Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Baking at 20F

December 9, 2007

I’ve been waiting for a chance to continue with the ideas from the last post. I decided to make potato herb bread today, despite the weather. Its been cold and dry for most of a week and was about 20F when I got out to the oven at 10:30am. Pealing the plastic covering off gave a surprise — a layer of ice condensed between plastic and oven.
Mud Oven 1

  • 11 AM fire lit
  • 1 PM still frosty outside, installed R-19 cover over much of the oven
  • 2 PM pulled out most of the fire, pushed some coals to the back and placed a brick in front to shield. Should have put the brink in the oven an hour earlier to warm
  • while to oven soaked, I tossed an unstuffed chicken into the Weber, as planned. This time, the coals were not smokey — they were really just coals, so I dumped on a handful of alder smoking “chips” more like really coarse sawdust — huge cloud of smoke almost immediately. I placed chicken on aluminum foil to protect if from the heat.
  • The chicken got stuffed with wild rice brown rice, plus onion, and herbs
  • 2:30 PM the oven was 300F when the food got in, including 3 sweet potatoes. It started to snow
  • 3:55 PM going to pull in the food, it smelled nicely smoky when I peaked at 3:40

Mud Oven 2
Reflection-in-action: the small baking dish I used for the chicken was too shallow and the fat from the chicken was overflowing when I tried to slide it out.

Reflection, the oven cools off too fast in this environment, I either need to learn from Kiko Denzer’s new book about super insulating the oven (Kiko’s new book promises this) or get it into an indoor setting. One thought is to build a new one in my greenhouse.

Mud Oven and Weber Grill – roasting

November 18, 2007

I got a late start today on the oven. I got a fire going with lots of prunings, mostly 1″ diameter and less. When I came back to check on it, flames were a foot out the top of the 4 foot stovepipe!

The problem I decided to work on was the ways to use the Weber grill. I dug out coals into the Weber grill (one of the 18″ diameter ones). Covered, with vents open, the grill threw off a huge plume of smoke. I had started a roast by searing it in a cast iron pot and I put the roast into the Weber to smoke. The smoke was not the best smelling, because I had some pine and what-not in the fire, so I didn’t leave the roast more than 10 minutes. (It added a better smoke smell to the meat than the fire indicated.)

BUT, the idea I’m having is to make sure I use cherry and apple prunings in the late stage of the fire, so that those are the coals I’m pulling out. Then the meat goes into that smoke for 20 minutes while the oven soaks and then the meat goes into the oven to roast. I suppose that spuds could go into the Weber too, maybe cut and oiled.

The other experiment I’m trying is leaving some fire in the oven. I didn’t burn the fire long enough and its only 275F in there. I pushed all the bigger coals to the back and put in a couple bricks between the fire and the front of the oven. This reduces my cooking space by half, but the bricks block direct heat from the still flaming coals from reaching where I would bake. Since I got this late start, I’m only going to cook a thermometer and a couple spuds tonight, the roast is in the conventional oven. Next time, roast chicken maybe.

PS. The spuds cooked nicely. The temp fell to 225F (maybe 212F) as the oven remained damp the whole time (steaming madly under its leaky tarp, now supplemented with another layer).

It snowed last night and is still snowing lightly this AM. The Weber is covered, the oven is clear of snow.

First baked dinner

November 11, 2007

Dinner was great, baked halibut w/ herbs; baked acorn squash and spuds, bread and pumpkin pie. Pretty well filled the oven.

Log of the process:

  • 2:15 light fire with lots of 1×3 and 1×1 size material (7-8 of the 1×3). dark smoke, creosote smells. tried putting on the oven door, but the smoke got worse.
  • 2:45 clear smoke, finally got all that wood burning well. Door propped ajar, coals are white hot. Should have started with 1/2 the amount of wood until the oven started to warm.
  • 2:55 soot burning off the inside of the oven, added 3 pieces of wood 2.5″ diameter and 14″ One piece proved to be green and hissed for 15 minutes.
  • 3:00 still cold and damp on the outside of the oven
  • 3:15 still cold and damp outside, clear smoke, all wood burning well or already coals, added 2×6 and 2×4 elm pieces (these were a mistake, as we will see). Wooden oven door is charing where cob is not protecting it from the fire’s heat. (Cob will need repair by February)
  • 4:20 fire all raked out into metal trash can, burned paint off can, burned oven mitt. Too many coals
  • 4:25 swabbed brick with wet rag. Closed damper in flue, put wet rag on inside of door to make it seal tighter. Rag over chimney as extra damper. Its very hot in the oven, thermometer goes to 600 and is pegged
  • 5:10 put in fish, pie, spuds and squash. Bread shaped but still rising.
  • 5:20 bread in, 400 degrees. Oven is steaming from roof, chimney and door.
  • 6:00 everything out, oven still 325


  • Start with a smaller fire to begin warming the oven, adding wood incrementally. Stop adding wood more than an hour before oven is ready, the white hot coals will continue to heat the oven for quite a while.
  • Get a Weber grill to catch the hot coals, plan food to BBQ on the grill while the oven is baking.
  • Have a plan for what to do with a hot oven when the baking is finished. At 10PM oven is still 225. Crackers? Slow cooked roast?

