Early humans began to use fire between one and two million years ago, depending on which paleolithic archaeologist you ask. And what’s a million years between friends, anyway? To put that into context, if the history of the earth was depicted as just one day, we ‘discovered’ fire a mere couple of minutes ago. Little wonder, then, that the fascination of sitting outside in front of a flickering flame still continues to exert such a hypnotic effect on so many of us today.

The appeal of fire to early man would have been more prosaic: light, warmth, the ability to cook food and boil water, not to mention deterring predators. More than that, though, fire even then would have provided an additional social function, signalling a habitation to other humans and hinting at the social possibilities afforded by an open fire. All those factors apply as much today as they did all those years ago. The ability to make a simple fire, to sit beside it and enjoy its warmth evokes the most ancient of instincts in us all.

Now though, in our oh-so-sophisticated modernity, we don’t need to think of it as just a fire; instead we can view it as a stylish garden feature. Fire pits are absolutely ‘on trend’ right now and in keeping with that growing desire to get back to nature and feel a greater connection with the world around us. A civilised step up from the humble bonfire, they add a touch of ‘glamping’ to your outdoors life. Fire-building also connects us with the hardy, derring-do skills of Bear Grylls, Ray Mears and their like – hardly essential modern skills, admittedly, but useful in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse.

Follow these simple steps to create your own fire pit as a simple and low-cost weekend project. If you’re fast, you’ll finish it in a day!

1) Location, Location, Location

Constructing your perfect fire pit begins with the correct location. Where should you site your pit? If in any doubt, check with your local authority to see what codes and regulations might

apply. Also, make sure not to site the pit close to fences or any other combustible materials. If on a larger or out-of-town site, bear in mind factors such as prevailing winds. You don’t want any stray sparks starting fires in dry summer months.

2) A Question Of Space

The charm of a fire pit is being able to enjoy it in comfort, which means allowing space for natural seating either to one side or all around it. If you want to position the pit close to other outdoor features such as barbecues, pizza ovens or even, for a lucky few, swimming pools, then walk the site and be realistic about the space required and how the areas flow into one another. Mark out the site with chalk or string to appraise your layout.

3) Preparation Is Everything

Mark out a circle with spray paint on the ground you have selected for your fire pit. The circle should reflect the size of fire you want (anything up to a metre would be typical). Then mark an outer circle 20-30 centimetres beyond the inner circle. Dig out the turf or ground down to a depth of about 15cm. This might not be easy work, depending on how compacted the ground is, but think of it as a full-body workout. When that is completed, fill the hole with loose gravel. This will work effectively as a sump to drain rainwater from your fire pit.

4) Ring Of Fire

For speed and simplicity, we recommend dry stone walls for your pit. This also makes it easier to dismantle if you wish to refine or relocate the design at a later date. The walls could be built from landscaping blocks or even field stone, but avoid porous stone or bricks that have been submerged in water as these could crack or explode under heat. The pit can be as rough and rustic or as smooth and stylish as you wish – this will be dictated by the choice of materials. If you want to invest more money in your project, then consider ordering a steel fire pit ring as a liner for your pit together with a grate.

Caught the fire pit bug? Once you do, we predict you’ll soon be planning next year’s adjusted design or even investing in a more dramatic aesthetic such as this extraordinary fire pit creation from Rick Wittrig of Fire Pit Art.

Still seeking further fire pit ideas? Then be inspired by a selection of easy to make and eye-catching designs on the American Express Essentials Pinterest page.

Article by James Lee-Tullis

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