How to make a backyard mud oven. Cheap, fun, and makes a professional qualtity pizza!

Easy mud ovens

photo credit: treehugger.com
photo credit: treehugger.com

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mud oven building

Making a backyard mud or clay oven is a great family project, and once completed, you will be able to make fantastic hearth breads, and professional quality pizza. A mud oven is a wood burning oven, which used the residual heat from the firing to cook with.

A basic backyard oven can be made for next to nothing, and will be a very satisfying project for the whole family. There will be lots of mud and squishing and stuff; and kids will definitely enjoy the process.

A cob or clay oven is vastly superior to your conventional oven for pizzas and bread. The massive radiant heat that is stored in thick mud walls will deliver deep crusts to your bread, and you can keep a live fire going to make fantastic pizzas in about 3 minutes! You can never get your home oven hot enough to really make a great pizza, but your wood fire mud oven can get seriously hot.

The steps as follows are a pretty basic guide, and if you get inspired, you can visit the links at the bottom the page for more information.

Basically all you need is sand, clay, and straw. The straw serves as insulation, so if you have another insulation that you'd prefer to use (rice hulls, cellulose etc.) you can substitute for the straw. The straw should be chopped small, for easier mixing.

You are going to make the oven using to different mixtures of "mud". The outer mixture, under and over the oven, will be a very light mixture, using as much insulating straw, and as little sand and clay as possible, and the inner layer, will use no straw, and be a heavy and dense mixture, perfect for heat storage.

To start, make a fireproof platform for your oven. It is easier to use if you raise this up to at least waist height, but you can certainly do it on the ground if you'd prefer to simplify the project (that's what I did!). A good base for the oven is a layer of rock. On top of this lay about 8 inches of clay/sand/straw mixture. You want to use as much straw as you can, but the mixture must still sort of stick together. Clay and sand should be added in a ratio of 4 parts sand, to one part clay.

The mixing of this is both the fun part, and also the hard part. It is best mixed with your feet, ala squishing grapes for wine! Lay a tarp on the ground, and add your sand/clay mixture, and as much water as needed to make a thick mud. Keep adding straw until the mixture will no longer make a sticky ball. You should be able to take a baseball sized lump of this stuff, drop it from waist height, and have it still stick together.

Now for the hearth floor. You can either use a mud floor, or a brick floor. If using bricks, lay down a quarter inch of sand, and lay the bricks down until they exceed the oven diameter eventually wanted by a couple of inches. You can either use regular red bricks, or fire bricks. Red bricks should work fine, but fire bricks will last longer. Lay the bricks on their sides, to make the hearth floor about 4 inches thick.

If using mud, mix as before, omitting all the straw You don't want to add more than one part clay to the mixture of four parts sand, as the clay will crack when dried if there is not enough sand. Basically, use as little clay as you can get away with. Lay the "mud" down until you have reached the size wanted for the hearth floor. The mud floor will not be as durable as a brick floor, but if you are only going to be using the oven occasionally, it should be fine.

Next you want to make a mold of the interior dome of the oven. This is very easily done using wet sand. Make a mound of sand, and add water as needed so that it will all stay together. When finished, cover with wet newspaper all over.

The height of the oven is not really that important, as long as the height of the door is 63% of the height of the top of the oven's interior. This ratio is quite important for correct airflow when firing your oven. If you don't get the door/height ratio right, it will be a lot harder to keep a fire going inside the oven. For example, if your oven interior was 20 inches tall, then your door should be about 13 inches tall.

On top of the sand mold, lay about 4 inches of the clay/sand mud; don’t forget to leave the doorway free! On top of this mixture, add another 6-8 inches of the insulating straw mud.

Presto chango…you've made an oven!

It's best to let the whole thing dry out quite slowly. The likelihood of cracking increases if you try to heat the oven to promote drying. After a few days, if you want to speed things up, you may light a few small fires in the oven.

