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Mud Oven instructions

Mud Oven instructions

A basic mud oven is a simple, dome shaped shell of mud and sand made up of 3 layers
         1. dense thermal layer
         2. less dense layer with straw
         3. finish layer

First, figure how big to make the oven - start off with deciding how often and for what you will be using it. lay out loaf/pizza pans to see how big a circle you need to contain it - thats how big the oven needs to be.

Build your foundation.  Ideally the mud oven will be built on some kind of stable platform, recycled bricks is good or an old tree stump.

Lay down a layer of mud clay mix about 2 cm thick - It will be roughly a mix of 75% sand and 25% clay with a little water to mix.  Make sure you use sharp sand, not round sand - ask about that at the garden centre. To test if it is right consistency - make it dry not too wet, pack it into a firm ball. Drop it onto the ground and it should hold its shape if it crumbles add more clay, if it goes flat add more sand, if it holds its shape - perfect.

Draw a circle the size you want the oven to be on the mud.  Lay out a grid of bricks  to make the base of the oven.  You can use expensive fire bricks which hold more heat but ordinary recycled bricks are fine - just make sure they are clean and flat

Cover the bricks with a layer of this mud mix - about 1-2 cm thick.

Break a stick so that is measures the same as the radius of the oven base.  You can use this to draw a circle on top of the mud mix so you know the shape of your oven.  Then stand the stick up.  That is how high you need to make the pile of sand that will create the "hole" that is the oven once all the mud layers dry.

With your diameter stick still in the middle of the oven floor foundation, wet your sand a little and start making a mound on top of the oven floor.  When you get to the top of the stick you are done and thanks to gravity, it will form a cone, beehive shape all by itself.
Once you have the sand form in place, wet some newspaper and create a layer over the sand - that way when you come to hollow out the sand, you will know you are done when you hit the newspaper.

On top of the newspaper, sculpt a thick layer of the mud clay (about 8-10 centimetres thick) - the same mix you used on the oven floor.  Don't press it down too much, just enough to make it all gel together with no obvious holes.

Next is a thermal straw layer which means you need a 50:50 mix of straw with a wetter version of the mud mix.  Place a thick layer of the thermal straw carefully on top of the mud layer - making sure there aren't any gaps.  The layer is naturally much thicker because of the straw - like 15 centimetres or so.

Finally, a finishing layer of the mud mix.  This one is about 5-8 centimetres thick as well.  Once it is roughly in place, use a damp trowel to smooth it off to get a nice even surface.
Shape a hole for the door.  It must be 63% of the total oven height for optimum cooking.  Be careful when making the hole for the door as the whole form is still fragile.  Scrap away the mud layers until you have the right size for the door and tidy up the edges.  Build a door to fit the hole - it doesn't have to be flash or seal perfectly, just hold in a decent amount of heat.

Leave to dry for a few days.  Once the mud is dry, scoop out the sand slowly. 

To ensure your oven hardens on the inside allow for a few test fires to dry it out.
Light your first fire and leave to burn for half an hour.  Next day, burn a fire for an hour and then you should be away.

Learning how long to burn your fire for in order to cook your desired meal is a bit tricky.  Burning a fire for an hour generally gives enough heat to cook a couple of pizzas with the first one cooking in about half the time of the second - so the first might take 10 minutes and the second 20 minutes.  Best to keep an eye on those early meals until you get a feel for it as my experience showed it doesn't take long for something to char to a blackened lump.