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A Strong Foundation

In my April post about building a wood-fired oven I wrote about turning the corner from just talking about the project to actually doing it.  As proof that we were getting serious about the endeavour I posted a picture of our ever-expanding resource library that included the plans we intended to use. We now have much more than a pile of books to point to as evidence of our progress.

Before breaking ground we did an extensive amount of research.  My cousin’s friend, Mike Bucci, took us on a tour of his backyard oven that is the first of many for him as he plans to start his own company, Alfresco Living, to install backyard kitchens.  I have also become an active member of the online forum run by Forno Bravo, the company that provides the Pompeii Oven plans we’re using.  Through the FB forum I got in touch with Jim Wills of Mary G’s Bread in Prince Albert, Ontario.  Jim told me about Alphatherm the go-to source for brick oven materials in the GTA which is where we got our first load of firebricks, mortar, and the insulation that will sit below the oven floor.

The foundation hole has filled with water

We excavated a large, rectangular hole and then promptly refilled it with a concrete foundation slab and all of its attendant piers, grade beams, insulation, and gravel.  To counter the heavy frosts that shift the ground near the cottage every winter we paid special attention to designing our foundation pad.  Each of the pad’s four corners is supported by an eight-inch diameter pier of reinforced concrete.  These piers were tied together by reinforced grade beams, the hole was filled with crushed rock and a layer of styrofoam insulation.

Concrete piers poured in Sonotube and covered with wet towels to help the concrete cure

The dry April weather meant that as we dug our original hole we found nothing wetter than a couple layers of sodden clay–see the picture at the top of the post.  “Sodden clay” doesn’t sound very attractive but compared to the heavy rain that followed in May it was a breeze.  The rain filled the hole with several inches of murky water that made visually aiming the jackhammer’s blade an impossible task.  Though I did avoid the worst of the bad weather the weekend a cement saw was put to work cutting the pier holes in blowing snow I did come home one weekend to find one hand much more tanned than the other.  I wore a glove on my left hand to control the jackhammer but had to keep the right bare so that I could scoop sharp stones from the bottom of the hole and aim each new attack by groping around.

The poured concrete foundation pad

Throughout, this project has been a family affair.  Given the advantage of a week of vacation in May my dad has done more work on the project than I have.  But for the concrete pad we really spread the labour around with three wheelbarrows–operated by my brother, my cousin, and me–mixing concrete while my dad shoveled and supervised the pour.  Everyone else oiled forms, filled water buckets and provided expert input.

The concrete block stand dry-stacked with some of the rebar in place

As more heartening evidence that our hard labour is bearing results we are at the stage of laying out the block stand and cutting the rebar that reinforces the concrete that fills every second cell.  The layout pictured above is a rough one beside the concrete pad.  Obviously, the blocks will have to be moved onto the pad in their final position but seeing the stack pile is still a positive reminder that the project is moving up.

One thing this project site is sorely lacking is a soundtrack.  Our major concrete pour was done to the sound of Barrie’s Rock 95–the station that unfortunately deems it acceptable to divide their air time between such talented groups as Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, and CSNY and Nickelback and their ilk.  A cottage project that involves many hands must make compromises on some fronts.  But what about when we start mortaring brick in place?  Italian opera?

As the project continues I’m sure I’ll post some updates here.  I’ll also be sharing photos in this Picasa web album and some of the more technical details in a thread on the Forno Bravo forum.

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3 Comments

  1. This is so exciting. I can’t wait to see the first thing that comes out of the new oven!

  2. foodwithlegs says:

    Kristina: Thanks for commenting. There have been a couple tough moments when visions of Margherita have helped me summon another burst of energy. I see this happening even more often one the mosquitoes reach their peak.

  3. [...] last time I updated you fair readers on the progress of our wood-fired oven progress was after the Victoria Day long [...]

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