It’s October! Temperatures are dropping, leaves are changing colors and Kim is beginning to ask if it’s too early to play holiday music. (Yes, my dear. It is way too early!) Cooler weather also has us itching to extend the usability of our outdoor spaces, and what better way to keep warm outdoors on chilly autumn evenings than a good old-fashioned fire pit? Our pit came together in one day, and it cost right around $450. Here’s how!
Tools + Supplies Used for a 15′ pit
Fire pit kit
Stick + string
Tiller (Incredibly helpful, but technically not necessary)
Steel garden rake
Wheelbarrow (for haul away and material transport)
Metal landscape edging
Hammer or mallet
Landscape fabric/weed screen
50-60 bags decorative gravel (we used yellow river rock)
Landscape block adhesive (we used 1 x 28 oz tube)
Laying the Foundation
We wanted the ring around our fire pit to comfortably accommodate six deep and cozy Adirondack chairs, with additional breathing room for a cooler and a log stool or two. After staging our chairs in the grass, we determined that a 15′ diameter circle would be a nice size to surround our not-quite-4′ fire pit kit.
We used a tape measure to determine a fairly flat central point in the yard and marked it with a bamboo stake. We then looped a string around the stake, measured out to 7 1/2′ (you know, half of 15′) and tied a small flag to the string. Walking slowly backwards, we held a can of white spray paint at the flag and quickly laid out a perfect 15′ circle.
Using our flat-blade spade, we then edged around our spray paint line. Consistency here was very helpful – we opted to stay outside the spray paint line and our circle turned out perfectly. (Our helper pittie-mix, Roo, sped things up dramatically!)
After we had our circle completely edged (and Roo had inspected our work), we brought out the big guns by using our tiller. While a tiller is not completely necessary for this part of the project, the ability to cut into the soil at a consistent 2″ depth was hugely helpful and kept things closer to level. The tilled soil is also much, much easier to scoop out of the ring and spread to other low spots in your yard or repurpose as you see fit. Once the ring was completely tilled, we removed the excess soil and raked the exposed dirt as level and compact as possible. Note: If you don’t own a tiller or have no future need for one, they can also be rented from most big box stores or tool rental shops.
Using a claw hammer and a block of scrap wood (a rubber mallet would work just as well here if you have one!), we installed our metal landscape edging with the included stakes. It’s important that the edging sits flush with the surface of the grass to ensure that it’s not a tripping hazard.
After our edging was complete, we laid down slightly overlapping strips of landscape fabric to keep pesky weeds from popping through our gravel layer. A handful of landscape pins kept the fabric from flopping around and ensured that those future weeds won’t peek up through any gaps.
With the fabric secured tightly in place, we were finally ready for gravel! We needed close to 60 bags of gravel for our depth of around 2″. If that sounds like a lot, it is, but this ensured that we had a thick, even layer. After laying the bags in rows, we used a utility knife to split the (many, many) bags open, and then we dumped them in place and spread them out with our steel garden rake. That brought us to this beautifully round patch of gravel:
Building the Fire Pit
With our groundwork in place, it was time to build the pit! Roo jumped away in pure glee as we used the steel insert from the fire pit kit to find our center mark with some simple measurements.
Leaving the ring in place, we built the first row of the blocks around it and then popped the ring out and checked for rough level on our first row. A few low spots needed a lift from some extra gravel underneath and a few high spots got tapped down with a hammer and a block of scrap wood. Note: The blocks in our kit have a smooth side and textured top side. The smooth side always faces down for easy stacking.
Before laying down the second row, we applied construction adhesive and staggered the joints for looks and stability.
With the second row in place, we inserted the metal ring again, checked for level again and made a few tiny adjustments to keep things as close to perfect as possible.
Finally, we pulled the ring one more time, repeated the previous step with the third row of blocks and we were all set! Once the final row was in place, the ring insert was put back into place for good.
To keep dust and dirt at bay, we rinsed everything down with a healthy amount of water. The gravel bags can get fairly dirty in transit, so if there’s not any rain in the forecast, you may need to repeat this step a few times. Once everything is nice and cleaned up, you have a fire pit!
Weather in southwest Michigan fluctuates drastically between seasons, so it was important that the chairs we selected could not only withstand the elements and temperature swings, but ideally, they would also fold up and be stashed away during the coldest winter months. We landed on these black Polywood beauties from Hayneedle that fit the bill perfectly. They’re made from recycled plastic, and several of you chimed in throughout our yard makeover praising the strength, durability and fade resistance of Polywood. These chairs are, without a doubt, the most comfortable Adirondack chairs we’ve ever sat in! The arms are perfectly flat and offer a wide enough space to keep a drink and a small plate full of snacks within reach and the seat backs are angled perfectly. We intend to keep the chairs in place until the weather gets unbearable, then stash them along the back side of the house under furniture covers to keep them looking their best.
When not in use, our handsome steel belted cooler has a home in a this covered deck box that we keep tucked alongside the back of the house. Otherwise, our 15′ ring boasts plenty of space for the cooler to stay within easy reach during relaxing evenings by the fire. (Bonus, it’s sturdy enough to double as additional seating!)
Our day started around 9am with a patchy grass lawn and we were relaxing with fireside beverages and roasted marshmallows that same evening. We were aggressive with our timeframe (as a part of that 3 day makeover!), but even if you do nothing else over the weekend, this makes for a very satisfying DIY!
The fire pit lends a wonderful focal point to the backyard at our little Tree House, and now that our Chicago backyard has its fireplace gas-delivery system all updated, we’re doubly ready to extend the fall season as long as Mother Nature will allow! We find that our gas fireplace is great for quick evenings by the fire after a long work day in Chicago, but we’ve come to prefer the crackle, pop and smoky aroma of a wood burning fireplace in our little Tree House getaway.
We’d love to know: Which type of fire do you prefer? The convenience of gas or the smoky goodness of wood?