I started getting requests for brick fire pits a few years ago. It isn’t rocket science, but there are a few tricks to doing the job right. A well-built masonry fire pit is rock solid, safe to use, and will easily last for as long as you own your house.

Building a fire pit is an easy enough project that even a homeowner with no masonry experience can make one in a weekend. Add beauty and equity to a home with this simple, satisfying project.

It’s a really simple procedure to lay out, and while it does require some muscle to finish, it’s well worth a little of cardio. Ready to build your own outdoor campfires (while also getting a good arm workout)?

Let’s get started!

How to Build a Fire Pit

So the first step in constructing any fire pit is to check local rules regarding open flames. The pit should be placed away from overhanging trees, the home, and any other combustible structures. If you are unsure, contact your local fire department).

Making Plans for a Custom Fire Pit

We created our fire pit on the grass out of ordinary retaining wall stones coated with clay fire bricks, but you could also build it on a patio. Rectangular blocks make it simple to alter the pattern to the size that best suits your concept. Using different styles of blocks may help modify the appearance of your fire pit.

Step One: Where to Put the Fire Pit

A fire pit can be located near the house or in a secluded corner of the backyard. Be sure to take into consideration local building codes before deciding on placement. Some cities place restrictions on setbacks from property lines and distances from structures.

You should create your pit at least 10 feet away from any structures, trees, fences, or other obstacles.

Once the location is set, use landscaping spray paint (available from any home improvement store) to draw an outline of the proposed fire pit and seating wall. The edge of the seating wall should be approximately three feet from the closest (outside) edge of the fire pit.

Step Two: the Foundation

Dig out a shallow foundation, following the spray-painted lines on the ground. Mix concrete and pour into the foundation, making sure that the foundation is level.

For starters, it keeps the embers of a blazing fire from jumping out of your fire pit. It also prevents the wind from getting too strong. Both for starting and for keeping smoke out of your eyes.

However, burying your fire pit in the ground helps to insulate it. This results in a somewhat slower burn of the wood and more uniform heat distribution over the fire. This is ideal not just for relaxing around the fire, but also for cooking.

A fire pit should be built low to the ground, with walls no higher than a foot above the ground. However, for stability, the wall’s foundation must be sunk below ground in a gravel-lined pit, giving drainage and protection from frost heaves in the winter.

The gravel also acts as a leveling agent for the stones. Most concrete blocks are approximately 4 inches high, so if the first course and a half are underground and two and a half courses are above ground with a cap on top, you’ll finish up with a foot-high wall—perfect for resting your feet on while reclining in an outside chair.

Step Three: Build the Basic Structures

The inner wall must be built of fireproof construction materials, preferably fire brick; the exterior walls must be heat-resistant but can be formed of typical brick, stone, masonry blocks (brick, concrete, granite, etc.), concrete pavers, or even heat-resistant outdoor stucco or tile.

Flagstone is an excellent choice for the fire pit cap. No component of the fire pit should be built of combustible materials (e.g., plywood shipping pallets) or non-porous materials that hold water, such as pea gravel, river pebbles, or compressed concrete blocks, since they might trap steam and eventually explode.

Lining the innermost wall of a fire pit with a steel fire ring (available on Amazon from brands such as Sunnydaze Decor) can keep the wall material from drying out due to constant exposure to the heat of the fire.

Steel, being a non-combustible material, will deflect heat and prevent the wall from prematurely drying and cracking, preserving the appearance and structural integrity of your fire pit for a longer period of time.

Step Four: Finishing Touches

Finish the vertical surfaces. Stucco is an appealing option, and goes on quickly. Stacked stone veneer is another very popular choice right now, and gives a high-end look. Choose a finish to suit the style of the rest of the landscaping. See figure four, below.

Cap the seating wall and fire pit. Natural stone like flagstone is heavy and a little tricky, but very attractive and luxurious. Use cardboard to trace a template for the desired piece of stone, and use an angle grinder with a masonry blade to cut the stone to shape. See figure three, below. Alternatively, custom concrete caps can be purchased to fit the project.

