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How to Build an Outdoor Fire Pit

Abhay Burande Sep 29, 2018
Summer evenings are perfect beside the fire with beer and stories. Winters are not that ideal for a backyard barbecue, with freezing temperatures and snow. How about a few logs thrown together that might do the trick? Why not build a fire pit for a controlled, consistent fire going all evening?
A fire pit prevents fire from spreading. It is simply a hole in the ground, to contain the fires reach. Modern technology has made large fire pits possible, from portable metal designs to huge stone pits that run on gas, having electric ignition.

Building a fire pit: Getting Started

Ensure you can build a fire pit according to the ordinance guidelines for your area. Some neighbors have restrictions on outdoor fire pits as a precaution to accidental fires.You can check with your fire marshal if fire pits are permitted.Personal safety is important when dealing with fires and one must observe certain rules to make a fire pit.
Make sure to select a site which is not hazardous to nearby property or other structures. Homeowners associations generally stipulate a distance of 20 feet from property boundaries. Also, make sure the fire pit isn't near overhanging tree branches or brushwood as these may catch fire from floating embers.
Keep away all flammable products such as, gas, diesel or kerosene from the fire pit.
Always have a water hose or a fire extinguisher handy to douse any unruly flames.
Another important factor is wind direction. To mark this, tie a cloth or flag to a pole near the fire pit site and check the prevailing wind direction and speed for a few days. It will give you an idea of the direction of the flames, once your fire pit is lit and help you check for obstructions.
Avoid installing your fire pit directly onto a wooden platform or patio, as the fires within gather intense heat and may burn right through the underlying supports. Fire pits should exclusively use non-flammable materials for their bases (such as bare earth, concrete pavers or metal) and surrounding walls.
If possible, use a fire pit bowl to contain your flames. They are easier to clean and do not let the hot coals or wood chips to scatter under the pit.

Step 1: The Tools

Although ready-made fire pit kits can be installed quickly, building one from scratch will take up a few hours of your time. After selecting a suitable site for your pit, follow these steps to get a roaring fire going. However, before starting off, one must make sure to have the necessary tools for the job.
  • Ready-mix mortar
  • Capstones
  • Trowel and grinder
  • Spade and hoe
  • Rake
  • Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Tamper
  • 2 and 4 foot level
  • Masonry adhesive
  • 4 inch gravel
  • Concrete pavers
A stone fire pit has all the aesthetics of paleolithic times, but they are harder to work with. The stones must be carefully selected, to be free from pent-up moisture or air pockets, as they may burst from the heat.It is better to visit Home Depot, other departmental store to buy concrete pavers molded as natural stones.
Try not to make a very large fire pit, an optimum size is between 30 to 40 inches across, just right for close conversations. It is always prudent to dig a trench, about 12 inches deep and half-filled with gravel, as a base for the pit walls. This helps in drainage and a stable platform for your fire pit.

Step 2: Arranging the pavers

To be able to dig through in a circle you must first lay the pavers flat on the ground, arranging them one beside the other. They may not come together in a circle at once, and you may need to cut a block to fit it in. 
This can be done using the chisel and hammer. Laying out the pavers in this fashion gives a good idea of how large the fire pit shall be and as a reference for the next step in the process. Use the shovel to dig a small circle around the pavers, to act as a marker.

Step 3: Digging the trench

It's time to get down and dirty building your fire pit and the shovel should come in handy. Dig a trench about 12 inches deep in the area marked out before. 
The breadth of this trench should correspond to that of a block of concrete paver, you can judge this by laying out the pavers once again to see if they fit snugly inside. Remember to widen the trench if there are any misaligned blocks as this would be impossible to do once you begin adding further layers.

Step 4: Graveling the pit

Fill the trench about halfway with 4-inch gravel and batten it down with the tamper. You may need to use a rake to distribute the gravel equally throughout the ring. 
Check to see if the gravel is leveled properly all through the circle, if not, use more gravel to adjust the height. If the graveling is haphazard the blocks laying above it may move and cause the fire pit to collapse.

Step 5: Building the fire pit walls and capping it off

The next step is to start creating the fire pit walls.
Set the first block into the trench and use the 2-foot level to check if it sits at par. If it's high, gently tap it with the hammer to fix it in, or if its two low, you may need to bolster it with a ready-to-mix base.
Once the first block is in its place and level with the trench you can go about setting the other blocks in the circle, tapping them once in a while to for a better fit.

After the first layer is complete, start the second by applying mortar adhesive to two blocks, then place a block on the seam, gently patting it in with a hammer or mallet.
Continue this process until the circle is complete again, going block by block, and making sure each is a tight fit to its companion. Use the 4-foot level to check the leveling across the pit.
Next step is to add gravel again, inside the circle of blocks now, for support as you keep stacking the layers. Apply mortar adhesive to the blocks again and continue stacking them, add another two layers, bringing the height of the wall to about a foot. Do not apply masonry adhesive to the blocks at once, as it seals quickly. Work in two blocks at a time.
You can choose to leave the wall of your fire pit uncapped, however, if you want to spend time warming your feet while lying in an easy chair, it's recommended that you cap the wall, so it can act as a smooth footrest.
Capping can be done by natural pieces of stone, which are flat, or with concrete capstones brought from the market.

Set the caps around the top of the wall, stacking them one beside the other, and check if they extend over the sides of the walls. As most of them will, you can use the hammer and chisel to cut away these overhanging bits.
While working with two blocks at a time, use a trowel to apply generous amounts of mortar to fill in the spaces between the blocks. Once the first piece is on, continue placing the capstones one beside the other, tightly spaced, tapping them with the hammer to seal them together.
Your fire pit is now complete. Give the mortar two to three days to settle and form a strong bond with the concrete pavers and the capstones. Once your fire pit is dry, you can throw that winter evening party everyone's been waiting for.