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!



9 comments:

  1. I just started this project today! You're right some of the materials are hard to find. I'll let you know how our project goes!! Thanks for the hardboard idea...on my way to Lowes right now to have them help me cut what I need. Thanks again.

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  2. Nice!! I was hoping we could help at least 1 person by posting this! Dying to know how it comes out. I'll post my next phases soon!

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  3. googled "36 inch cardboard concrete forms" and you came up! Making this pit with kids for fathers day present. Had difficulty making forms so was going to buy them. Impossible to find unless want to buy 12 feet of each form! Took all day but eventually made perfect forms! Need to make sure cut two equal lengths so wood doesn't crack. wet wood before bending. Wood will bend better in one direction so try to figure out which side bends easiest. Only used 6 bags concrete. Only takes about 11 feet of rebar to make 42" circle so could buy smaller pieces. fire brick needs to be 4.5 x 9-bought wrong size first-fortunately realized mistake before setting. doing brick work today so checked out site to see if you had any more advice before I started!

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  4. Thanks for stopping by! Before I get around to the next post, I'll just give you a heads up that the mortar consistency means everything! The first brick I buttered completely lost all of it's mortar before I made it to the concrete form! But you'll get the hang of it in no time! The other challenge was how to create the over hang for the draw holes that you started with the fire brick. We had to get creative with different size bricks and shims for support.

    Good luck! What a great Father's Day gift!

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  5. Thank goodness I googled the heck out of "round concrete forms" and various other forms of this phrase because my husband was in love with this project the day his Family Handyman came in the mail. He is very skilled at masonry and other construction type things but trying to come up with the round concrete forms has become quite a challenge. Your post has definitely given us hope!

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  6. This blog is great. I built my own forms out of hardboard also. Just set the footing today and only used 5 bags (I bought six just in case, but not 10, thanks to this blog). Where did Family Handyman get 10 bags from? I really hope I'm not missing something. Firebricks are next!!

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  7. Rob, let me know how it comes out! If you want to send me a pic of the finished project I'll post it to the blog. Melissajcarrier(@)gmail.com. Thanks!!

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  8. OMGsh I am so clad I found this post. My brain was just churning away trying to figure out how to simplify a round cement form. THANKS

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  9. Needed a round form idea too, pouring a pad around a citrus tree. Thabks for the idea!

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