The Anne of All Trades Blog: DIY and Home Renovation

Outdoor Kitchen Update: WOOD FIRED PIZZA OVEN!

IMG_0285.JPG

After another extremely busy few weeks on the farm (hello summer harvest! hello new animals!), the days are shortening and the mornings are a little chillier. We've been enjoying more farm to table dinners than ever before thanks in big part to the huge inspiration that came with the first step in my dream outdoor kitchen build- the installation of a wood-fired oven.

IMG_9971.JPG

To make room for the 1100 lb brick oven from Authentic Pizza Ovens, I had to pull up a few boards on the porch and build a sturdy stand. The stand is a little sparse for the time being, but that is intentional, I wanted to be able to easily work around it for the rest of the outdoor kitchen rebuild, which involves replacing the deck, adding roof cover, building an enormous farmhouse table, and installing a food prep and bar area. Ideally, this outdoor kitchen will become our more-used kitchen. Fenagling that enormous thing up there was quite an adventure in and of itself, but thankfully, when my own tractor failed to lift it, my buddy Clint was able to trailer his tractor over to lift the oven and get the oven mounted on the stand.

IMG_9998.JPG

I spent five days "curing" the oven, building increasingly hotter fires inside it so as not to dry it out too quickly and crack it. By day five, I had a major hankering for wood fired- EVERYTHING. And so I've spent much of the last few weeks experimenting and doing a whole lot of entertaining. 

Though I've been doing a whole lot of cooking and baking my whole life, folks online started getting a whole lot more interested in my recipes when cooking with fire got involved, and, really, I can't blame them for that. To that end, I have actually also started a cooking segment as part of the homesteading topics covered on YouTube, and the first was, naturally, my mom's failproof dough recipe. 

As is the case with every project I tackle trying to restore this old farm to its former glory, I’ve got my work cut out for me. To add strength to the stand, I used lap joints. The stand will eventually be fully enclosed, with wood and pizza paddle  storage underneath, but I will wait to do that after I’ve replaced the deck. My biggest priority was getting the pizza oven lifted to it’s final destination so I could use it this harvest season, and as long as I can use it to cook, I can make do with everything else until I can finish the rest of this project. I got it mounted and cured just in the nick of time, just as the tomatoes and basil hit their peak.

If you haven’t already guessed, I LOVE to cook. I grew up in a house where the making and eating of dinner was a family affair, and I was su-chef in my mom’s and grandmother’s kitchens as soon as I could walk. My family spent much of my young life living and traveling abroad, and my first experience with wood fired ovens was baking bread with my babushka in rural Ukraine, when I was a kid, and I was hooked. I loved stoking the fire and the smell of burning wood and baking bread.  I’ve had plans of building a wood fired oven from scratch on the farm since we moved in, but there are so many other, more pressing projects I’ve had to deal with before I could get to a quote “luxury” project like that, that I started looking into commercially produced ovens, and that’s how I came across Authentic Pizza ovens. There are tons of sizes, styles and price points available, and I chose the one I did because I didn’t want to be limited to cooking pizzas in it, this is actually going to become my primary oven. Authentic Pizza Ovens are handmade in Portugal, they are beautiful incredibly well built. And, this model especially, is a total tank. Such a tank, in fact, that I couldn’t even lift it with my own tractor, I had to hire my good buddy Clint to haul his tractor over and help me out.

Preheating these ovens actually takes about the same time as preheating an electric oven, especially if you jumpstart the process with a torch.  It takes a few tries to get used to controlling the temperature of the oven based on the amount of wood added and moving around the coals efficiently, but just like driving stick, it quickly becomes second nature. Those first bites out of the oven were pure heaven, so reminiscent of so many awesome memories from my childhood, but also just super rewarding to see some of my longterm dreams come to fruition.

I used my mom’s failproof dough recipe and some farm fresh ingredients to make what I kid you not was the best pizza I’ve ever tasted in my life. That pizza was followed by the best cinnamon rolls, then the best steaks, and now I’m basically just walking around the farm all the time looking for more stuff I can cook in that oven.

