Portable fire pits are becoming very popular with smaller courtyard blocks and patios. They are light and easy to move around with one or two people. Fire pits can set up a romantic atmosphere or just a fun night together with the family making smores and toasting marshmallows.
They all come in all different shapes, sizes, and types of material used. Mainly mild steel is used in production but the more expensive fire pits use cast iron or stainless steel.
In this post, we will be talking about how to set up and care for your portable fire pit safely.
Table of Contents
- 1 What to put in the bottom of a fire pit?
- 2 What type of sand can you use in a portable fire pit?
- 3 Setting up a fire pit
- 4 Best wood for fire pit for no smoke?
- 5 How to light a fire pit without lighter fluid
- 6 How to light a fire pit without kindling
- 7 How to keep a fire pit going
- 8 Can you use a fire pit as a grill?
- 9 Metal fire pit care
- 10 Conclusion
It is recommended to put 1-2 inches of sand in the bottom of a portable fire pit. This acts as an insulator to protect the thin mild steel on the bottom of the fire pit.
Most modern cheap portable fire pits are made with 1-2mm of mild steel. Generally, this is ok for small log fires when there is not much wind about. Larger more expensive fire pits will be made out of 3-4mm mild steel, cast iron, or even stainless steel.
Burning wood can generate temperatures of around 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,012 degrees Fahrenheit) in the base of the portable fire pit. Wind can quickly fan the flames into extremely higher temperatures that can melt mild steel.
Typically, mild steel has a melting point of between 1370oC-1530oC (2498oF-2786oF) depending on the grade of the steel.
What type of sand can you use in a portable fire pit?
I have used dry beach sand, paving sand, limestone sand, and garden dirt in the bottom of my fire pits depending on where we go. Just make sure it is dry.
Firepits become too heavy to transport with a layer of sand so if we are taking our firepit to the beach or a friend’s house we just use what is around.
The only problem with using beach sand is that it contains small quantities of salt. This over time can corrode the mild steel of the portable firepit. Make sure to fully wash your portable fire bowl out after use if using beach sand. The salt in the sand will rust out your base over time.
Setting up a fire pit
Be sure to place your portable fire pit over either level pavers, sand, or gravel. Placing your fire pit cauldron over the lawn will kill the grass due to the extreme resident head produced.
Place 1-2 inches of sand covering the entire bottom of the fire pit bowl. This will help insulate the metal from burning holes in it. The sand will also insulate the radiant heat from transmitting through to the pavers below which could cause them to discolor.
Now place some kindling and a fire starter or lighter fluid in the middle of the fire pit cauldron. Place larger logs around and on top of the kindling. You can stack them either in pallet style or like a teepee.
Light the fire starter and then monitor the backyard fire pit to make sure it is catching alight. Never leave it unattended for safety reasons.
Best wood for fire pit for no smoke?
Well-dried-out seasoned hardwoods are excellent for firepits for no smoke. Ash, hickory, oak, and maple are excellent examples of low-smoking hardwoods.
I like to dry my hardwoods out for at least 2 years for no smoke fire pit wood. If your wood is still green or wet you will get excessive smoke during the burning process.
Softwoods are good to quickly get your fire pit up and running and burn down fast. But they can produce a lot of smoke due to the resin content in the wood. I do like the smell of burning pine though.
Check out the video below on how to light a fire pit the easy way.
How to light a fire pit without lighter fluid
Starting a fire pit without lighter fluid can be easy with the correct dry kindling. If you have access to dry pine cones these make great fire starters.
Add the small kindling sticks in a pallet stacking or teepee method. Place some rolled-up paper or straw in the middle of the kindling. Light the paper and slowly add dry small kindling as required.
But using lighter fluid or fire starter wax blocks is often the fastest way how to start a fire.
How to light a fire pit without kindling
This is the hardest way to start a fire. You must have some way to chop up the larger logs into smaller kindling. Often a hatchet or ax works well to slice through larger logs.
The following items work well in replace of kindling.
