DIY Tonir Making… No Experience Required

Back in the endless, sunbleached summer of 2019, TUMO Studios students Arpi Demurchyan and Sanahin Papazian journeyed to the village of Sarnaghbyur to explore the ancient art of tonir making. The pair spent five unforgettable days under the tutelage of master builder Aram Shaboyan and his team. From sourcing and preparing the clay to shaping and firing the tonir — they experienced the entire process of making traditional Armenian clay ovens.

Used throughout Armenia for centuries, the process of making a tonir is fairly straightforward… but requires grueling and exhaustive work. After retrieving clay mud from nearby hillsides, the clay has to be kneaded between two sheets of plastic by walking over it with your feet. Once the clay is ready, it’s then rolled intro strips. The strips are stacked up to form a vessel, which eventually becomes tall and wide enough to hide a full-grown man inside, as long as he bends his legs a bit. 

We recently spoke to Arpi and Sanahin to have them recount their experiences out in the Armenian countryside making tonirs.

“Looking through all these photos has me reminiscing on heart-warming memories and gives me the opportunity to relive those precious days. 

It was a brand new experience for me as I had never lived in rural parts of Armenia before. It was quite challenging for me at first. Even my parents thought that village life would be intolerable for me, having grown up in the city. 

However, the unique characteristics of rural life helped me explore and experience a completely new lifestyle through learning and participating in the process of making a tonir from Armenian clay. Everyday, after waking up and having breakfast, we went to the master’s home so that he would teach us the basics of making the tonir, which started with separating soil. After that, we had to process the clay with our feet by pressing and then making layers, which we put at the bottom of the tonir. Usually making tonirs is a job for men as it requires a lot of physical strength. So for me as a girl it was even more challenging… but also exciting! At some point we might have even messed up or delayed the process due to our inexperience and lack of skills but, nevertheless, we proceeded with excitement and motivation. We not only learned a lot about village life, we also discovered new hobbies and interests for ourselves. Moreover, the fact that I was living in a new place that was out of my comfort zone gave me the opportunity to completely focus and devote myself to the work.” – Arpi

“What made this experience invaluable was that we were working with our hands, which proved to be a joyful task. The feeling of creating something with your bare hands is indescribable, and it fills you with positive vibes and energy. If I ever have another chance, I would gladly go back and participate in more workshops, as working in a village gave me the opportunity to totally detach myself from city life, organize my thoughts and immerse myself in new experiences.” – Sanahin