January 2, 2015

And then we...I....built a pizza oven....from scratch!!

This is Finucci:

Finucci is a pizza oven.  Finucci is my pizza oven.  I built Finucci with my bare hands.  As a New Year's resolution, someone (Allison's note:  Me!!!)  said I should be more forward with my accomplishments instead of playing them off all the time.  Here ya go.  I.  AM.  AMAZING.  I constructed a thing and it didn't fall down!  (Yet... No word yet on whether the daily water down the gardener gives it will have any long term consequences.)

The saga of Finucci started 9 months ago.  Ha!  I tossed around the idea of a pizza oven before, but never took the plunge.  About a year ago I saw a cooking show called "Extra Virgin" (um...) where a guy had a pizza oven constructed for him in his backyard and it looked AWESOME.  I thought to myself, "I've got some time, I've got some space, and materials are cheap.  How great would it be to have a party and be pulling out wood fired pizzas for everyone!  It could be a side project, maybe take me 3 months or so.  Maybe I should do it!" ('Cause the newborn baby was just a walk in the park time-wise).

Cute.   (No, no...Cute would have been the Lego model he used to demonstrate what the finished oven would look like).  

SO...I started the process in March or so.  And a process it was.  This post will be more entertaining for you than if I had done this in the States, I promise.  It all started with a dream and a permission packet................

If you do things to your yard/house here in Ras Tanura, you have to get permission from the Housing department.  At least that's the policy.  I'm a rule follower, so I went with it.  I filled out the many forms, did a Microsoft Paint sketch of what I wanted to do (nerd), and submitted them to Housing.  In typical Saudi bureaucratic fashion, I received the permission 7 WEEKS LATER. (I needed ONE signature.  One.)  Meanwhile, temperatures are rising outside!  (Next time, just build it then invite housing over for pizza and ask forgiveness.)

In the meantime, I dug out the space in the backyard for the slab and got the maintenance guys to move the sprinkler system over (This is such an innocuous statement.  What actually happened is that we put 6 different work requests over a 1 month period to have the sprinkler moved, 5 of which involved maintenance guys coming over, crossing their arms and starring at the sprinkler box, then tell me that they didn't have the right tools for the job.  Finally on the 6th time, I demanded their manager come along and wouldn't let them out the back door until they moved the sprinkler.  I made sure the dogs were barking and the baby was crying.):

Under the grass = sand.  Under everything = sand.

Permission in hand, I needed materials.  You can't really get everything you need from one or two places here, you have to go to a zillion different places to get each thing. 

1) Cement
2) Sand
3) Gravel
4) Wood for form boards
5) Cinder blocks
6) Refractory (fire) cement  
7) Refractory (fire) bricks for the cooking area
8) Rebar
9) Paint
10) Lots of specialized tools that I don't have and can't get
11) A wife with lots of patience

Apparently if you ask the Gardening department for sand and gravel here, they'll just give it to you!  I did just that, and they deposited a ridiculous amount of those things in my backyard:

Bye bye, grass.  See you in a year.
You might be wondering where I got the plans, etc. for all this....from this Australian guy's website!  It's great information and lots of it.  I made a little donation to his cause and he sent me plans, recipes, material lists, and literally thousands of step by step pictures.  Those pictures were definitely the most helpful thing for me since I have never built anything....ever.  (Except Legos.  My mom buys him Legos every Christmas.)   

Now for one of the scariest parts - the concrete slab that the oven sits on (You really shouldn't end sentences with prepositions, yo.)  I was pretty nervous about this.  If I get it wrong, the slab cracks and breaks and the oven plunges into the sandy depths.

....where it will find a new definition of pain as it is slowly digested over a thousand years.  
(It makes me sad that some people won't understand this reference... )
I realized there was now way I could do this part by myself so I enlisted the help of my friends Brad and Jeff.  Thank goodness, too...there's no premixed concrete here that I had ready access to, so we had to mix wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full.  Ow, my back, and hooray for Brad and Jeff!

Getting ready to pour! 


Literally the 300th wheelbarrow full.


 Once I finally got my permission form, I could actually contract people to do stuff.  I asked the brick guy (there's only one) to brick around the slab for more patio space and extra space to work.

Brick, brick, brick, all day long.  Brick, brick, brick while I sing this song.

And on top of those bricks - the first layer of cinder blocks!  This is around June.

And onward!!  I came back from repat in August before Allison and London, so I had some extra time to add block layers.

The thing on the left side is not, as some have suggested, a toilet, but a space to put things and also to stick a burner on top for high heat things like cooking on a wok and...boiling stuff.

