How to Build the Perfect DIY Fire Pit

Outdoor Additions
Landscaping
Outdoor and Gardening
By Contractors.com Team July 02, 2021

Fire pits are the perfect DIY project for any homeowner looking to add some extra flair to their hardscaping. Even a small portable fire pit can add a lot of extra functionality to the backyard, letting you and your loved ones sit around the fire, roast marshmallows, tell stories, and enjoy the cozy atmosphere.   

Landscape contractors and hardscapers often look for a combination of different elements when designing a backyard. A gorgeous pool, a sleek sunroom, and a stylized deck are all examples of elements that can turn any backyard into one serene and soothing environment. A fire pit specially designed to match your hardscape and landscape can create a much more inviting and comfortable backyard experience.

Designing Your Firepit to Fit Your Landscape

Designing Your Firepit to Fit Your Landscape

The simpler design fire pits are a surprisingly easy DIY project and utilize beginner-friendly tools and techniques. Considering the scope of your project, a fire pit can cost anywhere from $500 up to several thousand dollars. A simple brick and mortar wood-burning fire pit, however, should not cost you more than $1,000 and will take a few days to build.

Step 1. Making Space

Any fire pit is going to require a dedicated space where you can install it (even portable ones). For an in-ground fire pit installation, you must make room in the backyard that is far enough from any structure. Depending on the state you live in, fire pits typically need to be 10 to 20 feet away from any building structure to meet safety requirements.

While the shape and size of fire pits can vary depending on how much space you’re working with, you won’t need to dig too deep into your landscape. Typically around six to 12 inches of depth are required for most fire pits. Before digging, however, get in contact with your state’s 811 services. This is a hotline specifically designated for homeowners to call before they dig into their backyard.

Digging around blindly in your backyard could damage utility piping such as plumbing or electricity, and could even damage a gas line. To avoid having to call a plumber, electrician, or landscape contractor for repairs, it is highly advisable to get into contact with the 811 hotline. Get their permission on where you can dig to start making the space for your fire pit.

Use a sheet of cardboard or a wire twisted into the shape of the fire pit and mark the area using spray paint. This will determine the size, shape, and position of the fire pit. Use this circle as a reference for digging out the grass and surface layer of dirt. If you go beyond the circle, don’t worry, as you can simply patch it up with the dug-up grass. 

Step 2. Leveling the Pit

After reaching the desired depth for the fire pit, it is now time to level using a leveling ruler. Landscapes are not always perfectly leveled. Whereas some patches of land can be visibly uneven, sometimes you may have a very small, barely noticeable incline.

Leveling the Site for Your Fire Pit

Leveling the Site for Your Fire Pit

If the air bubble in the level does not line up with the center, then the surface is uneven. There is nothing wrong with a little bit of unevenness as it’s not going to ruin your fire pit, however, if the incline is very steep, it could cause problems with the foundation. If you find this is the case, use a steel tamper to push it down. If the earth is too dry and not pliable enough to be leveled, pour some water into the hole so the dirt is easier to work with. 

With enough moisture, the earth becomes a lot more malleable and you will be able to level it using the steel tamper. As you are doing this, remember to regularly measure using the level ruler.

Step 3. Building the Footing

Footing is the base of the fire pit. It is usually a concrete foundation in the shape of the fire pit itself, whether it be circular or square. Make a wooden frame for the footing using wooden boards and pour the concrete into the frame until it is leveled with the surface of the frame. Using a concrete float, smooth out the surface of the concrete and let it set. Setting can be achieved overnight but it’s always good to overshoot the mark on how much time it needs to solidify.

When you return to the footing in the morning the concrete should have set and will be able to stand on its own without the wooden frame around it. Carefully remove the frame and check the concrete to see that everything is solid. 

Step 4. Laying the Firebricks

With a solid ring of concrete for the fire pit footing, you can now move on to laying the first bricks. Before placing any of the clay bricks, however, firebricks have to come first. Firebricks need to line the interior of the fire pit In order to keep the heat under control and the outer layer of bricks from getting too hot. These are ceramic bricks able to withstand high temperatures and keep excess heat from making its way to the exterior of the fire pit. While you can build a fire pit without using fire bricks it will be a bit riskier and uncomfortable to do so.