The oven should be completely dry after a couple of weeks, and ready for use. Many people use a hardwood door carved into the shape of their door frame.

When ready to use, light a big fire in the oven, and let it burn for a few hours. Sweep out all the ashes, close the door and wait for bout half an hour and you're good to go.

Alternatively, you can make pizza in the Italian style by maintaining a small fire in the corner of the oven as you cook.

Using your oven is another subject entirely, and beyond the scope of this hub!

The preceding information was a pretty general guide, and is only meant to demonstrate how conceptually easy and inexpensive the building of a backyard oven can be. They work very well, and your pizzas and breads will be the envy of the neighborhood.

Enjoy!

How to mix the cob (it's more fun than it looks in this video...)

After you finish the oven - get inspired and build a cob cottage!!!

Comments 72 comments

Angela Harris profile image

Angela Harris 9 years ago from Around the USA

I love this idea! I'm very interested in trying this. I'll let you know how it went if I do.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 9 years ago Author

That's great Angela. Let me know if you have any questions along the way.


.:.:. 8 years ago

lol the last comment was made 6 months ago... shows how much this website sucks (no offense)


GK 8 years ago

either that or it's so comprehensive there are no questions. Thanks for the tips


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 8 years ago Author

Hey thanks, GK


Poqui 8 years ago

I just found your website and I am interested in building a backyard oven. I read your directions and they sound pretty clear. We'll see how our creation turns out... Thanks for putting these instructions online!


David Michael O'Neill 8 years ago

been looking all over for a basic layout for a pizza oven & finally found yours. Simple & easy to understand. Thanks so much for this!

Best wishes Dave


monique 8 years ago

Hi there!

Thanks for your instuctions.It sounds quite simple.Im going to give it a go,but first i have 1 question for you.Do/did you put a small chimney /airhole in the oven?Do i need one?

Thanx.Mon


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 8 years ago Author

Hi Mon,

No chimney! The fire burns with the door ope - and that is why it is quite important to get the dimensions of the door correct. The height of the door should be 63% the height of the interior of the oven dome. With these proportions, there is good air flow and draft, and the fire is well fed with oxygen.

You don't want a chimney, as since this is a retained heat oven, once the firing is done - you want to be able to close the door tight and seal in all that lovely heat for baking - without losing any of it out the top of a chimney!

Have fun,

John


Brian 8 years ago

Great site. I've been looking around lately for an inexpensive alternative that I think I could handle. I built a backyard tandoori oven using a terra cot pot and works pretty well. Now I made this oven propane fired (took too long for the wood to get going and to sustain heat). Could I substitute wood with same thing for this mud oven?

Thanks.


Roy 8 years ago

This is the best set of 'general' instructions on the web! And guess what? I have often wondered how the floor of historic/prehistoric ovens were made without firebrick - and knew it had to be some sort of mud mixture - but you are the ONLY one yet to desccribe the mixture to use. If you have more details about that, I'd love to hear them.

I ask this because I'd like to replicate the ancient version - just to see how well it does. I think that an article on an oven with mud floor would be a killer topic for those like me who 'practice primitive' and of course for survival/wilderness/backwoods enthusiasts as well. I have never found a treament on the subject.

So thank you very much for this great topic!


Kirby 7 years ago

I recently finished my backyard tandoor made of off-the-shelf parts you should find at most major home-improvement stores.

I just completely a blog post outlining the process I went through and wanted to share with other tandoor/clay oven enthusiasts.

Garbage can tandoor: http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/kirby...


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 7 years ago Author

Hi Kirby,

I love your Tandoor!!! Great site, I am seriously tempted to build one too now. http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/kirby... - well worth a visit.


Christa Dovel profile image

Christa Dovel 7 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

Thanks for the great information! I've wanted to build one of these for a while now. Bookmarked it. :D


Fred 7 years ago

Neat - but I think you mean "straw" everywhere that you've written "hay."


