Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Stone Paver Fire Pit

It's finally summer in Michigan, and that means lots of late night outdoor hangs with great friends around a fire.  I spent some time at my friend Nat's house a couple weekends ago - he and his girl just bought a house near us, a cobbled together one story that used to be just one room.  They bought it for the land, with the idea that the house will work for now, but eventually they will build the house they want. But I digress. Nat's friend Matt (stay with me here, I know they rhyme) ALSO just recently bought a house, in Eastown (GR), and he was taking up a patio made of old thin brick pavers and wanted to get rid of them. So Nat took a couple trips, grabbed 50 or so, and created a sunken fire pit in their backyard.

I marveled at its simplicity. He dug a hole, made a ring of 11 pavers, stacked 11 more on top of that, offset to create a pattern, and 5 layers later he had a great looking fire pit. I was jealous. I'd wanted to move our fire PILE forever, and this was a great motivator to make that happen.


When we moved in, bonfires had already happened in the middle of the backyard, on what I can assume is the drainfield of the septic system, and on a hill. It's that dark spot of dirt slightly to the right of the shed, but more in the foreground. People would sit around it and nearly topple over because of the slope. It was a pain to mow around. It wasn't a pit, so the pile of debris just kept growing. It needed to change.

So when Matt said he had more pavers to get rid of, I jumped at the chance. I brought the trailer over, loaded up about 120 pavers (we could use the rest for a patio off the back door) and lugged them home.

Now, I wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel, here. My plan was to simply copy from memory exactly what Nat did. This is an exact copy. I'm a plagiarist. But if you ask Nat, he doesn't care.

Last Friday I took a half day cause Ollie had a fever, and I was certain Becky would need a little break. I got home, he'd had Tylenol and was fairly content, so I set out to dig a hole.


I had laid out the pavers a couple of days before, so that the grass would die making it easier to mark the hole. I then pierced the ground with the shovel all the way around the circle, being careful to cut straight down and not on an angle as the shovel would have you do. I then started digging. I took up the sod first and then started digging all the dirt out. We have very sandy soil, and luckily this area was not quite as rocky as I was expecting.  It only took about 45 minutes to get the hole dug and shaped.

As you can see from the photo, the ground isn't exactly level at this precise spot, so visually getting the pavers level was not an option. I used a stack of 5 pavers to get the measurement for how far down to dig, and then dug that far down on the highest ground level.  I wanted the pavers to pretty much meet the ground level, with just a slight lip.

I then took a short 2x4 and leveled and pounded the dirt down with each paver, and used a 12" level to make sure it was level both side to side and toward the center. A note here - side to side leveling is the most important. I took a "good enough" approach, and I was unfortunately off just slightly on each one in the same direction so that when my circle met up, the two final pavers were not level with each other.  I was able to fudge it a little to make it work, but just know that those "good enoughs" add up quickly.


I used my last wheelbarrow of dirt to fill back in around the outside. Once it was in, I realized that the land on one side was still a little too sloped down toward the pit, so I decided to add one more layer to raise it up and prevent the pavers from being buried.

I then pulled the dried out Christmas tree and old railings from the old pile and christened the pit, if you will.


I was very happy with the result. The best part was that I didn't feel nervous walking away from the fire (once the tree was actually down in the pit) like we had before, when the fire was above ground and on a slope. All in all, it only took me 3 hours to dig the hole and place the pavers. Not too bad.


I took the time to move all the rest of the burnables from different piles around the yard into a consolidated area. A tree we'd cut up the previous year and a ton of random materials from different projects. There's also still a pile of brush that we can burn from cutting up some out of control plants at our friends Adam & Jess' house. Along with all this, Nat is going to bring his chainsaw over to cut up the rest of the fallen pines we have. See, he's not mad about me stealing his idea.


 

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