With summer in the rearview, it’s only a matter of time before the weather gets cooler, the jackets get heavier and the lattes get pumpkin spicier.
There’s nothing like a night in the great outdoors. A roaring fire, maybe some warm cider (and another adult beverage to compliment said cider), good friends, some music. It’s idyllic, relaxing and not at all feasible for a lot of us.
Maybe you’re not the outdoorsy type. Maybe you don’t like mosquitoes. Or maybe, like a lot of people, you live in a city or suburb and don’t have the time or resources to head to the mountains or the country to reconnect with nature.
But that doesn’t mean it’s completely out of reach. If you can’t get out to a campsite on the weekends and are renting a single-family home (don’t try this at an apartment!), bring the best part of the campsite to you and learn how to build a fire pit.
6 easy steps to build a fire pit
First things first when building a fire pit: Outdoor fire pits can be fun and relaxing, but it’s still fire we’re talking about. Safety needs to be your top priority.
Survey your backyard and find an ideal spot for your new fire pit. Make sure it’s a safe distance from your home or wood patio. Make sure it’s on level ground and not too close to any power lines, trees or any low hanging branches.
Once you’ve picked a location, stock up on the equipment you’ll need.
Things you’ll need to build a fire pit
- Wood stake or a large stick
- Spray paint or chalk for marking
- Fire-resistant masonry bricks (builder’s choice)
- Quick set concrete and perlite (optional)
- Fire extinguisher (definitely not optional)
- Two barbecue grill grates, one small to go along the bottom, the other large enough to fit across the top (exact dimensions will depend on the size of the fire pit you’re building)
- Graham crackers
- Chocolate bars
- Marshmallows (and long sticks for roasting)
Step 1: Measure a circle
Remember how in middle school you wondered when you’d ever need to use geometry or how useful a protractor is in the “real world?” Welcome to the “real world.” Your teachers would be so proud.
- Drive a stake or a stick into the ground where you want the center of the fire pit to be.
- Tie a length of string around the middle of the stick. The string should be half the diameter of your desired size.
- Tie the other end of the string to a can of spray paint or use chalk and draw a circle in the ground around the stick. Keep the string taut so the circle doesn’t come out lopsided.
If it’s not a perfect circle on the first try, just do it again until it looks good.
Step 2: Start digging
Once your circle is drawn out, start digging. Measure out your distance, and decide how deep you want your fire pit to go. You want it deep enough that you don’t lose too much room when you line your hole with bricks (more on that in a moment), but you don’t want it shallow enough that logs might spill out of the fire and roll onto your lawn.
The floor of the fire pit doesn’t need to be perfectly flat, but the sides of the hole should be straight and consistent, like a drinking glass. You don’t want it to flare outward like a funnel.
Step 3: Get some stones
The good news is you’re about halfway done. The bad news is right now, it’s just a hole in the ground. It’s not a fire pit until you line it with the masonry of your choice. And you’ll have a lot of choices.
If you don’t know what kind of aesthetic you want for your new space, go to your local home and garden center and check out styles and sizes. But if you want to keep it simple and classic, basic red bricks will suit your needs. One thing to keep in mind: If you decide to use red bricks, make sure your fires don’t burn too high or too hot. Otherwise the bricks will pop from the intense heat, form stress fractures and crack after a couple uses.
There’s no real way of knowing how many bricks you’ll need until you need them. So, be prepared to buy way more than you need or go back to the hardware store to buy more each time you run out. Either way, be prepared to do some heavy lifting.
Step 4: Line your fire pit with stones
Start lining the bottom of your fire pit with your red bricks facing up.
- Start from the outermost part of the hole, and do your best to make a circle with the bricks. There will be some open gaps, but those will help in the long run as it will feed oxygen to the fire, reducing the amount of smoke given off by the fire. It will also require you to use less wood, which is not only economical but also safer.
- Once the bottom layer of bricks is down, start on the walls. Repeat the first step and lay the bricks down around the outside and continue going round and round until it reaches your desired height above ground. If you decide to build your fire pit to go higher than 12 inches off the ground, you’ll want to consider a mixture of perlite and quick set concrete to secure them in place. The last thing you want is a strong wind to knock over the exposed bricks. The bricks below ground shouldn’t need to be bonded in place, but you can do it to add more stability if you desire.
- Once you’ve reached your desired height, take three additional bricks and lay them on the floor of the pit and place a barbecue grate over them. This is where your firewood will go. You don’t want to put your firewood directly onto the bricks. The heat can cause the bricks to pop and crack, remember?
- You’ll also want to get a large grate to put across the top of the fire for another added layer of safety.
If you get a grate that’s stainless steel and food-safe, congratulations, you now not only have a fire pit, but you also have a wood-fired grill. Not too shabby for a weekend of work.
Step 5: Light the fire
Once your bricks look stable and your concrete has cured (follow the directions on the package), you’ll be ready to light your first fire. Keep it small for your first go, so you can get an idea of how it will hold up in the future.
Before you get started, remember to keep your fire extinguisher handy. (You do have a fire extinguisher, don’t you?) Start with a quick-light fireplace log and stand three wood logs in a teepee style over it. You can also use sticks and twigs from your yard as kindling.
Do not use charcoal starter fluid, lighter fluid or any other combustible or explosive material to get your fire started. You’ve already gotten this far. Don’t take the unnecessary risk of blowing up your backyard or losing your eyebrows because you got impatient.
Once your fire is going, place the larger grate across the top of the pit and tilt it up carefully with oven mitts to feed the fire as needed.
Step 6: Enjoy a fireside chat with friends
With your first-ever fire roaring in your comfortable new outdoor living space, invite some friends over for a safe and socially distanced weenie roast. Catch up on all the things you missed in each other’s lives over the summer and make plans to hang out again. After all, the best thing about a fire pit is coming together around a fire…and s’mores. Did you think we forgot about s’mores?
When the evening is over, use a large bucket of water to put out the fire. Use a stick to stir the ashes as you douse the flames and make sure there are no hot spots or burning embers. Once the fire is safely out and the pit has cooled, consider covering with an all-weather tarp. Weigh it down with some of your leftover bricks so it doesn’t blow away. This will keep debris from blowing in and will keep it from flooding with water when it rains or filling with snow in the winter.
Don’t try to build a fire pit if you have an apartment
Building a fire pit may not be an option for apartment dwellers and city folk, there are still ways to mimic the coziness from the comfort of your studio apartment. Small tabletop indoor fireplaces are available online for less than a hundred bucks. These are fueled by isopropyl alcohol and don’t give off smoke. That’s especially helpful if you have a smoke detector that goes off every time you make toast.