Yes, it’s a tad more cumbersome to cook in a wood fired oven than an electric oven or even a gas powered bbq, you need to have enough foresight to light the fire in time for it to be hot when you’re ready to cook, but you can save about 25 minutes in heat up time if you use a torch, and since I’m outside all the time anyway. It’s not hard to make a few extra trips over to the oven in the day to tend the fire, especially knowing the delectable goodness that will be my reward if I do.

Authentic Pizza ovens makes a gorgeous oven that is built to last. Though I loved the idea of building my own oven, getting a ready made oven was quite literally the difference between being able to start cooking this summer as opposed to waiting two or three more years before I could set aside the time to do so, so it was a no brainer for me to opt for a ready-made oven and take a couple days to build the stand and get the oven properly mounted.

A few notes on the things I’ve cooked thus far in the oven- the pizzas- use a ton of flour on the bottom of the crust, it helps enormously when it comes to sliding the pizza on and off the peel. Never walk away from the oven, your stuff cooks FAST in there. I’ve never made 6 minute cinnamon rolls before, but there you have it. When cooking steak, I pre-heated the pan on the cooktop before adding the steaks and putting it all in the oven. I don’t know if that’s a necessary step, but it gave me peace of mind.

So I hope I haven’t got you drooling too much with all this food, I look so forward to tackling the rest of this outdoor kitchen build later this year. As always, thanks so much for taking the time to stop by, make sure you go out and make something with your hands this week. Cheers!

Posted on September 3, 2018 and filed under Blog, DIY and Home Renovation, Farm / Garden, Adventures and Updates.

Restoring old tools

 

Update: Check out https://www.epicgardening.com/how-to-remove-rust-from-tools/ for more on this topic! 

Using old tools in the workshop is an amazing experience. When tools are properly restored, they are often just as good if not better than many products made today, and the history that accompanies them is so inspiring. I love using old tools previously owned by a maker whose skill level I will likely never reach. I imagine their lives, their hands, the pieces they built. Using antique tools to build furniture that breaks the Ikea mold, furniture that will last not only my whole life, but will likely outlive my grandchildren as well is a really incredible feeling.

Antique tools can often be acquired and restored fairly cheaply, but depending on the condition in which the tool was found, the restoration process can take a long time. Here is a crash course in restoring old tools using vinegar. There are many methods, many of which I've tried, but this is the one I used most. 

I try to use as many natural or organic products as possible and leave the heavy chemicals outside the shop because I never know who is going to wander into my shop- kitties, bunnies, chickens and ducks are frequent guests.  I tried electrolysis, but it wasn't my favorite because I didn't see much of an improvement on the vinegar process and I had to constantly be worried about one of my critters getting into the electrolysis room and dipping a paw in the water- byebye baby. 

I got most of my basic tool set in one big lot on ebay and cleaned, sharpened, and rehandled around 150 blades of various kinds within a few weeks. It was a huge task but ended up being totally worth it because I had a TON of practice not only in restoration, but also in grinding and sharpening. I was taught to do both freehand which saved me a TON of time in the long run. If you don't already do this and have some crappier items which you wouldn't mind grinding down a bit, I would highly recommend giving freehand grinding and sharpening a shot.  

I usually soak and work on small batches of tools at once because it is necessary you clean the metal immediately after removing it from the vinegar. It would be a very good day if I could restore 5 things in one day without getting carpel tunnel, so I try to plan accordingly. What you don't want is to be forced to leave tools in the vinegar too long due to time constraints. If you do end up with too many blades in the vinegar and not enough time to deal with them, take them out, wipe them dry, and then wipe them GENEROUSLY with some citrus wax cleaner to prevent flash rust and then try to get to them within at least 48 hours. 

If a tool is in particularly horrible shape or will just be a every day user with little lasting value beyond that, I will save myself a few hours and skip the vinegar and go straight to the wire brush on my grinder. This is fast and painless (unless the chisel slips and hits you in the face), but also makes the tool lose value and beauty in about 2 minutes flat. The only way I ever justify doing this is if I wouldn't otherwise restore the tool. I had a gouge sitting in my garbage pile for a few weeks because it was so badly rusted I didn't think it would hold a good edge anymore. One day I was cleaning some welds on my wire wheel and I just grabbed it too. I discovered in the process that it was actually a pretty valuable chisel, but it was already too late. I got a handle on it, sharpened it up, and now it is one of my main carving tools. Having a quick and dirty method to go to saved that chisel's life and now it is being daily used, so there's that. 

