The doorway of a clay oven is probably the most complicated part of building the oven “igloo”. The most simple way to have a doorway is to cut it out after building a fully enclosed dome. However, a doorway made of bricks or other durable material is much better than using just clay, because the doorway does get a hard time being (unintentionally) bashed with firewood, hoe, and pizza paddles.
We built ours from bricks. These do not need to be firebricks, because the doorway does not come into direct contact with fire like the oven floor (hearth) does. If you are more crafty and delicate than me, you can probably manage to build a pretty proper arch. After several attempts on building a perfect arch, I gave in and ended up with this compromised shape.
The top of my “archway” has two bricks going crossway compared to the other bricks. The gap in between these two bricks will lead to the chimney. The width is slightly narrower than the chimney so the chimney can be sitting on these bricks.
I really recommend building a chimney for your clay oven because it helps creating a healthy fire, and direct the smoke away from your lovely face and garden. It really is a lot more pleasant for everyone, including the pets, to have a chimney.
Your oven without a door can function as a pizza oven as it is. While cooking pizzas, the embers are pushed to the rim of the oven floor. Kindling are added regularly to keep the embers going. The chimney needs to be shut off at this stage to stop excessive heat being drawn away from the oven. We didn’t specifically build a chimney shutter for our oven. A piece of bent mental is inserted into the doorway to obstruct the chimney.
Our pizza parties usually last 3 hours or so. Then I’d take out all the ashes and embers, give the oven floor a wipe, and start baking using the radiating heat stored in the clay oven wall. While baking, I’d put a door on to completely seal the oven and keep the heat in. With 2 hours of firing, I can continue to bake and cook for 3-4 hours. When the temperature drops too low for baking (<130 C), I’d put casseroles into the oven and leave it to slowly cook for a night. If we are not having a pizza party, I can fire the oven for just 1 hour, and get 3 hours of baking out of it before putting casseroles in.
A clay oven really does need a door to be utilised in the way I described. Without a door, embers would have to be controlled at just the right amount on one side of the oven, to allow baking and cooking on the other side of the oven. It is definitely possible, but the functionality of the oven becomes rather limited and inefficient.
The door does not need to be fancy or difficult to make. I simply shape one out of the clay dough I used for building the oven wall. It needs to have a decent thickness to retain the heat in the oven while baking. Mine is 4-5cm thick. There is a hole in the middle so I can use a stick to move the door. I also made a “plug” to seal this hole once I put the door in place. My door is not a perfect fit for the doorway, but that does not matter. I use foil to seal any gap there is.
When firing, I almost never put the door on. Once or twice when I want to let the fire burn down before sufficient number of pizza eaters turn up, I did put the door on ajar (inserted at at an angle without completely blocking the chimney).
An article on how we built our clay oven Big Bill can be found here.
You may also be interested in reading more about other aspects of building and cooking with a clay oven here.