Variations

  • Shape. Fire pits can be made in any shape. Choose a shape that suits the aesthetics of the rest of the yard and have fun with the design.
  • Height. Fire pits work best when they’re no taller than approximately 12” tall. Some wind-break is desirable, but the higher the fire pit is, the less air gets to the fire. A fire will burn better with a lower wall.
  • Fuel. These directions are for a wood-burning fire pit, but are easily adaptable to gas. Consult with a licensed plumber.

Do’s and Don’ts of Building a Firepit

Build the most appealing, useful, and safe fire pit available by considering various dos and don’ts of fire pit construction. 

Don’t construct a fire pit without first obtaining permission from the appropriate authorities.

Due to the risk of fire-related property damage, your local government, homeowners’ association, and house title may put limits on the size, location, material, and type of fuel of residential fire pits, or outright prohibit them. You may be punished if your fire pit violates these guidelines. Contact your municipality’s planning office and homeowner’s association, as well as study your house’s deed, to verify that you comply with any regulations and acquire any permits needed for fire pit construction.

When deciding on the size of a fire pit, keep accessibility in mind.

When you build your own fire pit, you may choose every feature, including the size. Allowing for local restrictions, your fire pit should preferably be 36 to 44 inches broad (such as the width of the walls) to support numerous people while retaining an intimate environment. If you want visitors to be able to rest their feet on it while seated around it on typical 18-inch-tall, dining-height patio chairs, opt for a fire pit height of 12 to 14 inches from the bottom of the walls to the top of the walls. If you wish to be able to sit right on the edge of the pit, raise the pit height to 18 to 20 inches.

Don’t use highly combustible or non-porous water-resistant building materials.

Fire pits often include an inner and outer wall, a “cap” (a flat tabletop-like surface surrounding the entrance at the top of the pit), and ornamental stones, pavers, or glass as the pit’s foundation. The inner wall must be built of fireproof construction materials, preferably fire brick; the exterior walls must be heat-resistant but can be formed of typical brick, stone, masonry blocks (brick, stone, marble, etc.), concrete pavers, or even heat-resistant outdoor stucco or tile. Flagstone is an excellent choice for the fire pit cap. No component of the fire pit should be built of combustible materials (e.g., plywood shipping pallets) or non-porous materials that hold water, such as pea gravel, river pebbles, or compressed concrete blocks, since they might trap steam and eventually explode.

If you don’t have a lot of areas, don’t create a permanent fire pit.

When your backyard is small, you might choose to build a movable fire pit instead of a permanent one. Take the pit out of the garage or storage shed, for example, when the gang is all around and s’mores are on the menu. When it comes time to roughhouse with Fido in the little yard, on the other hand, you’ll be relieved not to have to traverse a large—and perhaps dangerous—obstacle.

Another reason to go for a moveable fire pit is its flexibility to be moved and rearranged as needed. Maybe you’d want to hold a neighborhood party one weekend, with the fire pit on display in the driveway to entice and welcome people. At other times, you may choose a more intimate meeting with immediate relatives, in which case a pleasant area in the garden is preferable. These alternatives are made available by having a movable pit.

Buy Fire Safety Equipment

If you decide to create a fire pit, keep a fire blanket (a fire-retardant sheet generally made of fiberglass or Kevlar, available on Amazon from companies like Tonkyo) nearby to assist smother a raging fire.

Likewise, have a fire extinguisher close in an outside grill cabinet, shed, or carport. The extinguisher must be a multifunctional dry chemical type that can efficiently extinguish Class A (combustibles), Class B (flammable liquids), and Class C (electrical) fires. When using a metal fire poker, you should wear a grill glove since it can become heated if left very close to the fire.

Frequently Asked Questions About Building a Fire Pit

What to put in the bottom of a fire pit?

For your fire pit, start with a layer of sand at the bottom of the pit and then cover it with gravel, lava rocks, fire pit glass, paving stones, or even bricks. Alternatively, you could just use dirt.

What is the best way to prepare the ground for a fire pit?

Remove all grass and plant stuff. Excavate about 8 inches of soil, making that the pit’s bottom is level and the soil is firm.

Is it possible to construct a fire pit out of dirt?

Yes, you can construct a fire pit out of the soil. Check that the dirt is compacted and level.

Conclusion

A fire pit is just one element of a beautiful backyard. Consider an outdoor kitchen to compliment the new entertainment area, or a raised garden bed. All are projects entirely within reach of the average do-it-yourself.