How to Build an Outdoor Fire Pit: Construction, Design, and Safety Considerations
In recent years, fire pits have become one of the most popular backyard additions, and for good reason. They are great for adding a bit of ambiance to the outdoor space while making your yard the go-to spot for gatherings. No matter the weather, guests will be clambering for a chance to crowd around the fire pit and tell tall tales all day and evening long.
The best part is that backyard fire pits are an easy DIY project, providing a sense of accomplishment and a tangible reward. They can be customized to match the existing styling and décor in your backyard, or provide direction in making additional improvements to the space.
To get started in building the perfect backyard fire pit, browse through this guide to learn all there is to know about completing this project.
Table of Contents
- What to Consider Before Adding a Fire Pit to Your Backyard
- DIY: How to Make a Backyard Fire Pit
- Fire Pit Design Ideas
- Fire Pit Safety
What to Consider Before Adding a Fire Pit to Your Backyard
Before jumping into this project, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. As with all home improvement projects, the first thing to think about is cost. What size budget is available for this project?
On average, fire pits cost around $400 for materials, though prices can vary quite a bit, depending on its size, material quality, and other factors. Fire pits made from plain cinderblocks, for example, are much less expensive than ones built using natural stone.
On the other side of the equation is how much time it will take to build the fire pit. Account for the time it takes to come up with a design, prepare the ground, and construct the fire pit in determining if you have enough time in your day for this project. Minimalistic designs can take just four hours to complete, while more complex fire pits can take much longer.
If time and money are barriers to getting this project done, then it might be worthwhile to consider a portable fire pit. Designed as standalone units, these fire pits are easily positioned anywhere you want in your yard in just a few minutes. They are also about $100 cheaper than the materials needed to build a custom fire pit.
For either custom or premade fire pit designs, determine if wood, propane, or natural gas fuel will serve you best. When using wood as fuel, delightful crackling sounds and smoky smells promise to boost ambiance, though it takes a lot of effort to get the fire going. Propane and natural gas are much faster to get going, usually only requiring the push of a button to start up. Propane fire pits need frequent tank refills, however, and natural gas requires a gas line professionally ran from the house.
Upon considering the ideal design and fuel type for the fire pit, finding the perfect space lands on the list of things to do. The Seattle Fire Department recommends that large custom fire pits sit at least 25 feet from all homes, sheds, and other structures. Portable fire pits can be a bit closer, though they should remain at least 10 feet away from all structures and combustible materials. The fire pits should not have grass or other vegetation that could catch fire anywhere near the area, just in case sparks start to fly.
DIY: How to Make a Backyard Fire Pit
When making a DIY backyard fire pit, there are three main styles to consider. The fire pit can sit on a secure tabletop or other platform, elevating it to eye level to create a focal point for the outdoor space. Or, it can be built on the ground surface or even placed in-ground to perfectly complement the design of your backyard. Each option will need to be approached differently, ensuring you can achieve the desired results the first time around.
Tabletop fire pits offer all the pizazz of the full-size versions without taking up too much space. They are easily constructed using glass and metal materials that can be acquired at a local home and garden store. And it only takes a fraction of the time, money, and effort needed to make larger fire pits. All you have to do is gather up your supplies and follow these steps to create an adorable tabletop version.
To create a glass and metal tabletop fire pit, you will need small glass panes, like the ones used for picture frames. Also, pick up a metal planter with dimensions that match the length of the glass you selected. The planter should also have a wide top edge to support the glass and metal grate.
In addition, you will need:
- Fire pit rocks
- Marine silicone
- Metal grate
- Gel fuel
When making the glass box, you will need something heavy to hold up two sides of the glass as the silicone cures. Upon gathering all the supplies, it is time to move onto the next steps.
The tabletop fire pit consists of a glass box situated on top of the metal planter. A metal grate holds the rocks, providing a place for the fire to burn bright. Completing this project is as easy as following the steps below, making sure to allow enough time between each for the silicone to dry. Here’s how to proceed.
- To start building the glass box, run a bead of silicone along the edge of one pane of glass
- Align a second pane of glass with the silicone bead and press firmly together
- Allow the two panes to dry for several hours before moving onto the next step
- Add another bead of silicone to the other side of the first pane of glass
- Attach a new pane of glass to the silicone bead, creating the third side of the box
- After waiting for the silicone to cure, add two beads of silicone to the remaining edges
- Then, press the fourth and final pane of glass to those beads, completing the box
Upon constructing the glass box, allow it to cure for at least 24 hours before moving on. After that, it is safe to line the entire bottom edge of the glass box with a thin bead of silicone. Then, press the silicone-covered edge to the top of the metal planter, making sure it is centered.
