The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Modernizing the Alan Scott oven

fbedford's picture

Modernizing the Alan Scott oven

Hey all,

I've never posted here before. I built an Alan Scott oven a long time ago, and Alan came to our house to help me finish it. It was a great experience, and I get nostalgic just thinking back. We moved and left the oven behind quite a while ago.

I was wondering if anyone would be interested in my trying to modernize Alan's original design for modern materials, and passing on a few of the more quirky aspects of the design with something as good, but easier to build. I heard that Richard Miscovich wrote a book about wood fired cooking in 2013 and he mentions the Scott oven, so I've ordered a copy. Yes, I'm 10 years late, and a lot of things have changed in the world.

I was thinking of re-doing the plans and publishing them for free. If someone here has a Scott oven or is thinking of building one, it might be fun to chat about it. I have quite a bit of experience designing and building ovens, and this could be pretty cool.

Let me know what you think, ask a friend to see if anyone is interested. It's a great design (that could use some updating) and I think it deserves some attention. :-)

tpassin's picture

I used to have the book about Scott ovens but it's not to hand right now.  When I moved to New Mexico I had an adobe horno built in my back yard.  It was fun but I could never get it to bake bread as well as I wanted (it was great for other types of cooking, though).  Also it didn't hold heat as long as I had expected, which probably was related to not getting bread right.

I'm fairly sure that the problem was that we hadn't insulated the hearth well enough.  So I suggest that any design should pay attention to achieving superior insulation under the hearth.

One of the fun things was to fire the oven very hot, cook some pizzas, then some kind of roast or two, then as the oven cooled a few stews, and finally an overnight bake using the residual heat to cook a pot of beans.

Petek's picture

Copies of The Bread Builders (Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens) by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott are available on Amazon. Just search for the title. I own a copy that was signed by Wing.

fbedford's picture

The heat retention is one of the things that make the oven so great!

I've had all of the books (and Alan's hand drawn plans) on the shelf for years -- decades, really. And they are pretty dated. A lot of good things have happened with materials that make it a lot easier to build that massive beast and still get the great heat retention.

I guess my question is where there are enough people who would be interested for me to go ahead and do it -- while giving as much appreciation and recognition to the original thinkers as possible! :-)

RyeSmile's picture
RyeSmile (not verified)

This might be helpful for you, when you go to revise them.

fbedford's picture

Thanks! I downloaded those recently and it felt like a walk down memory lane. I had the originals about 25 years ago!

nicolaasdekker's picture


I am definitely interested in starting a journey of constructing ovens. I am highly mobile moving to a new country every 2-3 years for work so will have lots of practice building and testing ovens over the coming years.

tpassin's picture

One thing I don't recommend is a traditional-style oven made from adobe (a Southwest (US) "horno").  I had one made for me some years ago when I lived in New Mexico. They need too much exterior maintenance from year to year.  Or if you really do want one like that, reinforce the dome with something like a metal mesh to reduce cracking.  Also, don't get carried away and build one too large.  They take too much wood to heat up.  Another tip is to make sure your oven floor is very well insulated (if your design has a fire chamber under the floor, then insulate that instead, of course).  I didn't do that with my horno, and it lost heat too fast through the hearth so it could never bake bread the way I wanted.

With all that, I really enjoyed my horno.  I still remember a day where I fired it in the morning, cooked pizza in the early afternoon, then roasted several meat cuts (with the fire still going) and some beets which I roasted near the oven door.  Then I removed the coals and cooked a big stew for the next several hours, and finally in the residual heat I baked a pot of beans overnight.  Everything tasted wonderful!

Getting the most out of a wood-fired oven like that takes some planning.  As for firewood, you read all sorts of recommendations.  I liked fruit tree wood when I could find some.  I used apple and apricot wood.  They burned hot and clean.


fbedford's picture

Has anyone built a Scott oven recently? I would be curious to know whether you did the whole hanging hearth thing. And whether you installed the insulating layer underneath the floor or underneath a layer of concrete underneath the cooking floor. 

Has anyone built one using ceramic insulation?

All very interesting. 



Deirdrejd's picture

I have been wanting to build a wood-fired oven for a while now.  I have Kiko Denzer's book on cob ovens and have been considering that as an option.  But I am totally open and would be very interested in hearing more about your ideas on modernizing the Alan Scott oven design.  And even better if you'd have any interest in overseeing the project!;-)  I'm in Pinole, Ca.  

jbovenbread's picture

I constructed an oven based on the Allan Scott book and drawings about 20 years ago, before modern materials (heat blankets) and oven kits were available.  The oven is now enclosed in a window sided shelter, attached to a greenhouse.  Initially it was wapped in tarps in early October and unveiled in late April (we have WINTER in eastern Ontario).  It now gets used year round on the order of 15 - 20 times a year.

I have the following suggestions or comments for someone starting to construct one of these ovens:

1.  Do not reduce the overall size / footprint of the oven.

I did this in order to reduce the overall cost and ended up with an oven sufficient space to bake about 7 loaves in bread pans (or fewer hearth loaves) maximnum.  On occasion, this is sometimes insufficient for what I want to do; although with a few friends we did put 17 loaves through in 3 batches one day.

When you reduce the overall size of the oven you will generally reduce the amounjt of thermal mass as well.  I added additional cladding several years after initial construction since the temperatures were dropping off more rapidly than I wanted.

The smaller size scaled to the plans outlined in the book result in a smaller door size which limits the size of peel that can be used, and limits the space available for an active fire when you wish to use the oven to bake pizza.

2.  Add a dial type probe thermometer DURING CONSTRUCTION.  It's a pain to put one in as a retrofit.

3.  Embed a few thermocouples in the base and walls (and one in the middle/outisde of the cladding) to allow monitoring of the temperature regimes when you fire the oven.  I expected the thermocouples I installed to last a couple of years ... but one of the four is still working.  Of course the technology available now is better that when I initially checked out the market do you can now hook up a computer to do the monitoring (rather than running to take the temperatures every half hour.

4.  Carefully consider what you wish the oven to look like 10 years from its completion.  I started with a floating slab .....  forms put in the ground as an afterthought the day before concrete arrived to pour the foundation for an addition on my home.  Not good planning to say the least.

5.  If you want to build an oven from scratch go for it.  However given the cost, time an effort involved I would seriously consider buying an oven kit if I was doing it again.

I hope this helps.


tpassin's picture

1.  Do not reduce the overall size / footprint of the oven.

I did this in order to reduce the overall cost and ended up with an oven sufficient space to bake about 7 loaves in bread pans (or fewer hearth loaves) maximnum.  On occasion, this is sometimes insufficient for what I want to do; although with a few friends we did put 17 loaves through in 3 batches one day.

Although I haven't built a Scott oven I did have a New Mexican adobe horno built when I lived there.  For peculiar reasons it came out larger than I had planned.  If you make one larger, it will take more wood to fire each and every time you fire it, even though most of the time you will not use its full capacity.  That also means more ashes to dispose of.  It will take longer to heat up.

I would try to keep it on the smaller side.  Make sure to insulate under the hearth as well as you possibly can.  That was a weakness of my horno.  The rest of the oven, with its thick adobe walls, must have been insulated well enough because even when the oven was fired hot enough to burn soot off the dome, you could barely feel any warmth when you put your hand on the outside of the dome.

I would advise against adobe, though. Or if you do use it, make sure to get it plastered outside with a lime plaster.  Otherwise the maintenance of the adobe gets to be a real burden.  And if you use adobe that has some kind of a water-resistant filler, the oven can't vent the moisture properly. The lime plaster is supposed to let moisture escape.