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.
Colour: Most fire pits come in raw or painted steel options. If you want other colours there are spray paints available to cover most tastes. (Blues, reds, sandy colours and various shades of grey are available.) We can offer custom paint finishes but it costs a little more or you can respray them yourself quite cheaply.
Black fireproof paint is widely available and is the most common painted finish for a fire pit. It also helps to protect your fire pit from rusting but over time because fire pits are made of steel they will eventfully develop rust. Simple annual maintenance (a respray) can help keep your fire pit looking good.
Raw steel can provide a very contemporary look, but obviously will develop rust more quickly. 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, so it's easy to get distracted by other gadgets and forget this simple fact! That said, your fire pit can have alternative uses...
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.
Finally, most campsites do not allow you to leave firepits unattended to burn down at the end of the evening. So taking a metal bucket with a lid and a shovel for removing the hot ashes is usually required.
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.
So always check the weight and/or steel thickness of the fire pit you buy, it will give you an indication of the quality. Large fire pits weighing less than 20kg are probably not going to last long!
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.
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.
Eric, Director of Fabulous Firepits and other contributors.
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