Laying the Firebrick On the Inner Lining of Your Fire Pit

Laying the Firebrick On the Inner Lining of Your Fire Pit

Place the firebricks upright on top of the fire pit footing, and dry arrange (without the use of mortar) them into a circular shape along the inner edge of the footing. Also, make sure to create an airhole for the fire pit by breaking one of the firebricks in half and leaving a small opening for air to come through. This will allow for air to come into the center of the fire pit, making it easier to light a flame. 

Once you visualize the general shape that the firebricks will have, place them upright one by one on the footing using mortar to stick them to the footing and to each other. Work in one direction as you go along the footing, laying down firebricks in an upright position. After the mortar hardens you now have yourself the inner layer of your fire pit. 

Step 5. Creating the Outer Layer

For the outer lining of the fire pit, you can use any brick of your choice, although traditional red clay bricks work quite well. Typically, clay bricks crack under high temperatures but thanks to the inner firebrick layer, you will not have to worry about this. For extra heat absorption and control over the temperature, many hardscapers and masons recommend using kiln fire bricks which are more heat-resistant. 

Lay your bricks in the traditional running bond brick laying pattern. This pattern is very simple to create, is structurally strong, and looks aesthetically pleasing. Before you start laying, however, break the bricks in half using a hammer. Nowadays, most bricks come with special notches that allow for easy breaking. For the outer layer of the fire pit, break the bricks in half along their length to avoid having fire pit walls that are far too thick.

A Step by Step to Building Your Own Fire Pit

A Step by Step to Building Your Own Fire Pit

Lay the half-bricks with their broken-off side facing the inner firebrick layer. Using a masonry trowel, apply a smooth surface of mortar to place the bricks next to each other and continue doing this in one direction. 

For best results, divide the fire pit circle into three nearly equal sections and work on them one at a time. By the time you finish with one, the other will have set and toughened up. As you lay the bricks, use the handle of the trowel to lightly tap the half-brick into place and let the mortar do the rest. Tapping too hard may risk breaking the handle or even the brick itself.

When you press down on the bricks, some mortar may ooze from between the half-bricks, making the surface of the fire pit a bit messy. To clean this up use a jointer to press against the excess mortar and keep it from spilling out. Don’t be too forceful as it could push the brick out of place. Give the mortar a gentle push with the jointer and it should recede into place.

Step 6. Finishing the Top

Finally, we have the top lip, which is the top-most surface of the fire pit. Using the same bricks used on the external layer, place full sized bricks on top of the half-bricks and firebricks. The top lip bricks are placed perpendicular to those in the two rows beneath them so that their lengths cover the top of both these layers. 

Put mortar on the sides of the bricks that have the holes going through and lay them next to each other. As you lay down the bricks, some of the mortar may spill out or create gaps. It is wise to fill these gaps before the mortar hardens yet. Using a tuck pointer and trestle, fill the gaps with extra mortar and scrape away any excess mortar that spills out. 

You will slowly notice how structurally stable the fire pit gets, although, as with all the other steps, you will need to give it some time to harden completely. With the top lip completed, you are nearly done. Smaller details may need touching up, such as cleaning up mortar spills, fixing the dirt around the fire pit, or washing up the bricks to bring out their color from under the dust. 

Some Embellishment to Consider

While you can leave the fire pit as it is and call it finished there are some other additions you can make to add more functionality or style.

  1. For greater heat absorption you can use a steel camping fire pit. It is, most commonly, circular steel plating that is typically used for camping as a temporary fire pit. By installing it into the interior of the fire pit you can have significantly better insulation.

  2. DIY smokeless fire pits are a popular project with homeowners looking to have their own backyard coziness — minus all the smoke in your eyes and its stubborn smell on your clothes and in your hair. Smokeless fire pits can be bought in many stores across the country and are generally priced around $300 to $400 depending on the size and manufacturer. However, these are often portable fire pits. For a permanent installation, you can speak with countless professionals online and ask for their advice on building a smokeless brick-and-mortar fire pit.

  3. Solo stove fire pits are great for homeowners looking to host cookouts and BBQs more than once a year. They are smaller in size but offer all the convenience of any other portable fire pit. 
Summer Embellishments for Your Outdoor Living

Summer Embellishments for Your Outdoor Living

DIY propane fire pit tables are very stylish and practical additions to any hardscape. These are essentially fire pits built into a table connected to a propane tank. Propane fire pit tables are a dream come true for those looking to cook their food as they eat without purchasing a hibachi grill. Remember to fill the fire pit with lava rocks to keep the flames under control when you’re seated around them.

DIY Fire Pit

DIY Fire Pit

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team