Grit Blogs > Of Mice and Mountain Men

Building a Stone Fire Pit

A photo of Allan DouglasMy wife and I live on the side of a mountain.  Being on the side of a mountain does have some drawbacks.  I’ve found that we must be careful not to walk the same path the same direction all the time or one leg ends up shorter than the other.  When it rains hard, bare top soil washes away, so things like gardens must be terraced to keep them as level as possible. And when “flatlander” relatives come to visit, we must be careful to say off the more “adventurous” roads or they leave fingernail prints in our dashboard.

However, a mountainside with natural rock outcroppings can make for some pretty fun adventures in landscaping.  This past weekend Marie and I built a quick and simple fire pit in one such outcropping.

This rock formation was a crescent shaped collection of small boulders protruding from the ground.  The largest is about waist high.  Smaller rocks poke up from the soil in the “elbow” of the formation leaving a hole or open spot in the middle, thus giving Marie the idea that it would make a good fire pit.

The stone formation before conversion to fire pit 

The formation itself is in an area that was once cleared, but some brush and saplings have grown back.  But cutting those out was not a big chore, and no large trees overhang the proposed pit, presenting the possibility of turning an oak, hickory or dogwood tree into a towering inferno.  That would be bad!

I dig down inside the center of the formation another 8” or so to provide a deeper pit where the fire goes.  This produced some extra rock but mostly just dirt.

Using a pick and sturdy shovel I pry more rock loose from the ground in the area.  About half of the rocks I tried to “harvest” wiggled a little but proved too well embedded to get out.  While I’m prying out the larger rock to complete the ring in the front of the pit Marie uses smaller chunks to build up the back wall of the pit and fill any chinks.

The completed fire pit, ready for testing 

Lastly we clean things up a bit by removing the remaining loose dirt from around the rocks and in the pit area.  One of our dogs; Zadie – a Border Collie / Rottweiler mix – who is very companionable and often accompanies us on our forays into the woods, had been sitting nearby watching us work all this time.  When it came time to dig out the middle pit I asked if she wanted to help, but she just grumbled her disinterest.  However, the moment we finished scooping out the loose dirt and making the pit all tidy, Zadie trotted over, said, “thank you!” hopped into the pit and curled up like it was a dog-bed.  Silly girl; must think she’s a pit bull!  For more on Zadie, read Blacktail The Pirate Dog .

Zadie thinks she's a pit bull 

We have a fair bit of Jack Pine wood from trees that have come down in windstorms; too sappy to use in the fireplace of our home, but perfect for use here.  I’ll chunk and split that and lay it in at hand.  We will need to save a couple of good chunks of log to use as seats and we will be all set for the chilly fall afternoons and evenings ahead.

Fire pit from our window 

The pit is located just upslope from our home and is visible out the kitchen window, so not only does it serve as a great chilly weather retreat, but adds to the landscape out the window as well.  We are looking forward to firing it up, if you’re in the neighborhood drop in and share some toasted marshmallows and tall tales!

Until next time, may the best laid plans be yours.

allan douglas
11/18/2010 7:39:00 AM

Yessir… I mean; having to leap from the seat because the wheels one side come up off the ground and just keep going. I’ve done it twice on my lil tractor, then got rid of it. I bought a self-propelled walk-behind model for mowing. It takes me a couple of days to do the portion of our property that is “lawn” (and I use the term loosely as it’s mostly weeds!) but it’s better than being mooshed. Someone told me that I could have helped the situation by half-filling the tractor’s tires with an anti-freeze mixture to increase weight in the tires. I think lead shot might be better :-) Thanks for stopping in Dave.

nebraska dave
11/5/2010 4:27:04 PM

@Alan, if you mean by rolling a tractor down a slope, by tipping it over sideways, then the answer is nope. I did have my first driving experience at the age of about four with my dad's tractor. He kept it on a slope because it didn't have a battery and he would coast it down the slope to get it started. Well, one day I decided to coast it down the slope just like Dad. Unfortunely or fortunely however you look at it before it gathered up too much speed, I hit a tree smack in the middle. My driving skills have improved quite a bit since then. I too have relatives in Lincoln and Crete. Let me know if you ever get back through Omaha and we'll have lunch. Have a great day.

allan douglas
11/4/2010 6:00:34 AM

Hi Dave, Sit down here, would you like a marshmallow and a green twig for roasting it? We've got a nice fire going here. Yesir, what I've seen of Nebraska (have relatives in Lincoln, Crete and Sprague) doesn't offer much in the way of natural rock formations. But that does have some advantages, as you pointed out. And, being flat and level makes moving stuff from one place to another less of an adventure. I bed you've never rolled a tractor down a slope. That was a thrill! (Maybe 'thrill' isn't *quite* the right word!) But we do enjoy the challenge and the natural resources that provide us with these unique opportunities. Thanks for dropping in!

nebraska dave
11/3/2010 7:05:52 PM

@Alan, nice natural fire pit. There just something about sitting around the fire on a cool autumn evening toasting marshmallows. You mentioned tall tales. I love to hear a good story. I’m not so good at telling stories but I’m getting better. It just seems right to be entertained by a good story. We don’t have any rocks in the most of the soil here in Nebraska. That can be a good thing for growing but it also can be difficult to build anything with stone. It all has to be hauled in from the quarry. I like the looks of rustic stone in the landscape. I had to be satisfied with wana be stone shaped concrete for my retaining wall and patio. I just couldn’t afford the real thing. Enjoy your newly made fire pit. Have a great autumn day.