Building a DIY Back Yard Fire Pit | Great Days Outdoors

Few things are more inviting to outdoorsmen than a cozy fire. It’s not hard to bring a little light and warmth to our backyard.

Building a DIY fire pit is well within the abilities of nearly every homeowner and with just a few tools and easy to obtain materials, a very attractive and functional fire pit can be built in a weekend.

Several local building materials sources. Lowe’s, for one, offer DIY fire pit kits, and these can be ideal for first-time or inexperienced builders. But for most of us, we can gather the materials needed easily and inexpensively to put a pit together on our own.

Decorative effects are possible with DIY fire pits.
Lots of decorative effects are possible with fire pits. Photo provided by Ed Mashburn.

Location

The first and perhaps most important step in building a DIY fire pit in the yard is determining where the pit will go. Make sure that local regulations allow open fires- some communities don’t allow it.

The fire pit needs to be away from the house but within easy walking distance. Try to find a level spot that is not under trees or near bushes.  Make sure there are no overhead limbs or power lines. Don’t build a fire pit over underground utilities, either.

Having the fire pit within reach of a water hose is also a good idea.

Plan It Out Now to Save Trouble Later

Now comes the work. We’ll need a spade to dig good straight walls and either some buckets or a wheelbarrow to remove dirt.

Most DIY fire pits are circular. They don’t have to be, but a circle fire makes sense in most cases. A four-foot diameter pit is right for most uses.

You can use cement blocks that can be purchased at any hardware or big box store. These will become the walls of the pit. Lay out a circle of them to make the four-foot ring. Blocks can be trimmed using a chisel and hammer if needed, but most of the time, they’ll fit well as they are.

A metal inner-ring is a good idea for a fire pit, and it can be used to lay out the circle, too. Metal rings can be found at most big hardware stores locally or they can be ordered online. The rings often come with wire screens, and this is a great idea for safety reasons.

Once the circle looks right, mark the outside edge of the circle to guide the digging work. Stack the blocks out of the way. Chalk powder or spray paint can be used to mark the ring.

Get to Know Your Spade

With the spade, dig a six-inch-deep trench all the way around the marked circle. Keep the sides of the trench as straight as you can, and keep the bottom flat and smooth- this will make laying the cement blocks much easier.

Once the trench is dug and the inside dirt is removed, the blocks should fit in the planned circle near the dirt walls with a little room for adjustment.

If an inside metal ring is used, it must fit snuggly to the cement blocks.

With good planning, DIY fire pits are made easy.
Plan it right and build it right for years of service. Photo provided by Ed Mashburn.

Keep it Level

Once the first ring of blocks is laid and the ring looks good, we can move on. Remove the first row of blocks and fill the trench with about six inches of gravel. Walk on the gravel to compact it. When the ring of gravel-filled trench looks level and the gravel is set, we can lay the blocks permanently.

“When we have the blocks laid to three layers, we can fill the inside of the pit with gravel and the metal ring.”

Lay the first row of blocks and use a bubble level to make sure they’re level and square. The top of the first row of blocks should be right at ground level. Then continue to lay the row of blocks and level as you go.

We can use a masonry adhesive to hold the rows of blocks together, but dry-laid blocks will work well, too.

When the first row is laid, leveled, and squared, we can lay the next row.  Make sure to lay the blocks so that joints are staggered and don’t fall in a line which is a very weak structure.

We will only want to build the fire pit up a foot or so above the ground. This is enough for protection to the fire and is high enough to keep people and pets out of the pit.

When we have the blocks laid to three layers, we can fill the inside of the pit with gravel and the metal ring. This gives good support to the inside of the ring.

Make a Nice Top

The final layer of blocks will need a cap of some kind. We can use the same blocks used for the circular walls, but flat paving blocks look very nice on top, and a cap of the same thickness of rocks laid on the blocks can be very attractive. Make sure this final cap of material whether its blocks, pavers, or fieldstone is well attached to the blocks with masonry cement.

Let the adhesives cure for a couple of days, and we’re ready for a fire.

Even the most simple DIY fire pit can transform a back yard.
Even a very simple fire pit can be very pleasant. Photo provided by Ed Mashburn.

Materials and Tools

We’ll need a good, flat spade to dig the walls of the trench square and level. We’ll need a regular shovel to move the inside dirt and gravel.

We’ll need a two-foot bubble level, and a rubber mallet to help set the blocks in the gravel base. A wheelbarrow or five-gallon buckets will be needed to move the dirt removed. A caulking gun to apply the adhesive used to hold the blocks together is necessary.

We’ll need gravel — small particle, but not sand. We’ll want a good masonry adhesive- a couple of tubes should be plenty. The cement blocks which make the walls can be found at most hardware or big box stores. It’s hard to estimate how many blocks will be needed, so make sure the store will allow you return any unused blocks for a refund. Start with 25 or 30 blocks.

For the cap, make sure you have plenty of blocks or rocks to cover the entire pit wall.

And That’s It

When the adhesive has set, it’s time to build a fire, pull up the lawn chairs, and get some long sticks for the hotdogs and marshmallows. This weekend’ DIY fire pit will give years of service, and some great evening memories for the family and neighbors will surely happen.

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