I’ve never been an outdoors person to the degree that many of my friends were, but there are three things that always lure me outside. No, none of them are sports. One is a walk in the countryside, one is any sanitary body of water, and one is a good campfire.
We weren’t very fancy about our fires growing up. A ring of stones was enough to contain them in our mind, so they always looked like camping fires. Something about those flying sparks and dancing flames made it much easier to deal with the troubles of youth (how great they seemed, and how much time I had to deal with them!). Today, I do not have the luxury of staring into a fire for hours processing my latest bad day, letting the flames burn all the dross away and leave nothing but the warmth of life behind, making the memories all the more cherished. Daniel Paul Simmons III writes beautifully on popularmechanics.com, “A fire, with its meandering sparks and flame animals and depthless colors . . . [makes us think] about cowboys and friendship and human prehistory. An outdoor fire adds ancestral depth to a weekend in the country.”
The fire pit was born out of necessity (familyfirepit.com). In order to survive, mankind has always needed fire, for warmth, for cooking, for scaring off predators, and many other reasons.
Harnessing fire in a close, safe proximity was a huge leap forward. The first fire pits date back to the paleolithic times.
The fire pit never became extinct. Today families put in fire pits as a luxury and not a necessity. Whether they are used for warmth, beauty, or cooking, a fire pit is a popular upgrade to many properties. Today we can sit in a circle around the fire pit and contemplate the meaning of life and calculate pi to the 16th decimal place. Fire does that.
Here are a few different types of fire pits for you to consider.
The design of a good chiminea draws fresh air into the fire directing smoke and fumes upward away from you and your guests. “The fire burns hotter and cleaner, leaving behind only a small amount of ash.” The chiminea is a safer, cleaner, more comfortable option than the traditional fire pit. They were originally made from clay by Mexican tribesmen several thousand years ago. Considering the other options on the market, clay is not the best choice today, however. Cast aluminum is both long-lasting and low maintenance. It will not rust like sheet aluminum, is not as heavy as cast iron, and is a much better option than stainless steel, which has a chromium oxide layer that can wear down and expose the steel to rust.
Another great thing about chimineas is that if they ever tip, the fire is contained. And since everybody tends to avoid the side of the fire that the wind is blowing smoke at anyway, it isn’t much of a problem that family and guests will be seated on one side of the chiminea, enjoying the smoke-free heat and beauty of the flame.
Chimineas are beautiful and practical, making them a great choice for anyone with the budget to afford them.
(Above: Mexican clay chimineas).
(Above: modern chiminea).
Gas Fire Pit
Another choice for your backyard fire pit is a gas fire pit. The advantages over a wood-burning fire pit are numerous. They are cleaner, safer, and easier to use. Cleaner: they do not leave ash behind that must be cleaned up. Safer: they do not come with leaping sparks or piece of wood breaking off. Ease of use: they don’t require constant feeding. There is also a great variety of gas fire pits to be had, making it easy to choose them based on aesthetics alone.
If you are choosing a fire pit for the purpose of cooking, or even if you will occasionally use it for cooking, gas is not the best choice, as some of the gas will remain on your food (not healthy at all!).
Paver, Concrete, or Stone Fire Pit
Round, square, or otherwise-shaped, a classic paver, patio brick, or stone fire pit is elegant and a common choice. It doesn’t have the same safety and cleanliness advantages of a chiminea, but it does bring you back to that classic sitting-around-the-fire experience that many crave. After all, what would sitting around the fire be without a little smoke? There are so many material options to choose from here. Judging from how many stories there are about paver stones exploding from heat, many recommend to go with a granite stone, which is much more durable and won’t explode or crack.
In-ground fire pit. The Dakota Fire Hole is a wilderness survivor’s fire hole. But this in-ground fire pit concept can be upgraded for your backyard. The advantages are that it will, similarly to the chiminea, burn hotter and cleaner and produce less smoke. It’s the best of the all-the-way-around fire pits, but putting it beneath the ground makes it, in our mind, superior to the above-ground fire pit (but you might not feel as close to the fire).
Use hardwood such as oak. This creates a good, strong, less-smokey fire. Other good woods include “pinion wood, alder, cedar, oak, hickory, mesquite, pecan, and even fruit woods, such as apple and cherry. Don’t burn pressure-treated wood in a chiminea or any other fire pit or fireplace because it may contain harmful toxins.” We also loved the tip to use Piñon wood in addition to your main wood, which is aromatic and repels insects.
Stay safe. Keep a fire extinguisher at hand on all times and add a bucket of water if your fire is non-gas. Always extinguish a fire before calling it a night, and don’t leave a fire unattended. Make sure you have plenty of room around your fire pit, “at least 10 feet . . . from any structure or combustible surface,” including your house, and clean up the surrounding area of the fire pit of sticks, branches, and leaves.
Use your fire pit. Now that you went through all the trouble to build or purchase your fire pit, make sure you get outside on those beautiful summer and fall nights with a sweater, a warm cup of tea, and engage in some good old reminiscing or storytelling. Contemplating the meaning of life and falling in love are also acceptable pastimes.