How to Make a Fire Pit
An outdoor fire pit is a popular home feature that can enhance the enjoyment of your outdoor space during cooler weather. While you can have a fire pit professionally installed, it’s also a job you can complete yourself with some building know-how and a little hard work.
Before you start a do-it-yourself (DIY) fire pit project, it’s important to learn about their components, how they work, and vital safety considerations. Below, we’ll explore the pros and cons of different types of fire pits, outline safety considerations, and share a step-by-step tutorial guide for building your own backyard fire pit.
Types of Fire Pits
An amazing array of fire pit styles are available, and the four main types are distinguished by their fuel source. Before you make your choice, it’s a good idea to learn more about what to expect and the pros and cons of each kind.
Gel Fuel Fire Pits
If you’re seeking a smokeless fire pit that still offers the cozy glow of a fire, a gel fuel fire pit is likely your best option. Gel fuel fire pits use an alcohol-based gel for fire ignition. When you’re ready to use it, you’ll need to replace a fuel canister or pour the gel fuel into the pit’s reservoir and light the fuel with a gas grill lighter.
Gel Fuel Fire Pit Pros
- Clean burning for comfortable use in a variety of environments
- Easy to use
- Fire goes out on its own after a few hours of burn time
Gel Fuel Fire Pit Cons
- Gives off less heat than other types of fire pits
- Requires refilling if you want to keep it burning for a long time
- Special care must be taken when refueling or manually extinguishing a gel fuel fire to prevent injuries
Natural Gas Fire Pits
Natural gas fire pits are a popular option for homeowners who already use natural gas on their property. Natural gas fire pits are powered by a permanent connection to a natural gas line, which means you can use it for a long time without fuel supply interruptions. Depending on the type of fire pit you choose, you’ll either use a push button to start it or a match to ignite the pilot light.
Natural Gas Fire Pit Pros
- Affordable operation and maintenance costs
- Durable, with an expected life span of several years
- No fuel supply interruption
Natural Gas Fire Pit Cons
- Give off less heat than propane fire pits
- Installation may be more costly than other options
- Not portable once installed
Propane Fire Pits
Propane fire pits are known for their ease of use and offer more convenience than a traditional wood fire. Propane fire pits are powered by a propane tank attached to the unit with a fuel line. An ignition switch is used to light the flames.
Propane Fire Pit Pros
- Easy to use
- Portable if the unit isn’t built-in
- Warmer than natural gas or gel fuel fire pits
Propane Fire Pit Cons
- Less warmth than a woodburning fire
- Maintenance and usage can get expensive due to propane costs
- The tank is often visible unless you purchase extra materials to hide it
Woodburning Fire Pits
If you’re ready to put in a little extra effort for a true campfire feel, a woodburning fire pit is probably what you’re looking for. Woodburning fire pits are essentially a contained campfire. They require real wood and kindling for fuel and must have wood added as needed to burn for long periods.
Woodburning Fire Pit Pros
- Affordable to use if you have access to wood
- Enables you to cook food or roast marshmallows over the fire
- Puts out the most heat
Woodburning Fire Pit Cons
- Cleanup after fires is required
- Fires can be difficult to regulate and require more effort to extinguish
- Produces large amounts of smoke
An estimated 6,200 injuries related to fire pits or outdoor heaters resulted in emergency room visits in 2021. Taking certain safety precautions when building and using your fire pit to prevent accidental fires or burn injuries is essential. The materials you use, the placement of your fire pit, and how you use it will be important factors in maintaining safety during use.
When choosing materials to use for building a fire pit, ensure the components are flame-retardant and designed for fire pits. If you’re unsure, talk to a professional or a knowledgeable representative at your local home improvement store.
Before deciding on a location for your fire pit area, consider what’s nearby and overhead. Ideally, placing a fire pit 20 feet away from structures and flammable objects is best. Look overhead for nearby tree limbs, clotheslines, electrical wires, or awnings. A fire’s heat dries out everything above it, making it prone to ignite, even without a spark.
When using your fire pit, it’s crucial to use the following fire safety precautions:
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using flammable fuels.
- Make sure flames are completely extinguished after use.
- Never leave a burning fire pit unattended, and watch children closely around hot flames.
