If you want to enjoy a starry summer night and relax around a campfire in your own backyard, you’re not alone. A large and growing number of homeowners across the country are jumping onto the hot trend of backyard fire pits. Luckily, learning how to build a fire pit is an easy do-it-yourself project anyone can tackle.
Step 1: Pick and Prepare a Spot
As with most home improvement projects, it’s best not to just jump right into the fire. Before you begin building a fire pit, you’ll need to do some prep work first. Be sure to check with your local municipal authorities to make sure it is legal to light an open fire in your neighborhood.
Now you’ll need to plan the right spot for your pit. Keep in mind how the wind will blow the smoke around, so don’t put it too close to open doors or windows. Leave room to walk around the pit and be sure that it’s not near any plants, fences, buildings or structures that could be potential fire hazards.
Use cement blocks or bricks to build the walls of your fire pit. See how your cement blocks or bricks will lie by putting down a “test” ring of them. This will give you an idea of the size and shape of the pit so you can dig accordingly. The ideal size for a fire pit is about 4′ in diameter. You may have to cut a block or two to fit into the ring. Use a chisel and brick hammer to mark a line around the entire block to suit the size you will need to fit the brick into your layout, and then split the block along the line. Smooth out any jagged edges with the brick hammer. Make sure the chiseled rock fits snugly with the blocks adjacent to it.
Step 2: Break Ground
The second step in building a fire pit is to break ground where your new fire pit will be located. Make a circle in the ground with a flat-bladed spade around the outside of the “test” block ring to mark the circumference of the pit. Set the blocks aside. Dig a 6″ deep trench around the edge of the pit. The sides should be straight and it should be as wide as the blocks you’re using for the wall. This will create a round plateau in the middle of your pit. Check to make sure that the blocks fit inside the trench and adjust the width of the trench accordingly.
Step 3: Add Some Gravel
Fill in the trench around the plateau with 6 inches of gravel. Pack it down with your foot or a tamper, making sure the gravel is compacted and level.
Step 4: Build the Wall
Step four of your fire pit building project will involve building the fire pit’s wall. Lay the first block on the gravel ring and check to make sure it is level. Because the first brick is a guide for the rest of the wall, it must be perfectly level before you place the next one. If it is too high, tamp it down with a rubber mallet until level. If it’s too low, add a bit more gravel underneath it. Lay the next block beside the first, making sure the two fit snugly together. Use the level again to make sure both blocks are at the same height and pitch. Follow this procedure for the rest of the blocks until you’ve completed the ring.
Now you can start stacking up the remainder of your blocks on this foundation. Apply masonry adhesive with a caulking gun to the top of two adjacent blocks. When you start on the second tier of the ring, make sure each brick or block is staggered over the first tier. Keep doing this until you’ve completed the second tier of the ring.
Be sure to check the weather before you start. If it rains when you’re in the middle of building, your entire project could be ruined because the mortar won’t have had time to dry and set.
Fill the pit with 6 inches of gravel. This will help support the two tiers of blocks you just laid while the mortar dries and the structure strengthens. It will also provide the surface on which the fire will burn.
Continue with the third and fourth tiers of blocks to complete the wall.
The blocks you’re using can be heavy, so take proper precautions. Wear work boots or something with a reinforced toe in case you happen to drop one on your foot.
Step 5: Cap It Off
If you’re going to use something like natural stone capstones, mix some dry mortar with a bonding additive — don’t use water — and blend to the consistency of peanut butter. Using a trowel, apply a good amount of mortar on two blocks. Lay a capstone on the blocks and press it down, lightly striking the stone with a mallet for a tight bond. Use a level to make sure the capstone is sitting properly. Continue with the rest of the capstones in the same way. You should wait a couple of days for everything to set before using your fire pit.
Finally, consider getting a mesh fire cover that reduces the height of the flames and lowers the chances of wayward sparks jumping out and causing problems.
Remember to keep a bucket of water or sand close by to use to extinguish flames in case of an emergency.
Congratulations! Now that you’ve learned how to build a fire pit and it is complete, you can begin preparing the s’mores! Your entire family will enjoy the new addition to your backyard living space.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.