Tad Ermitano 7 years ago

Apparently wood ashes, mixed with water, makes a kind of cement. A friend used to smear the floor of his makeshift fireplace with it, and it was hard as a rock. Have you heard of this technique? Seems like it could be used to coat a mud floor.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 7 years ago Author

Fred, You are absolutely right - shows how much time I (didn't) spend on the farm growing up!


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 7 years ago Author

Hi Tad,

I am sorry, but I am not familiar with that - although I have heard of something similar using fly ash (the ash from burnt coal).


Jim Krenek 7 years ago

Where did you find the clay? Is it available at a mason supply?

I find this very interesting due to the fact that I am a baker and would love to make breads outside like this. I think it would be a huge neighborhood hit.

Thanks for the info.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 7 years ago Author

I got the clay from a friend who had a ceramics business. Most people that build these get the clay from a hole they dig in the ground! I wasn't so lucky, but have you done a test on your site for naturally occurring clay? I am sure that a mason supply store would have fire clay for sale, or could at least point you in the right direction.

You can also use portland cement, if you can't find clay - although this is slightly less "Green"


Lawrence 6 years ago

i tried making one of these but in a different way.... so the goal for my clay oven was to heat up the pasteurizer to 60 degress with the help of the oven but everytime i tried to light it up the fire would only last for a sort period of time. While i wanted to keep the fire going for around 1 hour Why is that?


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Lawrence,

I wonder if the ratio of door height to oven dome height was off - it's kind of important to keep that at .63 so that you get good airflow to stoke the fire without getting so much airflow as to lose all the heat!

If your door was too small the fire might not get enough air to keep it burning?


Red Elk 6 years ago

Ejoyed this Greatly. VERY helpful 2 me!

Ive been building a "Miny Dome" (Hubbit Hut / Gnome home) in the earth. A low (to serfice groundline) structure. In doing I maade a built in "fireplace" dug into the back dirt "wall". Dome one. But problem with smoke n good fire going. ok AFTER the "smoke out" tho (yes ; chimning atApex n on up). At first I had a bigger door opening...but still smoke...so added air tubes n made a SMALLER door entry. WORSE!

Thanks 2 u, the door opening will now be bigger...even bigger then originel. HO!

On the floor I used "crushed" Lava Stone to retain heat.

Over my yrs. Ive used a 50/50 WOOD ASH / SALT mix to repair holes in metel stoves. ROCK HARD Repair BUT eventualy the salt rusted the metel. Still, that was on metel. Will now use that mix to "floor" the bottom Lavea Stone. (Thank you "sender").

I bought 3 Dog House Domes to use as my planed outside oven.

Will vasolin the exsterior n cover with Paper Macia'...let dry, lift off paper shell, place on oven base n start mudding that. Start my fire n burn off the interior Paper M. All locked 2gather (base n dome). Aho?

Will make all 3 sizes side by side...little to big. Have one for amount of folks comeing "for dinner". Aho?

While in Hopi Land Ive eaten their Dome Oven breads...FANTASTIC! Nothing like THAT made anywhere but by those ovens! SURE WORTH BUILDERS' EFFETS. GO FOR IT!! re


Red Elk 6 years ago

PS to above; I will allso b pushing in those LONG "STEMED" OVEN Thermomitors. Want to KNOW interier heat instead of full "Bake n Guess" cook. re


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Red Elk,

Thanks for the comment - sounds like you've got some interesting projects going on.

I did an earthbag house. do you have any pictures of your Miny Dome - if so I'd love to see them!


Red Elk 6 years ago

do, but dont know how 2 E them. A PC Dah. If u want to see its BEGINING, go to the Hub by "Ghoast"; Build a Servival Cabin On A Shoestring Budget. Again, basic BEGINING. Far past that now. On this hub site Ive allso made many Comment Posts...below most there.

