Build A Wood Fired Earth Oven

apieceofrainbow31 (1)b 3 weeks ago I attended an Earth Oven (also call Cob Oven) building class taught by one of the best teachers in this field, Kiko Denzer ( for more on Kiko and his books see the end of the article!), at the fabulous Grain Gathering.

I will share a quick overview of this amazing class so this post does not get too long. If you want to dig deeper, I made a pdf with more details for you to print and keep, see resources at the end!

You are probably wondering -”What can you make in this little mud oven?” Good question!

The next 3 pictures are from our friend Bill (Thank you Bill!!!) who bought an oven made by the class last year. He loves it so much and decided to join our class this year so he can build another one!

apieceofrainbow31 (64)apieceofrainbow31 (65)apieceofrainbow31 (63)Bill has been using the oven almost once a week for a year now. I asked him to share what are his favorite things to make, here’s what Bill said -

you do get a long cooking time from each firing if you think of cooking along the temperature curve with pizza first, bread, then braises of all sorts.( pulled pork,beans, rice of all ethnic cooking styles) pies and cookies and then overnight meats like carnitas. the end temp. is long in the 250 f range and is great for drying fruits, toasting nut’s and great grilled cheese. those are my favorites … really it works for everything that you can imagine as long as you understand a dish’s temperature requirements.

“Here are a few shots of a fun Sunday bake. 3.5 hr fire, coals burned out and got 900 F dropping to 600 after coals out. Baked pizza, bread at 500 F then cooled to 400 F and did the bean casserole and still the next day(24hrs) oven still at 250 F for any drying of fruit!!”

OK, is this enough temptation for you to run out there and start building yet?

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During the 6 hour long class, we built 2 portable earth ovens, which were auctioned the next day. I learned so much about building with earth and other readily available materials. There’s such simplicity and beauty to the process that I find deeply inspiring.

Kiko and the event organizers graciously allowed me to share my experience of this awesome class with you. So here’s a quick run through of what we did.

Step 1: Create sand-clay mix apieceofrainbow31 (57)How fun it is that our work is to dance in the mud?

Step 2: Make a portable base with insulationapieceofrainbow31 (56)The glass jars and vermiculite provide insulation. The fire brick hearth is set on top of that.

Step 3: Build a sand formapieceofrainbow31 (58)Just like building a sand castle! The sand is scooped out after the next 2 layers are built.

Step 4: Build the thermal layer. apieceofrainbow31 (61)apieceofrainbow31 (59)The purpose of the thermal layer is to hold heat in its dense mass. We also made a “molding” around the oven door opening.

Step 5: Insulation layer. The purpose of this layer is to hold the heat of the thermal layer.apieceofrainbow31 (60)

apieceofrainbow31 (62)And of course, don’t forget to take a nice break and show off your muddy hands!

Finally, the finish layer! An earthen plaster is applied to the final layer to give the oven a smooth finish and decorative sculptural details!apieceofrainbow31 (55)

apieceofrainbow31 (67)Some resources if you are serious to get started!

  • I put the pictures with more detailed descriptions into a pdf you can download and keep, it’s meant to be a fun experience shared by a beginner! If you are ready to build, please check out works of the following great teachers who offer a vast amount of knowledge in earth building!!
  • one of the best books – Building Your Own Earth Oven by our teacher Kiko Denzer, it offers lots of valuable information from planning, site considerations, to foundations and roof options, as well as many variations on materials and designs. You can even get it as an instant pdf download! And Kiko’s website, where you can find great articles on building with earth. You will not only appreciate his knowledge, but also his wisdom on how to live life more simply yet more fully.
  • another of my favorite books on earth building – The Hand-Sculpted House by the great pioneers Ianto Evans(Kiko’s teacher) and Michael Smith. I took a week long class from Michael and built a cob / straw bale room at a Waldorf School – one of the best weeks ever! Michael’s website, lots of great natural building methods, and workshops! 
  • if you love natural finishing, here’s a beautiful book The Natural Plaster Book: Earth, Lime, and Gypsum Plasters for Natural Homes with ideas and recipes from many cultures
  • The Bread Ovens of Quebec is an exquisite book. It’s out of print, but available as a free ebook via the Canadian Museum of History. It’s possible that it might be back in print soon.

apieceofrainbow31 (48)apieceofrainbow31 (12)Once you get your hands DIRT-Y, you will fall in love with earth building.  It’s a magical way of building that connects us with our essence, with the elements of earth, fire, water and air, with makers across centuries and continents, and, with one another.

Before you go, if you love the idea of building in harmony with the earth, you will enjoy this post on Earthships! apieceofrainbow-32 (19)

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