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Saro 10-17-2013 08:33 AM

Colonial Beehive Oven
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Hello Guys

I recently acquired a very old colonial home in PA that has a large 10 foot cooking fireplace with an attached beehive oven. The oven vents through the door opening directly into the fireplace chimney, as typical for a house of that period (1690). The oven was restored by an architect circa 25 years ago and never used by the previous owner. They just liked the historical look of it. I would like to use the oven but I am troubled by its odd dimension

1) front to back depth 50"
2) side to side width 40#
3) Dome height 30" at the center where the last capping bricks were inserted; and 26.6 off center toward the beginning of the curved radial portion of the dome
4) Door Height 14.5

Looking at the outside igloo portion of the oven it appears to me to look like a primitive horno oven (see picture) and I was told that the architect reconstructed it based on the remains of the original one.

I tried firing it up last weekend. It burns wood very well and it vents fine through the front door. It took though two full hours to clear the dome and the clearing was somehow spotty on the sides. It also never cleared the side walls next to the door opening.

I am not sure whether this was the result of 25 years of not use or it is due to the unusually high dome. I do not have the money or time at the moment to take it down and redo it. So, I will be very grateful for any help or suggestion you guys can provide.


cobblerdave 10-19-2013 01:04 AM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
That doesn't sound that bad at all. The ovens probably a bit damp that's why it has not cleared low down . 2 hours is not an overly long time either especially considering its damp. I would just fire it again and you find that it will come better with every firing.
63 per cent is the perfect ratio of dome height to door hieght but your oven will still operate.
I recon you should enjoy what you have and have a play with it and see what you can make it do.
Regards dave

Saro 10-19-2013 09:35 AM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
Thanks Dave. I will surely try and today I will fire it again. Planning to make bread. I will post more on the result. Hopefully works. Consider also that since I did not build it, I do not even know what kind of insulation, if any at all, is on the dome. Hope for the best. If I can get a a few years of use I will be happy.

Any other suggestion from other members with experience?


stonecutter 10-19-2013 01:57 PM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
I have restored several of these...they were not constructed the way Pompeii ovens are.

I would almost guarantee that the spotty dome has nothing to do with dampness, but is due to uninsulated mass. Early ovens never used the oven hotter and longer.

stonecutter 10-19-2013 01:59 PM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
I would love to see more pics...the earliest one I worked on was 1692.

cobblerdave 10-19-2013 03:02 PM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
From what I've read the high dome and the "pear shape" encouraged the flame and hot gases to linger in the oven as long as possible so to pass on their heat to the brickwork. The ovens didnt have insulation as such but depended on storing their heat in the thermal mass where it would be released back into the oven. Insulation as we know it seems to be a pretty modern innovation. It makes for a weekend oven that can be taken from cold to pizza in a short time played with for a few days and the ignored again for a time
Anyway that's the way I see it.
I too would like to see some more pics and here anything that stonecutter could tell us about these ovens
Regards dave

Saro 10-19-2013 09:40 PM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
Thanks Stonecutter. You are correct there is no insulation. The oven outside surface stay cool until the dome clears and then slowly reaches 150 F to the touch of the outside surface. Result is that after one batch of bread the oven drops temperature. As result also several airline cracks have developed on the outside cladding, not in the brickwork itself. The cracks are more noticeable when the oven is hot, but the shrink back again and are barely noticeable after the oven cools. Suggestions for the cracks? Should I worry?

I will post more pictures tomorrow. I will post pictures of the oven door and the oven location within the fireplace.

Thanks a lot guys for helping me with this.

cobblerdave 10-19-2013 09:56 PM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
I was thinking could this oven be insulated say if only an inch of ceramic and stucco over what's there. Even if it just keeps the surface cool.
On the other side do you really need multiple batches of bread?
I wouldn't rush in to anything till you find out what suits and what you need.
An insulated oven takes time to lose the temperature, it might well be advantageous to be able to do a flatbread/pizza then bake some bread and finish a slow roast to finish in one day?
Regards dave

stonecutter 10-20-2013 04:05 AM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
There isn't anything you can do for cracking that will hold up long term. Not really something to worry about unless they open up and let excessive heat and sparks out during a fire. Keep an eye on it.

stonecutter 10-20-2013 04:16 AM

Re: Colonial Beehive Oven
I'm on my phone in rural New England with terrible service, so a good discussion my my end wont happen for a while...can't believe I got these in.

Briefly though...I'm suspect of this restoration. Personally, I have never seen a beehive built on a stand outside the finish masonry of the fp. That doesn't. Mean they never existed, but I think this is Retro fitted to the fp, and the original.was smaller...and was not outside the home.

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