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It’s been a crazy week, but as part of the big overhaul of my backyard, I’ve been working on another space for entertaining. What surprised me though is just how straightforward the entire process is and how much coziness it adds.
Not My First Fire Pit Build
So, you may be thinking, “I swear she’s built a fire pit before.” And yes, you’re right. This project is actually the third I’ve had in the backyard over the years, but the first two were meant to be convenient and temporary.
The first DIY fire pit I ever built in my backyard was in a spot almost identical to this, but it eventually got covered over and went unused (the previous owners had an old water fountain there). No one was about to have a couple drinks or roast marshmallows around that.
The purpose of my second simple backyard fire pit was to burn out some remaining stumps after removing several pine trees. The stumps were ground down, but once I leveled out the yard, I unearthed the remaining thick tree roots and big chunks. This “controlled” backyard brush fire was effective and gave me great topsoil after a while, but it wasn’t the right place for something more permanent.
After a lot of other landscaping work, the yard finally looks inviting, there’s grass(!!!), and I’m more than ready for an adult outdoor entertainment space. Enough chit chat, though…
How to Build a Multipurpose Fire Pit
Not only did I want a place where lots of friends could gather, but it had to be large enough to burn yard waste. Basically, I wanted function that was aesthetically pleasing. Let’s get to work!
Items You’ll Need:
- Retaining wall stones (or other landscaping stones, cinder blocks, etc. )
- Construction/masonry adhesive
- Caulk gun
- Level(s) (one to span the width and a smaller one to level stone by stone)
- Heavy-duty yard gloves
- Landscaping fabric
- Landscaping border
- Landscape pins
- Paver sand (optional)
- Rebar and rubber mallet (optional)
1. Lay Out and Dry Fit the First Row of Stones
Something to consider is drainage; you don’t want water pooling or washing out your gravel. Once I’d settled on the ideal spot and cleaned out any brush, I dug out a hole until I was happy with the diameter. Some quick Google math told me I’d need 16 of my chosen stones. Once home, I dry fit the outer edge just to be sure I was happy with the size.
2. Level the First Layer of Stones
This is inportant to know that the entire pit stays level as you build! Before I started laying my retaining wall blocks, I needed to create a completely flat surface. I used my longest level (4 feet), but since my edged circle was 6 feet, I used a straight piece of lumber and placed the level on otp. I moved it around the outline as I went, digging out higher points so the stones would all lay level with the stone on the opposite side of the pit.
I also used a smaller level to make sure each stone was level with the next. This ensures there would be no wobbling within the second row. The digging took a while, but it’s worth getting the ground leveled out as much as possible right from the start.
3. Fill in the Stones with Sand (Optional) and Start Gluing the Next Layer of Stones
Once I had all of the first layers of stones in the place where I wanted, I filled in the first row of blocks with paver sand (you don’t need it if the stones are solid, or if you’re using bricks). The sand is more or less a stabilizing agent. You could use a few inches of gravel if you don’t want to mess with sand.
After putting in the sand, I realized filling the blocks wasn’t a crucial step. While the sand did seem to make the stones less likely to move around, it made gluing on the next layer a little tougher (construction adhesive doesn’t play well with sand). I brushed off any excess paving sand with a thick old paintbrush, and it all worked out.
4. Glue and Finish All Your Layers of Stones
As you can see, the first layer of stones lines up with the third as far as stone placement, while the middle layer divides the above/below stones in half. This style of stone laying is called half-bonding, or a running bond.
I chose to skip the sand for the next two layers of stones because I was also planning on adding rebar later. Plus, the sand would fall out of the gaps between the stones. No need to waste money and make more of a mess.
5. Add Landscaping Fabric
Now that I’d put down the third row of stones, I wanted to give the stones and adhesive time to settle. I started laying out landscaping fabric around the fire pit walls, which gave me a pretty good idea of how big of an area I needed for seating.
6. (Optional) Add Rebar for Reinforcement
While most of the tutorials I found didn’t mention rebar, I decided to add extra reinforcement. I looked at it like building a stone retaining wall in the yard versus something I would want to relocate, and forced a few pieces of rebar into the stones and ground. A mallet made quick work of pounding in the rebar to the ground.
Since my pit is technically an above-ground and a (slightly) below-ground fire pit, I wanted to get the stones nice and solid. (Note: Usually you’d put the rebar in the narrower hole, but that spot wouldn’t work because of the half-bonding layout of the stones.)
7. Add Stone Caps
Now that my everything was pretty solid and stable, it was time add cap stones. While the hollow stones are functional and easy to move around, they aren’t the prettiest. Remember, going for function AND form here! I added thin stone caps as the top layer to finish make things more aesthetically pleasing.
8. Finish the Landscaping Fabric and Edging
I’ve been using a flexible edging material lately for landscaping. This material is fantastic for getting a nice crisp edge without a lot of work; it’s plastic and bendable, but also really solid once you hammer in the yard stakes to keep it in place.
For the landscaping fabric, I used metal landscape pins to hold the fabric flat. One reader suggested DIY-ing my own with wire hangers, but I had a whole bag of these on hand already, so this was a great way to use them up.
Crazy improvement, right?
I still need to add in gravel (you can add pebbles or lava rocks if that’s more your jam), an inner row of fire brick, and create extra seating, but the fire pit itself is complete! The picture also re-emphasizes how important it is to level out the entire project as go. Can you see that one spot in the stones that didn’t match up perfectly? It didn’t present itself until the very last layer and frustrated me to no end!
Misalignment can just as easily happen if the stones have any ridge or flaw from production. It’s not the end of the world, though, because I have an angle grinder to grind away any imperfections.
I’ve already had people over to see if they notice the misalignment. It looks far less pronounced when you’re standing around the pit in person, and after pushing them to look for flaws, they were able to point it out. It’s easy to get bothered in the imperfections of a project, but most people won’t notice.
I’ll be thrilled when it’s all finished, including a few more backyard improvement projects:
- Gravel, fireproofing, and fixing the wonky stone
- The pub shed project (yes, pubshed… there will be no “she shed” crap at this house!)
- Mulching and fertilizing everything for fall (finalizing the yard = more maintenance)
- Grass maintenance
- Removing the chain link fence (it’s finally happening!)
- Planning out the new deck area and patio upgrade
But first, I plan to kick back and enjoy my brand new large fire pit and beautiful backyard! It’s the perfect gathering spot for yard parties and get-togethers with friends. I can’t wait to entertain in my own backyard space!
So many new changes are happening back here, and I’m so excited! Are you working on any summer/fall outdoor projects?