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Hello from Uganda - Forno Bravo Forum: The Wood-Fired Oven Community

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Hello from Uganda

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  • Hello from Uganda

    Hi everyone,

    My name is Janine and I am an American living in Masindi, Uganda which is fairly rural Africa. I have been enjoying reading many people's posts in this forum and want to try to build a basic wood-fired oven. The big challenge here is that most of the recomended materials are not available locally--no refractory cement, no firebrick, fancy tools etc. Here you may build an entire house using only tools such as a machete, a hoe, trowel and shovel. On the plus side, I am getting used to fixing things that break so that doesn't scare me and even a basicly workable oven would be a blessing--I have been without any sort of oven (not counting my dutch oven or my pan-on-pan homemade charcoal "oven") and I really miss breads and baking. Yesterday I was able to use a friend's propane oven and I baked french bread, sesame breadsticks, garlic herb foccacia and braided challa (spelling?). It was a great day off! Anyways, building an oven will be a real challenge but I would like to have an outdoor oven. I'm sure what I'll get won't be up to the standards of what I am hearing about, but I hope I can do something that will be able to get me some loaves of bread....

    PS-- I considered making an adobe oven such as what I believe is called a "horno," but the latrine coverage in this country only around 60 percent so the soil is not exactly clean. Yes, locals build stoves out of mud and animal dung but dung is really not something I want (human or animal) near my food, even if the heat of the fire would sterilize any pathogens--the idea makes me lose my appetite. So I'm looking at cement even if it will crack or degrade quickly. Hoping for the best

  • #2
    Re: Hello from Uganda

    Any sort of fired clay brick or terra cotta flat tile could be used to build an oven. Refractory mortar may be out of the question, but ovens have been successfully built with a mixture of clay and sand as mortar, and I'm sure that by the time it had been heated to baking temperatures a few times that any bacteria would be killed off. The thing with any clay oven is that it needs to be kept really dry, as the mortar doesn't become hard and waterproof. Your real problem may be a workable heat proof insulation. I'm sure that even vermiculite would be hard to come by in rural Africa. If you could get some sort of volcanic pumice that could be a workable substitute.

    Keep us posted.
    My geodesic oven project: part 1, part 2

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Hello from Uganda

      Welcome Janine!

      One of the neat things about a WFO is it gets hot enough to destroy just about any hydrocarbon so sterility of the oven is not much of a concern. While I can understand your desire to not "cook" on potentially contaminated soil, dmun's suggestion of clay bricks/terra cotta tiles can easily provide you a "clean", nice floor to cook on and for lining the oven. What is beyond that is not so critical. For a dome an old barrel might work well. It would burn/rust out fairly soon but...ought to be cheap and easy to replace. While an oven without insulation will definitely lose heat faster, earth and cob ovens have been built for thousands of years all around the globe. I would not worry so much about heat loss for dry dirt is a fairly good insulator.

      Good Luck!
      Jay

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Hello from Uganda

        Hi Dmun,
        Thanks for the quick reply. Yes, vermiculite and/or perlite are not available around here. The bricks I can get are from the mud down the hill, hand-formed (so every brick is a different size). These bricks are fired once using very primative methods--they are very soft. We usually cut these bricks using a machete. Volcanic pumice is an interesting idea but I have never seen anything like that available here. Do you think there is any way wood ash might be used? I thought I might have heard something about ash in an early Roman oven. I can get bags of cement and have made a foundation, circle of bricks enclosing a bottom wood storage area, and a concrete support slab but haven't started on the oven per se yet. When you recomend clay, do you mean clay soil? That I have, but not if you mean like sculptural clay.... If I build the oven out of these local bricks do you think clay and sand would be a better motar than cement with sand? Everyone warns not to make the ovens out of Portland cement, but what actually happens if you do? I don't care much about appearances and am willing to patch frequently if needed. I have heard of at least 1 individual report how he broke the rule and used portland cement and his oven is still working well many years later so apparently sometimes you can get away with it--not that I'm saying you should if you live where refractory cement is available. I was thinking of using wet sand to make a mold and putting cement on that to make a dome--then seeing if it would stay together through the heating process. Similarly maybe cement bricks (unmortared) on the cement slab to keep the fire off the slab and replace these bricks as often as needed. Cement bricks here are made so the bricks are the same size, unlike the mud bricks. Local bricks for an oven floor would be a very uneven surface plus what is in our soil here is not what I want touching my food...

        On the insulation, yeah I think that will be a real problem. At least here wood is cheap--you can get a pickup truck's load of firewood for about $10 US. So maybe lots of fire and fairly quick cooking foods?

        I appreciate your taking the time to try to help me with this crazy project! Thanks.

