How to Make a Bonfire Pit in Your Backyard

Bill Taylor
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Step 1: Do Your Homework

The first thing you'll need to do is find out what the laws and regulations are in your area regarding bonfires and burning. Do you have to stay in your own property? Do you need a burn permit? Are there any other laws in effect that could affect your plans, such as restrictions on the type of wood used, where the fire can be located or how long it can burn?

By understanding your city or township's rules and regulations, you can avoid conflicts and fines.

If you prefer to have a bonfire with food and drink while seated around the fire pit, the brick paver is the ideal choice.

If you prefer your fire pit to contain metal rings or a grill, you can go with the metal paver.

For safety reasons, the brick paver is recommended over the metal paver.

Brick pavers for the fire pit may be purchased at brickyards, hardware stores and other home centers.

The size of the pavers may vary from as small as a few inches to two feet, or even larger, depending on your taste and the area you are working with.

The paver itself is manufactured with the same dimensions that other patio pavers are made with.

Step 2: Find a Location for Your Bonfire Pit

Here is where to place it:

  • Keep it away from trees in a clear area.
  • Check for existing fire pits beneath tree roots.
  • Avoid wet, slippery areas.
  • Avoid sandy soil that will not support weight or piles of wood.

Considerations:

  • Consider how you will keep the bonfire going during heavy rains.
  • Make sure you have enough oxygen, there should always be enough air flow for enough oxygen to feed the fire.
  • This may require you to remove enough material to open the pit so that ventilation will be satisfactory.
  • Leave enough room around the bonfire for comfort. Make the embers and fires last so you don't spend all of your time feeding and maintaining the fire. You have better things to do with your time!
  • Clean up after your bonfire, you are the one that invited your guests after all!

What, you don't want to make a fire from scratch? No one said you had to. If you are tiring of making fires from scratch, there is a product that you should look into that is both reusable and affordable.

Step 3: Decide on a Design

The design can be as simple as a ring of stones or as detailed as a custom stone project. You can take inspiration from a number of designs:

Contemporary fire pits are typically square or round, with an integrated grill, stainless steel or copper.

The fire pit is a great way to create a memory-filled gathering place for people to enjoy. Bring the outdoors in; picture everyone gathered together around a fire pit. Adding one to your backyard can be as easy as digging a pit, which will serve decorative and functional purposes. Your fire pit should be different than the other pits in your yard because when you bring fire into the mix, it becomes more than just the center of attention. It provides warmth for your body and soul.

Now that you know what type of pit you want, the next thing to consider is the size. The fact that it is in your backyard and you can do whatever you want with it means that you should not feel restricted in size. For example, if you have a small yard you can still have a smaller pit; it’s up to you. Simply understanding how many people are going to be using the pit more often than not is the best place to start.

Other things to consider is the distance from the house. Getting too close may pose a risk of fire.

A larger design is more expensive and usually requires more dirt to fill in around it.

Step 4: Gather Your Tools and Supplies

So now that you have got your plan in place, it’s time to get your supplies and start the process.

As we mentioned in step 3 you will need to gather the necessary tools, supplies & equipment to get the job done properly. At this stage, you want to stock up on the necessary tools and equipment to set up your bonfire pit the right way.

Below is a list of all you need to create a bonfire pit in your backyard:

  • Sledgehammer
  • Hammer and/or Crowbar
  • Spade
  • A shovel will be ideal
  • A wheelbarrow and shovels to help move the rocks
  • Plastic tarps to place the rocks and soil you will be moving
  • A volume container to measure the soil
  • Concrete Screws
  • Wire Braces
  • Wire Cutters
  • Wire Nuts
  • Choose a Bonfire Pit Location

The bonfire pit location should be close to a water source with a water pipe so that you can water it easily.

It is also important to choose a location that your bonfire pit is on the same level as your home. That way you are not carrying hot embers from the fire into your home.

The final location should be relatively flat with room for guests to gather.

Step 5: Get the Site Ready

This step has several subsections to it. First, clear away any rocks and other debris from the area. Set aside the rocks, as they will be used later.

Nearby trees should be cleared of dead brush. The trees should be at least 20 feet away from the pit.

Next, dig a hole and make sure it is at least two feet deep. Level it out with the level. You don’t want to burn or cut yourself in any way, so the pit must be completely smooth.

Make sure you lay all rocks and stones on your work table as they will be used in the next step.

You may also want to test burn your pit by placing a small pile of firewood in the pit before the final layer of stones. You will have to adjust the pit’s size if this is a possibility for you.

