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  • Writer's pictureMike Roberts

Basking in the Glow of a Firepit

We all love relaxing around a fire, whether it’s indoors by the fireplace hearth or outdoors. Firepits are an increasingly popular way to enjoy a fire in your backyard. If you’re a person with average building skills, you can build one yourself. Here’s how.

Portable units

Of course, if you don’t want to build your own firepit, you can buy a portable version that uses logs or propane gas. Wood-burning portable firepits are usually made of tempered steel coated with heat-resistant black paint. These firepits come in many ornate designs and start at less than $70. Propane-burning versions are fashioned from faux stone, ornate metal or metal wicker. Their fireboxes contains lava rock or glass beads with a propane tank in a space beneath. These units range in price from less than $100 to several hundred dollars.

You can place a portable propane firepit on any outdoor surface, but wood-burning ones require a hard surface, such as a patio.

Building your own firepit

Before you begin digging, study the size, shape and layout of your backyard to choose the best location. Select a site safely away from existing structures and overhanging trees. Don’t forget to factor in space surrounding the pit for seating. Firepits often are integrated into an overall outdoor entertainment area. You’ll also need to check to see if you need approval from your neighborhood homeowners association and/or the local building code department.

If your pit will use natural gas, you must choose a site close to your home’s gas supply and hired a licensed plumber for the hookup.

YouTube videos offer plenty of guidance on building firepits with step-by-step demonstrations of construction. Here’s a brief summary of the steps.

For a round pit, drive a stake into the ground at the center point of the site you’ve chosen. To mark where the outer wall will go, cut a string half the desired width of the pit. Tie one end to the stake. Hold the other end of the string as well as a can of ground-marking paint in your hand, then walk a circle around the stake, spraying the paint on the ground as you go. If you will be building a stone or brick patio surrounding the pit, mark out that area as well.

Dig out the interior of the circle you drew to a depth of seven inches, or dig out the larger area of the patio. Tamp down the soil in the bottom to make it level. Spread a layer of gravel in the pit, water it and tamp it down.

The pit’s floor

Lay firebrick for the pit’s floor. Use trapezoidal-shaped stones to build the wall of a round pit and square or rectangular stones for a square pit. Lay the bottom layer of the surrounding wall, then use a long level to check it from several angles. Lay the next layer of the wall with cement to hold it to the base. Then add at least one more layer. Firepits are usually three or four layers tall.

If you will burn logs in the bottom of the pit, you must space gaps along the base layer of stone for air to breathe into the pit. A simpler design is to have a metal firebox that sits in the pit on the top layer of stone.

Unless you are building a surrounding patio as well, you can build a DIY firepit for $100 or less.

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