If you've not had a fire pit before, buying one can be very confusing. With a wide choice of fire pits and chimineas on the market, it can be difficult to decide which one to buy. Here are a few things to consider:
1. Fire Pit Size - Size matters.
2. Fire Pit Design - Shape, Colour & Style.
3. Fire Pit Features - Intended uses, portability.
3. Fire Pit Durability - Quality of materials.
4. Fire Pit Cost - Cheap vs longer life
5. Fire Pit Availability - Soon or in a few weeks?
6. Fire Pit Safety - Is it dangerous?
Let's take a look at these considerations in more detail...
Fire Pit Size - Size matters
When standing by a large bonfire, you will have no doubt felt the heat from further away compared to, say, a small campfire. In short, size matters when it comes to generating effective heat. Small fire pits just don't radiate much heat. And by small we mean ones that are less than 50cm in diameter.
If you do buy a smaller firepit you need to be closer to it to keep warm. This is not a problem if there are just two of you, but it will not be big enough if you are meeting outside with friends or family. Also, during government covid restrictions it can be difficult to adhere to social distancing rules with a smaller pit as everyone wants to be nearer a smaller heat source.
So if you are buying a firepit to keep warm on cold evenings, you are going to need a decent sized one that is capable of burning a good number of logs. But can it be too big?
If your firepit is too big you may find you burn a LOT of logs very quickly so there is an optimal size. We think this is between 50cm and 1m in diameter.
Bare in mind that it can also be more difficult to clean out very large fire pits. Also moving very large fires can be cumbersome due to their weight. Worse still, large lightweight fire pits can be dangerous as they could be lifted up by a strong gust of wind.
So before buying, consider size first and foremost as a small firepit is probably not fit for purpose.
Fire Pit Design - Shape, Colour & Style.
Aesthetics are very important when it comes to choosing your fire pit. The last thing you want is an ugly piece of metal spoiling the look of your patio or garden. That said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and one person's ugly duckling is another person's swan! But there are a few simple things to consider when choosing the style of your fire pit.
Shape: Consider where you are going to place your fire pit. If you have a circular seating area / patio, a circular fire pit bowl makes sense. Similarly a square shaped area is best served by a square fire pit. If you have an octagonal patio feature an octagonal fire pit can look very nice on it. Octagonal fire pits also look great on a circular patio.
Colour: Fire pits come in raw or painted steel options.
Sadly, there are only a few heat proof coloured paint options on the market. Black fireproof paint is widely available and is the most common painted finish for a fire pit. It is possible to buy a greyish silver fire proof paint as this is commonly used in the automotive industry, but this gives quite an unusual "matt aluminum" finish - not to many people's tastes. That's about it in terms of painted finish colours!
Raw steel can provide a very contemporary look, but obviously will develop rust over time. Some people like the rusty finish steel and Corten steel is actually designed to rust on the surface whilst maintaining it's strength and longevity. (More on this later.) Corten steel costs about 5x as much as mild steel so is more expensive.
Stainless steel can be less prone to rust, depending on the grade of stainless steel used but is not immune to rust as you might think. Also stainless steel is much more costly, up to 10x the price of "mild" steel! So heavy stainless steel firepits are not widely available as their cost puts them out of reach of all but the most affluent.
Style: There are many designs available on the market to satisfy all tastes, but beware of some designs that place form too far above function.
Fire pits burn a lot of wood so larger logs will mean less getting up and down to fuel the fire. Sadly, some fire pit designs cannot accommodate larger logs as the opening aperture can be too small. This means buying more expensive kindling or chopping up regular logs into smaller pieces to make them fit through the gap.
It's a fact of life that all fire pits rust too. Rust is caused by the combination of heat, moisture and acidity of the ash. Any small parts, mesh grills or other "fiddly bits" will be the first pieces to crumble away and can render your firepit unusable.
While style is subjective and a matter of taste, there are certainly a lot of "ugly ducklings" on the market. Do you really want your fire pit to look like a rusty old dustbin? The inside drum of an old washing machine can be used, but this takes a lot of work to make it into something that works practically and in the end looks like the drum from a washing machine! We've even had suggestions that a wheelbarrow can be used as a fire pit - sure it can, but why would you risk destroying your wheelbarrow which was never intended to be used as a fire pit?
Some firepit designs we have seen on the market are also quite dangerous. Top heavy designs are prone to falling over and lighter steel firepits can easily be blown over in strong winds.
Chiminea style firepits, whilst looking monumental, also restrict heat from radiating out in all directions making them less useful for groups of friends wanting to get around the fire.
In summary, make sure your choice of firepit design puts function and safety first, and consider how the shape of it fits in with it's surroundings.
Fire Pit Features - Intended uses, portability
The main reason to get a fire pit is to keep warm.
Cooking on a fire pit
When is a fire pit not a fire pit? When it's a barbeque! Having the option to cook on your fire pit is great, but not the be-all and end-all. If you are looking to toast a few marshmallows or roast some chestnuts then fine, but cooking a whole chicken, spit roast or joint is beyond most fire pits.
