There’s no doubt that the best way to make great pizza is in a proper pizza oven!
Unfortunately, that’s not just an opinion. The puffy, bubbly crust and slightly charred leopard-spotted base that are the signs of a well-cooked Neapolitan style pizza result from a very specific cooking environment.
Well the cost of a good pizza oven has come down in recent years thanks to clever light-weight designs from the likes of Ooni, buying a traditional brick oven will set you back.
The good news is that with some DIY skills and a bit of time you can build your own pizza oven.
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Building your own pizza oven
At their most basic, pizza ovens do three things. They attain temperatures of around 750°F/400°C (well above what your kitchen oven can reach), retain that heat through design and thermal insulation, and move the heat around through air convection.
The good news is that, while you do need a pizza oven for great pizza, you don’t need to break the bank buying one.
You can make a simple DIY pizza oven for as little as $100 and some elbow grease, and today we’ll be breaking down how you’ll go about that in simple, easy to follow steps.
Decide on the shape and type of the pizza oven
The first step on the road to creating a DIY pizza oven, is to decide on a design.
There are two basic designs of a DIY pizza oven, the simple brick square and the slightly more complex and the traditional domed oven.
Before you get freaked out by the idea of building a dome, there is a simple way to do this. You’ll need an exercise ball, though – but we’ll cover this later.
There are a couple of pros and cons to each shape that we’ll cover briefly:
A square oven
If you want a pizza oven that you can have up and running the time it takes you to run down your local building materials suppliers, then a square oven is your best option.
Made from bricks and pavers, this oven can be quickly assembled and disassembled, making it a tremendous, temporary installation and one that can be taken on the road with you to campsites, cookouts, or just to a friend’s house.
While it is simpler to make and more portable, the square oven won’t have the same performance as the dome oven and, for obvious reasons, won’t be as pleasing to look at.
A dome oven
More representative of the more traditional design of an Italian pizza oven, DIY domed ovens are typically made of a mixture of vermiculite or perlite and concrete shaped around a wooden rig. The wooden rig is then removed when the concrete mix has dried.
From the time it was invented, pizza has been cooked in a domed oven, and there’s a good reason for that. The thick walls and small firebox trap heat efficiently to keep the temperature high, the dome reflects the heat back at the top of the pizza, and the front opening and chimney provide the air convection.
Compared to the brick oven, the domed design will give you better cooking performance, but making one is a slower and a much more involved process.
Curing the oven can take as long as five to seven weeks, and the result isn’t exactly portable. However, if you’re looking for a permanent low-cost backyard pizza oven that you can make yourself, a domed design is a great choice.
Things to consider before you start
Once you’ve decided on what design of oven you want to build, there are a few additional factors to consider before you get started.
Space and time
Making a domed oven from perlite or vermiculite requires a reasonably large covered or indoor space to work in. Once it’s made, the oven will also have to sit there for five to seven weeks while the concrete mixture cures.
Firing up the oven before it is fully cured, or allowing it to be exposed to too much moisture or extremes of temperature can cause the oven to crack, ruining all your hard work.
So, if you don’t have access to that kind of space for long periods, you might be better off with a simple brick oven.
If you can stack bricks one on top of another, then you have all the skills you need to build a brick DIY pizza oven. While not very complicated, making a domed oven is a big step up in terms of skill, tools, time, and effort.
Suppose you’re not 100% confident in your ability to do things like creating a wooden rig to set the shape or mixing and layering concrete. In that case, you might be better off tackling the more straightforward brick oven first and then moving on to the more complicated domed oven later.
Tools and equipment
To make the more complex domed oven, you will need access to some woodworking tools and the ability to cut simple shapes from plywood. Nothing too drastic.
You’ll also need access to a few common building supplies:
White or grey portland cement
Cement is the primary bonding agent used in the construction of the domed oven. White or grey portland cement is available in more hardware stores, building merchants, and on amazon.
White cement has had the iron, manganese, and chromium oxide removed from it, giving it a paler and slightly finer finish However, there isn’t much in the way of structural differences between the two.
Perlite or Vermiculite
Perlite is an amorphous volcanic glass often used in construction and agriculture. Vermiculite is a hydrous phyllosilicate mineral that has many of the same properties and uses. Both are widely available in the same places you might find cement, and both can be used to create the domed oven.
The main difference between perlite and vermiculite is that perlite is more expensive and creates a more solid structure than the cheaper vermiculite. Using perlite won’t make your domed oven better, but it will make it more durable.
Constructing a DIY pizza oven
Now you’ve chosen which one suits your space/timeframe/skillset best, we’ll walk you through the simple and easy steps to constructing both designs.
Method 1: The perlite or vermiculite domed oven
Let’s start our DIY pizza oven making endeavors with the more complicated domed oven.
Tools & Materials:
- Simple woodworking tools including a jigsaw
- Screws and casters for the trolley
- A Mixing bucket for the cement
- Plywood and 2 x 4’s.
- A bag of white or grey cement
- A bag of fine perlite or vermiculite
- A bag of coarse perlite or vermiculite
- A 60cm inflatable fit or Swiss ball
- Industrial plastic wrap
- Flexible plastic sheeting
- Silicone sealant
- An empty 20 oz. soda bottle
- 60mm stip Corex/Corflute
- Vesuvius refractory mortar
- A stainless steel chimney flue
Step one: Creating the base
The first step to creating your domed oven is to build the form that your cement/perlite or Vermiculite mix will go over. First, measure the circumference of the bottom third of your fit ball. This is the size of the hole you’ll need to cut in a sheet of plywood.
The plywood sheet should be at least 12-inches wider than the ball, allowing for the cement walls, and at least 36-inches longer at the front to allow space for the arch.