Yes, many things going. Trying to SHOW one needs but a land place to build...n an "out Of Box" way of thinking. Most used I got from Nature n SIDE OF RD.. Salvage. When my "Hobbit Hut" is done its cost will b under $350.00. Couuld have gone FAR cheaper but got tired n bought some stuff. It sleeps 2 adults n a baby as well as a young kid (who can sleep on the TINY floor). Realy a PERMINT Servivel "tent". Most living will b outside as my NA ancesters did. This basicly 2 get out of weater / safe place 2 soleep. Aho? As said, ur site has helped me ALOT. The stove had me stumped! Too cold (snoew / ice) to finish till things warm up. Spring, it looks like. re


Tammy 6 years ago

Hi,

I have a lot of naturally occuring clay. What do you think about using pine needles? How wide should the door be? Does the oven need to be constructed all in one day?

I am really impressed with your instructions. Thanks for posting.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Tammy,

I think pine needles should work pretty well.

There is no set size for an oven door width - make it just large enough to comfortably fit the pans or the pizza peel you'll want to use. The oven height to dome height is much more important and has to be in a specific ration (.63)

The oven does not need to be constructed all in one day - no problem!

Best of luck,

John


tony bosch 6 years ago

I tried making the floor of the oven and the inner shell using wood ashes mixed with cement and sand. It works fine because the wood ashes have a very high resistance to temperature. In fact, wood ashes are used as a glaze for high fired ceramics.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Tony, thank you for letting me know about the wood ash - do you have any pics of your oven to share?!?


Red Elkk 6 years ago

Friend; did ...or REdid, the opening to the "specs" u suggest for ur oven. NO SMOKE (till fire going out n even then MUCH less). Cooked r 1st "meal" in it that evening. Pleaty of rm. to "do". So thank u...now we DO have a decent Heater / lite n Cooker in r miny-dome "Hobbit Hut". A REAL wood stove! re


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Red Elk, thank you very much for letting me know of your success - so glad it's working our for you in your Hobbit Hut!


BenJamin Garcia 6 years ago

Does the door width bring in to play with the heating?


Kiko Denzer 6 years ago

You can greatly improve oven performance by insulating underneath the hearth floor, as well as over the top of the oven -- depending on what you use for insulation and how much you put on, you can double the amount of time your oven will hold baking temps (sometimes even more). The simplest, cheapest insulation is sawdust mixed with clay slip -- pack it around empty bottles to insulate under the hearth. It's important to adapt the basic design to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption -- especially as folks are taking the design to places where fuel is scarce (The new 3d edition also covers this in detail, and there is more info and illustrations on the following blogs: http://www.chelseagreen.com/blogs/kikodenzer (especially concerning efficiency and fuel consumption) and http://www.kikodenzer.blogspot.com).

Happy mud and baking!

-- Kiko Denzer


J Poindexter profile image

J Poindexter 6 years ago from Southern California

Thanks for the interesting post. As a pizzialo, wood fired pizza is growing in popularity. There are even pizzeria's that offer training in making traditional Naples style pizza - the old fashioned way - including the ingredients and mixing of the crust mix. Getting oven temps to 700-800 + degrees is the key. MMMmmm, now I'm hungry. Thanks again for the post.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Benjamin,

Yes the wider the door the greater the heat loss during firing. Make sure you keep your height proportions at 63% of the interior dome height and then make your oven door just wide enough to comfortably fit the pans or bread/pizza peel you'll want to use.


Matt 6 years ago

Great instructions! Looks much easier than a concrete oven. I am interested in knowing the interior dimensions of your stove? Are you happy with the capacity? Also, how long does it stay hot?

Thanks


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Matt,

I've got about a 30 inch interior diameter - And it's big enough to have a fire going inside if I want to do pizzas with live fire. I think going much smaller than this may limit you, but if you are wanting to do a lot of production, you may want to go a little larger.

