Man Made DIY


02618

Aug 06, 2013

How to: Make a DIY Modern Concrete Fire Pit from Scratch

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There's no doubt about the cheer. Beside your fire you live in a private, glowing little world. All around you, fire shapes dance across rocks and bushes and tree trunks...Most of the time, you just sit and gaze at the caverns that form and crumble and then form again and gaze into the caverns that form and crumble and then form again between the incandescent logs. You build fantastic worlds among those pulsating walls and arches and colonnades. You sit, in other words, and dream. The East African has an almost limitless capacity for this masterly and delightful form of inactivity, and when his friends see him squatting there, lost, they understand and say in Swahili, poetically, Anahota moto - "He is dreaming the fire."    
 - Colin Fletcher, "The Complete Walker IV" (Knopf, NY:  p. 288)

   

I don't think there's much more to say than that. So, let's build our own DIY fire pit, yes? This version is cast of affordable, weather-resistant concrete that creates a sleek, modern look. It's portable but sturdy, and uses gel fuel, making it possible to have a quick 30-minute post grill session fire. It take a bit of care and proper prep, but this could be made in just a few hours for well under $50 in materials.

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Tools and Materials: 

 

Casting the Bowl

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Creating this project is all about two components: finding the right materials and working safely. For the main fire bowl, we used the largest mixing bowls we could find. Check your local restaurant or party supply store for extra-large options. I opted for a plastic punch bowl for the outside because I liked the profile shape, and a stainless steel mixing bowl for the inside.

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Working with concrete isn't difficult, but it does require some finesse. First, it's fairly heavy and can be difficult to mix in large batches by hand. Secondly, it's extra important to use the proper safety gear to prep and execute your project. Work outside or in a well-ventilated area, and cover your work surface with plastic. I covered my bench in a plastic drop cloth, and taped everything down with ScotchBlue™ tape. 

 

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Also, be sure to wear proper safety gear to protect your eyes, skin, and respiratory system. For this, I consulted with 3MDIY.com for their suggestions of the best products from their 3M Tekk Protection line. I went with an N95 valved dust mask for sanding and grinding, and long sleeves and refinishing gloves to protect my arms and hands. For my eyes, I opted for these Walter White-style safety goggles, which not only protect from debris but also dust and irritants. Plus, I prefer them when wearing a respirator or dust mask, since they seal tightly and don't fog up.

 

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1. Once you're all prepped, spray your molds with non-stick spray. This will help release the concrete once it's dry. A thin, even layer over the inside of the outer mold/outside of the inner mold will do. 

 

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2. Then, mix up your concrete. It's hard to determine how much you'll need, but it's better to mix up more as you start than to rush to create more in the middle. I used about 1/3 of a bag for this project, adding water a little at a time until the mix formed a thick, cookie batter-like consistency. Make sure you're wearing your safety gear here; this is the time when most of the particulates and irritants are flying around. 

 

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3. Then, use the trowel to add the concrete mix to the outer mold. Fill it about half full, then check the inner mold to see how high the concrete comes up to the side. It's okay to take the inner mold in and out a few times, just make sure you don't lose all your non-stick spray. (You can wipe it clean and reapply). A friend or extra pair of hands is helpful here. Then, use weights or rocks to keep it in place. Some things to watch out for:

  • As you place the inner mold, make sure that it's centered so your bowl will have an even thickness all the way around
  • Keep the lips of the bowls coplanar for an even, symmetrical finished product
  • Adjust the weights so that you have the biggest inner bowl as possible while keeping the structure thick enough to be strong. You'll want to be sure that there's enough space on the inside to place your gel canisters beneath the lip of the bowl.

 

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4. For a super smooth finished surface, try this tip (I picked this up years ago from an episode of This Old House, I think): use something with a motor to vibrate the bowl to remove any air bubbles inside the mold. Here, I'm using my reciprocating saw without a blade, but anything will work: a powered sander, an oscillating or rotary tool, even an immersion blender.

One it's settled and things are no longer moving, allow the concrete to cure according to the package directions. (48 hours-ish)

 

Finishing the Bowl

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5. When your concrete has cured, carefully remove it from the mold. I lightly tapped on mine with a rubber mallet, first removing the inner bowl, then freeing the outer. It's solid at this point, so don't be afraid, but do be careful since it's quite heavy.

 

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6. Use a coarse sanding pad (60-80 grit) to clean up the top lip, and give everything a nice rounded profile. Again, since you'll be generating a lot of fine particulate dust, wear your safety glasses, gloves, and dust mask.

 

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Wipe away the debris, then give the whole thing a round of fine grit (220) sandpaper. Since concrete doesn't have any fibers or grain like wood, you don't have to work your way up. Any sanding is just the removal of irregularities or smoothing things up. 

 

Assembling the Fire Pit

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7. Lastly, take it outside, and place the gel fuel canisters inside. I found mine at a local fireplace/swimming pool/outdoor recreation store, but you can find them in some hardware or home improvement stores or online.

 

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8. Place the grill grate in the bowl. The one I used was a 14.5" bottom grate (for the charcoal, not the cooking surface) for a Weber kettle grill. It rested perfectly about 1/2" from the surface of my 15" internal diameter bowl. If you can't find one, you can cut a larger one to size with a hacksaw or grinder, or create your own from hardware cloth or steel mesh.

