How to Build a Fire Pit

A man and a woman sit at a fire pit.

Building a fire pit is a satisfying and straightforward DIY project that any homeowner can tackle. It’s a wonderful way to bring friends and family together outdoors — and a way to put down the smartphones in exchange for s'mores.

Step 1 - Pick a Location

First things first, decide where you want your future fire pit to go. Aesthetic considerations must be balanced with environmental: make sure there is an overhead clearance for the fire’s flame — you don’t want to burn any tree branches or overhanging structures. Next, consider the space needed for the pit, as well as the people, chairs, benches etc. that you would like to host. Play around with this a little by setting up your seating and then decide on the circumference of your fire pit area.

Step 2 - Gather Materials

Chairs around a fire pit.

Choosing your materials is the next big decision and one that will determine your budget. If you are opting for a showpiece, then a trip to your local garden and landscape center to purchase premium stones will be necessary. You can browse through their selection or find pictures online for inspiration before you go. Will it be above-ground or in-ground? Do you want a border around the base? Will you do any cooking over the fire pit? Have an idea of how much you want to spend as this will determine how large your vision can get and what kind of stones you can afford. Simply speaking: smaller is cheaper.

If you want something for less than $50 or even for free, opt to scavenge what you might have kicking around your garage and shed or search online for discarded bricks and stones people advertise in the free section of online buy and sell websites. You may have to pick them up yourself, but it’s a great way to save some money on the cost of materials. Old stainless-steel washing machine drums can be re-purposed as a stand-alone fire pit, but don’t feel the need to create a basin: as long as any flammable items are lying in dirt or gravel and contained by a stone or brick border, you don't need a fire ring.

Step 3 - Dig

A lit fire pit.

Draw a perfect circle with spray paint so that you have a visual guide for digging (chalk-lines are useful for measuring from your center point). You should dig into the ground at least an inch or two to create an even and slightly depressed pit.

Step 4 - Add Stones

Place your stones towards the edge of the dirt where it meets the grass; that way all burnable items are kept within. Use patio stones if you want to create a floor, but remember this is an added cost and not essential. Pavers work well because most are thick and naturally curved, allowing an easy circular pattern to be made. Flagstones create a natural, layered-rock look and can also be used for making stone pathways to the fire pit. Stack repurposed bricks half on top of one another and consider painting them if you don’t like the color.

Step 5 - Design the Area

Chairs around a fire pit.

You can design your fire pits with a gravel or stone border for chairs to rest on, but you won’t break the budget by leaving the existing grass. You can get accessories like a grill for open fire cooking and invest in utensils, but most barbecue tools will do the trick. Remember, a fire pit doesn’t have to be complicated to be enjoyable, half the fun is searching for the perfect marshmallow roasting stick.