Step 1: remove wooden components

The next two steps involve water and vinegar, both of which have potential to damage wooden handles and other wooden parts of your tool, so remove them if you can. If you can't, try to keep them away from the water and definitely keep them away from the vinegar, or it will oxidize the wood and turn it black. 

Step 2: clean thoroughly

Using dishsoap, water, and a scrubbie (not the metal kind), try to get as much of the loose dirt off as possible. If the piece is especially grimy, an overnight soak might help get some of the gunk off. Dry the piece off well and immediately either oil all parts or immerse in vinegar or the metal will begin to rust. 

Step 3: soak metal in vinegar

Fully immerse the tool in white vinegar- I buy mine in a box containing two gallon jugs for about $4 from Costco and the vinegar can be reused- though because it is so cheap I often toss it after each restore because it gets pretty gross pretty quick. I put all the metal parts in a plastic bin to soak in the vinegar anywhere from a few hours to 48 hours.

Do not leave in the vinegar for much longer than that or the vinegar will begin to eat the metal as well. Gloves are not necessary at this stage because the vinegar is basically harmless, but I have pretty sensitive skin, so I try to wear gloves through the whole process. Whenever I find extra small latex free gloves, I buy them in bulk because my size is surprisingly hard to find. 

Step 4: examine your progress

Every few hours, take the tools out of the vinegar starting with the thinnest, smallest pieces and examine the progress. A few wipes with a towel will let you know how much of the rust is gone. I have found it is always better to "undercook" rather than "overcook" at this stage because early on I literally dissolved a few sets of calipers I was trying to restore. Not funny at the time, very funny now. 

Step 5: protect against flash rust

When you are satisfied with the work the vinegar has done on your behalf, take the metal parts out, one by one and dry them well with paper towels. Then immediately coat with oil, citrus wax cleaner, or anything that is going to stop them from beginning to "flash rust" which can happen literally within minutes of removing the tool from the vinegar. I usually use mineral oil because it is so cheap. 

Step 6: clean clean clean

Using a series of nylon brushes, old toothbrushes, Q-tips, paper towels, and a dentist's toolset I got for $12 on Amazon.com, I begin the cleanup process for the metal. I want to be very careful here to remove the dirt, grime, and rust, but nothing more. Especially on handplanes, you want to be very careful here to keep as much of the "japanning" or black paint on the interior of the plane body and frog as possible. Using harsh metal brushes, sandpaper, or hastily using the dentist's tools here can scratch the metal's surface, remove the japanning, and cause you all kinds of headaches later on.

On surfaces that don't have japanning, I use 0000 steel wool and brass brushes liberally. People often ask when they are "done" with this part. As with everything, I think you are done when you are happy with the results you have achieved. Some people care way more than others about this part, but in the end, it's your tool, your shop, your time, your effort. The main purpose of this whole process is to remove rust that will endanger the lifetime of your tool. When finished with this step, unless it's a handplane, generously oil the tool, coat with paste wax or Boeshield, and reassemble. You're done. 

Step 6.5 dealing with the wooden components

If the wooden components are not damaged or in especially rough shape, I like to leave them how they are. If they need to be sanded, epoxied or reshaped, that's another article.  I remove old paint and other grime by carefully rubbing the tool with 0000 steel wool and Hornsby's Citrus Wax Cleaner. A lot of times an overnight soak in oil followed by a coat of paste wax applied with 0000 steel wool will do wonders to brighten them up and make them really pop again.

Step 7: tune up

Handplanes need to be dead flat on their bottoms and sides to work properly. Again, there are many ways of doing this, but I start by reassembling the plane and making sure the blade is recessed all the way into the body of the plane, not protruding from the bottom at all. Then I use spray glue and sheets of sandpaper pasted to granite or melamine and begin planing across the sandpaper with the tool as if I were working wood.

I like to start with 400 grit sandpaper because if the plane sole is already fairly flat, I won't have to work through the grits again to smooth out the scratches I made by starting with too low a grit. If a lot of metal needs to be removed, I will move down to 150 grit, plane until there is an even scratch pattern along the whole sole of the plane, or very nearly so, and then move up the grits to remove the scratches.

