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Fire pit in the dark, two rocking chairs at the back.

How To Build A Fire Pit In Your Backyard In 12 Steps

Andrew DehanSeptember 10, 2020

There’s something so comforting about a campfire on a chilly night. The crackling of slow-burning logs. The laughter of friends as they cozy up around the flames. The smell of smoke mixing with the crisp air. And, of course, the gooey, melty goodness of a freshly made s’more. All occur around the fire.

You don’t have to travel deep into the woods to experience the magic of a campfire. In fact, you could get the same experience just a few steps from your home by building a fire pit in your own yard. Along with adding warmth, light and entertainment, a fire pit can help add to the value of your home.

But if you don’t do it right, you could face health and safety hazards, fines and costly repairs or rebuilds.

Follow these tips to learn how to build a fire pit without getting burned.

Step 1: Find Out If You’re Allowed To Have One

The first step you need to take when building a fire pit is making sure you’re even allowed to have one in your yard. Some cities or counties don’t allow fire pits or only allow certain kinds, so check all building codes and guidelines to make sure you live in an area that allows these structures.

Step 2: Pick Your Spot

Once you know you can have a fire pit in your yard, you’ll want to pick a good location for it. Make sure it’s a safe distance from your home, any other structures on your property, low hanging branches, overhangs, fences and anything else. You’ll also want to check your property lines to make sure your pit isn’t encroaching on your neighbor’s property.

Step 3: Choose Your Fire Pit Type

Next, you’ll need to decide the type of fire pit you want, and that will depend on the type of fire you want.

When choosing the type of fire pit you want, consider the purpose of the pit itself. Is it going to be used for aesthetic appeal? Do you want an outdoor heat source for cold nights? Do you just need a reason to make s’mores? Figuring out how you’ll use the fire pit will help you choose the best option for your home.

There are four main types of fire pits:

Wood Burning

Wood-burning fire pits are the classic campfire pits and, just like their name suggests, they use wood pieces to fuel the fire. They require a constant supply of wood to stay burning and produce smoke, soot and ash.

With a wood-burning fire pit you’ll get the full, natural experience – the crackling of wood, the smoky smell and flying embers. Of all the fire pit options, this one will most likely produce the most heat and will require more effort to put out.

Gel Fuel

Gel fuel fire pits use an alcohol-based gel as the source of fuel. These fire pits don’t provide a ton of heat, but they do burn clean with no smoke, smell or soot. Once the fire burns up the fuel, the flame burns out.

Propane

Propane fire pits host fires that are fueled by propane, which is stored in a tank typically found below the fire pit. The fire is ignited and extinguished with just the flip of a switch, which provides or cuts off the propane supply.

Propane pits usually include fire pit media, which fills the structure to give it a certain aesthetic appeal. Such media types include fake wood, lava rocks, fire glass or stones.

Natural Gas

Natural gas fire pits work the same way as propane ones but use natural gas that comes from a gas line connected to the pit. With this connection, you won’t run out of fuel or have to replace it. However, since these are connected to a line, they can’t be moved. These pits also use fire pit media.

Step 4: Decide How You Want To Build Your Fire Pit

Later on in the article, we’re going to go over how to build a fire pit with bricks or pavers. But building a fire pit from scratch is just one way to go about it. There are also prefabricated fire pits and fire pit kits.

Prefab Fire Pit

A prefabricated fire pit is built by a manufacturer and purchased online or in the store. These are the best option if you need the pit right away or don’t want to build your own. You can use most prefab kits the same day you purchase them because they require very little assembly or are already put together when you buy them.

Fire Pit Kits

Fire pit kits are the perfect option between a prefabricated fire pit and one that’s built from scratch. They’re a good option for the person who wants a little more customization without too much work required. That said, fire pit kits require more effort than a prefabricated structure but don’t require you to buy all of the materials separately and build your pit from scratch. Instead, the kit will provide the exact amount of stones or blocks you need, the liner (or ring) and step-by-step instructions for building.

DIY Fire Pit Built From Scratch

If you want a custom pit and don’t mind doing the work to achieve it, you can choose to build your pit from scratch. That means you’ll need to do the measurements, purchase the raw materials and assemble it on your own.

Step 5: Choose Your Shape

You should start by choosing your shape. The most common are a basic square/rectangle or a circle. Prefab fire pits and fire pit kits come in these shapes.

If you’re building your fire pit from scratch, these shapes are the easiest to build and find materials for.

Step 6: Gather Your Materials And Tools

For the example in this article, we will be building a circular fire pit in the backyard. This fire pit will be three layers of bricks with a 36-inch ring insert. We will be making it permanent by using crushed gravel and construction adhesive.