Add four 12-inch sections of 2 x 4 to the base’s bottom as legs to raise it up off the floor.
Inflate your fit ball and put it in the circular hole you’ve just cut. Make sure the inflation point for the ball is facing towards the floor.
Step two: Creating the arch
The arch is the semi-circle opening at the front of your pizza oven. To make it, you’ll need to cut up plywood into a circle with a diameter that is two thirds the height of the dome created by the section of the fit ball above the base.
Make a second copy of this circle and save it for making the door later.
Cut the plywood circle in half and fix it together with three 10-inch sections of 2 x 4, two at the flat bottom, and one just below the arch’s apex.
You’ll then need to cut a circle of plywood that is around 4 inches bigger than the one you just made the arch from. Cut that in half and screw it to one end of your arch. This will form a lip that will create a hard-edged opening in your Perlite/cement outer shell.
Cut your plastic sheet so it is slightly longer and wider than your arch. Bend the sheet over the arch so it covers the open part between the two smaller half circles and butts against the larger half circle at the front.
Fix it in place with nails and trim the sheet so it is the same width as the arch (it should rest flat to the base) and about an inch longer than the arch. Seat your arch flush with the fit ball dome and screw a section of offcut plywood flush with its front to keep it in place.
Finally, use the silicone to seal the gap between the plastic sheet and the larger plywood half circle at the arch’s front.
Step three: Adding the chimney
First, find yourself an empty 20 oz soda bottle. Fill the bottle with water, so it maintains its shape, and wrap it in plastic sheet that is cut to the same length.
Cut out a plywood section that is the same width as your plastic-wrapped bottle and at least as long as your arch. Cut a half-circle in the short end to accommodate the bottle and keep it upright. Glue the bottle in place.
Attach another section of plywood to the front of your arch and connect that to the plywood/bottle combo by the other short end. This should form an inverted L-shape that holds your bottle chimney in place without getting in the way of your cement placement.
Step four: Building the shell
To create the mixture for your oven’s outer walls, mix together 5 parts vermiculite or perlite (3 parts coarse, 2 parts fine) with 1 part cement, and 2 parts water.
Make sure you have your gloves on as this mixture can be caustic.
Stir the mixture thoroughly until it is entirely combined.
Cover the entirety of your form with industrial plastic wrap. This step is very important.
Using your hands, cover the entirety of the form you just built, right up to the lip at the front of the arch. Start at the bottom and work up towards the top.
Try to keep the layer to a consistent minimum thickness of .78 inch/ 20 mm. The larger the oven you’re building, the thicker the walls will need to be to stay stable.
As we mentioned, this mix will now need five to seven weeks to dry properly before it can be fired.
Step five: Making the trolley
Making the trolley is the most straightforward part of this build. Make yourself a simple, sturdy square frame from 2 x 4s that is larger than the concrete covered form you’ve just made and about waist height.
Add your casters to one end and cover the other in a sheet of plywood.
Step six: Creating the floor
To create the floor for your oven, measure out a square of plywood that is 1-inch larger than your oven’s width and length.
Using nails and 60mm stip Corex/Corflute, line the outer edges of the sheet of plywood to make a mold for your floor.
Mix together 5-parts coarse vermiculite, 1-part cement, and 2 parts water and fill the mold.
Allow at least 6-8 weeks for this to dry.
Step Seven: Removing the form
Once your cement dome is fully dry, deflate the fit ball and lift the dome off its base (you’ll need a few sets of hands for this step).
Because the plastic wrap acted as a lubricant, you should be able to quickly flip the dome and remove all the wooden parts of the form. Remember to also remove all of the plastic wrap.
Step Eight: Combining the dome and floor and chimney
Once the floor is fully dry, put the dome on top of it and fill the gap between the two with Vesuvius refractory mortar.
Use wooden blocks and cardboard to seal the chimney hole inside the dome. This will keep the flue in place and prevent the mortar from dripping through. Put the flue in place and fill the area around it with Vesuvius.
Make sure you leave the Vesuvius to dry fully before you light your first fire.
Step Nine: Pizza time
After lighting a few smaller test fires to check your dome’s integrity, you’ll be ready to start cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven you made with your own hands!
Method 2: Simple brick pizza oven
Compared to the domed oven, the brick oven is a breeze to make and can be done in an afternoon, ready to cook a pizza for dinner.
Tools & Materials:
- 47 stone bricks
- Two concrete paving slabs that are as wide as three of the bricks and a wide as two bricks. These should also be as thick as your bricks
- A spirit level
- A bag of gravel
- An infrared thermometer
- A pizza stone
Step one – Leveling the base
Once you’ve found an area you’re happy to light a fire on, level it out using your spirit level and gravel.
Step two – Building the oven
On the leveled ground, make an open-ended three-sided square (a U-shape) with three bricks on each side. Layer up the bricks, remembering to alternate the placing, until you’re four layers up. Then add your first paving slab.
Build another three layers of bricks on top of it, but this time, don’t alternate the placing. Offset the three bricks at the very back by about 2 inches to create your rudimentary chimney.
Place your final paving slab on top.
Step three – Pizza
That’s it. All done!
Light your fire in the gap under the first paver. Put your pizza and pizza stone on top of that paving slab when your handy infrared thermometer registers around 750°F/400°C, and use the paving slab on top to keep your pizza warm if you’re cooking multiple pies.
Wrapping it up
So there you have it, two ways of making your own DIY pizza oven. One that can be done in as little as 30 minutes and one that takes around five to seven weeks.
Both of these ovens are going to make far better pizza than you can get out of your kitchen oven and are a fraction of the cost of a commercial pizza oven.
Have you made either of the DIY pizza ovens we’ve detailed above? How did they work for you? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below!