Ready to shed your bulky winter clothes and get back outside? Of course you are – we all are. There are many things to look forward to as the weather gets warmer, but by far one of the most exciting things is getting to enjoy a nice outdoor fire once again. We have previously written about different types of outdoor heating, including both gas and wood-burning fire pits, but as we have many avid DIY-ers on our staff, we wanted to take a week to encourage our followers to be a little adventurous. This week’s topic is a compilation of DIY advice from various members of our staff, all towards guiding you in the process of building your very own fire pit.
STEP 1 – Scope Out a Safe Location
As always, safety first. Before you begin construction on your fire pit, there are a few things to consider to ensure your safety and the safety of your neighbors.
- Always check local building codes and guidelines regarding open fires in your area. Some places prohibit outdoor fires completely, while others have area-specific rules for fire pits.
- Choose the location of your fire pit wisely. Fire pits should always be placed on patios, pavers, or dirt, and should never be installed on wooden decks or surfaces made of any other kind of combustible material. Fire pits should also be placed a minimum distance of 20 feet away from all buildings, trees, sheds, and fences.
- Keep wind direction in mind to prevent smoke from blowing into your windows. After choosing a tentative location for your fire pit, place a small flag in the ground and check up on it multiple times over the course of a few days to determine the prevailing wind direction. If it looks like the wind will end up ushering smoke into your home or your neighbors’ homes, you will need to choose a different spot for your fire pit.
STEP 2 – Preparation
After you decide on the perfect location for your fire pit, your next move should be to prepare your space and materials as best you can to ensure the actual building process goes as smooth as possible.
- Determine the size of the fire pit you intend to build. The recommended height for outdoor fire pits is approximately 12-inches (above ground). Any lower, and there are safety concerns with sparks and pieces of burning wood jumping out of the pit. Any higher, and the walls will create a funnel effect, distributing heat directly up into the atmosphere instead of around the fire. Determining the ideal diameter for your fire pit is a little more subjective, and depends on how much space you have in your yard (remember the rule of at least 20 feet away from combustible objects) as well as how many people, on average, you would like to be able to seat comfortably around the fire. On average, home-built fire pits are approximately 4 – 5 feet in diameter, and this will comfortably sit 5 people.
- Mark the area with spray paint before you start building. Place a simple flag or wooden marker at the center of the space, measure out and mark the radius, and paint a circle outlining exactly where your fire pit will go. This will not only confirm whether or not your fire pit will fit well in that space, but will also give you a better idea of whether or not you will like the way it looks there!
STEP 3 – Dig the Foundation
Finally, it’s time to break ground! Put on your gloves and get your shovel ready!
- Mark the ‘outer circle’ and the ‘inner circle’. The outer edge is where you will build the wall of the fire pit, while the inner circle will be the actual ‘pit’ part of your fire pit. Similar to how you marked the original outline with spray paint, mark exactly where your fire pit wall will go by using the width of your bricks/stones as a guide. Spray-paint an inner ring to differentiate between the ‘wall area’ and the ‘pit area’.
- Make sure to know how deep to dig. The recommended depth is between 12-18 inches, but some guides will suggest digging up to three feet deep.
- Dig out the outer edge, and fill with cement. Use quick-setting cement for best results, and fill to the very top. Wait for the foundation to dry completely before moving on to the next step. NOTE: You do not have to dig out the center circle, but do clear away approximately one inch of earth, so as to completely remove all grass from the surface.
STEP 4 – Build the Wall
However you plan the aesthetic of your fire pit is up to you, but keep in mind you cannot use just any kind of stone. Many of these materials, especially bricks, run the risk of becoming damaged, even exploding, when exposed to too much heat, so always take the extra precaution of looking into whether the materials you choose are fire-friendly and safe to use. Regardless of your choice of stone, however, we recommend using firebricks to build an inner wall for extra protection.
- Begin to build the outer wall. Mix mortar (small batches at a time) and shovel approximately 2 inches of it on top of the concrete base. Lay stones on top of the wet mortar and move on to the next section, repeating until the entire first layer is complete.
- Assemble the inner wall as you go along. After the first two layers of stone have been set, begin lining the inside of the wall with firebrick (thin side of the brick facing up) in the same manner, piecing the stones together with mixed mortar.
- Continue this process until the wall is 12-inches high. Paying attention to maintaining the pit’s circular shape and using a jointer to remove excess mortar from in between stones, continue laying stones and firebrick for as many layers as it takes to reach the ideal height.
STEP 5 – Fill the Foundation
Many people will choose to secure the foundation of the fire pit center with concrete, while others prefer the look of filling the center of the pit with stones.
- If you are using cement…Fill the pit with quick-setting cement, leaving a small dip in the center where fire logs, kindling, or your fire bowl will go, and wait for it to dry completely. Sprinkling water on the surface of the cement every so often is a good way to tell whether or not you need to wait a little longer.
- If you are using fire-friendly river rocks…River rocks come in a variety of sizes and colors, so there is plenty of room to get creative and customize the look of your new fire pit! Fill the dug-out pit with rocks, leaving at least six to nine inches of space between the rocks and the top of the pit. You don’t want to pack the pit too full, so there’s space left to make a dip in the center for firewood or a fire bowl. If you are using a purchased fire bowl instead of your own wood and kindling, you can place the bowl in the center of the pit before filling, so as to use it as a guide for how much of the pit to fill.
STEP 6 – Finishing Touches
Now that the building of your fire pit is complete (congratulations!), the only thing left to do is clean it up a bit.
- Remove loose debris and extra mortar. Use a paintbrush to sweep away loose debris and a garden hose to wash off extra mortar and dust.
- Paint the inside wall black for a finished, uniformed look. This will not only give your fire pit a finished look, but will also maintain the aesthetic of your fire pit better in the long run, concealing black smudges often caused by smoke. IMPORTANT: Use only non-flammable, high-heat stove paint for this!
- Add a little bit of flair. Whether you chose to fill your fire pit with concrete or with river rocks, a cool way to finish your project is by adding a layer of decorative fire-safe pebbles. Some of these pebbles are even made to reflect light, and look absolutely stunning against the fire.
And of course, the last and most important step – set up a few chairs around your brand new fire pit, and enjoy!