How To Build A Fire Pit With Bricks

How To Build A Fire Pit With Bricks

Fire Pit Fuel Sources

Gel canisters designed for fireplaces or low-combustion pressed wood logs can supply the fire’s fuel in most smaller fire pits. You can use real wood logs or charcoal in the larger pits. Be sure to check with local air quality restrictions on burning wood outdoors.

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Repurposed Washing Machine Drum

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If you're going for the look of a stylish, pricey fire pit for practically nothing, it helps to get inventive. A sleek receptacle that can double as a fire pit is a stainless steel washing machine drum. Stainless steel holds up to heat, and the holes throughout the drum allow for the oxygen flow a fire needs for keeping the flames lit. Another perk at night, the little holes against a dark night backdrop look like tiny twinkly dots of light. Making this firepit requires some work, such as finding a used or old drum and using an angle grinder to get rid of the centerpiece, the agitator, making space for the firewood. Make sure you remove all the plastic and rubber bits, too.

4. Install a Layer of Gravel

Add a 3- to 5-inch layer of gravel to the area and smooth it with a rake until level. Check with a construction level and adjust the position of the gravel as necessary.

Set the Face Brick

  • To keep your mortar joints between courses a reasonable width, lay a 2-3-in. thick bed of mortar right on top of the footing.
  • Let it set up slightly (give it at least 15 minutes) and smooth out the top.

Getting Started on Building an In-Ground Fire Pit:

Advice From a Masonry Pro:

Doug Montzka, of Montkza Concrete & Masonry in St. Paul, Minn., has been in the concrete and masonry business for 23 years. He’s seen the popularity of fire pits but it’s possible to create a DIY fire pit. “I started getting requests for brick fire pits a few years ago. It isn’t rocket science, but there are a few tricks to doing the job right. A well-built masonry fire pit is rock solid, safe to use, and will easily last for as long as you own your house.”

Set Aside a Few Days

This won’t be the kind of project you can complete in an afternoon. There are a few time-consuming steps that will spread this project out over a few days. First, you’ll have to pour the footing and give it the time to set up. Then you’ll have to mortar the bricks into place.

Fire Pit Build Safety Tips

Building a fire pit, while it indeed can be a fun weekend project, is also a serious undertaking with high stakes for the safety of your friends and family. It’s imperative that safety is top of mind through each step in the process to ensure a final product that offers not only fun and beauty, but a safe environment for all involved.

Start by ensuring that your fire pit is built in a safe area, away from flammable structures and plant life. Ensure that every material used in your pit is fire-resistant and safe for high-heat situations. This includes the stones, adhesive, and mortar you use to construct the fire pit. Build the pit carefully and solidly, and when enjoying an evening around your pit, always have a fire extinguisher or water source close at hand in case things get out of control.

  • Do not use regular bricks to build a fire pit. They may crumble and degrade or, worse, because they may contain trapped water and gases, they can explode.
  • Do not use river rocks as the base layer of your pit. They, too, can contain moisture that can explode.
  • If possible, have a second human on the premises when you’re constructing your pit. If a heavy block lands on your foot or if you get carried away with the rock chisel, it’s good to have someone nearby to render first aid.

Fire Pit Parts: An Overview

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

A built-in fire pit is a glorified campfire, with sturdy walls of stone that help contain the flames and heat. That’s especially important in the parts of the country where there’s a risk of brush fires. So the first task in building any fire pit is checking local codes on open flames. The pit must be located far from overhanging trees, the house, and any other flammable structure.

To make building stone walls easier, you can use blocks made from cast concrete and molded to look like real stone (available at any home center). They’re flat on the top and bottom so they stack neatly, and some interlock for added strength. Glue them together with masonry adhesive. Choose a block with angled sides, meant to form curves when butted against each other. The optimal size for a fire pit is between 36 and 44 inches inside diameter. That will create enough room for a healthy fire but still keep gatherers close enough to chat.

As an added precaution, the fire pit should be lined with a thick steel ring like the ones used for park campfires. These protect the concrete in the blocks from the heat, which can cause them to dry out and break down prematurely.

A fire pit should sit low to the ground, with walls rising no more than a foot off the ground. But for stability, the base of the wall must be buried below ground in a hole lined with gravel, providing drainage and protecting against frost heaves in winter. The gravel also creates a level base for the stones to rest on. Most concrete blocks are about 4 inches high, so if the first course and a half sit underground, and there are two and a half courses above ground with a cap on top, you’ll end up with a foot-high wall—just right for resting your feet on while sitting in an outdoor chair.

DIY Fire Pit

1.     Consider the Neighbours

Check that there aren’t any utilities – electric cables, gas pipes, water pipes or drain pipes buried under the proposed site of the firepit. 

Consider how the dominant winds are blowing across your garden. Do not site the patio pit upwind so that the smoke doesn’t fly into your house or into the neighbour’s garden. 

2.     Mark the Location for the Fire Pit

The first move in building a fire pit is to clear out a pre-determined location for the base in the garden. The below are the measurements for a medium-sized fire pit.

A one metre diameter fire pit provides sufficient room and holds us near enough to talk. You can use two concrete type tubes to render the measurement of the hole and pour the screed into it for solidifications and for the base.

You can easily create shapes by screwing sheets of 3mm plywood together. Cut up a 2.4m x 1.2m sheet into four 300mm wide strips. Carefully fold and bolt two different strips. These joined strips will end up creating a circle of 1 metre in diameter. Use the remaining strips in the creations of a circle of 1.2 metres in diameter.

