Before doing anything new, I do extensive research.
Today’s project, the fire pit, is no exception. However, there is a problem when tutorials assume that we live in a perfect world. For example, last year I was looking for information on replacing a bad spindle on my lawn tractor. The first video I found showed a repairman wearing a white lab coat, in a perfectly pristine garage (not a drop of oil on the floor), and a lawn tractor without a spot of dirt on it. I found the same type of videos while looking into building a fire pit. One of them even boasted in their title: “I built a fire pit in 2 hours, and I’m 12 years old”. Either he lives in that perfect world, or there are shenanigans going on.
30 12″ retaining wall blocks
2 bags of paver sand
2 bags of lava rock
4 tubes of Liquid Nails
Edger and/or shovel
This post is about the things they don’t tell you. In the real world we are blessed with uneven ground, rocks in the soil, 2 inch roots that seem to come from nowhere, and if you are really lucky, fire ants. I looked at several tutorials and used some of the ideas that I agreed with while ignoring some of the other bits.
First step was to find a location that was relatively flat, away from overhead branches, and at least 10 feet from anything that could ignite. Then I set out a sample course of bricks to figure out the proper size of the pit. I used an edger to cut a circle into the grass, slightly larger than the circle of bricks I had put out.
After that, I removed the bricks from the circle and used the shovel to loosen a layer of sod. Another thing the tutorials never tell you is that the dirt/sod has to go somewhere. It’s preferable to find a good location before you begin. In my case, I was lucky enough to have a few low spots in the yard. Fixed them. Another thing they forget to tell you is that sod is heavy. You will need to cut it into several chunks before moving it. I cut mine into pizza slices, because everyone loves pizza. Then I learned that I need to cut the pizza into smaller chunks because come on man, that’s a lot of pizza.
After clearing out the circle to a depth of about 4-6 inches, I loosened up the dirt and raked it smooth. Then tossed in a couple bags of sand. Be sure to put your rake down with the tines facing down. Don’t be a cartoon. One tutorial suggested spraying the sand with water. I don’t remember why they made this recommendation, but it made the sand smell like the beach and that’s a good enough reason for me.
Once that was done I placed the first course of bricks on the sand, slid them around and banged on them with a rubber mallet until they were fairly even. I put the level across the bricks in three different directions and adjusted the bricks/sand as needed.
The level says I got it pretty close, so I busted out a tube of Liquid Nails and put down a ziggity zaggity bead of goo on the bricks, and began putting level 2 bricks in place. Another funny thing they never tell you: some of those bricks are not quite uniform. Although the first course of bricks were level, that’s no guarantee that the 2nd and 3rd will be anywhere near as good. With all the Liquid Nails goo in place (and it’s nearly lunch time), I’m not about to tear this down and start over. Just gonna go with what I’ve got. Sometime in the future it will fall apart, and I can rebuild it better than it was. For now, it will hold a fire and that’s okay with me.