Allow the materials to dry for several hours more, then place the gel fuel canister in the cavity and metal grate just above it. The grate should sit on the remaining edge of the planter, creating a platform for the rocks. Carefully arrange the fire pit rocks on the grate to complete this project.
As there are so many materials to choose from, raised backyard fire pits come in a wide variety of styles. The steps to building one are largely the same, however, with small variations to account for material differences.
Across the board, raised fire pits sit on the ground with the sides extended up two or so feet. The sides create a functional, yet attractive, barrier between the heat source and people gathered around the fire pit. Depending on the materials used, wood, propane, and natural gas fuels all tend to work well with this design.
To create this style of fire pit, simply gather up your supplies and follow these instructions.
The type of material you choose will determine which wall blocks and capstone to use. You may elect to go with curved cinderblocks for the walls, for example, with slate capstone for the upper edge. Or maybe, you will use bricks for the wall blocks and limestone along the top. The amount of material needed for the walls and top will vary as well, depending on the planned size of the backyard fire pit.
No matter what size and material is selected, you will need the appropriate amount of:
- Wall blocks
- Capstone material
- Steel campfire ring
- Masonry adhesive
- Flexible mortar
Since this fire pit is slightly inset in the ground, also grab a shovel and tape measure. A hand tamper, level, trowel, and mallet can help the job go much smoother and ensure you can achieve your desired results.
Before starting any digging and other ground preparation steps, it is important to perform a mockup of the raised fire pit. Arrange the wall blocks in the desired design exactly where you want the fire pit to go. Then, with everything in place, mark the area by pushing the shovel into the ground about an inch away from the outer edge of the wall blocks. Repeat all the way around the perimeter of the fire pit, then remove the wall blocks and set them to the side.
Then, follow these steps:
- Working within the marked space, dig six inches down to create a recessed area
- Dig an additional six inches down along the edge where the wall blocks will go
- Fill that extra six inches of space with gravel, then press it down with the hand tamper
- Carefully add the first layer of wall blocks on top of the tamped down gravel
- Use a level to even out the first layer, making adjustments with the mallet or gravel
- Add a zigzag of masonry adhesive along the first layer, working two blocks at a time
- Apply the next layer of blocks, centering each one over the seam of the ones below
- Fill the center with six inches of gravel and allow the adhesive to cure for one day
- Repeat this process to add two more layers of wall blocks, using an alternating pattern
Once the wall blocks are in place, simply place the campfire ring in the center, aligning it with the top of the block wall. Then, mix up the flexible mortar and use it to stick the capstone blocks to the upper edge in your desired arrangement.
Throughout the process, only work in small sections as the mortar dries rather quickly. After that, the project is finished, but allow everything to dry and cure for two days before lighting the first fire.
For a stealthier look or to integrate the fire pit into a patio surround, the in-ground style works best. In-ground fire pits have their opening level with the surface, allowing you to build a fire deep inside.
Since most of their materials lie out of sight, they are typically made from basic concrete blocks. This creates a lasting finish that will provide space to build fire after fire through the years.
As it involves quite a lot of digging, the in-ground option is the most time-consuming of the bunch. Most installations use wood as fuel, though propane and natural gas are possible with a bit more work. Here’s how to move forward in creating an in-ground fire pit that uses wood fuel.
The amount of material needed for an in-ground fire pit depends on how deep you want it to go. A depth of at least 12 inches is ideal to create enough room for a roaring fire. A deeper fire pit is possible, as long as you take your time in creating strong walls along the outer perimeter. Take the materials into account when finding the right depth, as they will take away some space inside the finished fire pit.
Depending on your preferences and project specifications, the materials you will need include:
- Concrete pavers
- Cast concrete blocks
- Leveling sand
- Flexible mortar
- Patio stones
- Fire pit rocks
- Gravel paver base
- 1-inch PVC pipes
- Polymeric sand
You will also need a number of tools, such as:
- Hand tamper
- Hand saw
- Tape measure
With these tools and supplies in hand, you are ready to move on to creating the in-ground fire pit.
In-ground fire pits work great in a number of different shapes, including octagons and squares. Circular fire pits are the most popular option, though the sky is the limit in what you can do. Before starting the steps, choose an ideal design and a location for the fire pit. Then, arrange a single row of blocks in that area and mark the perimeter by digging down about two feet out with a shovel.