Place the wider form in place and mark it with the help of some paint for identification later on. Next, make a hole that is more than 200mm in depth and 75mm bigger than the form. 

3.     Market Pit Area Leveling

Shovel the dirt out to 200mm depth for your foundation fire pit. Don’t damage the dirt that lies underneath it. Even the base of the pit by levelling it. Get rid of any abnormal or high places in the fire pit by levelling them with the help of a rake. This is quite helpful because the soil beneath it won’t be loosened. Compact the ground with a hand tamper.

4.     Make the Base with Robust Footing

4.     Make the Base with Robust Footing

The foundation should be created inside a steady framework for the walls to avoid crumbling of the sides as the earth changes with time.

Mix up the heatproof screed and use it to fill between the two wooden formers. Stake them if you are using hardboard types, so they are smooth. If the previously created forms are not quite even, you should fix it leveling everything by striking in the odd spots and smoothening out the layers. 

5.     Rebar is not Recommended for the foundation

It is not a good idea to reinforce the foundation material with metal rods or the like because they will expand with the heat much more than the screed material and cause it to crack. 

6.     Finalise the Footing

Pour the leftover screed and pound the tubes softly with a mallet. Make sure that the underlying concrete blend is evenly distributed.

Recheck the height, hammer down the forms if appropriate, and smooth the footer, if required. You should allow the screed to dry for a few days before removing the forms from around the sides of the pit.

Standard clay bricks can crumble when exposed to extreme heat, so you should consider building the walls of your fire pit using fire bricks (also known as “refractory” bricks).

Fire brick is a thick brick that is kilned to stand up to high temperatures. It’s bigger, denser, and broader than regular bricks.

Fire brick is more expensive; however, it will withstand frequent flames. 

As fire bricks are thicker than the traditional bricks, it is more difficult to break them than the regular ones. “Soldiering” the brick minimizes the volume of separating and allows easy fitting of the pit’s curve.

You will want to break and split four fire bricks, which you will be using to finish the construction of your pit. These bricks will be used in front of each other to create oxygen holes for the fire. Upon breaking the fire bricks, lay them on top of the base.

Manually recheck and readjust the gaps between the bricks. This will be helpful in splitting the last round of bricks for easy fitting. Mark every brick’s position for easy identification. 

7.     Cement the Brick

Fire brick is generally cemented with the help of powerful outdoor oven cement, that is created for projects such as this. This cement is quite unlike standard masonry mortar. Outdoor oven cement is a pre-mixed powder and you just mix with water.

Lay a thin layer of cement before placing your first brick on the footer. Move around the sides in a loop, testing the level as you lay down the cement to butter the bricks with ease. 

8.     Make Air Holes for Ventilation

Leave gaps in the pit at four opposing stages, and then conceal them with the previously split bricks. Some gaps are actually quite necessary as they are used to feed the fire with air. Place half bricks up while the cement is still drying and slowly setting into place. 

9.     Finish the Walls of Your Fire Pit

You can face the outside of the fire pit with any kind of decorative brick or stone as these materials will not come into contact with the fire.

The disparity between your firebrick height and face bricks’ overall height will determine the gap between your mortar layers. Lay the face brick, indicating where the respective face brick will come in contact with the fire brick for rendering the final round of face brick in level with the previously installed and cemented firebricks. 

10. Split Bricks

Keep your fingertips below the brick’s top edge as you split them. You need to split 80 bricks into half to create your fire pit. Use a good tap (strong tap for splitting fire bricks) on the outer edge to easily break them in half. 

11. Use Split Face Bricks

To hold the mortar joints at a fair distance between courses, put a two to three inches thick mortar bed on top of the footing first.

Let it slowly set up and flatten out the edges. Now, set the previously split face bricks to create the outer layering.

Check every course stage, and constantly monitor the level of the bricks. Stagger the knees between the shifts to keep yourself active. 

12. Flatten and Smooth the joints

Smooth the joints before the cement dries up completely after you have completed each piece of face brick. Smoothing the joints will ensure that the bricks set into an appropriate place before the cement completely dries up and locks everything in place.

Striking adds a clean, polished look to the board. Leave the holes open while you mortar through the face brick portion. Try to keep every layer of bricks in level as you move forward. 

13. Finalise the Top

Mortar the tops of the wall. Use regular face tile placed on the bottom in order to finalize the construction of the pit with a corresponding “row-lock” hat.

Forty face bricks are required in this phase. These bricks will:

  • Help defend the joints withstand water damage of any kind
  • Contain and manage any sparks
  • Offer a comfortable place for placing your feet.

Work at a time, with ten to twelve bricks. Set on a 10mm mortar bed and spread the bricks atop the flooring in a level. Then, put the mortar mix on the side of each brick and push it in. You can use brick, but for a cleaner or a smoother look, try opting for other materials with a better finish and texture. 

14. Fill in the Gaps

To fill any gaps, add more mortar to the joints as require or appropriate. Frequently check the level and keep readjusting the gaps between the different layers.

Leave a 25mm internal overhang enabling rain to run out of the fire pit. Once all of the bricks are mortared and levelled, tap the joints with a jointer for a beautiful and level look. 

15. Finish Up the Fire Pit and Start Enjoying

Allow the firepit ten days to completely cure before you light a fire and start enjoying the newly created fire pit in your garden. Dispense a couple of inches of shingle into the pit’s drainage surface, and you’re primed for your delicious roast.

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