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How To Build A Fire Pit

Posted by on June 8, 2011

Fire. I don’t know what it is or why, but there’s something special about sitting around a fire on a cool night. Most things that people sit and stare at — video games, television, computer screens — separate people. But get a group of friends or family sitting and staring into a fire and you unify them. Fire is inherently dangerous, yet gathering around it — even if its added heat is unnoticed or unneeded — makes the gatherers feel comfortable and safe… with each other.

Gathering around a fire is literally, metaphorically, aesthetically and functionally Old School.
And there are few more convenient ways to do it regularly than a backyard fire pit.

A fire pit is Old School because it is…

  • a place for quiet conversation
  • a place for loud conversation
  • a place for romantic conversation
  • the best way to cook hot dogs (I almost typed the word “weiner” to get more Google News hits.)
  • a functioning S’more maker
  • a place to hang out with the family
  • a place to romance the smokin’ hot wife
  • a place to quaff (people don’t say “quaff” any where near enough) a Guinness
  • a place to down some hot chocolate
  • a place kids love that requires no outlets or batteries
  • a part of your homestead that will never break (bricks have no moving parts)
  • the place to roast a pig (if the pit is big enough or the pig is small enough)
  • a place where virtually no one –– at least no one I invited — will object to a cigar
  • better alternative to a traditional grill. Sure, have both. But the permanency of a fire pit rocks and you never have to “drag out the fire pit” because it’s always there where you left it.
  • and finally…

Here’s how I made mine in 6 easy steps

Understand, this is what I did. In other words, I’m not telling you to do this. I’m just telling you what I did. I’m not a lawyer, but I know enough law not to give advice on anything that can get slightly litigious, let alone fire.

Keep it simple. There are far fancier, artsy-fartsy ways to build a fire pit. Though I’m within an hour of a major city, my immediate surroundings have a rustic, country feel. With this mind, I kept things simple. The heart of the appeal of the fire pit is the fire itself, not the bricks. Keep it simple and old school.

What about metal fire pits? The metal pits are usually on the small side (only 2 feet wide) or expensive side ($1,000 = ouch!) A stacked ring of bricks can be as big (or small) as I want and very inexpensive. But even without these points, the psuedo-quick-and-easy appeal of a manufactured, store-bought metal fire pit takes a backseat to the aesthetic, primal appeal of a brick fire pit my four year old son and I built with our own hands.

#1 Check with “the man”

When the smokin’ hot wife and I were hunting for our new place we found what we thought was a sweet possibility for the new homestead. Then I went to the township’s website and looked at the local rules and regs. It seemed about as long as the Obamacare law and almost as invasive. One of the regs read (keep in mind, this reg applied to the TWELVE ACRE parcel I was considering):

Recreational fires are allowed every day , including Sundays and holidays, upon a verbal or written request submitted to the Township at least 24 hours in advance of the recreational fire.

Uh, yeah. Thank you, People’s Republic of Nameless Township. Hey, later I’ll be running with scissors. So, if I want to have a little spontaneous family hot dog roast I have to get in Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine, travel back in time 24 hours and get someone’s permission?  Uh, I don’t think so.

Moral of the story: Check with your local authorities.

#2 Pick a place

I picked an area that’s far enough from buildings for safety sake, but made it close enough to my home so every time I walk back to the house… “Forgot the mustard”… I don’ feel like I am riding back into town for supplies. It’s also helpful that the fire can be reached by a water hose for both convenience and emergencies.

#3 Make it roomy

If you decide to build a fire pit,  you’ll be surprised what a people magnet it is. Even in these post-Edison days, people still want to gather around the light of a fire, not a light bulb. In fact, even more so in these post-Edison, eco-friendly-why’s-it-so-curly-light-bulb days. So make sure you have room for your fire pit and the people that will gather around it.

#3.5 Fire & water really don’t mix

The thing first time fire pit builders rarely anticipate is the need for water drainage. I wanted a fire pit, not a brick enclosed perma-puddle. The last thing I wanted was a pool of stagnant rain or ground water sitting in my back yard and in the place where I wanted to fire pit, that was a consideration. Here’s how I solved the problem. I laid down a layer of driveway rock around the fire pit and under it, building it up where necessary. Problem solved.

It just occurred to me that the major components of this post are fire and rocks.
I’ve gone so Old School I’m a caveman.

#4 Dig it!

I dug a hole five foot wide, 4-6 inches deep. BTW, my fire pit is about a foot wider than most. I then put in a layer of sand an a layer of driveway rocks above that.

#5 Lay the bricks

After confirming with the store the bricks I chose can stand the heat of fire pit use, I laid the circular paving brick around the edge of the hole three courses high. This made for a foot high fire pit. Much like the lesson learned from the Knight of the Round Table, a circular pit lends itself to socializing more than a square or rectangular one. As I laid the bricks I laid a two by four across the fire pit and set a level on it to make sure the fire pit was, well, level.  (It’s like my dad used to say, “As long as the world is round, nothing in it is on the level.”) To adjust I simply dug a little here, stacked a few rocks here.

#6 Start a fire, put some hot dogs on sticks & enjoy

And don’t forget the mustard.

It really is this simple

Google “build a fire pit” and you’ll find much more complicated ways to build a fire pit. At its heart, a fire pit is just a stack of bricks in a basic geometric shape.

Even the worst do-it-yourself guy can build a fire pit and then enjoy the joy of pointing at it every few days and saying, “Yeah, I built that. Could have called in a pro, but I’m an Old School guy, you know.”  Fancy bricks and unnecessary additions don’t make a fire pit Old School. Using it and who you use it with make it Old School.

Keep it Old School, my friends

The Old Man

Have a fire pit already?
Have some great ideas to make it even more enjoyable?
Share in the comments section.

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