The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

YAY! A place for us "Woodies"!

ClimbHi's picture

YAY! A place for us "Woodies"!

Thanks, Floyd! Not many good resources out there on how to use the WFO vis-a-vis baking bread.

I'd like to christen this corner of TFL with a discussion of oven management -- specifically, how do you go about firing your oven?

The traditional method is to pack the box with pretty thin, dry wood and burn it from the top down/front to back without adding additional fuel, spread out the coals and let them burn for 30-45 minutes, then rake them out and let the oven "soak". I haven't had much success with that method, as it results in a too-hot hearth -- as in the bottoms of the loaves burn by the time the loaves are done (20 - 25 minutes).

I now build a smaller, slower fire, out of a bit larger-sized coked wood, and feed it for about 90 minutes, and rake the coals out about 20 minutes after the fire dies. I let the oven soak until the wall temps are around 600° (30 minutes or so for my oven) and then load the bread. I steam a couple of times in the first few minutes after loading with a fine-mist garden sprayer.

Anyone care to comment?

Pittsburgh, PA

toyman's picture

I'll comment!

I fully charge my oven whether I'm baking bread or pizza.  I use the top down method, where I put a few larger (3-4" dia) on the hearth and then build up 3-4 levels with smaller pieces of wood.  The top is kindling.  I probably use 2-3 pieces of wood, pre-split.  I cheat a little and use fire stix from Walmart (same as I use to light lump in my Egg) under the kindling on top.  My oven takes about and hour to fully charge, which is when the oven turns white. (The fire is hot enough to burn off the soot)  If I'm cooking pizza, I shift the lit fire to the left side, brush the floor clean, and keep the fire about 1/2 way up the vault.  If I'm baking bread, I clean out the ash/embers, sweep the floor and then mop it to get the heat down a little quicker.  Once the floor cools to about 575* (1.5 hours), I steam the oven and loosely place my door then I get my loaves, spritz the tops with some water and steam again when I place them in the oven.  Put the door back on and pull the loaves when the internal is 200-205.   

Wisecarver's picture
Wisecarver (not verified)

...Good discussion.
I started lumbering my own wood for hearth ovens a long time ago.
There are so many woods you can experiment with, some you won't use again.
For example I do not use Beach anymore, too hard to get hot and then control it.
The most forgiving woods are the sugar Maples, I find anyway.
You should save the small branches, these will be used to not only kindle but also to control the fire during a bake.
As stated with most doughs you want your highest heat, radiate it.
Then for example with flat breads keep stoking the edges around the bread with those dry branches.
In most cases 6 months is enough to tender Maple.
You want a light burn on the bread but you don't want to ignite it. ;-)
Most Maples work great for this.

Note: I'm 47, working with trees is one of the physical activities I enjoy, for Health.
As a teen I worked in upper Michigan logging, nowadays I'm as good with a double-bit Axe as anyone. ;-)

SylviaH's picture

Thank you Floyd for the New WFO Forum!  Looking forward to learning a lot from this new forum! 


frankie g's picture
frankie g

I have tried to fire my oven with a "packed box" but it does not work for me.

I have better luck using broken pallets (pine) and real cheap fast-burning wood, in small fires that I continue to feed.  AIR is my friend and keeps the fire bright and aggressive.

Frankie G

Frankie G's pizza oven project

ClimbHi's picture

Yeah, I started out following the traditional method of putting all the wood for the burn in the box at one time, but I found that 1) this took more wood 2) it did not heat as efficiently and took longer 3) it made too big a fire (i.e., a lot of fire coming out of the door and up the chimney - wasted heat IMHO).

I have used pine (construction cast offs), and this works well for a nice bright fire for pizza but, for me, it burns too hot/fast for a good oven heat. I prefer hardwood for that. Fortunately, I had a neighbor who lost a maple -- I cut and split the trunk and that kept me in free wood for almost a year. Almost out of that now, tho', and I had to buy a cord of cherry.

My typical firing is to build a decent-sized fire in the center of the box and keep feeding it so the fire stays large, but not so large as it rolls out of the box. This heats the oven to "white hot" in about an hour. Then I let the fire die down a bit, but still feed it for another 30 minutes or so to keep a smaller fire burning, just to get the masonry heated to a greater depth without raising the surface temps too much. Finally, I let the fire die out and the coals continue to burn for another 30 minutes or so before raking them out. At this point, the walls are usually around 750-800°. (I have a Fluke IR gun - very handy.) Lastly, I let the oven "soak" until the wall temps are around 550-575° (usually around 30 minutes) and then load my first batch. About 2-1/2 hours from match to batch.

If I'm planning multiple sequential bakes, I'll let the low fire burn for longer so the bricks heat more deeply.

Nice oven, Frankie!

Pittsburgh, PA

noyeast's picture

I heat for 1.5 hours starting off with a tiny kindling fire about 18" dia. Let this warm the oven gently for 15 - 20 mins then gradually build up the size and intensity over the remaining 1 hour +.  

I let the fire burn down to good glowing embers which takes another 1/2 hour by which time I'm ready to start with the quick cook foods and pizza.   I use mostly pine pellet wood for this with a few 2-3 " logs for the last 30 mins.

Whilst cooking I keep the embers replenished by feeding the small fire with one or two pine kindling sticks about every 10 minutes.   I sometimes move the fire to the opposite side of the WO if we are still cooking pizza after an hour to ensure the base still browns and goes crisp.

After dinner is over the door goes in place and on goes a quick batch of bread dough in time to rise and then bake in the WO and taken out before bed.


Occasionally my wife will throw together some ingredients into the cast iron caserole such as any slow cook meats like neck chops, oxtail etc and in this case the cooking is allowed to go all night to utilise the residual heat from the oven.


I have yet to use the oven overnight to dry out logs for the next use, an idea I saw right here on the forum which sounded good to me.

I have a little experience with Tandoori cooking and find the WO's intense initial heat right after heating for 1.5 hrs to be ideal for tandoori chicken, which is cooked on a skewer which rests on two wire frames which can be inserted before cooking and removed again after the chicken is done, in readiness for pizza etc.  The intense initial heat is superb for instantly sealing the marinated chicken and creating slight charring on the edges.  The chicken is then removed and taken inside to the kitchen oven for finishing at a moderate temp whilst I continue to cook outside in the WO.

For breads such as Pita Bread, and just a couple of loaves etc. 1 hours' heating is plenty.