It will stay hot for several hours on a single few hour firing.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Matt,

I've got about a 30 inch interior diameter - And it's big enough to have a fire going inside if I want to do pizzas with live fire. I think going much smaller than this may limit you, but if you are wanting to do a lot of production, you may want to go a little larger.

It will stay hot for several hours on a single few hour firing.


AR 6 years ago

Great article, great comment section! Two quick questions (I hope they're not lame): 1.) If you were to use bricks to make an oven is the same 63% rule in play? 2.) Would it make sense to build the dome with bricks and then insulate it over the top with a more natural cob type mixture?

Thanks for your time!


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Ar,

Yes, the 63% ratio is the same, regardless of the dome material

You could certainly use a light cob as insulation - although if you are going to go to the trouble and expense to build a brick dome - you might want to consider going with an insulation that has a better R value. Brick ovens are often insulated with vermiculite or perlite which is poured around the bricks or cladding and which is then sealed in with an exterior finish of your choice. You can also get heat safe insulating 'blankets', that are also usable on ovens.

These will cost more than cob (which is pretty much free) of course, but will give your oven better performance.


AR 6 years ago

Thanks for the quick reply!

Cost is definitely an issue. An all brick oven seems more complicated and the only reason I'm thinking of a brick dome is because my brother-in-law is a mason and he's a willing helper. He also has extra brick left over from some jobs that we can use.

So, the planning continues ...

Thanks again.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi AR,

You are very welcome - best of luck on your oven!


MaritimeGem profile image

MaritimeGem 6 years ago from Gaspe Quebec Canada

I have wanted one of these for a long, long time, yours is a great one to start a beginner, thanks for the great post!


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

You are welcome - hope you have fun with it!


Jane 6 years ago

this sounds great, definitely going to try it, i have one question though, is the insulation layer - 4 parts sand and 1 part clay and the how much straw?

thanks a mill


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Jane, use as much straw as you can. As long as it still sticks together you are good to go - and the more you use the better the insulative properties.


Addy 6 years ago

Just made an oven. There is kinda a lot of smoke. My door is a lil bigger than 63%, like 70%. Is that close enough? Would the ratio being bigger make MORE smoke or less?


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Addy

A door that is too high results in a loss of too much heat when you're firing it up - but it shouldn't cause you to have a smokier fire. Maybe the wood you're using?

If you find that you can get the oven preheated to your liking in a reasonable amount of time, then don't worry about the door height. If you find that the oven takes forever to heat up (or won't heat up enough) then try making the door a little but smaller.

Best of luck!


Bev 6 years ago

Just looking into this idea. How do you make the door? You stated hardwood. Is there a preference? Do you attach it somehow or just lay it against the opening? A neighbor also told me about using styrafoam for the mold and then when the clay is dry you scrape it out. In your scenario, so you scrape the sand out? Sorry..I'm a visual person and like the step by step photos!


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

any sort of hardwood should work fine, as long as you remember to soak it in water before use so it doesn't catch fire!

As this is a pretty simple design, the door is not attached, it is simply cut to the size of the opening and then pushed in to block the hole.

Yes once the clay is dry, you just reach in and scoop the sand out.


marycolette 6 years ago

Hi,

Is there a base I can buy and then build the clay oven on top of it?? Also, how far away should I build from nearby house or fence???

Thanks for sharing your ideas and skills!


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Marycolette:

I don't know if there is a base specifically made for this - but you could certainly build a base out of bricks or cinder blocks or maybe even wood - make sure that whatever you use is strong enough to hold the many hundreds of pounds that this oven can weigh (even thousands of pounds, depending on size)

I can't give you good advice on the fire safety question. The fire can sometimes flame out of the mouth of the oven, so you definitely want to give a good buffer...maybe your local firefighter is the person to ask for this info.


Joyce 6 years ago

When making the floor out of mud,too, would it be better to make one flat floor or make bricks out of mud and lay them in the traditional way? I live in Ecuador and will be moving to the jungle soon, and only want to use material available in the jungle.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Joyce, it's a good question, but I'm not sure of the answer. In truth, I've always used a brick floor myself. I don't see off the top of my head that there would be any advantage in using mud bricks over a mud floor - but I won't guarantee that.

