Building a Neapolitan Pompeii Oven
I've been reading for a while and began building about six or seven weeks ago. I've leaned on the shared wisdom of the forum to guide me on this project and thought I'd share my experience so far. My dad is my inspiration on this project as I've been enjoying the fruits of his oven for the past few years. He just lives a little too far - I needed my own oven. My dad researched and designed his own oven and I'm not really sure how he came to his final design. He was raised in Naples and began construction on his oven shortly after retiring. The inside diameter of his oven is 48 inches. He doesn't have as much insulation as is suggested on this forum and his chimney is placed right in the middle of the top of the dome (I think he dropped it in some so the bottom of the chimney is lower than the top of the dome). Pizza in his oven is very good - we've made regular oven pizza on a stone in our family as long as I can remember - first pizza each time we cook is a Margherita. The wood oven is clearly better than anything we made in the past - the same crust in a wood oven is sweeter - almost like it's carmelized. However, I don't think he is hitting ideal temperatures - vent design and insulation are likely problems. His pizza is about 3-4 minutes. Here's a picture.
Currently I'm finished with the dome and vent and have my first piece of flu tile mortared in. I used the pompeii oven plans for a 42" inside diameter. I poured my pad with the help of a neighbor who had the necessary 1/4 ton pickup - we used a ready-mix concrete for this. It was a thing of beauty - I rented a mixer with a 1 yard capacity, they mixed the cement with an appropriate gravel and the correct water, the mixer was turned on, we towed it to my house and just had to dump and run with wheelbarrows. I ended up making two trips (I poured a separate smaller pad for a fireplace to be built later) and with the extra time charge the total cost was $200. Anyone at the pad stage still should consider this over bag concrete. The towing capacity is the sticking point, my neighbor's truck was barely adequate.
I'm planning a work area next to the oven. I rented a mixer and had my brother help me for the hearth pour. I used concrete board with plenty of wood support and poured a two layer hearth with perlite concrete as the top layer, 2x8 forms with 4 inches of rebar reinforced bag concrete for the lower layer. The perlite concrete settled some so it is only about 2 inches thick - I poured to have three inches. I'm expecting this will be fine - my father just has sand under his oven floor and his pizza is still good, although we use a lot of wood to keep the fire hot in his oven.
Here are pictures of the oven floor and dome construction. Like others, I found some difficulty achieving a perfectly smooth surface over the sand/fireclay bed for the bricks. I do not have a grinder for the project but improvised what I think is a very good solution. I rubbed another firebrick over the floor - focusing on any uneven areas but worked around most of the floor. This gave a very even surface without any low areas that an angle grinder might have created.
As noted previously, I built a Neapolitan dome with an 18 inch height, 42 inch diameter. To set the dome profile I laid out full bricks (9") in my best impression of a parabola (I eyeballed it) and measured the gaps. These began on the low parts of the dome at over 1 1/2 inches and tapered to less than an inch. I cut 9 inch long shims to the proper thickness and built the dome with half bricks without any forms - it actually ended up at an 18" height (to my mild surprise). After the first 4 rows I began using trapezoids, sometimes intermixed with rectangular half bricks. All my cutting was done with a $17 masonry blade on my old skill saw. My dad scared me with his story of using refractory mortar - he used Heatstop and his mortar cost was over $350 - this with a mixture of perlite into the mortar for some (questionably effective) insulation and a reduction of mortar use. I used the sand, lime, cement, fireclay recipe from the pompeii plans. Based on my dad's experience I overbought cement, fireclay and lime. I used most of a bag of fireclay and only about half a bag of lime and cement. I think some of my trapezoid cuts really reduced my mortar use. By the way, soak the bricks before the cuts - markedly reduces the amount of airborne toxic (silicosis is a lung disease) brick dust.
In order to build without a form or another helper I stacked extra bricks inside the dome as a platform. As I reached the 5th from the last chain I began wedging bricks on the platform against the row I was working on - I had two cut at an angle (see pic) that were very helpful for this. Really only the two end bricks of each in progress chain needed any support. This was a little hairy and at times I was somewhat urgently wedging in my keystone while my row was starting to slide. Once the keystone for each row was in there was a great lock. The whole process would have been a lot easier with another set of hands.
I just finished the vent and first flu tile last night. My arch for the front of my vent was less sturdy than I wanted. First I added some nonflying buttresses. Then, in a fit of paranoia I added an angle iron resting on blocks outside of my first buttresses (does that qualify these second buttresses as flying?) Certainly not as elegant as the cathedral at Notre Dame (france, not south bend). I inherited my dad's approach to engineering - make it thicker until you stop worrying. The front of the vent is supported partially by the arch and partially by the angle iron, the rear rests on the dome arch.
Next step is to construct the chimney. I'm looking at this for guidance:
Well done Maver. You've done an excellent job. Has anyone else singlehandedly erected their dome? I certainly won't be doing mine alone.
You're doing a fine job. If the rest of it turns out as well, you'll be "flying." I built my own dome myself, redbrick, and it was a nail biting, swearing, sweaty piece of paranoia. BUT, it hasn't fallen down, ta da.
That looks great Maver!
Che bella (if your oven's a she!). Very nice work. I've heard many stories about sand in the hearth under the oven (that and volcanic tufa), but I think your oven will perform a lot better with the Perlife. I packed sand around the dome of my San G. oven, and was not happy with it. You could feel that is wicked heat away from the oven. We make mistakes so you don't have to. :rolleyes:
Don't go light on the vermiculite/perlite around your dome. I think that will really help you keep the 750-800F you want for Pizza Napoletana.
Way to go.
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