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Archive for September, 2008

I gotta take a break!

I’ve been working steadily since the last post. That is, until today. My back had been giving me twinges, but a couple extra Tylenol and being able to sit on a little stool had allowed me to keep going. This morning, my back told me “you better pay attention to me or I’m going to cripple you!”, so I listened. Today is an off day, but I’m posting pictures of the progress so far.

Front of oven - almost time for first arch

Front of oven - almost time for first arch

The dog in the picture below isn’t ours. It’s a neighbor’s dog who is let out every morning to “be a dog”. That means coming to our house to poop and eat any cat food that he can scrounge. I don’t mind donating the leftover cat food, but I do hate having to watch where I step. I wouldn’t hurt this dog for the world but would like to give his owners a clue about how crappy (yes, that’s just the right word) it is to let him dump in our yard. I’ve thought about “care” packages on their doorstep, but don’t want to start a war. Thanks for letting me vent!

 

Back of the oven with Buddy the dog in background

Back of the oven with Buddy the dog in background

It won’t be very long at all till I need to cut some bricks to fit around the wood storage area arch. I had thought about doing that today instead of actually laying brick, but I’m listening to my back and working on lightweight things for my small business around the kitchen table instead.

Some inside bread baking will be done later this week. Vaughn actually wants me to bake bread to take on vacation so we’ll have something to snack on as we sit on our condo porch and watch the waves, pelicans, drunk tourists, dolphins, sharks, etc.

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After a day off to work a shift at Ally’s Attic, I’m back to laying more brick. Ally’s Attic is a local (Snellville) antique / flea market where I’ve rented a display cabinet to sell some of the accumulations of this life. The Attic’s dealers are required to work one day a month besides paying booth rental. It’s a lot of fun to help the customers and look for stuff for yourself. The Attic isn’t off topic because during my last two visits, I’ve bought stuff for the oven!  First purchase was a nice work table that I’ll leave outside next to the oven to have a place to set the bread before and after it’s baked. The other purchase involves cast iron. I bought a 10″ skillet and a two quart pot with a lid. These will come in very handy when cooking things that can’t be placed directly on the hearth bricks. Since there was no telling where these pots had been, I scrubbed them thoroughly with hot water and soap. Then they had to be re-seasoned. A light film of Crisco and 30 minutes in a 350 degree regular oven did the trick. Right at the end, I opened up the oven door and Crisco smoke came whooshing out into the kitchen. Somewhat smelly! The house windows were opened and I turned on the ceiling fans until the next morning. The pots are now ready to use again.

Other side - smashed finger occured here!

Other side - smashed finger occured here!

More brick was laid today. That’s where the smashed finger comes from. I was tapping a brick into place and hit my finger instead. Cuss Word! Oh, forgot to mention that I also got a leg cramp. Laying brick is hard work. Here are photos of progress to date.

One side

One side

The “giving back” of the title comes from an encounter with a guy I found while looking for supplies on craigslist. He needed a cup of mortar in order to reapply a towel bar in his bathroom that his little girl used for gymnastics.  He simply didn’t need 60 pounds of mortar, but that’s the size bag it comes in.

 I gave him a cup full and he was on his way.

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Laid 16 more bricks today. Wow, I’m zooming along.  Vaughn also ordered some neat oven-related gifts for me for Christmas. One is an ash bucket. I had been looking on eBay but we found this one at Plow and Hearth. It will fit nicely under the ash slot and it has a double bottom and a lid. He got the black one for me. The red one would have clashed with the brick color.

Ash bucket - I will receive the black one!

Ash bucket - I will receive the black one!

Other gift is a 25 lb. sack of what we in the South call fat lighter. It’s naturally sap inpregnated pine wood in thin splits. It catches fire very quickly and burns hot. One or two pieces will be all I’ll need to get my oven fire going.

Fat Lighter - flames in a bag

Fat Lighter - flames in a bag

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3 Days, 35 Bricks

Can you believe it’s taken me 3 days to lay 35 bricks? I KNOW it’s slow, but the good news is I’m getting better each time I pick up the trowel.  Mortar is funny stuff. It needs to be just the right consistency and it’s sort of frustrating that a lot of it squishes out when you seat the brick. That’s what it’s supposed to do, but still!

First day I mixed up about a third of a bag of mortar, set up a mortar board and tried to sit on a little stool to get comfortable (HA!) at ground level. By the end of an hour or two (didn’t keep count), I was worn out and had laid about 10 bricks. I was trying to be too neat with the mortar itself for one thing. Also, using the level countless times is a slowdown.  However, I’m pretty pleased with how it looks so far and the bonus is that Vaughn also says it looks good. When I asked if he was surprised, he said “Yes”.  He never condescends and tells me my butt doesn’t look big when it obviously does, or my brickwork looks good when it obviously doesn’t 🙂

On the second and third day the brickwork powered right along. At 10 bricks a day it will only take me about 50 days to lay them all. Good Grief – I’m bound to get faster, right? I’ve learned to wet the bricks as I lay them and to keep my mortar a bit wetter. I’m now kneeling on a foam pad to save my knees and allow me to wear the same pair of filthy jeans at least two days in a row.

