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How do I build a masonry pizza oven stand?

Building a masonry stand and oven hearth is inexpensive, and a lot easier than you might think. Find a helper and you can bang this thing out in two of half days. You’ll feel good about the project, and you’ll have a beautiful built-in oven for years to come.

Plan your foundation, stand and hearth

You have a number of design options with building your foundation, stand and hearth. The first choice is how your hearth will span the opening between the two sides. For a majority of oven installations, the standard hearth, where you form a 3 1/2″ concrete slab reinforced with wire mesh using standard 2x4s. You can form the bottom of the hearth with either a sheet of plywood held in place with two “T’s” constructed using 2x4s and removed after the hearth dries, or HardieBacker held in place with two “T’s” constructed using 2x4s and left in place permanently. A 3 1/2″ slab is sufficiently strong to hold a majority of residential ovens.

Other alternatives include (1) pouring a 5 1/2″ hearth, where you set the plywood bottom form 2″ below the top of the concrete block stand (3 1/2″ of concrete on top of the stand and 2″ below it), and (2) adding a course of 8x8x16″ concrete blocks held in place with 2×2″ angle iron to give the span a great deal of strength. It’s worth noting that this design was popularized by Alan Scott in the Bread Builders book, where the hearth was suspended with rebar resting on all four sides of the oven stand—which drove the need to build an extremely strong lintel to span the opening. It’s overkill for most oven installations.

Foundation size

As a general rule, your foundation should be 8″ wider than your block stand, allowing for 4″ on all sides for stability. Always follow local building codes, and if you live in an area with deep winter freeze, but sure to dig a deep footing to avoid frost heave.

Stand

The size of your oven stand depends on the size of your oven (be sure to accurately calculate the depth of the oven from the back wall to the front of the vent), the thickness of your insulation and the thickness of your enclosure. Use the following equations to calculate your stand size.

Stand width. Oven internal diameter + 2 x wall thickness + 2 x insulation thickness + 2 x enclosure thickness.

For example, the width for a stand for the Stellar Cupola36 with a stucco enclosure is:

36″ + 4″ + 6″ + 2″ = 48″

Stand depth. Oven internal depth (to front of vent) + 1 x wall thickness + 1 x insulation thickness + 1 x enclosure thickness + landing in front of the oven (if you are not going to use an overhanging hearth and landing).

For example, the depth for a stand for the Stellar Cupola36 with a stucco enclosure and a 6″ landing is:

42″ + 2″ + 3″ + 1″ + 6″ = 54″

Stand height. We recommend building a stand that is four courses high using 8x8x16″ concrete block, which gives you a final cooking floor height of nearly 40″ (32″ blocks + 3 1/2″ concrete hearth + 2″ insulating board + 3/16″ fireclay/sand + 2″ cooking floor), which is perfect for an average height chef. If you are significantly taller or shorter than average, you could consider making an adjustment.

Stand opening. As an option, you can add an arched stand opening that gives your oven a nice decorative finish. You can build the arch either by cutting and add adding curve concrete block pieces underneath the 2×2″ angle iron lintel in the Extra Secure method, or you can form the opening with plywood, shape the opening with a flexible plywood form at the bottom, and pour concrete.

Landing

We would recommend that you install a landing in front of your oven. It’s a convenient place to rest pizzas and pans as you are putting  then in and out of the oven. There are a couple of design choices you should consider as you plan your oven.

Design. You can build your oven landing three different ways. First, you can make your oven foundation, stand and hearth deeper by the size of the landing. This is the easiest method, as you don’t need for form and pour a separate overhanging section for the hearth. Alternatively, you can build an overhanging hearth, supported by rebar (not just wire mesh), either the width of the hearth, or more narrow, at least the width of the oven opening, or oven opening arch. The overhanging hearth looks a little bit more elegant, with a less chunky base, and it works along the same principle as a toe-kick in an indoor kitchen cabinet, in that it makes it a little more comfortable to work with the landing and oven opening, with your feet closer to the oven (so you need to bend forward a little bit less).

Landing depth. There is a trade-off decision to make for how deep your landing should be. If the landing is too short, you won’t be able to rest/balance pizzas and pans in front of the oven, and you will find yourself constantly moving things between the oven and the nearest countertop. Too deep, and your oven becomes in accessible, where it is difficult to reach the back and corners with your oven tools. A larger landing also consumes additional space in your outdoor living area. A good rule of thumb is to make your landing between 6-10″.

Landing height. Once more, you have a couple of design choices to make. You can set to the height of the oven landing to the same height as the oven floor, making it easier for you to slide pizzas and pans in and out, or you can finish the landing at the natural level of the hearth (plus finish material), leaving a step up to the cooking floor. Why? Remember that the top of the oven cooking floor is about 4 3/16″ higher than the concrete hearth (2″ floor insulation + 3/16″ fireclay/sand to level the cooking floor + 2″ baking tile, resting on the hearth). Of course, the easiest solution is to finish the oven landing with the material of your choice, and live with the difference in height.

If you want to make the oven landing and cooking floor finish to the same height, there are two ways to go. (1) You can do the math, and form and pour your oven landing at a different height than the rest of the hearth, calculating the thickness of your finish material + mortar. This will give you the most elegant solution. (2) You can pour the oven landing at the same height as the rest of the hearth, and then pour a layer of concrete to the height that will allow your oven landing finish material (material + mortar) to match the top of the oven floor. If you are not going to build an oven landing overhang, you won’t be able to see that you “built up” the oven landing. If you are planning on building an overhanging landing, you should know that it will be 7 9/16″ thick (3 1/2″ concrete hearth + 4 3/6″ build up to reach oven floor), which is pretty chunky.