Do It Yourself: How To Build An Outdoor Fire Pit Safely

Even someone with no building experience can safely hand-craft a simple outdoor fire pit.

The first thing you should do when planning to build your fire pit is to check with your local fire marshal for city codes and ordinances. Laws can vary from town to town, so before spending any time and energy, make sure you understand what you are and are not allowed to do. Some cities have simple laws to follow, such as how far from a home a fire pit need be. Some may require you to get permits or additional insurance, which you should obtain ahead of time. Other cities prohibit them for the most part, except under certain circumstances.

Oddly enough, some cities prohibit fire pits, but allow barbecue pits. If this is the case in your neck of the woods, simply go to the hardware store and purchase cast-iron grate to lie on top of your pit. Have a couple of hot dogs on hand when using it to stay within the limits of the law, and you should be fine if a nosey neighbor calls the fire department on you.

The easiest type of fire pit to build is wood-burning. It requires no knowledge of gas lines or propane hook-up. While gas fires are easier to ignite, and make flame control easier, there is something primal and beautiful about a wood-burning fire. If you have never built a fire in a wood-burning fireplace or campfire, you may want to study up on a few tips on starting and maintaining a wood fire. With a little practice, you'll become adept in no time.

Choose your location for your fire pit. It should be at least 12' or more from any structures or fences (or, follow your city ordinance guidelines). There should be no trees, awnings or power lines overhanging the area. The ground you build upon should be concrete or brick, or dirt with at least one yard on all sides between the edge of the pit and the beginning of any grass. The area should not be on a slope. Use a level to determine that the ground is fairly even.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

The basic supplies you will need to build your pit are:

A mortar trowel

Mortar (amount will depend on size of pit)

Bricks (amount will depend on size of bricks and of pit)

A level

A bucket to mix mortar

A wooden stake

string

If building on a dirt area, in addition to the basic supplies, you will need:

A shovel

Another wooden stake

Quick-drying cement

If building on concrete or brick, in addition to the basic supplies, you will need:

A piece of chalk

How many bricks you will need will depend upon the size of your fire pit. The instructions here will deal with a round pit. A round fire pit should have a diameter (the measurement from one end of a circle to the opposite end) of at least 4 to 6 feet (48 to 72 inches).

In order to estimate approximately how many bricks you should get, you will need to do a little algebra. Figure out the diameter of the fire pit you are building. Then multiply that number by Pi, or 3.14. That gives you the circumference of the circle (the distance around the edge). Round that to the nearest inch. Measure the width of your bricks and divide that number by the circumference. That will give you an approximate idea of how many bricks you will need to go around the pit once (again, round to the nearest whole number). Then, multiply the number of layers of bricks by the number of bricks it takes to go around the circumference once.

For example, if you are building a pit into the dirt that will be 48" in diameter, your measurement will be: 48" X 3.14 = 150.72" circumference. Round that to 151. If you are using bricks that are 3 ½" wide, then 151 divided by 3.5 = 43.14 bricks. Round that to 43 bricks. You will want at least one layer of bricks around set into the dirt, and you decide you want an additional 3 layers of bricks above ground level. That means you will need enough bricks to make your pit four layers deep. 4 X 43 = 172 bricks.



This formula is not exact. It doesn't take into account the spacing of the bricks, so you will probably end up with a few more than you need. However, it is better to have more than less. You can always save extra bricks for another project, or return them to the store unused (check with store policy before purchase).

You will need to figure out the amount of mortar you will use depending on how many bricks you lay. This will depend on the type of mortar you are using. Ask an associate at the store to help you figure out the approximate amount.

MEASURING YOUR PIT

If you are building your pit in the dirt, you will want to begin by putting a stake in the ground right where you want the center of your fire pit. Tie a string to the stake. Figure out the radius of your round pit (that is ½ the diameter, or half-way across the circle). Using the same example as above, if you are making a 48" diameter pit, the radius would be 24". Starting where it is tied to the stake, hold out the string and measure it to whatever the radius is. Then, take the other stake and tie it there.

Take the second stake and scratch a circle in the dirt by drawing it around the center stake. Let the string be your guide by keeping it taut. If the center stake is wobbly, have someone hold it in place, using a work glove to avoid splinters. This should give you a perfectly round circle in the exact diameter that you wanted. Use the stake or your shovel to reinforce your guide line deeper so it is more pronounced. You will now begin digging your hole.

If you are building your pit on top of concrete or brick, have someone hold the stake where the center of the pit will be. Tie the string and measure it as described above, then tie the chalk at the other end. Draw a circle around, letting the chalk mark the spot. Skip directly to "Laying Your Bricks."

DIGGING YOUR HOLE:

If you are making a pit in the dirt, you will need to do some additional preparation. Take your shovel and begin digging out the dirt within the border of the circle. You should dig enough out so that it is as deep as your bricks are long. For example, if you are using 6" bricks, the hole should be 6" deep so that when you stand a brick on its end inside, the top will be level with the ground. Make sure to smooth and pack the soil in the hole so that it is level and even all around. Use your level to assure it is even.

Prepare your mortar and grab your trowel. Line the inside of the hole with a layer of bricks standing next to each other, on their end. Spread some mortar on the side of each one and work your way around the inside of the hole. Allow the mortar to set as described by the manufacturer.

You will then need to fill your hole with approximately two inches of cement. This layer should be as level as possible. Again, follow the instructions on the packaging of your product and allow time to set.

LAYING YOUR BRICKS

Put the bricks down first without the mortar to test the layout. Lay them side by side (long ends together) in a circle around the pit circumference. They should be slightly fanned out- that is, closer around the inner edge and farther apart on the outer edge of the circle- in order to form a neat, round circle. Try to ensure that they are spaced evenly and fit without having to cut any bricks.

Take your mortar, trowel, and pick up a brick. Spread the mortar on the bottom and the long sides, then lay it back into place. Continue doing this working around the circle, making sure the spaces between the bricks are evenly filled with mortar. Occasionally use your level to ensure it is even.

You will probably want to do anywhere from two to four layers of bricks above ground. To do your second layer, use the first as a guide. For maximum sturdiness, stagger the bricks so that the second layer of bricks straddles the space between the bricks in the first layer. Spread mortar on the bottom and long sides, and put the bricks in place. Continue doing a third or forth layer, if desired. Again, use the level occasionally to ensure the bricks are being laid evenly.

Allow the mortar to dry as directed by the manufacturer before using your fire pit.

© High Speed Ventures 2011