Easy Steps to Build a Custom Fire Pit for Your Backyard This Winter
Year-round warmth and ambience could be yours with this DIY fire pit tutorial.
Andrew BlokEditor I
Andrew Blok has been an editor at CNET covering HVAC and home energy, with a focus on solar, since October 2021. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
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Whether it's for roasting marshmallows on a fall or winter night or hosting a backyard shindig on a long spring or summer evening, a backyard fire pit can set just the right mood at any time of the year. And while you could buy a fire pit -- maybe your city only allows propane ones -- you could also save some cash by building one with cheap or discarded materials.
When it comes down to it, a fire pit is a really simple structure: It's a ring of some material that acts as a shelter and barrier for the fire. Whether that material is stone or metal, it's there to keep the fire from spreading and to provide it a bit of shelter when you start it. That means your fire pit can take on a lot of different shapes and sizes, but a few basics stay consistent.
Your fire pit should rest on level ground. This might require a bit of digging on your part, but setting a solid foundation will help stabilize your fire pit's walls. It's a good idea to remove any grass -- which tends to be at least a little lumpy -- in the footprint of your fire pit. To determine how big a space you need to clear, drive a stake into the ground at the center of the future pit. Tie a string that will reach to the edge of your fire pit and use it to trace a circle. That circle will be your fire pit's footprint.
Once you've leveled out the ground, you could add a layer of sand, which will cover up some of the ground's remaining lumpiness and give you a good foundation to start building the fire pit's structure.
To complete your fire pit, simply build using your chosen material to your desired height. There are no hard and fast rules here either. A fire pit could be just a ring of river stones directly on the ground, or it could be made of bricks stacked a foot and a half high. Once you've reached your desired height, you're ready to start lighting fires.
Build a fire pit out of these materials
You can build a fire pit out of a range of materials, most of them cheap. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Concrete cinder blocks: Cinder blocks are nice and big, so you won't need a ton of them, and they're pretty cheap to boot. They'll provide a wide, stable wall that won't require very many blocks to reach your desired height.
Concrete bricks: Concrete bricks are cheap like cinder blocks, but not as big. It'll take more concrete bricks than cinder blocks to reach the same height, but they should provide a tighter-looking end product.
Retaining wall blocks: Retaining wall blocks lend themselves to being laid in a circle, so could provide a neater finish than concrete cinder blocks or brick. They're designed to be seen and might look a little nicer. They come in a variety of colors, too. They're a bit more expensive than the other concrete options.
Bricks: They work for chimneys, they'll work for fire pits. Since you'll need more than any of the options above, bricks probably aren't the cheapest option. And, since they're narrower, they could be less stable.
Repurposed materials: You don't need to buy new materials to build a fire pit. (It's going to get covered in ash and soot anyway.) Save the bricks from a rebuilt chimney. Visit a salvage store for materials. A short search online will show you people using repurposed truck wheels, old dryer drums and all sorts of discarded metal to build fire pits. If you're working with discarded materials, be careful of sharp, unmaintained edges and other hazards.
Other considerations for your fire pit
Wood-burning fire pits aren't allowed in all places. Make sure you're legally allowed to use the fire pit before you build it. Even if you're allowed, you might consider a propane-burning fire pit if you're living in close quarters. Just because you love the campfire smell, doesn't mean your neighbors do.
Also, be aware of seasonal restrictions on burning. You don't want to start a fire that spreads to your lawn, your house or someone else's property.