Build Your Own Fire Pit

This article will teach you to build a simple fire pit, so you can enjoy the crackling fire at a friendly gathering.

Introduction

The main item you’ll need for this fire pit, is a light fire ring available at supply stores. This tutorial is prepared thanks to the tips from an expert bricklayer.

Tools

  1. Brick hammer
  2. Bucket
  3. Concave jointer
  4. Concrete float
  5. Cordless drill
  6. Level
  7. Margin trowel
  8. Mason’s trowel
  9. Safety glasses
  10. Spade
  11. Tuckpointing tool
  12. Wheelbarrow

Materials

  1. 120 face bricks
  2. 25 firebricks
  3. 36 in. cardboard concrete form
  4. 48 in. cardboard concrete form (or for less money substitute a 4×8 sheet of hardboard to make both forms)
  5. Five 80-lb. bags of Type N mortar mix
  6. One half-gallon bucket of refractory cement (sold at a brickyard)
  7. Ten 80-lb. bags of concrete mix
  8. Two 10 ft. lengths of 3/8-in. rebar

Step-by-step Fire Pit DIY

First Steps of Building Fire Pit

Backyard fire pits are so popular and useful it’s impossible for them to get left behind. The inviting fire has always been a good point to gather family and friends together for an intimate evening. You could spend a huge amount of cash on a steel fire ring or just get creative and place some stones around a hole. If you’re willing to save money, follow the tutorial and stick to the rock setup for a hardy fire pit that’ll last for years in the backyard. To get the job even easier, you might want to look for reclaimed bricks sold at a reasonable price.

This fire pit will cost you around $250. You can choose a maintenance free ground for the pit which is tolerant and also easy to clean. Follow the steps and learn to build a perfect fire pit!

If you’re interested in laying bricks, this DIY tutorial shall be an excellent starting point for you. You don’t need to be a brick master to get this right. To our request, Doug Montzka of Montzka Concrete & Masonry, based in Minnesota, has shown us some tricks and hacks on building a simple fire pit.

Advice From a Masonry Expert

Masonry expert, Doug Montzka of Montzka Concrete& Masonry based in St. Paul, Minnesota, has been in the masonry industry for about 23 years for now. He acknowledges the popularity of fire pits, admitting it’s possible to build a simple fire pit at one’s backyard. “People started asking me for brick fire pits since for a few years now,” He says. “It’s not rocket science, but the job needs some tricks to get done right. A well-built brick fire pit will be safe, rock-hard and will probably last as long as your house.”

Before you begin laying the bricks, pour the base concrete layers and leave it for a few days to completely dry. Then you can start the brick work!

Step-by-step tutorial

Mark The Outline

The first step to begin with, is the digging. Excavate a preferred place in your garden and form the base. Here is an example of appropriate fire pit dimension.

A 3-ft.-diameter in ground fire pit would be a great choice for most setups, yet everyone can sit close enough for an intimate gathering. In this tutorial, two cardboard concrete tubes have been used to easily form the base for concrete pouring. You can purchase these tubes at most concrete supply stores. The tubes could be made at home as well; all you need to do is to screw to 1/8-industrial hardboards together. Next, rip a 4×8 ft. sheet into four 8-inch wide strips. Carefully bend and screw two strips together to create a circle, 36 inches in diameter. Use the other two strips to make another 48-inch diameter circle.

Set the larger form in position and mark the outline with spray paint. Dig a hole 8 inches deep. This should be 3 inches larger in diameter than the outline.

Level the pit

To create the base, excavate the soil to reach 8 inches of depth. Avoid disturbing the soil beneath. Use a level and check if the base is even. Scrape off the high spots of soil; this will keep the soil as untouched as possible. After you’re done evening the base, gently tap the earth flat using a hand tamper.

Pour a sturdy footing for your fire pit base: Stake the forms

The concrete foundation will form a steady base and protect the walls in place, preventing a collapse as the soil gradually moves away overtime. Stake the forms and mix up ten 80-Ib bags of concrete mix according to producer’s instructions. If you’re using hardboard forms, stake them properly until they’re round and smooth.

If the forms aren’t even yet, raise one end and slide a screw through the stake. If the form shape still has some flaws, reposition the stakes.

Add the rebar

Curve the rebar in semicircles to form a full circle for the fire pit. Tie the rebar pieces together with a wire and make it into a ring. fill the forms halfway and press the steel ring into the concrete for stability. Keep the ring away from the sides of forms.

Finish the footing

Use a shovel to stuff in the remaining concrete, and fill the forms all the way through. Gently tap the tubes with a hammer until the concrete mix is level. Recheck evenness, tap the forms down if needed and smooth the top section of the base. Allow the concrete to dry thoroughly overnight, then remove the forms.