- Seek hardwoods when using a woodburning fire pit to limit sparks and smoke.
- Use long fire-safe rods or skewers with heatproof handles when making s’mores or cooking over a fire pit.
No matter what type or size fire pit you plan to build, you’ll need certain tools and materials to get the job done. You’ll be able to find these supplies on Amazon or at a home improvement store like Lowe’s or The Home Depot.
- Caulking gun
- Garden hoe
- Rubber mallet
- Cinder blocks, concrete pavers, tumbled concrete wall blocks, or retaining wall blocks
- Construction adhesive
- Fire pit ring (optional)
Rather than buying all the necessary supplies separately, you can choose to purchase a fire pit kit. If you choose this option, make sure you check to see what materials are included and the additional supplies you’ll need.
Now that you’ve learned more about the types of fire pits available and how they work, it’s time to learn how to build a fire pit. Follow our step-by-step guide to successfully build your own fire pit.
1. Check Regulations
Before building, you must learn if your property is subject to any regulations. Check your local building codes and consult with your homeowners association board if needed to ensure you can have a fire pit and learn the rules you must follow.
2. Choose Your Location
Your fire pit should be 20 feet from any structure and built on relatively flat ground.
3. Prepare the Ground
You can accurately plan your fire pit design by laying out a row of blocks. If you’re using a fire pit ring, it can act as a guide for accurate sizing.
Lay out a row of blocks on the ground to simulate the first row of your fire pit. When it looks the way you want, mark the site by cutting into the grass with your shovel or using marking paint to mark the ground. Once the ground is marked, clear the spot to get ready to build.
4. Build the Fire Pit Base
Prepare the ground for your new fire pit by removing the sod and about 6 to 12 inches of soil from the marked area. Pour crushed gravel into the prepared space, and tamp it solidly with a hand tamper. Use your level to get the area as flat as possible.
5. Lay the First Level
Place your first block carefully in the trench, and check it with a level. You want to build it as level as possible since it will be used as a guide for laying the first row. Lay blocks end to end, butting the sides together tightly. When a block is too high, tap it down with a rubber mallet. If it’s too low, shim it up with crushed gravel underneath.
6. Build the Fire Pit Walls
Using a caulking gun, create a zigzag bead of masonry adhesive across two adjoining blocks. Center a block over the seam between the two blocks and firmly press it into the adhesive glue. Work your way around the circle in the same manner until the second row is finished. Follow the pattern for additional rows until you achieve the desired height.
7. Place the Fire Ring and Add Fill Material
If you’ve chosen to use a fire ring, now is the time to put it in place. Simply lower it into the pit, allowing the lip to rest on top of the blocks. Put the fireproof material of your choice into the bottom of the pit. To enhance the appearance of your fire pit and add an extra layer of protection, place a layer of river rock evenly around the perimeter of the fire ring.
Once you understand how to make a fire pit, it’s easy to see how you can upgrade your landscape with this exciting feature. When building your fire pit, it’s essential to abide by building requirements and follow safety considerations. After taking steps to build a safe and sturdy fire pit, it’s time to relax and enjoy it.
How to Make a Fire Pit FAQ
What is the cheapest way to build a fire pit?
The cheapest way to build a fire pit includes opting for a DIY project rather than professional assistance, seeking affordable materials, and choosing a woodburning fire pit. Using repurposed materials is also a great way to cut costs.
What do you put at the bottom of a fire pit?
Fireproof materials such as lava rocks, fire bricks, pea gravel, or river rocks should be put in the bottom of the fire pit to prevent weed growth, promote good drainage, and add safety.
Is it cheaper to build or buy a fire pit?
Whether it’s cheaper to build or buy a fire pit depends on the tools you have and the type of fire pit you want. Typically, building your own in-ground fire pit is cheaper, but if you choose a complex option such as a natural gas fire pit, you’ll need to hire a professional for installation, which can elevate costs.
How deep should a fire pit be?
A fire pit should be deep enough to safely hold your fuel but not tall enough to obstruct the flames. An optimal height is typically 12 to 18 inches.
Can you build a fire pit on grass?
You can build a fire pit on grass if you add gravel or other flame-resistant materials to the bottom of the fire pit. However, you may find that building directly on grass prevents your pit from draining well or being completely level.