9. Then, cover the grate with a layer of rocks. I'm using "Mexican beach pebbles" that I found at a garden center. These are commonly used with fire, so I can be sure they'll stand up to the heat and won't explode into flaming shrapnel with extended use. So, just be sure that whatever rocks you're using are appropriate for the purpose.

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Light It Up!

While the flames on these aren't bonfire-sized, the gel canisters put out quite a bit of heat, and all kinds of fun ambiance. At some point, I'd like to make a few of these and place them around my patio or deck. (At some point, I'd also like to have a patio or deck). But, for about $40 in materials (many of which I can reuse), I have a great, easy-to-use backyard fire solution, that requires nearly zero work to start or snuff out, and can keep our outdoor hangouts going well past sundown.

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Oh! And here's a Pinterest/social media friendly image. Would you please be so kind and help share the goodness?

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Enjoy!

This post is a collaboration with 3M DIY. To keep up-to-date on projects, products and sampling visit 3MDIY.com.

This post was sponsored by 3M DIY. All opinions are mine alone.

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The heat cans (used with chaffing dishes) can be purchased at any local party stores, Maxway stores, or Dollar stores for one dollar a can. This is a lot cheaper than purching the regular heat cans used specificly for fireplaces etc.  They last about three to four hours.  They burn clean, therefore there's no mess to clean up.  The gel can be removed from the can and placed in a container of your choice with a table spoon (not to be reused for eating). 

Wouldn't this fill up with rain water and become a nasty moquito condo? Why didn't you put drain holes in the bottom? Also.. When the canisters fill up with water or run out, you will have to take all the rocks out to replace them?? That sounds like a pain in the backside! I think I would put a drain hole in the bottom and a gas line hole so you can put in a set of gas logs.

Years ago, I expanded my patio by a foot by encircling it with contrasting color 1 ft.-sq. pavers. I wanted to make sure I wouldn't have to fight weeds coming up between them and a gentleman at Lowe's recommended I use a type of really fine grain sand to pour in the spaces between each paver and between the patio and the pavers. He told me once the sand was poured and leveled, with excess brushed away, to use my garden to GENTLY so as not to spray the sand out of the spaces, and make sure I soaked it really well. I did that and over the next day or two, once the water soaked in thoroughly, the sand settled and became like concrete. After reading your post, I'm wondering if I could that same "sand" to place between the outer bowl and inner bowl, add water until it is soaked well and then leave it sit until it's dry enough to remove the inner bowl, leaving behind the concrete result? 

Im a caterer. We use these canned heat cans under our chaffing dishes. Best and safest way to put out is to cover them or the rocks of course. Where there is no oxygen, there's no flame.

I have been looking for a way to build a small fire pit for my small patio behind my townhouse,this looks like an exelent way to do it.  I am wondering if I could use this as a wood burning fire pit.

Hi

love this , just one more thing I want to make. I got so excited about stepping stones my husband got me an electric cement mixer for Christmas.  Nex job will be trying countertops.  Already got some formica for the forms.

ce

Hoiw easyl!  On a smaller scale, this would probablky make an excellent birdbath!

I love this tutorial! It'll take a little elbow grease, but might be a good idea to use as a romantic DIY project. Thanks for sharing this!

So does the fire last as long as the gel fuel canisters last? For every use, you must remove and replace a cannister then? How long do they typically go for?

has anyone experimented with size? I'm wanting to make a large and wide firebowl.. and maybe planter bowls for succulents to match- was thinking about 40"diameter? and how to make it sort of lighter- maybe fiberglass mixed in? I haven't a clue

thanks for any advice!

Looks fantastic. What a great project.

Thanks for posting it.

Hi, Would love to make this as a present for my husband! Can you use this pit as a wooden fire pit instead of working with the canisters?

Thanks!

I have a base of a round concrete fountain,    could I use this under my fire pit that is starting to split?

I'm also going to try making one of yours.     So I can give one as a gift.

Thank you.   Great site.

What is the best concrete mix to use please

Could you use wood logs instead of the gel cans?

I've read several posts about how to do this, and yours is by far the best explanation. Well done! I think I need one of these, too!  :) Thanks!!

Hi. I made a cement planter using a plastic bowl and it's stuck and i did spray the insides of the bowl but still. And in another bowl i put a beer can in the middle and i forgot to spray the outside of the can,how can i get it out? Thanks
Making this for my boyfriend's birthday with a few modifications. Instead of a grate and gel canisters I picked up a wok big enough to hold some firewood and I'll be settling it into the concrete bowl and padding it into place with some dark blue (his favorite color) fire glass! Thanks so much for the idea and the wonderful tutorial!!
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Once being in the construction field for several years, you're always looking for new tools and technology. For any concrete project I would look for a product called"nylon fiber mesh". A 1lb bag of this has tens of thousands nylon fibers. When put into any concrete mix, it holds it together and improves flexural strength. In short, it helps hold the concrete together if and when it cracks. It a great product and its relatively inexpensive. If you can't find it at a building supply store, try buying it by calling a ready mix concrete company or call Nycon at 800-456-9266 or look for it online. If your going to put the time, energy and money into a concrete project of any kind , this product is well worth the $20 a bag to buy it. I hope this helps everyone with your future concrete or asphalt related projects. Good luck, enjoy and have fun.

I LOVE the fire bowl!   I must have one.  Will start gathering supplies.  Thanks for sharing.  Do you have any more things you can make out of concrete?

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