Much as I discovered some of the vertical integration that comes from hewing timber and doing timber frame joinery for building (in terms of the by-product scraps), and in a similar vein, the vertical integration of using scraps from my sawmill for heating, I can see that there are integrations to be made with this kind of small-wood burner, the size wood the oven burns is a size I’ve always thought was too small to be useful – which is important to note.

There are also integrations to be made among the kinds and timing of foods that are cooked in the oven.

Were the oven in an enclosed space the waste heat would also be significant for heating. Waste heat in the flue might be used to warm water, though my current design would require a pump to move the water up to the chimney and back.

natural architecture / earthen oven

October 29, 2007

Studio exterior 2/12/06I was just sitting down to write notes about the earthen oven I made this weekend when I found this from a friend. natural architecture – an emerging art movement that is exploring mankind’s desire to reconnect to the earth, through the built environment. Very interesting stuff, fits with my continuing thinking about making my architecture more organic.

I built the oven following Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer which was good guide. I followed one of his tips for people in a hurry and built it on saw horses (knowing it will eventually burn thru). This is a temporary location anyway, while I decide where it goes. Earthen Oven

The tip to roll the mix on a tarp is also a good one. I put clay and sand on the tarp in layers, tossed it a bit with a shovel, then began the tarp technique. As Kiko warns, adding more mix to dry out a wet batch is hard work (next time I’d premix the stuff to be added).

Since one location for my permanent oven could be in an enclosed sun space (might it provide heating too?) I wanted to try a design with a rear chimney to keep the smoke out of the room. First small firing today was very smoke free. By 9PM the fire was out and the top was steaming in the moonlight (its going to be frosty tonight).

The platform is 45 deep and 37 wide. Next time, I need to make the base a bit wider and quite a bit deeper. I got most of the chimney onto the base, but didn’t have enough depth behind it to encase the chimney in cob. It would be nice to have a bigger hearth too. I can see I’m going to want a work surface near the stove and a hearth could have been part of that.

The void of the oven is 27″ diameter and 21″ tall. Kiko says the door should be taller, but I think that is for ovens without chimneys, mine draws very well. I started our buying 1/3 yard of finishing sand, but that was not enough to fashion the void and make the first layer. Another 1/3 yard provided some leftover before emptying the void. My clay came from a construction site near the Pullman airport, and it dried into a nice hard brick. I mixed it 1-3 with sand for the inner layer and 1-2 for the cob layer. All told, I probably used 8 5-gallon buckets of clay. I was a little worried that the inner layer was too sandy, but a patty dried overnight by the wood stove passed Kiko’s ‘crushing between thumbs’ test. I did not put a slip clay layer on, that seemed like extra weight and work for a temporary oven and I’m starting to like the hairy straw look.

As it is late October, I decided not to wait for the oven to air dry and built a small fire for several hours. Flames roared up the 6″ diameter chimney and I think I’ll put a brick inside to cover part of the opening. The chimney will get a metal damper next. The oven is a great consumer of fuel, I tossed in all manner of scrap lying around — too small to be candidate for kindling in our heat stove, too big to be mulch.

Other than the tired back from all the stooping, very satisfying so far.

Google Sketchup for Timber Framing Design

January 30, 2007

I found Luke Sheneman’s post on using Google Sketchup in his blog Timber Framing a North Idaho Cabin. Luke did some nice renderings, and he claims, quickly. I need to see if I can do curved timbers and more organic forms with the tool, such at this studio I recently finished.

Luke, if you read this, the braces going out from the posts to the eves are not necessary and will be extra work and grief (any timber supported by 3 points is more grief to get the joints to come together nicely — avoid when you can).

Further Notes for creating a mySite ePortfolio

August 28, 2006

In this post I started making some notes on the process of creating a visually rich electronic portfolio using SharePoint mySite and a CTLT developed template called “Poster.”

I previously noted a series of discoveries and logistical hassles getting all my images collected into one place, and sized correctly.  Today I finished a draft of the portfolio by writing the narrative in the center column and adding the images along the left and right. As I wrote I found that I wanted to add some other images, so I explored imbedding them into the text aligning the text left or right around them.

This was not totally satisfactory, neither the visual result or the process of placing the images. A problem with placing the images is that the width of the editor, and hence the word wrap around the images was different than the final presentation.

While I was able to get the bulk of the project finished using a Macintosh OS X, and Firefox 1.5, composing the text for the center column onscreen was a problem. If the column were to contain only text, it would not be too hard to write in another tool and paste in, but I was also imbedding images. Finally, I resorted to moving to Windows/IE to use the WYSIWYG editor.

The switching platforms was annoying, but not too big a problem, because I was able to move my draft text from platform to platform by simply including it in the web part from one platform and then editing from the other.

At this writing, I have not  moved the large format versions of the images to the portfolio. My intention is to include the large formats, and with those, to include the metadata that the document library requests.