        --Janine

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Hello from Uganda

          Wood ash is an idea, it's heat resistant, and fluffy. You'd have to keep it really dry, but with your cut-it-with-a-machete bricks you'd want to keep it really dry anyway. Under the floor it would compress too much to be useful, but over the dome you could treat it like loose vermiculite.

          Is there any kind of light weight stone like Tufa that you could layer under the oven floor?

          I think you're better with the local mud bricks than the portland cement based ones. And yes, clay soil is usually a mixture of clay and sand, which it what the mud-based mortars are anyway.
          My geodesic oven project: part 1, part 2

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Hello from Uganda

            Jay, thank you for your suggestions. The idea of dry dirt as an insulator is a great one--dirt I have!!! I also have a pile of sand so I was thinking of using that as a form. I know you're right about sterility, maybe I just have to get over my squeamishness. I would like to have a flat floor for the oven though. The cement bricks are made equal in size. The mud bricks vary a lot in size. Cutting mud bricks wouldn't seem like a good option as cracking them with a machete makes pretty rough cut and they often break where you weren't wanting them too.

            Barrels are not that easy to find here. Never seen the wood kind and haven't found a metal barrel with a known safe history--still looking for a cooking oil barrel or such. I don't really want one that had unknown chemicals in it. I already have sand on hand and I like the idea of using it wet then digging it out so I can later use the sand in another project.

            Thanks also for the quick reply and your helpfullness!
            --Janine

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Hello from Uganda

              I can't think of any lightweight stone found here. As for the bricks, actually when used with mortar of cement and sand they stand up to the rain well--that is the second most common material for building houses here (mud/reed is #1 due to cost). Those who can like to plaster on a coat of cement but many can't. Half of my chicken house is made of these bricks, unplastered, and shows no sign of water damage. For the oven, do you think a plastering over with cement would be good enough to keep the water off? Our weather is very mild here.

              One strange thought .... some solar ovens use a trapped air space as an insulator. Is that something to consider? Or maybe build in a space and add in wood ash?

              You've got me thinking
              --Janine

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Hello from Uganda

                Hi Janine!

                I thought about the barrel history and figured you MIGHT be able to get a clean one. I should have mentioned the contamination issue! The real concern in a barrel will be heavy metals. The organics will burn out. But...yes, a dirty barrel would be a much bigger concern than "infected" mud. The latter WILL be sterilized. One of the magical moments in using a WFO is watching the interior clear of soot and tar when it reaches 750 degrees. Always impresses!

                Your mud bricks are sun dried are they not? You might be able to get/make harder bricks by baking them???? (I am pretty confident you can and wood ash is probably one route but I don't know brick chemistry...). The clay referred to is ordinary soil clay - nothing special (yes there are better and worser clays based on clay content but...). It is (as I understand it) the standard starting material for building earth/cob ovens. It can get pretty hard with baking.

                Regular cement loses strength and structure very quickly when heated to WFO temperatures. As I understand it, the oven would basically disintegrate and you would end up with cement dust all over the inside of the oven. Regular Cement can stabilize the exterior but not the interior.

                You might try an experiment of making baked bricks from clay and wood ash with and without sand. If you can make a moderately hard slab it might be able to serve as the floor. People often stress a bit about small gaps in the floor, but they fill in with ash and its no problem (obviously you don't want large gaps).

                Good Luck!
                Jay

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Hello from Uganda

                  Jay, thanks for the tips. You're the first person to actually answer "what happens if you use Portland cement?" If anyone has first hand experience on this I would love to hear it. OK, now I'm leaning toward local brick for the walls with a cement outer coat plastered on. These bricks are first sundried then stacked up in big stacks with room for a fire inside the stack, then the fire is burned inside the stack of bricks.--they are not hard like US fired bricks! I'm guessing the motor between the bricks can be made from mud the same way mud/reed houses are made--lots of stomping in the mud. I'll have to consider more about the oven floor and I may try experimenting as you suggest. Do you think it would be helpful to put a layer of dry dirt on the concrete slab under the oven in order to insulate? Or, it would be easier to make it stable and level by puting down mud instead of dirt then let it dry. Would doing that help reduce heat loss from the oven to the slab and/or reduce heat damage to the slab? Or is it not worth the trouble? Anyone feel free to pitch in with an idea!

                  I hope to get the support slab in place tomorrow. It is built, but as I didn't have wood that I thought was strong enough to hold wet concrete up, it was built on the ground and now we need to raise it and put in on the brick wall of the firewood storage area. Then I can start working on the oven and/or insulation.
                  --Janine

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Hello from Uganda

                    Some of the earthen oven builders use empty glass bottles packed in straw/sand/clay under the floor as an insulator; it's not as good as some of the other high-tech stuff, but it does create airspace and insulates better than raw dirt. When packed into clay, straw actually insulates very well and does not burn out. I expect that the mud/reed mixture could actually be adapted to insulate relatively effectively.

