Texas Living

How to Safely Build a Fire Pit

By Peter Simek 10.4.17

There’s no feeling quite like the first coming of Texas fall, when the summer heat finally breaks, and the long cool evenings draw Texans out of the air conditioning and into their backyards. There are few better ways to enjoy the cool weather than cozying up with your friends and loved ones around a backyard fire pit you’ve made with your own hands.

Luckily, building a fire pit isn’t terribly difficult — or expensive. Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind to ensure you enjoy it safely.

Step 1: Plan Your Pit

Choosing the right location for a fire pit is key. Find an area away from overhanging trees and shrubbery. Make sure the ground is flat, and ensure plenty of distance — at least 10 but preferably 25 feet — from any structures or buildings. Also, double-check building codes to make sure your pit meets any local specifications or regulations.

Step 2: Gather Materials

One of the benefits of building your own fire pit is that you get to customize its look and design. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Fireproof materials, preferably stone — capstones, paver stones, or firebrick.
  • Gravel, cement, sand, and river rocks.
  • A stake, trowel, wheelbarrow, hand tamper, and shovel.
  • A tape measure and some string.

Step 3: Build the Pit

A simple and safe fire pit design consists of an outer stone wall set in a concrete base and an inner firebrick wall that will contain the fire. Here’s how to get it done:

  • Pound a rebar stake into the center location of your fire pit, and with a piece of string, measure and trace the circumference of the circle.
  • Dig out the base to a depth of 6 inches with a center circle of 12 inches.
  • Lay down your sand and pound the area flat.
  • Mix and pour the cement around the outer circle, flattening and smoothing it with a trowel.
  • Once you build the outer and inner walls, fill the center of the pit with a base of river rocks. These will allow for drainage and form a fire-resistant base for your pit.

Step 4: Enjoy the Pit

Check the wind direction. If it is too windy, don’t light your fire. If you’re good to go, start your fire:

  • Pine and cedar woods pop when burned and can spread more easily than oak, mesquite, and other wood.
  • Don’t use flammable liquids to start the fire; simply build a tepee of kindling around a fire-starter log you can purchase at the grocery store.
  • Don’t build the fire too high, and avoid burning garbage or paper products (which spark and spread easily).

Keep these safety tips in mind, too:

  • Always remove any flammable materials that may have fallen in or around the pit before you start a fire.
  • Use a wire mesh cover to keep embers from spreading and to keep kids and pets from falling in.
  • Don’t leave the pit unattended and don’t leave any pets or children near the pit.
  • Be careful and stay aware when wearing loose-fitting clothing around the pit.
  • Keep a garden hose, bucket of water, or better yet, a fire extinguisher within reach in case any embers do spread to the lawn.

Finally, wait for the first chilly autumn night and cozy up next to your new fire pit. Maybe even try out one of these campfire ghost stories.

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