How to build a backyard fire pit
By Michael Franco
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 sitting by the fire 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 in only a few hours, you can easily build a fire pit that is considerably more attractive (and safer) — one that will really get you and your guests fired up.
Materials & tools
- Measuring tape
- Marking paint
- Wood stake
- Concrete retaining-wall blocks
- Rubber mallet
- Masonry adhesive
- Crushed stone
First things first, make sure that building a fire pit won’t result in getting burned with a fine from your 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 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 8 inches deep. If the yard is sloped, it may be necessary to dig deeper on one end to ensure your installation is level.
Pour a 2-inch-thick layer of sand into the area you’ve excavated. Tamp down the sand in order to make it compact and level.
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 2 tiers with masonry adhesive. To promote air circulation around the fire, leave small, intermittently-located gaps between the blocks.
Add about 4 inches of crushed stone within the cavity, then lay down your final 2 rings of blocks. Let the adhesive dry for approximately 2 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 to incorporate river stones, it’s much safer to avoid them because they run the risk of exploding when heated.
Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
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