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Portable Oven Class Requirements

Revised on 04/07/2017.

I teach a one-day class on building and using a portable brick oven.

I can teach this class wherever my class requirements can be met.

The key constraint is that I don’t own the bricks to build the ovens used in class. That means wherever the class is to be held, the host must provide the oven-building materials. I bring my knowledge and experience. (I also bring the consumables for teaching the class, primarily the ingredients for the baking portion of the class.)

This means that a new hosting location that doesn’t already have enough firebrick available will need to invest in some. The likely cost of the firebrick would be at least $500 (not including transportation), plus shipping, which can vary greatly depending on location.

That might mean that my class would need to be held multiple times in order to totally recover the initial investment, but I’m perfectly willing to commit to teaching the class enough times for the initial investment to pay off.

Another possibility is to offer the bricks for sale to be picked up after the class. That way, someone who takes the class can pay for the cost of the bricks.

Class History

I started teaching this class in 2010, at Silverwood Park, the French Hill Folk School and the 2010 annual gathering of the Minnesota Guild of Metalsmiths.

Evaluations from class participants have been uniformly very positive. (References can be provided.)

In 2011, I also taught this class at Tunnel Mill and for the Driftless Folk School.

In 2012, I taught at Silverwood in the spring, and then moved the class to Gale Woods Farm Park in the fall. I also added White Bear Center for the Arts as one of the class locations.

In 2013, I added Running Dog Ranch and Red Wing Community Education as class locations.

In more recent years, the class has spread. In 2017, I have classes scheduled in five states.

For more information on past classes, see here.

I have taught this class over fifty times.

Class Future

I am always looking for locations to teach the class on an ongoing basis (usually once or twice a year). Since there are often start-up costs associated with the class (primarily buying the firebrick if it is not already available), I am willing to commit to teaching the class as long as a site wants to offer it.

That does not mean I require a location to offer the class more than once. If you just want to offer the class once, so you can see what kind of response you get, that’s fine. I’m still willing to work with you to offer the class for your area.

Class Content

There is a page describing the class contents and current schedule.

Class Requirements

Scheduling

Class is typically offered on a Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. If necessary, the class time can be adjusted to be 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., or 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The oven must be built outdoors, so the time of year should be when the weather is not likely to be too cold, hot, or wet. (April through early October is the likely range.)

If your site has a partial shelter where a wood-burning oven can be built under a roof, then dates near the ends of the range are more possible.

If you are scheduling a private class, you can pick a different day of the week, and we can probably adjust the hours somewhat.

Fees

I aim to collect at least $200 per class, plus more based on the time and distance I have to travel. (If you want to negotiate a flat fee for me, we can discuss it.) The students should expect to pay about $80. (I have filled classes at that price.) This can be compared with the $465 that people pay at North House Folk School for their oven-building class. The typical arrangement is for the host to get half the fees, and I get the other half.

However, you can charge whatever amount you like as long as I get $40 per student or half the tuition (whichever is greater).

Location

My classes are usually within a two-hour drive of my home in St. Paul (within about 100 miles driving distance). Locations within that range will work. However, because of the amount of supplies I need for the class, I need to be able to park my car close to the class site.

If you are outside of east-central Minnesota or west-central Wisconsin, we need to discuss details. I have taught my class 200 miles away, but that involved the arrangement of overnight accommodations. I also required more supplies and equipment to be provided by the hosting site. (That’s because my car is very full if I have to bring everything myself.)

One person tried to arrange for me to teach my class in New York City, but she was unable to get enough people signed up to pay for me to come out to teach the class.

I’m willing to travel.

I have had classes in Washington State and in Maine. We can negotiate about fair compensation for long-distance travel.

Materials

Firebricks

Number of Firebricks

The key requirement is at least 225 firebricks (enough for the small pizza oven design), typically the equivalent of Smithfield 9-inch straights, 9 by 4.5 by 2.5 inches. These are used to build a pizza oven that will be fired as part of the class.

In regions where Smithfield firebricks are not available (such as the Northeast and Northwest), the requirement is at least 306 firebricks (enough for the medium-size oven). These ovens have been built and used with great success in those two areas. It’s also a suitable number for an oven that will see more use even where Alsey products are available.

It would be advantageous, but not required, to have a full pallet of firebricks (456), which is enough bricks to build the largest oven design or two small ovens. (There usually a price break on getting a full pallet.)

The bricks do not need to be new, but they need to be relatively clean and mostly devoid of mortar.

Twelve insulating firebricks (IFB) can be substituted for some of the Smithfield firebrick for one small oven or pizza oven (or 24 for one medium or big oven).

Alternatives to Firebricks

Some fired clay pavers can be used for building ovens. These are the pavers that are 8 by 4 by 2.25 inches. Only pavers with those specific dimensions are compatible with my construction plans.

It would be possible to create a different class with different plans and techniques for other sizes of bricks. You would have to contact me to arrange for such a special class.