                    If it were me, I'd use the local brick inside the oven, covered with a mud reed mix- heavy on the reeds to increase insulation- and plastered over to protect the mud.

                    You might try taking a look at Kiko Denzer's information- he has a good book about building low-tech earthen (clay or cob) ovens, with good info about insulation of the sort that will be available to you.

                    good luck lifting up the support slab... that sounds difficult. If it cracks while lifting, it might all be for naught. If that does happen, I'd seriously consider whether, since you don't have the sort of plywood you'd need to support the wet concrete, you'd be better off just building a solid stand (i.e., walling off the box and filling with dirt/rubble) and pouring the slab on that.
                    -jamie

                    My oven build is finally complete!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Hello from Uganda

                      Hi Jamie,

                      More good info. You do make me feel a little silly that I didn't think of filling in the circular base wall with rubble and pouring the support slab on that--I could have saved a lot of work! If I can't move the slab, I'll use your technique to pour another one. I can't imagine this one breaking though maybe if it got dropped.... I did build in a bunch of wire handles to help in moving the slab, but I don't think I appreciated how HEAVY it is--it takes 8 people to drag the slab. We'll see how today goes. I have a local friend who will be heading todays lifting effort--it is pretty amazing what people here can accomplish using low-tech methods, homemade pulleys, group efforts etc. He thinks they can do it.

                      In addition to the reeds, I have a bunch of drying grass which is similar to straw--I think that mixed with clay soil would be a good coat of insulation surrounding the local bricks to make the oven. I had thought the straw would burn up, but I guess in the mud clay despite the heat it wouldn't get enough oxygen to burn. Sounds workable.

                      I appreciate everyone's help--great ideas!

                      UPDATE: Got the support slab up on the brick circular wall. Ten strong guys, about 10 minutes work and done before 10 a.m. No problems, no injuries It is a good thing I built wire handles into the slab--that was a big help.
                      --Janine
                      Last edited by Janine M. LeGrand; 08-31-2009, 01:31 AM. Reason: Update--more information

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Hello from Uganda

                        Hi Janine,
                        I admire your determination, You are certainly putting forth enough effort. You said you do have access to cement, Is it portland cement or is it a redi mix like quikcrete ? Are you so far out in the country you can not have things shipped to you ? Or is it just too expensive to have things shipped to you ? Keep Going Strong......
                        Mark

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Hello from Uganda

                          Hi Mark,
                          I appreciate the encouragement. The cement here is not a ready-mix. The bag is labled "Multipurpose Cement for General Application" and " Pozzolanic Cement US EAS 18-1:2001 CEM IV/B(P) 32,5 N" which is pretty much greek to me but I assume it is Portland cement. You have to mix with sand and/or gravel. A 50 kg bag runs about $15 US here in this town. I also have seen lime available locally though I haven't bought any yet.

                          I am about 3-4 hours north of Kampala (the capital) where you can get many more things but transport is an issue. I get around locally here by a small motorcycle, but to go to Kampala I take a public bus or, if I can, I get a ride with a friend. It isn't exactly easy to bring back heavy items. It is possible to hire a large truck, but I haven't done it and it is complicated and expensive. Complications include things like no street addresses here. Having things sent from the US is of course expensive (say $50 for an average size box and it takes 1-2 months for Priority (despite what they say in the US post offices.) I don't have valuable things mailed as there is a chance they won't arrive.

                          Its a bit of a challenge living here, but very interesting.

                          --Janine

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Hello from Uganda

                            The straw, being a hollow linear fibrous tube, is mostly air. That's what makes it both a good insulator and a strong building material; it turns a dense sticky material like clay or mud into a porous matrix of tiny tubes and interwoven fibers. It's the original high-tech composite material!

                            The fact that the individual lengths of straw are isolated from the outside air supposedly keeps them from burning out. The ones that char still provide insulation; even if they burned out completely they would still leave behind the airspaces in the clay which do the job of insulating.

                            I have not used the material myself, but have read that short (2-3 inch) chopped lengths of straw work best, mixed into a slightly sandy mix of clay/mud.

                            I'm glad to hear the lifting operation was successful!
                            -jamie

                            My oven build is finally complete!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Hello from Uganda

                              Hi Janine,
                              I looked up Pozzolanic cement and found this:

                              The Pozzolanic cements are comprised of fly ash or volcanic ash and a chemical binder. This combination produces a very dense matrix that has a slight porosity, thereby dramatically reducing the material’s susceptibility to gas and liquid intrusion thereby making it a more durable repair material.

                              If this stuff is made with volcanic ash it might have some kind of heat resistance ? I guess you might have to do some more research, Google It... It has a lot of good qualities it may be what you need..
                              Mark

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