Dry-set the firebrick liner

DIY Fire Pit
DIY Fire Pit

Regular clay bricks may not tolerate the heat, so we recommend you to use firebricks (aka refractory bricks) for the inner wall lining of your fire pit. Firebricks are a dense type of brick designed to survive high temperatures. These bricks are wider and thicker than regular ones, available at most brickyards. It’s probably going to cost some more, but the prolonged fire pit life is worth the price. For a 3-ft diameter pit you’ll need 25 firebricks.

Since firebrick is dense, it’s tougher to split than regular brick. For maximum splitting power, stand the brick on end. This method, also known as ‘Soldiering’, will let you to easily lodge the curve of your pit. For this matter, you’ll need to split only four firebricks. The split pieces should be set on top of the foundation, placed across from each other to create a circle around the pit. Make sure to leave an airhole for oxygen to fan the flames.

Adjust the spacing between bricks. This will save you from cutting another brick to fit in. Mark the positions where every piece of firebrick is going to be placed at.

Mortar the firebrick

Fire Pit
Fire Pit

Use refractory cement to mortar firebricks. This is kind of different from regular masonry mortar, due to ability of surviving high temperatures. Premixed refractory cement comes in bucket containers and has the consistency of peanut butter. For easy usage, just use a marginal trowel to scoop cement out and spread in onto bricks. For joint clean-up, use a tuck pointer.

Work with four bricks at a time. The secret is to trowel the cement on thin, like you’re spreading peanut butter on toast, and use the tightest joints you can.

Spread a thin layer of cement on foundation and place the first brick. Then, put cement on the next brick and tap it in beside the first one. Repeat around the circle, and check evenness from side to side and back to front as you go.

Create air holes

DIY Fire Pit
Fire PitDIY Fire Pit

Don’t forget to leave gaps in four opposite points around the ring for air holes. Fill the rest of circle with half bricks. After you’re done positioning the bricks, let the brickwork be until the mortar sets.

Check for level across the fire pit and the vertical level of the bricks as you go.

Complete the outside walls with face brick

Here, we have used SW (severe weathering) bricks to line the outside of fire pit walls. If there are no extreme temperature periods in your area, go for MW (moderate weathering) bricks. You can find numerous types of bricks in home centers and brickyards.

You’ll need 80 face bricks for a 3-ft.-diameter pit. Face bricks with holes (aka Cored bricks) are easily split by a brick hammer. It’s much easier to form the pit curves with half bricks. You will need to lay three rows of face bricks and hold them in place with Type N mortar mix. This type of mortar is available in 80-Ib bags at home centers. You’re gonna need about five bags.

Face brick is smaller than fire brick, so you should keep the size difference in mind while placing the rows of face brick. The height difference of firebricks and the total height of three-row face bricks will regulate how wide the mortar beds between courses should be.

Dry-set the face brick, marking where each course of face brick has to hit the firebrick to make the third course of face brick level with the firebrick.

Split 80 bricks in half

Hold the brick in one hand, place your fingers under top edge of brick and give it a strong tap near the exterior edge of center hole. For firebricks you need to tap harder. Our mason isn’t wearing gloves, but we suggest you to do so. Be careful not to hit your hand. Repeat for the rest of bricks.

Set the face brick

DIY Fire Pit
Fire Pit

Keep adequate width between mortar joints. For this purpose, place 2 or 3-inch of thick mortar bed on top of foundation. Let it cure for a while (15 minutes should be enough) and smooth out the top.

Work in sections

Build one-third of the fire pit in the first go. Lay 3/8-inch of fresh mortar on every course of face bricks. Keep a 1/4 –inch gap between firebricks and the face brick.

Check the level of each course and tap down the bricks as necessary. Stagger the joints between courses for strength.

Strike the joints

Fire Pit
Fire Pit

After finishing each fire brick section, smooth the joints (“strike” or “tool”) with a jointer before the mortar is too dry to work with. To determine whether mortar is ready to strike, simply press your finger onto it and see if it leaves a trace. Striking will give the walls a uniform and finished look.

While you mortar each layer of face brick and smooth the joints, keep in mind to leave draft holes open.

Finish off the top lip

DIY Fire Pit

Mortar the brick caps. A matching “row-lock” cap will finish the pit. Place regular face bricks on the edge. For the cap, about 40 face bricks will be enough.

The cap’s advantages include:

  • Protecting wall joints from rain
  • Keeping sparks contained
  • Form a nice ledge to warm your feet on.

Work with 10 to 12 bricks at a time. Lay a 3/8-inch of mortar bed and place the bricks on edge. Spread some mortar on each exterior edge and push it into place. We have used brick here, but you can use natural rocks. It’s all up to you.

Fill gaps

Fill in the gaps with a small amount of mortar. Frequently check if the bricks are even. Tamp the row gently with a hammer to adjust spacing. Leave an inch of overhanging on the exterior for the rain water to drip off. After you mortar all the bricks in place, smooth the joints with a concave jointer for the finished look.

Finished fire pit

The cement and mortar will need another week to completely cure before you can use the fire pit. Pour some inches of gravel on the pit’s floor for drainage and it’s ready to get fire lighted inside.

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