When you finish building an wood oven, or receive one from a manufacturer, one of the next steps is to ready it for baking by getting rid of the water in the masonry. I’ve read about or heard about many different ways that people use to try and get this done, from fans to electric heaters. They do work to some degree, as constant warm temps and air movement will speed the evaporation process. The trouble is the moisture that is trapped in the center of the masonry mass, and drying out 2″-4″ inches of masonry can take a long time…you want to use the oven ASAP!
The most efficient method is small, sustained drying fires.
I know this process is commonly referred to as “Curing” by both hobby builders and commercial oven manufacturers. In fact, this term is so firmly engrained in the oven building nomenclature that explaining the drying process by any other term leads to confusion sometimes.
I suppose it’s not that big of a deal what you call it, as long as the process is successful. But seeing how particular this community can be about details of oven building, pizza making, and everything else, I think it’s worth mentioning that ‘Curing’ isn’t technically the correct way to describe the process of drying out oven masonry.
Ive posted about this topic on some forums I belong to and here’s one of them:
“……..what you are doing is not curing the oven, even though that term is commonly used to describe the process of driving moisture out of masonry.
The fact is that the masonry is already cured…that is to say, the chemical reactions that happen after hydration of cementious materials has already taken place and it should be completed before you fire the oven. So, what you are doing is removing excess moisture that is trapped inside the masonry, and a fire dries it out faster than the action of evaporation. Refractory and Portland based mortars give off that excess moisture very slowly through evaporation and that’s why you need to introduce heat to speed up the drying process.
Most people already know that the reason you shouldnt rapidly fire an oven is because that excess moisture will turn to steam, expand, then crack the oven. Truth is, the oven will likely crack over time anyway…from expansion and contraction. The real goal to drying an oven completely is to avoid structural damage. That’s why you need to gradually remove the moisture with prolonged, low temp firings. Plus, because you are firing a completed oven…the masonry is surrounded by insulation and the oven finishes…which slows the amount of moisture that would normally escape the exterior of the oven masonry. No exterior oven will be 100% dry all of the time if it sits long enough between firings. The masonry will absorb any atmospheric moisture like humidity….so a cautious start up fire is just good preventive maintenance. And it’s not hard to do. Don’t fire a masonry oven if you’re starving….grab a snickers bar.
That’s the 411. Make a day of it, get the kids involved. Make small bundles of sticks and tie them with butchers string or hemp twine. Get all your kindling sized wood for the day and steadily feed the fire. Or go to a saw mill get cut offs….also old pallets make great kindling, and you can cut them up into small pieces with any kind of saw. As a bonus they are everywhere and free. Just make sure they are untreated. Nurseries usually have them.
I’ve dried many ovens while I was doing other things like yard work when the oven was mine or other parts of a contracted project if the oven was for a client. Small fluctuations in temperature won’t hurt anything…as long as you don’t fire it too aggressively. If you’re nervous at all about monitoring the temps, get a cheap IR gun from Amazon. Make sure you have a good door for the oven too. You will be able to use it like a damper to starve out a fire that gets too hot and it’ll trap stored heat when you’re done for the day. Take your time. The pizza and food will happen before you know it! So go slow…slow…slow.”
Like I said, its less what you call drying out the oven than going about the process itself. The main objectives are getting out the moisture and avoiding potential damage to your oven. Once your oven is dry, you’ll be able to bake with the heat of a 1000 suns!
Check out our Glossary and see if there’s any terminology you would like to see in there!
Oven drying in 2008….3 ovens ago.