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That’s how much the hearth slab weighs (and a bit more)!  The forms are off the slab, and I’m disappointed that it’s not as pretty a concrete pour as the base slab. Not sure what happened, but the concrete set up much quicker.

Click to enbiggen the chunky concrete work!

Click to enbiggen the chunky concrete work!

Could be my mixing water should have been cooler, or the humidity that day could have been something other than the 90% that we got stuck with. Vaughn suggested that I stucco over the chunky exterior. I would if it would show, but it will be hidden by the brickwork on the exterior of the oven.

Next step for this oven is to start the brick exterior. I’ve done some preliminary layout work to make sure I’ve figured the brick placement correctly. I’ve even bought the first bag of mortar mix. However, for some reason, I’m somewhat nervous about taking this step. The brickwork needs to look good, so I’ll start on the back side of the oven in case my only-read-about-it-on-the-internet brick laying skills need honing. I think I’ve let a couple of little birdies erode my confidence but I’ll get over that.

Before I go, I wanted to show how the ash slot area came out of the form. This is an opening in the slab that will allow me to rake ashes and coals from the oven fire into a metal bucket poised to catch them.

Ash slot in hearth slab

Ash slot in hearth slab

Oh goody – another item to shop for. I’m looking at coal hods on eBay.

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The Hearth Slab is poured

Today’s big finale was the concrete pour for the hearth slab. Just as we did for the base slab, we got up bright and early so that we could work while it was relatively cool. With tropical storm Hannah on the coast of NC, we were hoping to have overcast skies and a breeze. Instead we got sun and no breeze.

I again used cold water (ice in a cooler full of water) to mix the concrete since air temps were in the seventies and getting higher. I had purchased 10 bags of 60# size Quikrete for this slab, but last night as I was trying to get to sleep, I got worried that 10 wouldn’t be enough. Why? Because as I was putting the forms for the slab together, I ended up with a form that would give me a slab depth of 6 3/4″ instead of 6″. I hoped that the insulation layer would compensate for that difference, but I just didn’t want to get caught a bag, or worse yet, a partial bag short.

To work around that, I decided to do a “make your own” bag of concrete with supplies I had on hand. I had a bag of gravel, a bag of sand, portland cement and lime. Everything you need to make really great concrete! I had a recipe from Rado (oven master), did the math to get the correct proportions of everything and made a nice sticky batch of concrete that I put over the insulation layer. The lime in this batch will supposedly help the concrete hold up better in the long run to the high heat in the oven. This batch WAS very sticky. Vaughn reported that it was much harder to mix in the wheelbarrow. Glad we didn’t make home-made concrete for the whole slab.

Two layers of welded wire mesh were installed inside this slab. There are also two reinforcing bars made from an old metal fence post embedded in the front of the slab to help support the extra weight of the chimney that will rise from this area. All in all, a good day’s work. I had to take a nap this afternoon!!

Fresh slab covered with wet burlap to help cure

Fresh slab covered with wet burlap to help cure

Side shot of oven base showing forms

Side shot of oven base showing forms

Front shot of oven - gargoyle had to move.

Front shot of oven - gargoyle had to move.

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Big Steps Continued

After the paint had dried, it was time to make and install the forms for the hearth slab. This slab will support the oven chamber itself and is the surface upon which the firebricks will be be laid. The first to go in are the bridge supports that go from side to side. In this picture, you can see the form that’s closest to the front opening. There are two others further back that help hold up two sheets of Hardiboard that form the floor of the slab. The Hardiboard is made of concrete and will become a permanent part of the oven.

On top of the Hardiboard, I put a 2″ thick layer of a damp mixture of vermiculite, portland cement and lime. Both the vermiculite and lime were hard to come by. However, it was fun chasing down these ingredients. The vermiculite was purchased from a swimming pool contractor. Evidently they use it when forming the sides of in-ground vinyl liner pools. The lime came from a very nice guy at Quikrete who brought some to my house at no charge! I would have gladly paid for the lime, but it doesn’t seem to be sold in my area. This isn’t garden lime, but hydrated lime – a very different critter. Lime can be quite dangerous if not handled properly so I made sure to wear gloves, eye protection and a mask. The picture shows the insulating layer placed under where the hottest part of the oven will be.

Our garden gargoyle looks at the insulation - Yum

Our garden gargoyle looks at the insulation - Yum

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