What a week it’s been!
It probably comes as no surprise, but on any given week where I am relatively quiet with posting, it means I’m juggling a lot of other things on the backend side of things. This week, I’ve been 1) lining up sponsors for a BIG overhaul in the back yard (I am already writing the part 1 of that and you might have seen peeks on social shares); 2) working on a wedding gift for a friend (I’ll post about that after the wedding); and 2) moving this blog to a new provider. The latter of which is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, but since it increases my site maintenance expenses considerably, I put it off until I had enough time to research who to switch to (so I only wanted to do it once!). Hopefully, it will lead to a major upgrade in speed and performance (it will take a little while to work the kinks out, but that’s the plan!).
Anyyyyyyway… the main point of this post today is to show off something new to the back yard: my new fire pit!
I know, I know… this is the third fire pit I’ve had in the back yard over the years, but unlike my previous ones, this one isn’t going anywhere. It’s all official with stones and landscaping fabric and everything (I still have more to do, thus the “part 1”). The first one I ever did was in a spot almost identical to this, but it eventually got covered over and went unused (it was more or less just a hole dug in the same spot as an old water fountain from when I moved in). If you haven’t seen that post yet (here), it’s a real classic, but it had a later follow up when Dad almost lit my whole yard on fire. Understandably, it wasn’t really a big hit with me after that.
The second was deliberately temporary in another spot in the yard. I’d done a lot of leveling and filling in of the whole yard and found a spot that was still too high (if you don’t remember the sink hole, the backhoe, etc., check out parts 1, 2, and 3 of that series). The purpose of it was meant to help burn out some stumps that still remained after removing several pine trees (the stumps had been ground down, but once I leveled out the yard, thick tree roots and big chunks that had been missed still remained under the dirt and were then unearthed). It was effective and gave me some great topsoil after a while, but I was never convinced it was going to be the final spot.
But now, the yard is filling in more, grass started to grow, and I’ve had “outdoor entertainment space” ideas buzzing in my head for years. It’s time to let some of these projects finally come to fruition. And so, I started building out my fire pit.
Some links in this post could be affiliates, which just means I make a few cents here and there from recommending the products I used (products linked either are the exact product or similar
How to Build a Large Fire Pit
One of the biggest hurdles I dealt with in this project was its size. Not only did I want a place where lots of friends could gather around, but it had to be large and functional enough to still burn brush and all of the things I have used my fire pits for in the past. I looked at lots of tutorials online, but most of them are for tinier backyard designs… aka, more backyard decor and less “yard maintenance” types of fire pits. I wanted both. Your standard, run-of-the-mill fire pit kit wasn’t going to cut it for me, because it would have been way too small. When all is said and done, this pit comes to about 1 1/2 to 2 times the size of those kits (spans about 6 feet total, including the stones). Since most fire pit stones are designed to fit snuggly in a smaller circle, mine would be a bit looser to accommodate the larger ring. The stones’ exterior still all touches to look put together, but the interior clearly shows the gaps from having to position it this way because I had wider angles (this will be covered up in a later post, so I’ll show you how I’m doing that too). But before I get too long-winded (too late), here are all the details on how it came together!
Items You’ll Need:
- retaining wall stones (or other landscaping stones of your choice)
- construction/masonry adhesive
- caulk gun
- level(s) (one to span the width and a smaller one to level stone by stone)
- landscaping fabric
- landscaping border
- landscape pins
- paver sand (optional)
- rebar and mallet (optional)
1. Lay out and dry fit the first ring of stones.
I had already dug a portion out of the yard where I wanted the new pit to be and burned some brush in the spot (both because I still needed a place to do yard maintenance and to get a full picture in my mind of whether this spot was the right one for the new pit). Then, I measured the diameter of the hole and did a little math while at the home improvement store to get the right number of stones (I needed 16). Basic geometry is important for this project, but thankfully Google has me covered with instant calculators for such things. With the size figured out and stones purchased, I laid them all out in a ring as a dry fit.
