Buckley Rumford Fireplaces
Oven in Fireback
Re-thinking the design common before 1760

Circa 1720 large pub oven in the Abbott Inn

Feb 28, 2011

Hi Jim,

You have a great website. I am building a log home and am designing it in the fashion of a colonial period inn. After seeing your site, of course I now want to build a Rumford cooking fireplace with a beehive style of oven! But i have a couple of questions I hope you can help me with.

In studying the designs in your website, I see

where early beehive ovens were built into the back of the fireplace. This made sense to me. As you mentioned in one article, the disadvantages of this were having to reach through the fire in the fireplace to get to the oven. I certainly get that part. But it seems there may have been some advantages too of building it into the back of the fireplace that were given up in this process.

One was the convenience and safety of being able to rake the coals/ash out of the oven into the fireplace for later disposal with minimal effort? A second may have been that it provided a bigger safety margin if a hot ember flew out of the fire in the oven. And a third may have been been that the chimney flue was big enough to absorb most of the heat from the oven so it unduly overheat the room?

Seems like when they moved the ovens to the side, they would have needed to address these same issues. Namely,

1) Regarding raking coals, with a side oven, do you have to rake hot coals and ash out of the front and then shovel them back into the fireplace for later disposal ? Seems like a fire hazard as well as an added inconvenience. Are any side ovens made that have a side connection to the fireplace door so one can rake the coals out of the oven directly into the fireplace. Just wondering.

2) People typically put a screen or glass door in front a fireplace to keep an ember from bursting past the hearth to land on the floor. What do you do in the case of a beehive oven that is built a couple of feet off of the ground. Seems the embers could fly well past the hearth if you build much of a fire. Do you put a screen in front?

3) Doesnt a beehive oven get the whole house hot? The ones I see in pictures don't even have doors on them that you can close when not cooking.

These are probably stupid questions. The problems must have been solvable or people would not have gravitated toward the side oven design. Just wondered if you had ever encountered any of these kinds of issues or knew of solutions i am not thinking about.



You make some good arguments for thinking through these issues rather than simply accepting the catch-your-clothing-on-fire reason for building the ovens to one side after about 1760. May I put our dialog on line? I think the discussion is interesting and may help others.

Firstly, maybe the risk of catching your clothing on fire can be diminished if you don't wear long dresses and if you don't have a fire in the fireplace or have a small fire raked to one side.

I think the next big advantage may be that building the oven in the back of the fireplace would save wall space. Yes the oven would stick out the back of the wall but you could build a five foot wide fireplace with a 36" oven in the back in a seven foot wide space whereas, if the oven were to one side, you would need about ten feet of wall space.

I wouldn't worry so much about sparks flying out of the oven. The ovens have entrance covers or "plugs" when the fire is raging and, when it dies down to a bed of coals and shoved to one side or the back I've never seen sparks fly out.

Scraping the ash out of the oven could be less messy if the oven were in the back of the fireplace but that doesn't seem to me to be a big problem anyway. Many ovens are built with ash dumps into the firebox as shown in the plan for that five foot fireplace or into an ash pit as in my office oven. I just shove the ashes down the slot into the firebox below which we use as an ash pit. Even if you swept the ash into a dust bin through the opening the fine ash would be drafted up the chimney.

You make a good point about overheating the room but that concern probably depends on the weather in your location. Here in the Northwest it's often chilly - 50 degrees F - even in July so we built our oven inside and welcome the heat. Many of our customers who live in warm climates build ovens outdoors. I think your idea of building the oven in the back of the fireplace might be as good as outdoors - and not as good as an inside oven if you do want the heat.

Finally, on that last note, no, the oven does not contribute much to heating the whole house. Our oven has about 5" of insulation, first insulating castable refractory and then less expensive masonry and even fiberglass insulation under the floor and over the dome. Our view is the more insulation the better so that the oven heats up faster and stays hot longer. You could vary that. If you want the oven to heat the house, don't insulate it and it would function sort of like a masonry heater. If you don't want the oven to heat the house - or you don't want to waste fuel by letting the oven lose heat to the outdoors - insulate it better.

All our ovens come with doors or plugs and you can buy them separately or make your own.

Jim Buckley


Thank you for your quick and comprehensive reply. I overlooked the possibility of an ash dump directly into the fireplace or into the firebox below. That seems to make a lot of sense and I will be sure to construct one of these. I also did not fully appreciate that there would be a plug or cover in place while the fire was raging. I would have thought that the fire could not burn properly without drawing oxygen through the entrance. But experience is the best teacher; so if that works, great. In the end, despite my theoretical questions, one would be foolish not to trust the practical experience of millions of colonists who, having tried both, decided that an oven on the side was better than one in the back. Yet it is enlightening sometimes to try to rethink what may have been their thought process as we have done. Thanks so much for your kind attention. I will be sure and consider the products on your website in building my fireplace and oven.

Best regards,

ps - you are very welcome to put this conversation on line. It is the least I can do for your kindness in answering my questions.

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