Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pizza Oven

After my first successful masonry project with the stucco fence I decided to take it to the next level. Who knew the next level was so far above my head. The concept is pretty simple. Create a Pompeii style pizza oven. After doing some research online we found out a pizza oven manufacturer was just a few miles away. Forno Bravo turned out to be our supplier and resource for pizza oven construction. We could have purchased a small oven for about 2500$ or a large for 8000$. Of course I decided to make my own large 36" pizza oven. We purchased the firebricks, insulation, and high heat mortar directly from them. To my surprise the pallet of materials weighed over a ton and my poor truck couldn't handle it. Luckily they were nice enough to split the pallet for me so we handled it in two trips.
A funny/scary moment happened when I was unloading a cardboard box of insulation. I took it off the truck and dropped it in the garage. To my surprise I felt a sharp pain in my arm. I had a nice gash in my right arm halfway between the elbow and wrist. I looked at the box I just dropped and noticed a razor blade sticking out. It was embedded halfway into the box and sliced my arm as the box slid out of my arms. I told the story and showed my battle wound to an employee during the second trip and told him his packing guys should be a bit more careful. I think I scared him, he gave me some extra fire bricks. Almost a month later I still have a scar.
Anyways, back to the pizza oven. We were lucky enough to have a huge slab of concrete out back so we didn't need to build up the base. We purchased 20 or so concrete blocks, some rebar, and 3 pieces of angle iron to build the platform the oven would sit on. We realized this was going to require a bit more support than we had expected, the finished pizza oven was going to be well over a ton when complete. We made the three-sided support with two small shelves on each side. Across the open front and in the middle we placed the 2" angle iron to bear the brunt of the weight. We put down some cement board and then poured a concrete floor with rebar.

All of this was taking far longer than we had expected. Next we put down the floor insulation and the floor bricks. Rikki spent several hours cutting the full bricks into half bricks and I started planning how to lay the bricks in a 36" dome and leave an opening. The first few rows were easy and I only tilted them in slightly so I did all three at once. After I placed the first three rows I noticed the mortar wasn't drying properly. I had used about 1/2 of the 80 lb bag of mortar when I noticed there was a bag inside the bag. This confused me until I realized the 80 lb bag consisted of 2 bags that needed to be mixed BEFORE use. Since I didn't mix it properly it never fully set. So Rikki once again helped me tear down my mess and clean all the bricks for a second try.

After a break I mixed the 2nd bag of mortar properly and laid the 3 rows of bricks again. The next day I did the fourth row, waited a few hours and did the fifth. At this point the bricks were at a steep slope and would fall in if I wasn't careful. As planned I switched to my mold: an exercise ball from Target. At this point Rikki was in Kansas prepping for Kelli's wedding so I had the whole weekend to work on the project by myself. Unfortunately it went extremely slowly since all I could do was build a row of bricks, wait several hours, deflate the ball, and then repeat.

The mold worked well, and the door/chimney came out about as expected. I used the rest of the mortar to smooth out my dome and hope it all held together. Next was the dome insulation, followed by some chicken wire to help the second type of insulation/stucco stick. I used 5 parts vermiculite to 1 part concrete. Vermiculite is a fine crushed stone that provides good insulation. As a final touch I ran a ring of concrete around the base to make sure the floor firebricks would never shift and hopefully provide some extra support to the dome.

That was all I could manage before I had to fly out to Kansas for the wedding so we took another break. After the wedding we started putting together the stone veneer over the concrete block and added the final coat of stucco to the dome. Two slabs of granite concrete on each side for shelves and Rikki's fine mortar work and the pizza oven was finally complete.
This was by far our most difficult project yet. Next time we do something like this I will actually be prepared.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Computer Problems

I finally got rid of a stubborn trojan horse on my computer. It took me a couple weeks. I was using Symantic Endpoint Protection (free license from school) and it failed miserably. It turns out all the major antivirus programs are only about 50% effective these days so antivirus software is very unreliable. I've never liked Norton, and I won't be using it again. The trojan was installed when I opened an infected PDF file and it takes advantage of a Java exploit to hijack the computer. I could quarantine it but it also had a rootkit that reinstalled after every reboot. After trying half a dozen programs (Avast, AVG, malwarebytes, adaware, spybot S&D, numerous rootkit cleaners, etc.) I finally found a fix that surprised me. Microsoft's new antivirus: Microsoft Security Essentials. It seems Microsoft has caught up and surpassed a lot of the mainstream Antivirus programs. Usually these things are quick fixes, nothing more than a Google search and a single program to download and install, but this time it was undocumented. It makes me wonder how many other undetected problems are on my computer. I almost did a reinstall, I probably should have.