I do the same thing on the sides of the plane and then take a few passes on the last grit with the plane tilted slightly to sand off the sharp corner edges I have just created by flattening the three sides of the plane.  When done with this, coat all metal parts in paste wax or spray with Boesheild. 

Step 8: Oil up, Sharpen blade, Test out

The next step is to oil up the moving parts of the tool using 3 in 1 or your favorite oil, sharpen the blade, reassemble the tool, and test the plane out. This part also has a few intricacies that would warrant another article- making sure the frog mounts squarely to the plane bed, making sure the chip breaker mates properly with the blade, scootching the frog forward or backward for fine or medium use, etc etc etc, but for the sake of this article, we are going to assume all of that stuff is working great.

Also, as I have previously mentioned, sharpening is another article as well, and one I'm not anxious to write because there are so many methods and so many volumes already written about it that you basically need to just do some research, pick a method, learn it, practice it and stick to it. That said though, for your plane or chisel to work, the back of the blade needs to be dead flat, a straight bevel needs to be ground on the front, and the blade needs to be honed and stropped to whatever level you want to take it to. 

Flattening the blade back is actually relevant to this article, however, so here goes: 

 I will share a secret here that, if properly used, will save your hands, your stones, and a lot of time in the flattening process. Do this only if your blade is very pitted or extremely out of true. Mount a belt sander sandpaper belt side up in your bench vise. Practice (when the tool is off) laying the topmost inch or so of your blade dead flat over the paper. Then turn the tool on and be very careful to put even pressure all around and get it as flat as possible here. Next, move to flattening on your coarsest stone (or whatever method you use). Using even pressure on a diamond plate or your stone, rub the blade back and forth until an even scratch pattern can be seen across the entire back of the blade where the bevel meets it at the tip. Move up through the stones until the blade back has a mirror polish. You should be able to see your reflection when you are finished. After a few minutes at each stage of this process, color the whole back of the chisel where you are working with black sharpie. Rub a few strokes on the stone and see what of the chisel markings is being removed. Adjust your strokes and pressure accordingly until a few strokes on each stone will remove the sharpie marks entirely, especially at the edge near the tip. 

If you are afraid of using the belt sander but the blade has very obvious high spots, you can also use a dremel tool with a sandpaper or grinder attachment to grind away those specific high spots. Be careful, however, not to get too excited with the dremel and dish the back, or you will have to take even more material off to achieve a flat back. After a few seconds with the dremel, use the marker and take a few strokes on the stone/diamond plate to check your progress. 

Again, practicing first using a more disposable blade and a sharpie will be helpful because it is, at first, a little difficult to remove material evenly. Practice makes perfect. Or in my case- close enough for woodwork. 

After sharpening, wipe dry with a paper towel then give the blade a wipe with a tack cloth soaked in jojoba or mineral oil. Jojoba oil is better in my opinion than mineral oil because it is dryer and there is less oily residue left on the wood. Another benefit of the jojoba oil is that it seems to be less "sticky" than mineral oil when it comes to sawdust, and, as I'm sure you know, sawdust is every woodworker's enemy because it traps water and rusts your tool. 

Once the tool is restored, I coat the entire thing (wood and all) with a light coat of citrus paste wax, (car) Turtle wax, or my new favorite, Boeshield. After each use, I blow the entire tool off with my air gun (be careful not to drop it on the concrete and shatter one of your favorite new planes while doing this...) and then give them a thorough wipe with the jojoba cloth. Blades that have the screw-on chip breaker need to be checked on occasion to be sure there are no shavings trapped in between the blade and the breaker, because those little buggers are sure to rust your blades in a flash. 

As far as your power tools go, I'd keep all the cast iron waxed up with paste wax or Boesheild. About once a year I go in with some steel wool to get any rust that's forming and then give it a new coat of wax. Sometimes my cats come in from the rain and lay on the table saw, so I've had to use 220 sandpaper to get a couple of the worse rust spots out, but as long as they get re-waxed right away they are good to go for a long time. 

Go forth and restore!

Posted on July 1, 2014 and filed under How-To, DIY and Home Renovation.