The camera is foggy 'cause it's HOT

Next up?  Build another slab out of refractory concrete for the cooking surface to sit on.  Yes, all those cinder blocks are really just to hold up the top 1/3 of the oven.  This slab was smaller, so I could (barely) handle it myself.  Luckily it was September and only in the 90's.

"Level" is overrated.  (As are the 'yellow' bricks)

Which brings us to the fire cement and fire bricks.  You need special bricks and cement here that tolerate high levels of heat.  The fires you make in here are upwards of 1300 degrees and burn for several hours at a time.  Normal bricks wouldn't stand up to that.  There are lots of cooking ovens around here for breads especially, so I figured they all must get their bricks from somewhere.  After many hours on the internet, I found a place called Saudi Refractory Industries in Dammam, about an hour away.  Websites here are (nonexistent),  a) not always updated, b) rarely give correct contact information, and c) are more like a one-page ad for the company.  I got the GPS coordinates and set off into the wilds one Saturday to find them and convince them they needed to sell me bricks and cement.

I drove for an hour to the coordinates given and the company, of course, had moved.  Where, you ask?  I didn't know and nobody else seemed to either.  I searched around and consulted the Interwebz.  I have no idea how I came across the correct phone number for them on the internet, but I finally talked to someone at the company office and he said, "Yes, the coordinates on the website are wrong."  Awesome.  He gave me new coordinates and I set off a half hour in the other direction.  After driving up and down dusty, bumpy roads for 2 hours looking for their shop and asking people I encountered (all within a mile of where it actually was), I stopped at a random warehouse thing to ask  about the shop.  The guy there was incredibly nice, calling and talking to them for me in Arabic and actually driving his car in front of me so I could follow him to a gas station where the guy from the firebrick shop would meet me.  And so he did. 

("It's a TRAP!") 

They laughed at me when I told them what I wanted.  I guess they normally only sell to contractors and businesses by delivery, so when I showed up and said I wanted (only) 60 bricks and a few bags of cement, they weren't sure what to do.  While they figured out how to ring me up I sat and had tea with the owner, a ridiculously nice Egyptian guy who talked to me about the Arab Spring and all kinds of things.  For all the trouble it took, that was probably in my top 10 experiences here so far.  

FINALLY I set off for home with my fire bricks and cement.

(Aww... look how clean our garage floor was!!)
Time to make a cooking surface and some arches!  I had to make a wooden arch support so I could cement in one arch, pull it forward, make another, rinse, repeat.  

The mock up on the ground

Ready to go!

Starting the oven part!

Well, look at that, it's a cooking surface!!

By this point, it was late October and I was left with about an hour and a half of daylight after work.
Thus, masonry by lantern light.  Thanks, Judson!

My attempt at arches.  Luckily I started with a pizza oven and not a cathedral.
After I built the barrel shaped oven part, I had to build the chimney and encase the oven in more concrete.

Now it actually looked complete-ish!  The last thing to do was to stucco it.  As with this entire process, I have never stucco-ed anything before.  After much video-watching, I decided to stucco the far side of the oven first so I could figure out what I was doing on the least visible side.

Turns out, I got less sure of myself as I went along, so the least visible side is actually the best looking :-)  It's so close to done, I can almost taste the pizza!!

Allison had the great idea to buy a tile in Muscat, Oman to stick on the oven.  
It's the best feature!  It's a mosaic camel/desert scene.
(Abdullah the Camel)

"Finucci in the Fog" c, Andrew Redmon 2014

Time to paint!

The paint looks like vanilla ice cream.
Mmmm....ice cream and pizza.

Viola! It's a Finucci!! He was born on 12/13/14!

To prime the bricks, I have to light several fires in it, bigger each time.  So fun!  We roasted so many marshmallows!

The first fire!

Temperature gun?  Check!  Baby Monitor? Check!!

After all that, we could actually try it out!

Stand and gape in awe

Not bad for the first attempt!

So, in summary, WOOHOOOOOOO!!  (Proud of you husband!)

Would I do it again? -Maybe 
Would I make it the same way? -I would use fewer cinder blocks.  It was kind of overkill
Why didn't you mention your baby in the post? -Fine, here:

"Can you be my daddy again instead of being outside all the time mixing cement???"
(We dedicate this picture to Lynn, Andrew's Mom, who became increasingly
worried at the ratio of baby to pizza oven pictures being posted to Facebook.)
In final summary,  let the pizza parties begin!! 

(By the way, he was named for the Finucci brothers in the movie "Oscar"
 - highly recommend that movie, it's a lot of fun!)