Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Fire Pit Project [Day 1]

After waiting a few weeks for decent weather (spring in New England is notoriously iffy), we finally had a 3-day window of decent weather, that just happened to fall on a holiday weekend. And so, our Memorial Day Weekend was spent toiling away in our backyard.

Day 1 involved quite a bit of manual labor. But in the end, it was completed in less than 10 steps!

Step 1: Mark the circle with spray paint - pshhh easy!
Step 2: Dig a 51" hole 8 inches deep - shoveling grass is much heavier than you think!
Step 3: Level the forms and make sure they're even  - leave this part to those who enjoy the details. It made me totally crazy and brought me back to my fraction mental breakdown in fourth grade.
*36 in concrete forms were made by cutting thin slices of a board found in the pegboard aisle of Home Depot. attached them using screws with another piece of the board as a backer and reinforced with duct tape.
Step 4: Stake the forms - not too bad, just be careful not to shift the forms or else!

Step 5: Create homemade rebar - not so bad once you get started. That wire is wily though. *Good luck finding the correct size of rebar and then bending it. We improvised with several go-arounds of wire. Worked like a charm!

Step 6: Mix concrete and pour into forms - surprisingly easy once you figure out the right consistency. We should have added more water in the first batch, but the subsequent batches came out a-ok!
Step 7: Lay homemade rebar into half of the already poured concrete - easy once it's made.

Step 8: Pour remaining concrete and float to make smooth & even - home stretch!

Step 9: BBQ with friends to celebrate major concrete achievement! - You did it! Now, with a false sense of security you'll wake up sore on Day 2, but ready to face the mortar challenge that lies ahead!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Fire Pit Project

And so begins our multi-post saga about the Fire Pit Project. The journey will cover what started as an article in Handyman Magazine, and later became a very permanent fixture in our backyard.

After selecting the location, we thought we'd get to work a few weeks before we planned to spend a 3-day weekend on the construction part of the project and gather the necessary supplies. We thought this would be a reasonably easy task, but unfortunately, many of the materials turned out to be much more obscure than we thought they would be. Keep in mind, obscure to us basically means anything that can't be found at Lowe's or Home Depot.

Here's what the article stated that we needed:

  • 48" & 36" round  cardboard concrete forms
  • Ten 80-lb. bags of concrete mix
  • Two 10' lengths of 3/8" rebar
  • 25 firebricks
  • One half-gallon bucket of refractory cement
  • 120 face bricks
  • Five 80-lb. bags of Type N mortar mix
  • Margin trowel
  • Tuck pointer
  • Mason's trowel
  • Concave jointer
  • Concrete float
  • Brick hammer
  • Spray paint
  • Stakes

In reality, here is how things ended up and where we got them:

  • 48" & 36" round  cardboard concrete forms - The article recommends getting these from a concrete supply store, after some serious shopping around, we discovered that we weren't walking away with these size forms for less than $75! Instead, we fashioned our own using hardboard that we bought and had cut at Home Depot. We measured the right length, and attached two strips together using a scrap piece of hardboard and screws. Interesting project indeed, I'd recommend doing this before you begin construction.

  • Ten 80-lb. bags of concrete mix - Easy to find at Home Depot or Lowe's, but very heavy! We had to rent a Home Depot truck for 75 min @ $19.99 in order to not overload our Hyundai Tucson. Also, we only ended up using half the amount of concrete mix and returning 5 bags! 
  • Two 10' lengths of 3/8" rebar - This was another problem ingredient that wasn't solved until the day before construction began. We searched high and low for this particular rebar, but could only find 1/2" diameter which would have been too hard to shape into a circle. What we did: created our very own rebar using a thick gauge wire and rebar wire to tie it together. This was before we gathered the wire to tie it, but you get the idea.
  • 25 firebricks - Obtained from masonry supply store. Our firebrick drama stemmed from said masonry supply store giving us the wrong firebrick (i.e. not firebrick), dropping off the new firebrick, and then us realizing on Saturday that we were short 5 firebricks. Sadly, those 5 firebricks never made it into our pit. But more on that later.
  • One half-gallon bucket of refractory cement - This was hard to find at Home Depot, but with our help you won't have an issue. Look for the furnace or heating section, around duct work and you'll find this small tub of refractory cement. Should cost less than $12.
  • 120 face bricks - We also ordered these from a masonry supply store. Ours had 6 holes in the middle for easy breaking.
  • Five 80-lb. bags of Type N mortar mix - Here's where we can save you time and frustration. Just buy this at Home Depot or Lowe's. Seriously. When your masonry supply store wants to sell you 6 bags of 70-lb. masonry cement just know that you will then have enough mortar to build a house. After you buy the tons of sand you'll need to make the 1 part cement to 3 parts sand mixture. So you can see where our masonry store led us astray. The article is referring to the pre-mixed mortar with sand included. You can't imagine the sigh of relief when we realized we didn't need to buy 21 70-lb. bags of sand. We still have enough masonry cement to build a house in our garage by the way. It will probably end up on Craigslist soon.
  • Margin trowel - Luckily all of the tools were provided by my ultra-handy grandparents. One thing I would add that was a big help is a brick brush to finish off the joints.
  • Tuck pointer
  • Mason's trowel
  • Concave jointer
  • Concrete float
  • Brick hammer
  • Spray paint - Just a little bit needed to mark the form. Easy to find.
  • Stakes - Easy to find in your garden section.
So there you have it. We hope that you can benefit from the mistakes that we made.... and we're only at purchasing the materials. More to come!