Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Build an Inground Backyard Fire Pit

Our fire pit
I love a good campfire.  I love the sound and smell of the crackling wood, the feel at the border of cold and warm that defines a fire pit's circle of warmth,  the rainbow of colors in the flames.   It's all good.
As a child, I enjoyed camp fires during family camping trips.  Back then, a camp fire meant roasting hot dogs, marshmallows and HOBO pies.  During my late-teen and early twenties, camp fires were standard fare at field parties or football game pep rallies.  It was not until I met my husband that I ever thought of actually owning a fire pit, let alone building my own.  I've owned three types through the years.  Most recently, we built our own inground fire pit.  Keep reading to learn more and pick up a few tips if you decide to build your own fire pit as well.

An Outdoor Fireplace:  When our kids were young, we signed a one-year lease on a tiny, rustic cabin in the GA mountains.  It served as our weekend getaway - a place to introduce our kids to nature, the seasons, and the joys of the outdoors.  This is when we purchased our first fire pit - a portable outdoor fireplace:
We used a portable outdoor fireplace in front of our cabin.
This fireplace came in very handy throughout the winter months - it gets really cold up in the north GA mountains, and that cabin was rustic - not at all insulated.  Our portable outdoor fireplace was ideal for our situation because it not only contained the fire in a well-ventilated (yet enclosed) area, but it also protected our curious little ones from burns.  We could start up a fire in no time, enjoy roasting marshmallows, etc. and still easily and quickly put the fire out when it was time to go in for bed.

Semi-Portable Fire Pit:  When we moved to the coast, we bought an outdoor fire pit for our backyard.  Sometimes called an outdoor fire bowl, the outdoor fire pit kept flames contained, but had a much more open feeling.  The circumference of our fire bowl was much larger than the smaller fireplace we used previously, which meant more people could gather around and enjoy the ambiance.
Backyard fire bowl in Savannah
Savannah weather is nowhere near as chilly in the winter as north GA, but the fire pit still got a ton of  use.  For the three-four weeks of winter-like temperatures, the fire pit was useful for keeping warm while outside.  Other times of the year, the fire pit was ideal for keeping the bugs away - gnats and mosquitoes hate the fire.  So, if we wanted to enjoy a bug-free evening in our backyard, we built a fire in the pit.  Form and function at its best.

Inground Fire Pit:  When we moved back to north GA, we were happy to learn that our new backyard had an area already defined for a fire pit - the previous owners used the are for their chiminea.
Area defined  for a Fire Pit
We decided to build our own fire pit this time around - to blend with the natural backyard setting.  We knew finding rocks would be no problem.  Why?  Anyone who has ever tried to dig a hole in Atlanta soil knows that it is full of granite rocks.  And, if you drive near any new construction site (roads, neighborhoods), crews often allow you to haul the unearthed rocks away for free.  Lucky for us, a new intersection was going in near our neighborhood and my husband was able to acquire enough rocks for our fire pit - free of charge!  We purchased a couple bags of Quickrete and set to work.  The project was completed in a few hours and, while somewhat messy, was super easy to complete.

How to build a Backyard Fire Pit:
There are several online tutorials for building above-ground and inground fire pits.  We reviewed several to be sure we did not miss anything important.  I'll give you the highlights here:
  • Determine fire pit location:  Our backyard already had a designated area, away from the house, where the previous homeowners used their chiminea.  We knew this would be our fire pit location, so we simply trimmed the surrounding trees to ensure that no open flame or sparks would reach low-hanging branches.  We opted to place the fire pit at opposite end of the designated area as well - for better flow.
Choose location.
  • Determine fire pit dimensions:  When we retired our SAV fire pit, we kept the cover and grate for future use.  We used the cover to determine the size of our inground fire pit.  My husband dry fit some rocks to make sure the dimensions were what we wanted, and to determine which rocks would be the top layer:
Dry fit rocks around re purposed fire pit cover.
  • Prepare the Ground:  We dug down approximately one foot into the ground.  Then, we placed a layer of gravel and the old fire pit's grate to provide proper drainage.  
Dig at least 12-inches into the ground.
  • Set the Rocks:  We were aiming for a naturalized look.  We opted to leave the rocks as is - all covered in GA clay - and set them using Quickcrete.  The ground slopes slightly at the site of the fire pit, so we built up the far side by one or two rows to make the top appear even.  And, we ensured that the entire structure was level.
Build up height and maintain level.
Allow Structure to Cure:  We allowed the fire pit to cure for a few days before  its inauguration.
Starting a fire with kindling and pine cones.
Build a Campfire:  Then, we just gathered some kindling and logs, a barbeque lighter and enjoyed a beautiful backyard campfire.
Inaugural fire - Perfect!
Our wooded lot provides lots of kindling and logs, and we keep a container of pine cones nearby.  If I sense we're getting low, I simply get the kids involved - a penny per pine cone makes us all happy.
Firewood and kindling collected from the yard
Does it get any easier?  A natural-looking in ground fire pit completed in just a couple hours.  We've been using the fire pit for just over a year now and love it!  While it is not the north GA mountains, the crackling wood and smell of a campfire brings the memories right back.

1 comment:

  1. It really is natural-looking! I like how it looks a lot like the fire places used by primitive men back in the nomadic days. I love the inaugural fire, by the way! I wonder why we didn’t do that. ;) -->Cathy