Then, remove the blocks and start building the fire pit by following these steps:
- Remove the sod and dig out the fire pit to the predetermined width and depth
- Use the hand tamper to compact and even out the ground surface
- Pour about two inches of leveling sand into the fire pit hole
- Dampen the leveling sand and tamp it down flat
- Place the cast concrete blocks in the desired shape on the leveling sand surface
- Use the level to confirm the tops of the blocks are sitting straight and even
- Add about six inches of gravel paver base behind the concrete blocks
- Smooth out the gravel paver base with a rake, then wet it and tamp it down flat
- Repeat this process until the paver base is one inch from the top of the concrete blocks
- Pour several inches of fire pit rocks inside the concrete block arrangement
- Use the hand saw to cut the PVC pipes down to two feet in length
- Arrange the pipes perpendicular to the concrete blocks across the gravel paver base
- Cover the PVC pipes and gravel paver base with one inch of sand
- Arrange the concrete paving stones over the sand to the edge of the concrete blocks
- Leave a ½ inch of space between the pavers to fill with polymeric sand
- Mix the mortar and use a trowel to apply a thick layer over the edge of the fire pit
- Pour polymeric sand into the ½ gaps between the paving stones
- Use the brush and hand tamper to completely fill the joints with sand
- Spray the blocks and sand with a hose, then repeat until the joints are filled
Upon completing the final step, the in-ground fire pit is complete. The build will need to sit for at least 24 hours before using, however, to allow all the materials to dry and cure.
By choosing between these three configurations, you are one step closer to building your perfect backyard fire pit. All that is left to do is select the best design and material options, then begin the building phase.
There are many excellent options when it comes to building the seating area for a backyard fire pit. Couches, chairs, benches, and tables can all beautifully elevate the look and feel of the area. Selecting the right style for your backyard is the tricky part, however. The seating elements must complement your existing décor or guide future changes while providing the comfort sought in building this space.
Thankfully, there are many different styles of outdoor furniture to consider, such as:
Zero Gravity Chairs
With anti-gravity chairs around the fire pit, it is easier than ever to kick back, relax, and warm up your feet. These chairs easily go from upright to fully reclined and back again in seconds and with minimal effort. In addition to being wildly comfortable, they are made from weather-resistant materials, so they can stay outside without worry nearly year-round.
Offering the ultimate in comfort and style are Adirondack chairs, which are a classic option for outdoor spaces. These chairs feature a reclined seat and supportive back that allows everyone to lounge around to their heart’s content. Although they are traditionally made from wood, they can be found in UV-resistant plastic materials that promise to stand up to the test of time.
Wood benches are another timeless and attractive fire pit seating option to consider. Made with and without supportive backs, these benches allow everyone to cuddle up side by side while chilling by the fire. They are available in curved and straight designs that will beautifully complement the shape of the fire pit.
With sectional sofas made for the outdoors, it is possible to bring the comfort of indoors to your backyard fire pit. Made from weatherproof materials, this seating option can be wiped dry with ease, allowing everyone to cozy up to the fire in an instant. As the evening winds down, these sofas are great for lying down and having a brief snooze next to the warmth of the fire.
Even better for naptime next to the fire pit are weatherproof daybeds. Often fitted with a cover, these daybeds are ready to use anytime of the day and in any weather. The thick cushions are not only incredibly comfortable, but waterproof as well.
These are just a few of the seating styles available for use outdoors. Table options are equally plentiful, allowing everyone to build their perfect backyard fire pit seating area.
Fire Pit Design Ideas
For this project, the next step involves weighing the most popular fire pit design options and choosing the best one for your needs. Here’s a look at several different designs that make excellent backyard fire pits for homes of all kinds—and tips on how to get started.
Of all backyard fire pit designs, a simple layout is the most cost-effective and easiest to build. This design uses around three layers of bricks or paving stones to create an enclosure for the fire. It can be built on bare ground or placed on a patio made from paver stones. The lack of mortar and other adhesives allow you to build this fire pit in a day and remove it in an instant, if necessary.
Although basic patio blocks are used most often to construct this type of fire pit, it is possible to make it as ornate as you wish by selecting fancier materials. Decorative concrete blocks, for example, have an attractive exterior that dresses up the fire pit without making it harder to build. These blocks may have designs that make them look like traditional bricks or natural stone.
Although not as easily removed, a gravel fire pit is another low-cost, easy-to-construct backyard fire pit option. To create this fire pit, simply dig out a 12-foot circle in the backyard to the depth of around three inches.