Best of luck

John


Lita C. Malicdem profile image

Lita C. Malicdem 6 years ago from Philippines

That was a great read and viewing! Absolutely shows how man can control his environment with a passion to innovate and create tools like the mud oven. And here's the best part- you must have spent a fortune of time, effort, and money to have built that wonderful cob cottage! No wonder that you are best viewed, too, for your amazing contribution to this community. Awesome, vote up! Thank you.


rob 6 years ago

nice article, I'm currently making a bread oven with a group of autistic kids (my first) and am having to buy in clay/sand due to no places to dig on our site; any idea roughly how much sand and clay you used (aprox) cheers


Josh 5 years ago

Hey Rob, I have build a fair few ovens fairly similar. I would say that you will need about 500kg of clay, sand and dirt mixed together for the walls. You actually need less clay than you think. 15% heaps would be plenty. For the sand you will need around 300kg. I am not sure about the floor, cause i have always used fire bricks.

Great ideas, especially for the floor, which i haven't seen before. If you are looking to build an cob oven, you might also find these plans helpful, which describe a pretty similar thing from a bit different angle. http://www.traditionalarts.com.au/woodfiredpizzaov... Hope this helps. Good luck with you oven. They are great in schools.


sasksak 5 years ago

I too, have been wanting to make something like that. Thank you so much for putting these instructions up.

do you have a suggestion for a site that would give more info on using the oven to get the best out of it that you can?


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 5 years ago Author

Sasksak - forno bravo has a pretty active forum on oven making and use - might be worth checking out.


sasksak 5 years ago

Good to know! Thanks for passing that information on!


Randall Rivers 5 years ago

You actually make it appear really easy with your presentation but I to find this topic to be actually one thing that I feel I might never understand. It kind of feels too complex and very broad for me. I am taking a look forward to your next post, I'll attempt to get the cling of it!


pepsharada profile image

pepsharada 5 years ago from Hyderabad

good idea. making an oven. the video at the end is not clear.


Fee des lilas 5 years ago

It's very interesting, want to try make one . Do you cook the pizzas and breads on the oven floor?


arav 5 years ago

hi

i would also like to make an oven

i do not have any clay but have plenty of bricks, ash and sand.

Could you suggest a way


Sterling Carter profile image

Sterling Carter 5 years ago from Indian Mound, Tennessee

I have been wanting to build one of these ovens for a very long time... You shown that is it easy to build and easy to use... I think I will make plans to build a my oven this coming spring.


luke pillar 5 years ago

gday mate what sort clay should ya use iv got three types were i live


Teezer 5 years ago

My missus pointed me at this page last week, and I've just now scraped the sand out of the inside of out first mud oven. We used clay from a lake bed, fire bricks from out chimney which got destroyed in recent earthquakes (we're in Christchurch NZ) and a load of pea-straw, a coarser version of wheat straw. Contains loads of air so hopefully a good insulator. It should dry out enough over the next few days to take a small fire on Saturday prior to its inaugural use on Sunday. Talk about a good way to make friends, already had the neighbours over twice to check it out, and loads of people I've told have invited themselves over! Will let you know how it goes, and thanks for such straightforward instructions that even I (a diy numpty) managed to follow them. Sweet as!


Suzie van Opdorp 4 years ago

Great site. I'd love to try this. Brilliant idea and DIY for low cost.


louromano profile image

louromano 4 years ago

Red Elk, thank you very much for letting me know of your success - so glad it's working our for you in your Hobbit Hut!


missy 4 years ago

awesome work. I know her Oglethorpe dirt but where do I get straw and clay from


matthew 4 years ago

so im wanting to do this thanks for the info ive been looking for awhile so can i use ga red clay mixed with water and straw

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