If you want to save some money and make the structure less permanent, you can forgo the gravel and adhesive. Your fire pit will still work for a while, but as the ground beneath it shifts, it may require maintenance.

Here is are lists of tools and materials to build the ideal, permanent fire pit from scratch.

Tools Needed

  • Heavy-duty work gloves
  • Shovel
  • Rubber mallet
  • Level
  • Tamper
  • Caulk gun
  • Water hose with spray nozzle
  • Cart or wheelbarrow to move bricks
  • Measuring tape

Materials Needed

  • Pavers
  • Crushed gravel paver base
  • Construction adhesive
  • Fire pit bowl or ring

Circular Fire Pit

Circular fire pits are built with trapezoidal blocks. These blocks can vary in size, though a common size is 4 inches x 11.5 inches. For a fire pit ring or bowl with a 36-inch diameter, you will need roughly 12 of these per level around the pit.

Square Or Rectangular Fire Pit

If you decide to go with a rectangular or square pit, they call for rectangular bricks. For a 36-inch-wide square pit insert, you’ll need 18 8-inch long bricks per level.

Step 7: Move Your Pavers

Most of the grunt work you’ll be doing when you build a fire pit is the physical moving of the pavers. For the trapezoidal pavers we’re using to build our circular pit, each one weighs about 25 pounds. They’re rough-textured and awkward to handle, so wearing heavy-duty gloves is necessary to avoid pinching or scraping your hands.

If you have work boots and a back brace, now is the time don them. You body needs the support. Bonus points for steel-toe boots. If you drop a paver on your foot, a good steel or composite toe boot will save your foot from being broken

If you don’t have far to carry the pavers, you can carry each one individually. For this fire pit build, that’s 36 pavers, or 36 trips to move them to the backyard. A friend can make this part go a lot quicker.

If you have some distance to go, a wheelbarrow will make your job easier, though be careful. Just six of these pavers together weigh around 150 pounds. If the ground is uneven, up- or downhill, lessen your load. You don’t want to topple your wheelbarrow. At best, you’ll have to completely reload it. At worst, you will injure yourself.

Step 8: Start Digging

Lay out your first layer of pavers. Sink your shovel into the ground around the outside of the ring to mark the area where you need to dig. Once you’ve made it around the edge, move the pavers out of the way.

Dig out the area, removing all the grass, until it is around 7 inches deep. Dispose of any grass or sod in a lawn bag or yard waste container for trash day. Keep the depth uniform, making sure to remove any roots.

Note: If you’re building the pit on a patio, you won’t need to dig a hole or create a base. Instead, consider cementing the first row of blocks to the patio to keep the pit from shifting. Skip to step 9.

Step 9: Prepare Your Base

Use your level to make sure your base is flat. If it isn’t, add or remove dirt.

Pour the crushed gravel paver base onto the flat surface, continuously tamping it down and wetting. Add more crushed gravel and water until the tamped base is about 5 inches thick.

Step 10: Lay The Stones

Lay your first layer of stones onto the paver base. Try to keep them as uniform as possible. Small gaps are OK and will help with air circulation, but the more uniform it is, the better it will look.

Use a level to check that the pavers are even. If you need to make small adjustments, tap the pavers with your mallet. Put your fire pit ring in the middle make sure it fits.

Step 11: Make It Permanent

Once you have the first layer down, run two beads of construction adhesive on top of the layer. Stagger the next layer of pavers so they’re on top of two pavers each. Press down firmly into the adhesive. Use a level and a mallet to make everything even.

Use this same process for the next row, then place your fire pit ring inside. Once the adhesive has dried, you can fill the bottom of the pit with lava rocks. They can withstand intense heat and look great.

Step 12: Build A Fire

Now it’s time for the best part: building a fire. On your next chilly evening, you could invite your neighbors over and roast s’mores over the campfire. Put out a couple chairs and sit around the fire.

Summary: Keep The Fire Burning Through The Autumn Months

Building a fire pit should only take you a few hours one afternoon, but if done right, you can enjoy it for decades to come. It’s a physical job, so take the proper precautions and ask for help if you need it. The biggest takeaways on the project are to double-check the pit’s the right size and to level the pavers before bonding them with adhesive.

For ages, humans have gathered around fires to cook, stay warm and tell stories. By learning how to build a fire pit, you’re taking part in the human tradition. With your fire pit built, you can gather with friends and family to enjoy the warmth of the flickering flames.

Or even enjoy a chilly night on your own, away from the noise of the world, reflecting beside the fire, just as your ancestors did beneath the same stars centuries ago.

Want to make your home really your own? Learn more homeowner tips here.

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    Andrew Dehan

    Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.