Firepits tend to be "low-rise" and cooking on them, whilst entirely possible, is not always as practical as a purpose made barbeque with adjustable heat controls, venting and variable heights not to mention a good cooking height. In short, it is possible to cook on a fire pit, but that is not it's primary function so if cooking is your main objective, get a barbeque.
Taking your fire pit camping
If you want to take your fire pit camping there are several things to consider. Firstly, many campsites do not allow fires to be made that damage grass, so choosing a fire pit that limits or eliminates grass damage is paramount. Firepits sometime have holes in the base, so hot ashes dropping through the holes is going to damage the grass. Also the radiant heat from a fire pit will burn grass underneath the fire pit, so having a fire pit that is far enough from the ground to reduce or prevent scorching is important.
Secondly, portability. You need your fire pit to be big enough (see size matters section above), but that also means it is going to be heavier and less portable. You need your fire pit to be strong enough too, otherwise it will buckle and bend in the heat of the fire, which also adds to the weight. Lugging a heavy one-piece fire pit around is not practical so collapsible fire pits are much better. It also means you can share the carrying amongst friends.
Putting your fire pit away
It's a sad fact that almost all fire pits will rust if left outside in the elements. You can prolong the life of your fire pit by cleaning it after use (the ashes are acidic when combined with water) and/or storing it in the dry. Some fire pits are light and small and easy to store, but these can often be too small to generate enough heat. Larger fire pits can be very heavy, so moving them becomes a burden. Again, a collapsible fire pit solves both these problems and makes storage easy as they take up a lot less space when flat packed.
Fire Pit Durability - Quality of materials.
The fire pits you can buy in the shops are generally lightweight and made of thin steel. This is to reduce their cost but also to make them easy to stack on a shelf in the shop and easy for the buyer to carry them away. But lightweight thin steel fire pits are not very durable, especially if left outside in the elements.
You can expect to get one or two years of use from a thin fire pit. This is not only because they rust through quickly, but also because they tend to warp under the heat stress of a fire.
The quality of the steel used to make fire pits varies greatly. Lower grade steel will not last as long, especially if it is thin. Higher grades of steel (e.g. Corten or Stainless) will last longer, but do cost a lot more. Thicker steel fire pits will last a lot longer as it can take decades for the steel to rust through.
The quality of welds on a fire pit is also important. Cheaper fire pits can come apart under the heat of the fire and/or rust through at the joints. Mesh grills and spark guards are often made of thin "chicken wire" which rusts very rapidly and so won't last very long. When possible buy grills and spark guards that are made of stainless steel as this is far more durable and can be cleaned with a wire brush without damaging the mesh.
Fire Pit Cost - Cheap vs longer life
It's fair to say that we live in a disposable society. Many products are not made to last and end up in landfill pretty quickly. For the consumer, this reduces the initial outlay but when viewed over the longer term makes the cost of ownership more expensive than products made of higher quality materials.
When buying a fire pit the same is true. A cheap (less than £150) fire pit is often not made to last. So when buying a fire pit consider spending a little more to get one that is going to last longer. This is good for the environment and good for your purse. You can also prolong the life of your fire pit by placing sand in the bottom of it to protect the base, cleaning it shortly after use and putting it away in a dry place when not in use.
At the time of writing steel prices are on the rise. In the last 6 months steel prices have nearly doubled. Buying a stronger fire pit will therefore cost more purely because it contains more steel. If steel prices continue to rise, investing in a stronger steel fire pit now could be a wise move.
Another thing to consider is the cost of fuel for your fire pit. Wood for burning is expensive, especially kiln dried wood which is what you should be using to reduce smoke. If you're an occasional fire pit user then the cost of the wood is not going to be a big issue. If you use a fire pit regularly, consider using your own trees (if you have any) and store your wood in a dry place for at least a year before burning.
Fire Pit Availability - Soon or in a few weeks?
When ordering your fire pit, be careful to note delivery times. At the time of writing, many fire pit suppliers are struggling to keep up with demand as most fire pits (or their components, such as fire pit bowls) are imported from the far east.
If you are in a rush to get a fire pit for a specific event, just ask the supplier if they can get it to you more quickly - most will do their best to deliver your fire pit quickly if asked.
Fire Pit Safety - Is it dangerous?
We've seen some frankly quite dangerous fire pits on the market. Tall fire pits can be unstable and topple over in the wind or if knocked. Lightweight fire pits can also be blown around the garden in strong winds. Heavier lower fire pits are generally safer than taller lighter ones.
Fire pit spark guards can reduce risks of hot embers being spat out by a fire pit, but burning drier would also helps to reduce sparks. Guards should never be relied upon so you should always keep a safe distance from a fire pit. Extra care must also be taken if young children are around.
See our full fire pit safety guide for more safety concerns.