I've always heard you can measure the quality of a person by the quality of the people they choose to surround themselves with. The fact that my boyfriend, Ryan Bennett, is so clever and mechanically inclined supports my theory that I am pretty fantastic! (ha!) Ryan was the main driver in this project, but it was so well executed I felt it deserved and needed proper documentation.
We live in Denver, CO, a fantastic place to live for people who like to balance a successful work life with their love of the outdoors. Unfortunately, it is also a very dry city that has a tendency to hang on to air pollution when the wind is weak. This means that open burning in the county of Denver is banned - so no traditional fire pit. Finding this out was most unfortunate considering our backyard is my favorite room in the house! I tried shopping around, but propane fire pits that aren't teeny-tiny are so expensive!I had been searching online trying to find an easy design for a DIY propane fire pit, but most involved welding - a skill set I possess but I lack the equipment. My boyfriend, Ryan Bennett, works for a company that specializes in fluid distribution so he knows all about the tubing and equipment we would need for this project, so I figured I would rope him into this project.
The first step was to find a suitable "pit". I had seen on many other DIY projects that used all sorts of metal containers - salad bowls, traditional steel pits, etc., but nothing I was seeing was a good fit for me. My requirements:
- no noxious fumes / no toxic coatings
- portable, not too heavy
- 20" or larger, big enough to enjoy on the patio
Then, I came across the Esschert Design Steel Fire Bowl on Amazon, with an open-box offer for only $30! It seemed from the reviews it was a great fire pit, the only complaint was it might be a bit too thin - perfect for drilling! So I ordered it with the hopes that Ryan would have some suggestions on the propane routing once the fire pit had arrived.
Once Ryan saw it he got inspired, and immediately jumped into the project. I have to give him full credit on this one, but what follows is an outline of the project so that anyone else looking to build their own would be able to recreate this!
Note: Ryan's work specializes in stainless steel tubing, but copper tubing would also suffice
- Drill with 3/8" and 1/6" drill bit
- Pipe cutter
- Pipe bender
- 1/8" stainless steel tubing (copper would also work)
- 1/8" tubing fittings (1 elbows, T-joint, L-joint a quick connect, needle valve, and pressure gauge)
- 1/8" poly tubing, 6ft
- Fire bowl
- 1 bag of lava rocks
- Propane tank valve adapter (in the grill section at hardware store)
Step 1: Drill a hole for the tubing in the fire bowl
The first step is to drill a hole at the base of the fire bowl for the tubing to pass through. In our case we needed 3/8" bit. We added a bit of water in the base of the bowl to keep it cool as we drilled. I would also recommend drilling some accessory holes (3-4) around the periphery of the bowl about 3 inches from the bottom for water drainage and air flow. We did not drill accessory holes at the beginning and it is much more difficult later on.
Figure 1: Pictured here is the fire bowl with a little bit of water in it to keep the bowl cool while drilling a whole in for the tubing.
Step 2: Assemble the tubing
Ryan took the lead on this portion of the project. Many of the DIY projects I saw on the internet used 1/4", but Ryan felt 1/8" would be just fine - plus it would cut down on cost and would be easier for us to work with.
Using a pipe bender, he bent the two halves of the square, and fitted them to the elbow and T connections. I will pick his brain for his bending calculations and post them here shortly. I suppose one could also use 4 elbow joints and skip the pipe bending, but the bends allow for more diffusion of the propane.
Figure 2: The tubing assembled with holes drilled
We chose 1/16" holes spaced at 1" intervals, deciding to err on the smaller side as we could always enlarge them or add more if needed.
Step 3: Fit the tubing into the bowl
Figure 3: The tubing seated in the bowl
Ryan screwed on the L-joint and fixed the "panel mount" to the bowl, affixed the poly tubing and connected the propane valve adapter to the needle valve, and the needle valve to the poly tubing.
Lastly, add the bag of lava rocks.
And that's it!
As with most projects, the bulk of the work is in the planning. This project was finished in a few hours and we now enjoy it several times a week!
Added bonus - we can easily take it with us on camping trips where there are burn bans, so we can still have a fire!