How Not to Build a Fire Pit


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Building a fire pit is a fairly simple home project.  It involves some heavy lifting, but for the most part it can be done by a novice DIYer.

That is, of course, unless you’re me.

A fire pit is a fairly simple DIY project... unless you make it complicated. Here's how a 2 hour project can turn into massive undertaking.

I have a natural talent for taking small, simple projects and turning them into epic tasks that end with a trip to the chiropractor.

Last year we hosted a Christmas Bonfire & Carol Sing that was a huge hit.  I knew before the party was over that it would become an annual tradition.  I’m also a sucker for a nice fire.  There’s really nothing like the crackle and the mesmerizing flicker of the flames.

I got a small portable fire pit on sale on Black Friday from Target last year and that was fine… sort of.  It doesn’t allow for much of a bonfire though.  So this year I decided to build a semi-permanent (I didn’t glue the stones together so it can be taken apart if needed) fire pit off our deck.

Unlike the portable fire pits, you need to carefully think about where to put a permanent or semi-permanent fire pit before your start.  There are lots of things to consider.  Take a look at your available space.  You want to build your fire pit in a flat space with no trees within 10 feet and no tree branches directly overhead.

Our land is about 35% flat (ish) and 65% sloped.  Of course I wanted my fire pit in a spot with a very distinct slope.  That means digging.  A lot of digging.

Did I mention that this is New England, and our chief crop is rocks?  Scratch that.  Boulders.

And what was smack in the middle of where I wanted my fire pit?  You guessed it.  A boulder.  Time for plan B.

Except that I don’t do plan B.  I have a specific vision in my head and only that will do.  So, it’s time to improvise, adapt, overcome.  If Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, and all that crap.

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I moved the pit in a little, towards the deck.  But that’s not a good idea either.  The deck is made of wood and, worse still, attached to our house, which I’d like to avoid burning down if I can.  It was also a safety hazard because I guarantee some drunk fool would step off the deck and trip over the pit.  (For propriety’s sake I won’t say who I had in mind when that particular vision came to mind.)

I should also mention that, at this point, I still haven’t gotten Mr. O fully on board with this idea.  I tend to do that a lot.  Like when I completely redid our dining room while he was away.  That means that all this work is on me.

So, there I was with a sloped yard, giant boulder in the way, a deck in the way on the other side, and no help.  Awesome.

What’s a girl to do in this situation?

Make the project bigger!

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Yep, I decided that my original placement was perfect, sloped lawn be damned.  I picked up some cinder blocks and caps and started to build 2 retaining walls to level out the ~100 square feet of yard where my pit was to go.

Sounds simple enough, right?  Ummm… no.  Here’s what this process entails:

Digging a level trench for the walls, placing a securing very heavy stones so they line up perfectly not only with themselves, but also the other retaining wall.  Then the 100 square feet had to be degrassified (probably not the correct term) by digging up the grass, shaking out the dirt so we didn’t have to buy more, and removing the top layer of grass.  Then I had to dig up the left side and move the dirt to the right side so the ground was level, stomp the dirt down to compact it… lather, rinse, repeat.

Miss O helped, too

Miss O helped, too

Mind you, I hadn’t even started on the actual fire pit yet!

Once the ground was as level as it was going to get I built the pit.  This was far and away the easiest part.  I bought 20 garden wall blocks from Home Depot* placed them in a circle of 10 blocks, 2 blocks high and was done.  Easy-peasy, lemon squeezey.  In the spring we’ll add stones around the pit just so Mr. O doesn’t have to mow in there.

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Now all that’s left to do is kick back with a bottle of Aleve and a nice warm heating pad next to the crackling fire.

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One Response

  1. sharonspad1 November 27, 2015

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