At the center, create a ring of large rocks or paving stones, leaving a two- to three-foot opening in the middle. Leave the surface of the opening bare ground or fill it with an inch or two of fire pit rocks. Then, fill the rest of the outer circle with three inches of gravel to create space for the seating area.
With the completion of that step, the gravel fire pit is ready for your seating of choice. Adirondack chairs work best, though wood benches are a close second. Complete the look by using large tree stumps as tables for a place to build s’mores and hold your hot cocoa.
With just 24 cinderblock caps, you can build a fire pit that will last ages with little to no maintenance—and it is quick and easy to construct, too. Like the simple fire pit design, this option uses three levels of paving stones to create the outer walls. Unlike that design, however, it does have mortar holding the stones together, making it much more durable.
To build this fire pit, prepare the site by removing all grass and evening out the surface with a hand tamper. After that, you will lie down the first layer of cinder block caps, placing them flat against the ground.
Working in small sections, stand up the next row cinder block caps on their sides in the center of the first layer. Then, top with another layer of mortar and cinder block caps, placing them the same as the first. To complete this backyard fire pit, let the mortar dry for 24 hours and fill the center with several inches of fire pit rocks.
Although the modern concrete fire pit is relatively time-consuming to build, it costs far less than it looks. The eye-catching bowl shape looks just plain expensive, creating an awe-inspiring focal point for the backyard, but without breaking the bank.
Creating this fire pit requires:
- One bag of concrete mix
- Masonry trowel
- Mixing tub
- Non-stick cooking spray
- Rubber mallet
- 80-grit sanding block
- Metal grate
- Fire pit rocks
- Three gel fuel canisters
To properly form the concrete into a bowl shape, it is also necessary to acquire two large bowls in 18-inch and 15-inch diameters. Also, remember to always wear gloves, a respirator, and safety goggles while working with concrete, and work in a well-ventilated area.
Get started by mixing up the concrete in the tub, and then spray the inside of the largest bowl with cooking spray. Pour about 1/3 of the bag of mixed concrete in the large bowl and spread it out evenly with the trowel. Then, spray the outside of the small bowl with cooking spray and press it onto the wet concrete to create the desired shape.
Allow the concrete to sit for at least 48 hours to fully harden and cure. After that time, use a rubber mallet to remove the concrete from the molds. While wearing your safety equipment, smooth out the sides using an 80-grit sanding block.
Once that is complete, you can take the fire pit outside, add the three fuel canisters, and cover the top with the metal grate. Place the fire pit rocks over the top to hide the grate and create a beautiful finish to complete this project.
For a rustic look, go with a stacked stone fire pit, which can be customized to your preferences. Many different types of stones can be used for this project, including river rock, cut granite, and sandstone blocks. No matter what type you select, the rocks need to be relatively flat to sit together securely and create the fire pit enclosure.
Since natural stone is not perfectly flat at the bottom, this project starts with a level layer of wet cement. Once it has cured for a day or two, move on to adding three to four layers of stone with mortar in between to hold it all together. If needed to block the gaps between the stones, arrange a single row of bricks, standing vertically, along the inner perimeter of the fire pit. With this complete, the project is done, though it should all cure for at least 24 hours before using.
If the backyard has an unused koi pond, you are already halfway to having the fire pit of your dreams. With the removal of the plastic liner and addition of a few other materials, the pond will transform into a fire pit right before your very eyes.
Completing this project is as easy as gathering up natural stones to use around the perimeter, along with some leveling sand to help bring everything together. Then, rip out the plastic liner in full, being careful not to leave any stray pieces behind.
Use the stones and leveling sand to create a custom enclosure that is at least six inches tall. An asymmetrical design works beautifully for these fire pits, as it complements the koi pond’s irregular shape. Add a layer of fire pit rocks to the center to create a place to build your fire. Since this project does not require cement or mortar that has to dry, it can be used right away.
For something a little unusual and rather Earth friendly, use found materials to create the perfect backyard fire pit. An old shopping cart, for example, can make an eye-catching fire pit. Although the materials are quite cheap, it can be time-consuming to build.
In addition to the shopping cart, you will need:
- Steel flashing
- Steel lath
- Steel hurricane ties
Several old cookie sheets will also be needed to create the burning platform for the fire.
To start, it is necessary to remove all the plastic parts on the shopping cart, as its entire surface will get quite hot. Then, line the bottom with cookie sheets, adding steel flashing around the edges. Working along the interior surfaces at the side of the cart, line everything with steel lath to create a barrier that keeps the embers inside.