- Pine cones
- Dry sticks and twigs
- Rolled up newspaper
- Firestarters and lighter fluid
- Woodwork shavings
I have made some firestarters out of sawdust and wax and these work really well when there is not a lot of kindling. This is because they burn for a long time.
How to keep a fire pit going
Once you have your fire pit going well add dry logs once the other logs burn down 3/4. This will provide enough heat and coals to ignite the new seasoned logs.
Use a metal poking rod to move the old burning logs around to make room for the new extra logs. Small patio fire bowls can take 3-4 small logs at a time and will often burn for 1-2 hours at a time.
Redwood will burn slower and longer than pine logs. But at the end of the day, I’m not fussy about what type of wood I can get. Often if I’m out and about and see logs out in the bush I will put them in the car. I always keep a Ryobi battery chainsaw in the trunk for this exact reason.
Can you use a fire pit as a grill?
Yes, you can use your fire pit as a grill but you will need a grill plate. Many fire pits come with a grill. If you don’t have a grill plate you can often buy a generic rectangle grill plate that will fit over your fire pit. Like the one shown above. Make sure to have a good supply of wood and coals for cooking.
What can you cook in a fire pit grill?
You can cook steaks, sausages, seafood, chops, chicken, potatoes, corn, stews, and more in your fire pit grill. Just make sure that the fire is low and you are cooking over coals. This will give you more constant heat without charring.
You can also cook baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil in the coals. Allow cooking for 30 to 60 minutes until soft.
My kids like to toast marshmallows for dessert in the fire pit at the end of the night. Just make sure your skewers are long enough so they don’t burn their fingers.
Metal fire pit care
After using a metal fire pit you need to empty it of coals and charred wood. If using beach sand empty it out and wash and salt residue from the fire pit.
Fully dry the fire pit and coat it with a light layer of oil to prevent rusting. Store it undercover to keep it looking new and away from the elements. Use a natural oil to keep it from rusting.
How to keep fire pit from rusting
You can lightly oil a fire pit to keep it from rusting. I like to use vegetable oil and lightly coat the inside and outside of the fire pit using a rag. It will burn off during the first few minutes of use.
You can experiment with other oils such as Engine oil, Lanolin, and other Synthetic oils but the vegetable oil works well and is natural. If it is good enough for cooking it’s good enough for the fire pit. Plus it was cheap.
How to dispose of ashes from a fire pit
Wait at least 24 hours for the coals and ash to burn down and cool. You can now tip out the ash into the garden and mix it into the dirt well. Ash and coals are a great way to increase the nutrient in the garden but they must be used lightly. Usually, one shovel load per 1m squared.
Wood ash is an excellent source of lime, calcium, magnesium, and potassium for your garden. Not only that, but using ashes in the garden also provides many of the trace elements that plants need to thrive.
You can also dispose of the ash and coals into a plastic bag and put them into the trash. Make sure that the coals are fully cooled otherwise you will be setting your rubbish bin on fire.
There are so many different portable fire pits and patio fire bowls out there it is best to visit a showroom to see what suits your area. In fact, if you don’t have one it is a great idea for what to get your husband or wife for Christmas this year. Chopping wood and lighting fires is often a man thing but it doesn’t have to be.
The thicker the metal the heavier and more expensive a fire pit will be. As long as you use sand in the bottom of cheaper fire pit cauldrons they should last forever.
If your fire pit is going to be left out in the weather try and get a stainless steel one that won’t rust over time. Otherwise, you will have to bring them in after every use.
If small children are around teach them about the dangers of standing too close to the fire. Many now come with childproof covers but remember the outer metal shell still gets red hot.
I am a qualified Industrial Electrician for the past 20 years and I love to share my knowledge on home repair jobs.
I love fast toys like Motorcycles, Cars, Jetskis, and Boats so writing about them is easy.
To keeps costs down I do all my own mods, repairs, and servicing. These skills I want to share with everyone. DIY is a skill everyone can learn.