Acquiring Firebricks

You cannot find firebricks at Home Depot or Menards. You have to get them from a specialized firebrick dealer. In the Twin Cities, I recommend Smith-Sharpe Fire Brick Supply as my vendor of choice. If you decide to order bricks from them, definitely tell them you are ordering bricks for one of my classes. (You may get a discount not normally available.)

Away from the Twin Cities, you will want to work with me to find an appropriate vendor. Some brick dealers will tell you they have firebrick when they really don’t. Once the bricks have been acquired once, subsequent times are much easier.

One trick I recommend for new class sites is to find out how much lead time is required to receive the firebricks after you order them. You can then set a registration deadline such that you will know you have enough people signed up for the class before you have to order the bricks. That way, you can offer the class without the expense of paying for the bricks in advance without knowing if the class will be held or not.

As soon the minimum registration number has been reached, you can extend the signup deadline and order the bricks, confident that the class will be held.

Firebrick Storage

Once you have the firebrick, you will need to deal with their storage.

They will need either be stored very near where the class will be held, or they will need to be moved to the class location by the class host.

After the class, there will be a very hot brick oven left at the class location. That location either needs to be secure, so that the oven can be left there for future use (either for a class or for the host site to bake in), or the oven will need to be disassembled and put into storage for the next class. (Obviously, the oven has to cool off before it can be disassembled, so that would mean waiting until the day after class or the next workday after class.)

Firebrick is heavy, but it doesn’t take up a lot of space. It can be stored compactly.

Base and Foundation Materials

I have found that concrete patio pavers (10 for a small oven, 12 for a small pizza oven, 15 for a medium oven, and 24 for a large oven) are very useful for keeping the bricks clean. These are typically about 7.5 inches by 15 and a fraction inches (the fraction varying from 1/4- to 3/4-inch depending on the source). These are usually quite cheap (under $1). The same number of concrete construction blocks (8 x 8 x 16 inches) will also work.

If available (perhaps because the materials are already available), 12 patio pavers and 40 concrete construction blocks can be used to quickly build a base for the oven (using a design that is part of the class materials). This is not essential, but it is desirable.

A bag of sand to put down under the bottom layer of bricks, patio pavers, or concrete construction blocks is also typically used (unless there is access to a flat concrete pad).

Firewood

There is obviously a need for firewood (dry wood is very important). Oak is good, but any dry hardwood will work. The equivalent of a wheelbarrow full of wood is needed. The wood needs to be in pieces no longer than 18 inches and no more than 2 inches in diameter. Smaller (thinner) pieces are more desirable.

A chopping block is also required, since large pieces of wood need to be cut into kindling and smaller pieces, which burn better in a small oven.

Experience has shown that at least 9 cubic feet of firewood is required for a class.

Ash Barrel

A large metal container for putting ashes and coals in is also very important. (It’s very useful for this container to be waterproof and have a tight metal lid.)

Water

There should be a nearby source of potable water. State or local fire code may also require water for extinguishing fires.

Space

For the oven-building…

A flat and level space about 12-feet square is sufficient for the class.

It is beneficial for there to be an awning or open-sided tent nearby to shelter students from the sun or rain.

There should be a good distance between the oven location and anything flamable, such as trees or buildings.

For the bread-making…

A shelter (or building) with a couple of tables (2 by 4 feet each) and seating for the students out of the sun or rain.

It would be nice to have ready access to potable water, but that is not a firm requirement.

Restroom Facilities

Since human beings are going to be spending several hours in one place, some kind of restroom facility nearby will be required.

Assistance

I cannot be in two places at once. While I am demonstrating the bread making part of the class, there needs to be someone acting as a fire tender.

If the location where the class is taught is not close to parking, I will require some help carrying my class supplies from my car to the class site.

Students

I aim for a minimum of five students and a maximum of 15 students. (Too few and I don’t make enough money; too many and I can’t give the students enough individual attention, and they don’t get enough hands-on experience.)

What I Don’t Need

I don’t require electricity in order to teach my class. As long as some water and restroom facilities are available, the class location can be quite primitive.

Special Needs For Out of Area Classes

My class requirements are for the typical case where I am operating close to home and to my usual supply chain. That is, where I can do some preparations at home and shop before class to bring fresh or refridgerated ingredients.

If I’m out of my home area, I need to class host to provide the following:

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 6 tablespoons of plain yogurt
  • 8 to 16 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 to 4 ounces of fresh basil
  • one bunch of green onions (scallions)
  • one pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 6+ cups of water (between 80 and 110 degrees)

I will bring all of the dry ingredients and pizza sauce with me. There have been emergencies where I have needed extra flour, so some all-purpose flour handy would be potentially useful.

Student Requirements

Students should be told to wear sturdy shoes and bring a hat, work gloves, a portable chair, and a lunch (if lunch is not included in the registration). They should also bring notetaking materials.

Depending on location, insect repellent may also be necessary.

Students can take pictures of the construction as it progresses, but I ask that images that show construction details not be shared on the internet.