Building a custom fire pit doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, you can make a fully functional and safe fire pit in a single afternoon without any knowledge of masonry. You're just one Saturday away from spending dreamy summer nights around a crackling fire with friends and family. Heaven!
First Things First: Fire Pit Legality
Before you rush out to buy materials, check local ordinances. Some cities and towns ban all types of open fires, and others require permits and/or inspections for fire pits. These regulations ensure that fire pits are located in safe areas where there's little to no risk of the surroundings catching on fire.
Other pertinent laws regulate the structure of the fire pit and its use. For example, in the city of Columbus, fire pits must have commercial screens and fires cannot burn on "air alert" days, among other rules. Make sure your fire pit is legal before you invest time, money and effort to build it.
Finding the Best Location for Your Fire Pit
Once you've confirmed the legality of your fire pit, it's time to find the safest and most convenient place to build it. Fire pits should be located at least 10 feet from all buildings and vegetation so that stray embers won't cause a problem. It's also wise to trim back overhanging branches and to place the fire pit on a flat piece of land.
Fire Pit Site Prep
The first thing you need for your fire pit is a flat, fireproof surface. If your chosen spot for the fire pit isn't already flat, use a shovel to carve out space. Removing dirt rather than adding dirt to create a flat surface offers greater stability since the ground is already compacted.
Common materials for the foundation include gravel, brick or concrete. Consider the overall aesthetic you want to achieve with your fire pit and the materials you've already used in other exterior decorating projects. Gravel is by far the easiest and cheapest to install, but fresh concrete is tremendously versatile. In the end, it's completely up to you to decide which fireproof material best fits your budget and vision.
Many people extend the foundation to create a patio around the fire pit. This is a safe option because embers that hit the ground won't find any vegetation to ignite. However, fire pits can be stand-alone structures, in which case only a small amount of base material is required to cover the bottom of the fire pit itself.
Building the Fire Pit
Now for the truly fun part! Retaining wall bricks make the perfect material for a basic above-ground fire pit. You'll want to purchase enough to make your fire pit at least three layers high (about 1.5 to 2 feet). You can do some calculations to determine how many of these bricks you'll need for the fire pit size you have in mind or you can experiment with them in the aisle of your local building supply store.
You'll want to stack the bricks on the foundation in such a way that there are very few gaps between them. Unless you plan to light a huge fire every night for the next 25 years, stacking retaining wall bricks will give you a sturdy structure that will contain the fire without cracking and crumbling.
If you do expect to heavily use your fire pit, line the inside with firebrick – a heavy-duty brick that's less decorative and more functional, especially when withstanding heat – and mortar the joints.
Lighting the First Fire
For the true magic of a crackling, popping and sensational-smelling fire pit, use clean wood logs as your fuel source. But remember, you need easily flammable materials in order to start a fire. If you have some dry twigs and sticks handy in the yard, you can assemble these in a pyramid shape on top of some kindling. If you don't have these materials readily available, you can buy commercial kindling and other fire-starting supplies.
Use a match or lighter to give that first spark of life to the kindling, and gently blow on the fire to give it oxygen. Once the rest of the smaller materials alight into a healthy fire, add a small log. Keep adding logs if the fire wanes.
Other Materials to Have on Hand
Keep a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher handy for emergencies or for simply dousing the fire. Never leave the fire unattended or expect it to die out on its own.
Fireplace tools like a poker and tongs are also useful for fire pits, as they allow you to stoke the fire and bring more oxygen to the flames or to rearrange falling logs without putting yourself in danger.
Finally, don't forget to bring comfy chairs, good food and great company to the fire pit. Enjoy this mesmerizing and fully customized centerpiece for your get-togethers, and at minimal cost and effort.