How to Build a Secret Backyard Fire Pit

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When Kate and I bought our first house two years ago, one of its biggest selling points was that it sits on a little over an acre of land. That may not sound like much if you live out in the country, but in suburban Tulsa, it’s like having a small farm.

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The view from our back deck.

Most of the land is in the backyard, where there’s a woodlot consisting primarily of oak and a few maples and redbuds. Our acre backs up into another wooded tract, so there’s a good bit of forest out there. Ever since we moved in, I have wanted to create a trail that led from the house all the way to the back of our property. At the end of the trail, I wanted to make a secret fire pit where I could go and ponder manful thoughts while poking a crackling campfire or enjoying the company of my family (weenie roast!).

I finally got around to working on my trail this fall. It took me about two months to complete. I probably could have finished it sooner, but I usually just had Saturdays to work on it.

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I used a hoe and a Woodman’s Pal to clear the path for my trail. The toughest part of building the trail was when I got past the trees. There’s a spot behind the treeline that’s just a giant briar patch. That crap was a booger to clear. I have the scratches from the thorns to prove it. The Woodman’s Pal was particularly handy here.

After I got the trail path cleared, I made several trips to Home Depot to get bags of pine bark nuggets. I laid those down on my cleared path to keep weeds and other plants from growing back. I think I ended up using over 60 bags of pine bark nuggets. Here are some shots of the completed trail:

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The trail begins. Falling leaves have largely covered up my wood chippage.

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The trail goes up a slight hill.

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Top of the hill…

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into the briar patch…

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and nearing the secret fire pit…

After I completed my trail, it was time to make my secret fire pit. There are a lot of plans out there for backyard fire pits, but none of them appealed to me. They all look like those foo-fooey, sleek and modern suburban “fire features” you see on HGTV backyard renovation shows. I didn’t have the time, nor did I want to spend the money on something like that. Besides, it’s not my style. I wanted my backyard campfire to look like something you’d stumble upon in a state park — rugged, crude, and functional.

I read some basic info on how to safely make a campfire area and got at it. Even if you don’t have an acre of woods in your backyard, you could still build a fire pit. But you’ll have to check your local city guidelines to see what’s allowed. And of course, the layout and number of trees/bushes on your property will determine whether or not you can make it “secret.” Here’s how I built mine:

Clear Your Campfire Area

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Smokey the Bear recommends clearing a 10-foot diameter circle around your fire pit. You’ll want to remove all grass, leaves, and hanging tree limbs from that 10-foot clearing. You want an area of just dirt. I used a hoe and the Woodman’s Pal to create my fire pit area.

Dig the Fire Pit

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Mark out how large you want your fire pit to be and start digging a hole. Your fire pit should be about 1 foot deep. I tried just using a shovel for this part, but found that clawing with my hoe and then hoisting out the loose dirt with my shovel worked better. I actually created my ring with rocks first and then dug. While I was digging, I realized it probably would have been better to first make the hole.

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