Spring is here again!! Flowers blooming in the fields, cherries growing plump on the trees, strawberries ripening, bees buzzing, greens growing everywhere… and we have been busy busy planning, growing, and BUILDING! Our most recent build is our beautiful, brand new, earthen cob oven. Lots of local folks came out to help us with the project, friends from East Wind Community, folks from the Ava Growers Market, and some good friends from down the road. Most of the materials were sourced from the land we call home. We dug the clay from a hole next to the Outdoor Kitchen, shoveled creek sand into buckets and hauled it up here, and the platform the cob oven sits upon is built from beautiful large rocks from the creek bed. We used firebrick that we salvaged from here and there, tiles for a lovely countertop also laying around on the property… this land is just full to the brim with useful supplies!
The structure on the left was built over the Winter and finished this Spring using roundwood Cedar timbers from our beautiful forest. It is primarily timber framed and we attached it to the timber frame building on the right side which was built several years ago by a former Communard. That beautiful structure on the left side there surrounded by river rocks is our cob oven platform. There are pallets on top of old metal barrels that act as the real structure, all sourced from our scrap piles, and the rocks serve as beauty and form. We filled the pallets with a simple clay and sand cob mixture to insulate the cob oven.
We began the build by first setting up fire bricks where we wanted the cob oven. Then we made a form by putting some salvaged cinder block and a bucket full of bricks to take up space within our sand form. The sand form was made from sifted creek sand and water, basically like building a sand castle, but a sand igloo! This is just to make the shape of the cob oven. You build the middle to be the size that you want the interior of the oven. When the oven is dry, we will dig out the sand castle and remove the blocks and bucket. Once the form was complete, we covered it in wet phone book paper. This is to insure that the sand igloo doesn’t mix with the cob and making it easier to dig out.Without this you could easily dig out extra or have sand falling onto your first pizzas.
Cob cob COB!!! The mixture we ended up using was one bucket of clay to two buckets of sand, give or take some handfuls. With every batch we mixed, we did a drop test to check the consistency. After stomping and mixing the clay and sand and water thoroughly, we took a handful of it and kneaded it about 50 times, then dropped it from chest height onto the tarp we mixed it on. If it crumbles and breaks apart, there is too much sand. We always veered on the side of too much sand and gradually added more clay until we could drop it without crumbling. Too much clay in the mixture will cause more cracking as the oven dries. The ration of sand to clay in cob will vary a lot from place to place depending on the amount of silt and soil in your clay.
First layer of cob is complete, about 4 inches thick… now for the second layer!!
After a firey Beltane and cob celebration, we went to bed, woke up the next day, and went wild with more mud for layer two of the oven! We didn’t get as many photos of the beginning stages of this layer but it went on the same way, from the bottom up. This layer is made from the same clay and sand mixture with added straw this time for extra insulative properties. This layer was intended to be about 3 inches thick but is between and 4 and 6 inches in many places. We decided when the oven is dry we are going to chisel out the door a bit and make it wider so we can fit up to 14 inch pizzas in there! During this awesome workshop, we splurged on loads of yummy pizzas from our small cob oven that we completed a couple years ago. Wish I would have snapped some shots of our scrumptious yummies! I promise they were beautiful. So now we are letting the cob oven dry out for a while. We may add some sculpting to the oven to make her super awesome and one of a kind and we will add a plaster and mosaic once she’s dry.
This is our mini cob oven, built long before the Outdoor Kitchen extension. We still use it once a week for pizza nights!
Hope you found this inspirational and educational! Let me know if you have any questions and get out there to play in the mud…