Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to Make a Budget Outdoor Fire Pit

I've always liked fire. I have the history of playing with fire (both literally and figuratively) since I was only a little boy. My master's and PhD studies are about fire -- combustion, technically. I have set a numerous things on fire, including myself for some reasons over the long, fiery years of my life. 

So one day I was lingering around the backyard and suddenly I had the urge to have an outdoor fire pit. This is pretty common. I've always had the most awesome and in the same the baddest ideas when I lingered around the backyard. One of these days if I linger a little bit longer there, it is possible that I might come up with a blue plan for a long distance artillery that automatically sets men in tight pants on fire.

Anyway, the fire pit I was thinking of looks like in the above image. But here's the thing: I'm renting this house so I can't pretty much build any permanent structure up. That explains why the observatory tower and swimming pool plans I had in mind were turned down long before they even get to the drawing board. For this pit, it has to be:
  • a temporary structure (so my land lady won't hack me down with saw for ruining her yard)
  • cheap (because I'm economical, like that)
  • able to serve its intended purpose as an outdoor fire pit.

So here's what I did.

* * *

First, I identified the suitable location for the fire pit. The place I chose below was next to a wall (my land lady's concrete fence for she lives next door, to be exact) and surrounded by my little curry tree and a lemon grass bush. The curry tree can stay but the lemon grass has to go.

Next, I cleared the land surface and levelled it with a plastic garden rake.

And then, I took some unused cement bricks at home and started laying them on the ground with a straight lumber to achieve a straight arrangement. For this fire pit, I decided to have a 3 x 3 brick configuration. 

And now the pit now took shape. Because I my perfectionist quality is bordering on psychotic, I needed to make sure that the geometry of the pit was within my requirement, so that involved with a lot of soil levelling, remeasuring, reconfiguring, relevelling and all those jumbled up not necessarily in that order. Just maddening, really.

Moving on. I removed all the bricks but before that I drew out the inner and outer outlines using the bricks as my guide. I didn't need the inner outline but I drew it anyway 'just to be sure'. Don't mind my obsession. The outline depicted the exact layout section to be removed, because I wanted a sunken fire pit instead of a raised fire pit. 

So you can now see how I dug up the area using a small hoe and a hand scoop. The entire yard is filled with sand (this was a mining place anyway) so digging wasn't that difficult. I started laying down the bricks and check for straight continuity and levelling.

There, all in. With the base ready, it's time to lay down the upper walls with more bricks. I didn't cement any of them together and wholly depend on the static friction at each touching surface of the brick to keep them in place and from falling apart.

First level.

Second level.

I took some of the sand that I dug up and filled it up in the voids around the structure. And then I raked them flat and level with the garden rake to give it a smooth finish.

There, the fire pit is complete. I found that solid wooden post at the bottom of the image lying somewhere around the corner of the house so I made it into a small bench.

I collected some woods and placed them in the pit and left them in the open under the sun for a few hours to keep them dry and smoke free when consumed in fire. 

* * *

So here are the results! Pretty neat, eh?

I went to the hardware store and bought a small light bulb and some length of electrical wire and created an outdoor lamp post. Need a cover for the entire setup though but so far they look great in action. The rustic wall and the ambient added up to its majestic value.

Here is the entire cost of the project:

Cement bricks: RM 0.20 x 40 unit = RM 8.00
Light bulb + socket + 3 pin plug: RM 5.00
Wire: RM 5.00 (10 meter)
Manpower: 3 sticks of cigarette and a jug of cold Sunquick (negligible cost)

Total: RM 18.00. 

The happiness it gives me? Priceless.

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