Building a Semi-Portable Clay Oven for under $150

Inspired by the class I took with Stu Silverstein at the Kneading Conference, I built a clay (or cob) oven!  Built on Labor Day Weekend (with the foundation platform made ahead of time), the sand dome was made on Sunday, the oven was made on Monday, it was hollowed out on  Thursday, and we baked our first pitas & pizzas on Friday.  And on Sunday we baked our first loaves of bread.

I had bought the book by Kiko Denzer, “Build Your Own Earth Oven”,  two or three years ago, but it took some hands-on experience and Stu (a great teacher) to make me feel like I could really do it.

This oven was built on a wooden platform and stands on sawhorses.  So no need to dig a deep foundation and site it permanently in your yard.  Also, I used dry clay (from a pottery supply store) — great for those who don’t have a lot of clay in their soil or who don’t want to do a lot of digging.

Total cost of the oven: $128.50

Leo builds the 36″ square base that will hold the perlite-cement mixture.

Leo measures out the perlite.

Paul smooths out the cement-perlite mix.

Laying out the fire bricks.

Jesse spraying the sand dome to keep it damp.

The oven in action!

Leo brings in a pizza.

Finn’s turn

Ian shows off his delicious sourdough bread!

Project details:

Items I already had
2 sawhorses for holding the oven
tarp for mixing and covering the oven
Items I had to buy
Wood Georgetown Lumber $    18.00 for a 36″ square foundation platform and peel
Portland cement Georgetown Building Supply $       5.00 I got a discount on an open bag.
12.5 pounds (a half bag) of perlite Nunan’s Nursery $    20.00 This was the hardest item to find.  Greenhouses can order for you — this one was called “Whittemore Horticultural Grade Perlite”).
concrete mixing tub Georgetown Building Supply $    12.00
19 fire bricks Georgetown Building Supply $    28.50
1.5 bags of clay Portland Pottery Supply $    20.00 40 mesh Hawthorn Bond fireclay from Christy Minerals
10 bags of all-purpose sand a big chain store $    25.00 4 for the sand form, 6 for the oven mud
Grand Total $  128.50

The oven interior is 25″ in diameter and can hold four standard bread loaf pans.  More info on how an oven like this can be built can be found here:

And a note to Jamie Oliver: Why are you suggesting people spend $5000-$10,000 on a pizza oven when they can build their own for under $150???  You should take this up with your school kids — a great learning project.

Special thanks go to: Leo Godley (for endless enthusiasm), Sophie Godley (for being amazed and for allowing it in the yard), Vera and Nigel Godley (for helping me attend the Kneading Conference), Freddy and Sammy Kniker (for sand dome inspection), Paul Snyder (for cement-perlite base mixing), Ian, Jesse and Aida DeWeese-Boyd (for sand dome construction), Finn Murphy (mud delivery), and Peter Rudd (for impromptu construction of a beautiful oven door).

10 thoughts on “Building a Semi-Portable Clay Oven for under $150”

  1. Love this post – love the oven – love the bread and pizza – love you! I hope you emailed Jamie – I bet you could get a link to your blog from him!

  2. Great post! I got to this site by way of your comment on the NY Times article about their 36 hour feast. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why there were so many negative comments about that article! And it’s nice to see your whole family involved thanks again.

  3. Hi,

    Great work. I was wondering what ratio of sand to clay you used. I’m starting my project using hawthorne bond with a 3:1 ratio of sand to clay. When I put the thermal layer around the form it began cracking when compressed with a board. I think I didn’t have enough water but I was also thinking I didn’t have enough sand.

  4. This is fabulous! We would like to do something similar here in seattle. How do you think it would hold up in a very rainy climate? And, have you used it to roast meat? I’d be curious about roasting chicken and turkeys in there.

    1. Definitely build a roof for it! I used a tarp on this one and moisture got through and did it in. You can also seal the clay once it’s done, which I’d recommend. Have fun!

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