Photo 1: Mark the fire ring and patio
Drive a pipe firmly into the ground at the center of the fire ring. Loop a string over the stake and measure out 9 ft. Mark this point with tape. Hold a can of marking spray paint at the tape and spray the complete circle.
Photo 2: Remove the sod
Cut away the sod with a sod cutter. Follow the perimeter and then cut away the inside of the circle. Leave the pipe in place.
Photo 3: Dig until the flagstone is 1 in. below the sod
Remove enough dirt so that the top of the flagstone sits 1 in. below the surrounding sod. The sod cutter works well for shaving down the grade, but a flat shovel works well too.
Begin your planning with a call to your local building department to learn about local fire restrictions. Many regions require burning permits and restrict the size of a fire ring.
Choose an area that’s about 18 ft. in diameter and relatively flat. Be sure to locate the fire ring away from trees, bushes and buildings. Remember that burning wood snaps and pops, sending sparks into the air.
Drive a pipe at the center and mark out a 9-ft. radius circle (Photo 1). Remove the sod or plant material and enough dirt so the paving stones you’ve chosen are flush with the surrounding grass when set in 1 in. of sand (Photos 2 and 3). The sod cutter we show operates with a firm stomp on the crossbar. It takes a little practice and strength to cut the sod smoothly. Wear heavy boots and gloves when using it. A good shovel is easier to use but quite a bit slower.
While you want your fire ring to sit level, the surrounding flagstone sitting area can follow the contours of the yard, its edges blending with the sod (Photo 3). However, if you have from 1 to 3 ft. of rise over the 18-ft. diameter of the sitting area, consider excavating the high side to keep the sitting area reasonably level. Then build a small retaining wall to hold back the soil. This actually makes for a nice design. The retaining wall becomes a sitting area as well as a shelf and serving counter.
The Beauty of a Fire Ring
An outdoor fire is a natural gathering spot for family and friends, whether for a cookout or casual conversation on a cool evening.
You can make those gatherings more comfortable and safe by building a simple fire ring with retaining wall stone. To complete the setting, we’ll show you how to surround the ring with flagstone. It more comfortably accommodates chairs and benches and eliminates the inevitable mud pit that comes with wet weather. This project requires no special tools or skills. In fact, the primary tool for this project is a strong back! You’ll be lifting and moving heavy stone, both for the fire ring and for the surround. Rent or borrow a two-wheel dolly to ease the load if you have to move the stone far. A manual sod cutter ($15 per day rental; Photo 2) simplifies the digging, but it also takes some strength to operate. A good shovel is easier to use but quite a bit slower.
Assemble the ring
Photo 4: Spread a sand base
Drive a 6-in. landscape spike beside the center pipe until it’s 2 in. below the sod level. Drive six additional spikes about 3 ft. away from the center, spacing them evenly around the center. Level the top of each spike with the center one, then spread sand in the circle flush with the tops of the spikes.
Photo 5: Place the first row of stones
Draw a 21-in. radius circle with the string and marking paint. Lay the first row of retaining wall stones (12 in our case) along the line, minimizing the gaps between them. Twist each stone back and forth a few times in the sand to firmly set it. Make the tops level.
Photo 6: Finish setting the stones
Set the second row of stones on top of the first. Straddle the joints of the first row.
Lay the stones in a circle to determine how large to make the ring. There’s no exact rule here. A 42-in. inner diameter works well, but you can adjust the size according to preference and code. Measure the radius of the circle and then mark this circle at the center of your fire ring (Photo 5).
To avoid pinched toes or fingers, limit the height of the ring to about 12 in., or two rows of stone. If you go higher, keep in mind that the stones can slip off and fall, especially if you use smaller, less stable stones.
It’s important to set the stones on a level bed of sand to keep the base stones stable and the joints tight. Stretch a string tightly across the circle to establish the height of the sod, and follow Photo 4 to create the sand bed. Use a carpenter’s level to accurately align the tops of the first row of stones (Photo 4). Minimize the gaps between stones. The second row goes up fast—you simply set it on top of the first.
Lay the sitting area
Photo 7: Fit the flagstones to the fire ring
Spread 1 in. of sand over the sitting area. Fit the first flagstone tightly to the fire ring. Twist it into the sand to firmly set it. If it rocks, add or remove sand to stabilize it.
Photo 8: Finish laying the stone
Fit and set stones out to the circle’s edge. Keep the flagstone edges flush to one another and leave 2- to 4-in. spaces in between. You can break larger flagstones with a sledgehammer. Caution: Wear eye protection when breaking stone.
Photo 9: Fill the gaps between the flagstones
Fill the spaces between the stones with topsoil to about 1/2 in. below the top. Then cut sod with a knife to fit between the stones. Press the sod firmly into the soil and keep the sod damp until it has rooted.
Many types of materials will make a nice sitting area: various gravels; stone, brick or concrete pavers; flagstones; or even poured concrete. Irregular flagstones with grass planted between them gave us an attractive, informal look. A flagstone sitting area is easy to lay and easy to maintain. Just run the lawn mower over the stones to trim the grass.
Set the flagstones in a bed of sand, letting them follow the contour of the ground (Photos 7 and 8). To minimize tripping, make a special effort to keep the edges flush.
Because we wanted a finished look right away, we meticulously cut and fitted sod between the stones. In truth, it’s a whole lot easier to completely fill the gaps with topsoil and sow grass seed. Or, instead of grass, you might consider ground covers suitable for your climate.
Finally, add about 4 in. of sand or gravel to the inside of the fire ring to raise the level of the fire. This will make it easier to tend. Then build a fire on the next cool evening and see how many neighbors it attracts.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Garden rake
- Safety glasses
- Tape measure
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- 1-1/2 yards of sand
- 200 sq.ft. of flagstone
- 24 granite retaining wall stones (6-1/2 x 8 x 14 in.)
- Marking spray paint