add-ons, things to make baking more efficient?

“As my oven is at the bottom of the garden in a shed, not in the main house, I need to get a stainless steel workbench and suitable protection (see FlexTent). In addition, to avoid constant opening and closing of the oven door, I will have a set of peels, each holding 4 loaves. I will get all the loaves on the peels, slash, and spray with water. All the breads will then go into the oven in the shortest possible time, opening the door only once.”

Any tips or advice you would offer for future builders?

“If you’re going down the wood-fired oven route make sure the size suits your needs. If you heat an oven that holds 40 loaves and only put 5 loaves in it you’ll probably carbonise all the loaves. If you want an oven for a series of bakes without re-firing you must get an oven with sufficient ceramic mass and insulation.”

– A Big Thanks to Carl for his feedback and photos! Carl is a master baker and teaches the secrets to baking European breads at the Artisan Bread School. Definitely check this out if you have any interest. I highly recommend his 5 day classes.

So I’m totally looking forward to the masonry oven building workshop in Maine, especially being that it takes place on an island. Later this Spring, I will cycle back with lots of photos and notes from the workshop. Until then, see you in the journey!


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