Step 6: Prepare the Base

The next step in building the bonfire pit is preparing the base. You are going to want the center of the hole to be at least a foot wider than the diameter of the ring of stones you will be placing around the edges of the pit. This will have a twofold purpose in supporting the rock ring while also allowing enough room for the wood to burn.

It is important that you make sure the ground and soil is level as possible. There are a number of ways to do this. You can use landscaping blocks and rake dirt to make a level surface. Another method to level the ground is to lay down railroad ties to create a level base for the fire pit and then fill it with dirt.

The last step to preparing the base is to cover it with a gravel blanket. The thickness of the gravel depends on the size of the stones you will be using and the size of the fire pit. You want to make sure that the rocks will not fall through the gravel or too much dirt will erode and fall into the pit during rain storms.

For a good layer of protection, cover the gravel with a layer of sand at least 1 inch thick.

Step 7: Lay Down the First Level

The top of the root wad is where you want to place the first layer of the fireplace. It should be at least 24" deep if you are using the root structure, so that there is enough room to start building your square fireplace on top of the natural shape.

Make the first layer out of rocks. There should be plenty available from your backyard. Get a variety of different sizes, then start building up. Line them up until there are 12 tiers.

Build up a second layer that is a little smaller than the first. It should be about 18" in width. Place a piece of scrap wood across the top.

Dark colored rocks like gray lava rock work best for the fireplace, because they absorb the heat better, but you can use light colored rocks if that is what you have available.

Continue layering rocks, until the rocks are about 1–2" thick. If you are using cement blocks, use them as the base. They should work just as well.

Step 8: Continue with the Chosen Number of Layers

At this point, the trench should be 3 to 4 feet deep and wide enough to accommodate 4 to 6 logs on edge. If you want to increase the size of the fire pit, just keep layering with new soil and charcoal.

Step 9: Put the Bowl Insert in Place (Optional)

This is the point where you can decide whether or not you want to add a bowl insert to your pit. These can be used to keep the fire from blowing out of the pit or to keep it from spreading out too much. You can also use it to build a fire in your fire pit for cooking. You can purchase metal bowl inserts, but if you're handy, you can also make your own from heavy-duty tin cans.

Dig a hole in your stones that you think will work well with the bowl insert so that it doesn't fall through in the event of an earthquake. You want the bowl to be small enough that it's sturdy, but large enough to hold a decent size fire.

Drill some holes in the bottom of your short tin can (about the size of a coffee can lid) and set it inside the hole in the stones. This is where your fire will go, but the holes will make sure that it doesn't fall through. If you want a larger hole, you can use a larger can with a lid. Just dig a deep enough hole to accommodate it.

Step 10: Fill it Up (Optional)

Next, you can add the final layer: the wood. Put a ring of hardwood around the pile and place a piece of plywood on top to protect the ground from the heat and to serve as a working surface to add the wood on. Build a fire with the materials you gathered on top of the wood already in the pit. Pour your fuel on top of the wood, not into the pit itself.

Start your fire like you would normally, with a match or lighter. Make sure your fuel can is stored a safe distance away and behind a barrier so it cannot be knocked over by the wind. A can full of gasoline is not something you want inside your fire pit.

Take good care not to lean over the pit when you’re building your fire. Make sure you have water near by and a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket nearby. Be sure to refresh the water as needed. When you’re using pressure treated lumber, make sure to have a garden hose nearby just in case. After all, the chemicals used on the wood don’t disappear when they’re burned, they just change form.

Step 11: Give it a Rest

Take a break at this stage. Make the fire it in a big fire pit and let it burn down to smouldering coals, and just enjoy the warmth. This is when the firefighters would take a break too. No need to keep poking at the fire. I like to have some friends over on this stage and enjoy the fire pit. It has to be low enough that you can sit around the fire pit.

It's good to start the party! Some of the young mothers in my neighborhood are a bit over-protective. Sometimes I run into them at the market or at the gas station and they ask me where my kids are. I tell them I'm having a bonfire in the backyard and they just give me a dirty look. Well, they don't have to be there!

Final Thoughts

Sterilize your fire pit before you use it the first time by boiling water and pouring it into it. The water will evaporate, leaving the pit sterilized. When you're ready to use your new fire pit, just place the fire basket into the fire pit and light it up.

Fire pits are fun to have and they make great additions to any party in your backyard. You can even make s'mores with them!

Be safe and have fun!