Build a lid for the cart using the steel lath and flashing, then secure it to the top with the hinges and hurricane ties. Once that is complete, your fire pit is ready to position in a safe area in your backyard.
A tree stump fire pit is a quick-and-easy project to complete using minimal materials. This project works with any size log, as long as it is small enough to create two interconnecting holes. To build this fire pit, prepare the tree stump by drilling a couple one-inch holes. The first hole should go down the center of the log from the top, reaching to about six inches from the ground. The second hole should go from the side of the log to the bottom of the first hole.
Then, place the log in a safe area far from any vegetation or structures. Light a piece of fatwood and push it into the hole on the side until the flame reaches the vertical hole. After that, put a few small pieces of kindling through the top, feeding the flame on the fatwood.
Before you know it, the inside of the log will start to burn, creating a fire that will last for an hour or more. To keep the fire going well into the night, prepare several logs like this and light the next when the previous one burns through.
If these ideas do not work for your home, consider dreaming up a custom design all your own. Build off the closest idea, and before you know it, the backyard fire pit of your dreams will quickly come into view.
Fire Pit Safety
Across all fire pit designs, there are some important safety considerations to remember. With these tips in mind, you can keep the fire contained and prevent structure damage, injuries, and other issues from ruining your fun. Here’s what you need to know.
Positioning Your Fire Pit
Permanent backyard fire pits should only be placed at least 25 feet away from any structures and vegetation. All bushes, sheds, and other combustible materials should be far enough away that sparks will not set them alight.
The recommended distance for portable fire pits is much shorter at 10 feet. But, always be prepared to put the fire out and move them if the sparks start to fly dangerously close to burnable items. Even grass can catch fire when dry, so keep that in mind as well when positioning and using the backyard fire pit.
Preparing Your Fire Pit
Since grass, leaves, and other vegetation carry a high risk of catching fire when exposed to sparks, it is important to rake everything away from the fire pit before using it. Bag up the materials or put them in the yard waste bin rather than leaving them in a pile to reduce the risk even further.
While using the fire pit with wood fuel, ash and debris can build up inside, reducing its depth. If the depth reaches less than six inches, embers could fly out even easier, so always remove this debris before lighting a fire. By keeping the fire pit more than six inches deep, the fire will be easier to keep contained and safe for everyone around it.
Lighting Your Fire pit
Since wind can easily carry embers across the backyard, never light a fire pit in windy conditions. Large embers can even stay alight long enough to land on structures normally far enough away and potentially cause extensive damage.
Portable fire pits can be moved to an area with a windbreak, if available. But remember to stay mindful of clearance issues when selecting a new location. In most cases, it is best to wait until the windy conditions are over to start enjoying the backyard fire pit once again.
Using Your Fire Pit
When using the fire pit, it is absolutely vital that it never gets left unattended. A set of eyes should remain on the fire pit at all times to ensure a prompt response time if anything goes awry. If lighting a fire on your own, have everything you need on hand, so there is no need to go inside once it gets going.
When using the fire pit with friends, it is not enough to just leave people by the fireside and head inside. Instead, designate someone as officially responsible for watching the fire and reporting any problems that arise. Let them know they cannot leave the fire unattended for any reason while you are gone. Then, make the trip inside or away from the fire as quick as possible, keeping it under your watchful gaze for the majority of the time.
Extinguishing Your Fire Pit
When it comes time to leave the fireside, the fire needs to be fully extinguished. To do so safely, keep the following best practices in mind. If there is time for putting out the fire slowly, spread out the ashes and let them cool for as long as possible. The ashes will remain hot for quite some time afterward, so use water to put them out fully before walking away.
It is best to have a bucket of water and shovel nearby at all times, just in case the fire needs to be put out quickly. In addition, a fire blanket and multi-purpose fire extinguisher are must-have items to keep on hand while using a backyard fire pit.
To put out a fire quickly, use the shovel to dig up dirt and pour it over the fire. You will need a significant amount of dirt to fully extinguish the flames and smother the coals. Once the dirt puts out most of the fire, carefully pour the bucket of water over the top while staying away from the hot steam as it rises.
Enjoy Your Fire Pit!
With the backyard fire pit built, seating thoughtfully arranged, and safety tips in mind, all that is left to do is light a fire and enjoy. A well-designed fire pit will create the perfect ambiance for storytelling or simply relaxing by the fire. And your attention to detail in building it with quality materials and excellent placement techniques will ensure it lasts for ages.