2. Level the first layer of stones.
I had done a lot of leveling of the yard in general prior to this, but it still isn’t 100% flat and even (in fact, I deliberately still kept a small slope to the yard that I originally had so that rainwater would continue to flow back and out of the yard as before… no puddles!). To make the fire pit, I still needed to first make a fully flat surface. I used my longest level (4 feet), but since it didn’t span the whole width of the pit, I used a straight piece of lumber and moved it around the circle, 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 ones on either side so that there were no ridges to cause wobbling with the next later (important when you’re laying stones that rest on the edge of another stone). The digging took a while, but trust me: it’s worth it to have your fire pit leveled out as much as possible right from the start (I’ll show you why later).
3. Fill in (optional) and start gluing the next layer of stones.
Once I had all of the first layer in place there I wanted, I filled in the lowest layer with paver sand. It was one of the things recommended from one of the tutorials I read for hollow retaining wall stones (you obviously don’t need it if the stones are solid), but it’s more or less just a stabilizing agent (gravel was also suggested as an alternative). I could take it or leave it, honestly, because while it did seem to make the stones less likely to move around, it made things a little tougher when it came to gluing on the next layer (adhesive no likey sand). I brushed off excess with a thick old paint brush and it all worked out though. The adhesive is really strong once it cures!
4. Glue and finish all 3 layers.
As you can see, the first layer lines up with the third as far as stone placement, while the middle layer is laid out to divide the above/below stones in half (called 1/2 bonding, or running bond). I chose to skip the sand for the next two layers because I was also planning on adding rebar and filling in the stones later (with the gaps between the stones, the sand would have just fallen out).
5. Add landscaping fabric around the outside.
I wasn’t quite ready to add the final layer (stone caps that would hide the hollow look of the stones), but I took the time around this point to start laying out landscaping fabric and figuring out how big of an area I would want to lay out gravel for seating.
6. Add rebar for reinforcement (optional).
While tutorials I found didn’t really mention it, I decided to add some extra reinforcements similar to how one would with a retaining wall by forcing a few pieces of rebar into the stones and ground (a mallet made quick work of this). I mainly decided to do this because the fire pit was larger than most kits and because I also dug into the ground for the pit itself (the fire pit is technically both above and slightly below ground), so I just wanted to make sure everything was nice and solid (and yes, I know that the rebar isn’t in the narrower hole area where you would think to put rebar, but that spot wouldn’t have worked because that’s where the stone in the layer beneath is lying).
7. Add stone caps.
The hollow stones were easy to move around, but they aren’t the prettiest when it came to the final look, so I added some thin stone caps on top to finish things off.
8. Finish the landscaping fabric and edging.
I’ve been using a flexible edging material lately and it’s 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 spikes to keep it in place). For the landscaping fabric, I used landscape pins to hold the fabric flat (as one reader has previously mentioned, you can DIY your own with wire hangers, but I had a whole bag of these already so this was a great way to use them).
And here’s where we’re at! I still have to work out a few things, such as adding in some gravel and making extra seating, but this picture also shows why I wanted to re-emphasize how important it is to level out the entire project. As you can see in the photo above, there’s one spot in the stones that didn’t match up perfectly, and it didn’t present itself until the very last layer! As you can imagine, this frustrated me to no end (I was so careful!). But to be fair, misalignment can just as easily happen if the stones themselves have an accidental ridge or flaw (such as if the mold that forms them didn’t get leveled out, etc.). It’s not the end of the world though, because I have an angle grinder that can grind away any imperfections (I’ll show you how to do that separately). I have also already had people over to see if they would notice (it looks far less pronounced when you’re standing around the pit in person), and after pushing them to look for flaws, they then pointed it out. I’m only adding that info because it’s easy to get really invested in the imperfections of a project but most people won’t actually notice these things (they’ll be far more interested in enjoying the space than trying to nitpick).
Next up, I have to fill a truck bed with about a half ton of gravel and get it spread out. Oof. But I’ll be thrilled when it’s all finished, including a few more things:
- part 2 of the fire pit (gravel, fireproofing, fixing that stone)
- the pub shed project (yes, pub shed… there will be no “she shed” crap in this house!)
- mulching and fertilizing everything for fall (finalizing pretty things in the yard = more maintenance)
- grass maintenance
- removing the chain link fence (it’s finally happening!)
- planning out the new deck area and patio upgrade
So many new changes will be happening back here, and I’m so excited! Have you been working on any summer/fall outdoor projects?