How To: Build a Basic Backyard Fire Pit
In only a few hours, using tools no more sophisticated than a shovel and mallet, you can build a fire pit to be enjoyed by your whole family year-round.
Many homes have fireplaces or propane stoves inside, but there’s nothing quite like enjoying a fire pit under the stars in your own backyard. On a cool night in the summer, you can cook up a feast of hot dogs in your fire pit, while in the chillier months, nothing beats a fireside snuggle in your most comfortable chair.
Of course, a fire pit can be as simple as a hole in the ground with stones haphazardly stacked around it. But believe it or not, in only a few hours, you can rather easily build a fire pit that is considerably more attractive (and safer), one that’ll really get you and your guests fired up.
First things first, satisfy yourself that building a fire pit wouldn’t result in your getting burned with a fine from the local government. Contact the planning offices in your area to see if any restrictions apply. Only proceed once you’ve gotten the necessary approvals or once you’re convinced that none are required.
Choose a location for your ring of fire, one that is on relatively flat ground and situated well away from flammable structures. Remember also to clear any tree branches that are hanging dangerously low. And before considering the spot you’ve chosen as final, record the movement of wind at a few different times of day; the outcome to avoid is smoke billowing into your home’s interior either through windows or doors.
Decide how wide you want your fire pit—the recommended size is between 36 and 44 inches—and use marking paint to outline the dimensions. Accomplish this by driving a stake into the middle of the area where you want the fire pit to go. Tie a length of twine to the stake that is equal to half the planned diameter. Then walk around the stake in a circle, twine extended, painting the perimeter.
Now it’s time to excavate the ground within the circle you’ve drawn. Go about eight inches deep. If the yard is sloped, it may be necessary dig down deeper on one end to ensure that your installation will be level.
Pour a two-inch-thick layer of sand into the area you’ve excavated. Tamp down the sand in order to compact and level it.
Lay one course of concrete retaining wall blocks around the edge of the pit. If slight adjustments are necessary in order to make the blocks level, tap them with a rubber mallet to establish the correct height.
Lay a second ring of staggered blocks above the initial one, attaching the two tiers by means of masonry adhesive. To promote air circulation around the fire, leave small, intermittently located gaps between the blocks.
Add about four inches of crushed stone within the cavity, then lay down your final two rings of blocks. Let the adhesive dry for approximately two days before having your inaugural fire. After that, let it burn, baby, burn!
Your fire pit will be just fine with retaining wall blocks, but once you’re done building the pit, you may wish to insert a steel fire ring. Doing so will extend the life of your blocks by preventing them from drying out prematurely.
Also note that while it may be tempting incorporate river stones, it’s much safer to avoid them, because they actually run the risk of exploding when heated.
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