By Katie Bowles
Spring is finally here, and with it comes outdoor activities like baseball, picnics and…freezing when the sun goes down? Enjoy your spring nights without becoming hypothermic with This Month’s Project, a D.I.Y. backyard fire pit, courtesy of Brittany Bailey of Pretty Handy Girl.
Note: Always check your neighborhood’s zoning codes prior to building on your land.
- String (about 8 feet long)
- Tape measure
- Spray paint or flour
- 4 bags of Builder’s grade leveling sand
- 1 bag of 3/4″ drainage gravel
- 20+ large boulders, fire rated bricks or cement blocks
- 6 bags of mulch, finely crushed stone or other ground cover
- Steel fire ring (optional) or 10 – 12 fire bricks
- Garden Rake
- Tree stumps or chairs
1. Locate a relatively open and level spot for your fire circle. Trim any overhanging branches that could catch fire. Keep your fire circle far enough away from buildings or other structures.
2. Hammer a stake into the center of your fire circle area. Tie a string to the stake.
Stump Ring: To mark the outer ring (shown in black) for stump placement, make a loop 6 feet away from the stake. Slip the loop over your hand and pull the string taut. Using spray paint or flour, mark the ground as you circle around the stake. When you reach your starting mark you should have a 12 foot diameter circle drawn. Your stumps will line up on this circle.
Sand and Slate Ring: Shorten the string to 4 feet. Again draw a circle around the stake. This will leave you with an 8 foot diameter circle (shown in blue/gray) inside the first one. This will be the perimeter of the sand and stone area or the safety zone that you keep clear of all the mulch and flammable sticks, etc.
Fire Pit Ring: Finally, use 1 foot of string to draw a 2 foot diameter circle (shown in orange). This is the boundary of your fire pit.
3. Using a shovel, dig a hole one foot wider than your fire pit ring (giving you a ring that’s about four feet in diameter). Dig down 10 to 12 inches and clear any roots from the hole. If there are any tap roots that are at the edge of your hole, you will need to cut them back a little more. It is possible, although unlikely, that a root could catch fire underground. Line the bottom 6 inches of the hole with drainage gravel and fill the top 4 inches with sand.
4. Set your metal fire ring (or fire bricks) in the center of the fire pit.
5. Place boulders (or other rock, brick or stone material) around the ring. These rocks will contain your fire. It is important to use rocks that are non-porous and that have not been soaked in water (i.e., no river rocks). Rocks that have pores or tiny air pockets could explode at high heat.
6. Place a second ring of rocks around the first to provide enough barrier for sparks and to keep people from accidentally stepping into the fire.
7. Lay down a 2-inch deep layer of sand around the boulders inside the 8-foot sand and slate ring. Use the back of your rake to smooth the surface of the sand. Set your slate slabs, flat stones or other non-flammable material to create a safety zone for sparks to land in. Wiggle the slate slabs until they are set in the sand and do not move when stepped on. You may need to add some more sand under sections of the slab. After all the slabs are laid, sweep off excess sand with the broom.
8. Set up and level the stumps in line with the 12 foot diameter circle. The stumps may need to be built up or sunk into the earth to achieve the proper height.
9. Complete your fire circle by laying mulch, fine crushed stone or another ground cover that won’t be a tripping hazard to fill the area between the stumps and the sand/slate ring.
10. Have a collection area for firewood, branches, kindling, and logs. Keep the material separated by size for easy fire building and tending, and cover your wood with a plastic tarp if you don’t want to wait for it to dry out between rainstorms.
Many thanks to Brittany for providing both the pictures and steps. Now that you’ve got your own fire pit, check out these backyard necessities to fully enjoy your spring nights.