The Ultimate Backyard Fire Pit Guide

Fire Pit GuideAdding a fire pit to your outdoor space is one of our favorite backyard ideas for many reasons. As Michael Pollan points out, using fire to cook was a turning point in human’s evolutionary history. 

Fire is one of nature’s magical elements. And bringing a firepit to your backyard to entertain friends and family is sure to bring a special connection to that raw beauty of nature that we gardeners and outdoor junkies love.

Let’s jump into examining how to upgrade your nighttime backyard ambiance with some well-lit flame.

There are three main types of fire pits

  • Gas Fire Pits
  • Propane Fire Pits
  • Copper Fire Pits

We’ll go over each of these pits in great detail in this post, and include important cleaning instructions, proper usage information, and of course spend some time distinguishing the styles and functions of each.

Gas Fire Pits

Gas Fire PitA gas fire pit offers unprecedented flexibility in outdoor heating. Using propane or natural gas as fuel, a fire pit of this type can be fine-tuned for the best experience.

They use a relatively simple burner system which is safe and easy to use.

Users can select from a wide array of colorful designs and styles which are created with materials like rock and ceramics.

Fuel System and Burner Explained

Fuel for a gas fire pit is delivered via a tube which is directly connected to the burner. The burner is a hollow steel ring which has holes cut into the top at equal intervals.

The gas comes out of all these little holes, creating lots of tiny flames which together form one big flame.

Propane gas from a tank is held under pressure, releasing only when the valve on the tank is opened. When the user opens the valve, the gas begins to travel through the tube and out the burner.

Lighting the gas immediately is important in preventing gas build-up. Propane has the distinct smell of cabbage, when not burned; serving as a good indicator that gas may be leaking.

In the picture, you can see an example of a burner ring on the left.

Look closely and you can see tiny holes drilled into the top. This is where the gas comes out. The tube on the right connects the tank and the burner.

The valve attached to the tube connects directly to a propane tank. A different tube is needed for connections if a natural gas line is intended.

A hole drilled into the base of the fire bowl allows the tube and burner to connect with an adapter.

All of these pieces can be dismantled for cleaning, but make sure to re-assemble the pieces exactly the way they came apart to avoid gas leaks.

How to Start and Run a Gas Fire Pit:

  1. Gas Fire PitFind a flat surface such as a concrete or brick paved patio.
  2. Set the fire pit in the intended location and hook it up to the fuel source, taking care to screw the connections together firmly.
  3. Open the valve on the tank / natural gas fuel source. Do not open it all the way.
  4. Light the flames. Some fire pits have battery powered switches, while others require a match or lighter ignition. Take care to keep your head and torso away from the top of the pit.
  5. Once lit, adjust the valve on gas line until the temperature is just right.
  6. To turn off, simply close the fuel line valve.

What to Expect

Outdoor gas fire pits produce a flame like no other.

The behavior of the flames can be altered based on what type of filler materials are placed in the bowl. Filler materials are designed to add a decorative touch and personalization to a fire pit.

Outdoor Fire Pit

Users can select from different colored rocks, glass or even artificial logs. Burning an outdoor gas fire pit with fake logs produces a fairly predictable flame, flowing around the sides of the logs.

Using small rocks is especially interesting, as the flames constantly change places as they find the path of least resistance through the decorative medium.

The ability to adjust a propane or natural gas fire pit allows for any area of the yard to be thermally controlled with precision.

Propane Fire Pits

Propane fire pits are always a great addition to any backyard, but it can be a hassle to light up real fire logs.

An alternative is to use a propane fire pit which uses propane gas to generate fire. These fire pits offer exceptional convenience and beauty and come in many designs ranging from subtle to elaborate.

The full sized fire pits use a standard 20-gallon propane tank for fuel. At the push of a switch, an electric starter ignites the flame, eliminating the need to spend 15 minutes starting up a log fire.

Many propane fire pits have artificial logs from which the flame lights from, simulating a real crackling fire. Some systems use decorative lava rock for additional aesthetic appeal.

Depending on the fire pit’s design, the propane tank will either be hidden under the pit or sitting off to the side and connected with a long hose.

Propane Flames

If you want to enjoy the warmth of an outdoor fire but don’t want the hassle and smell of handling firewood, a propane fire pit is a no-brainer.

Gather around firepit

These fire pits function very similarly to a propane grill. To use, simply open the gas valve and press the ignition button. When used properly, outdoor gas fire pits are very safe.

The propane flames provide warmth that radiates out in all directions, perfect for keeping visitors toasty. Unlike log fires, the propane flame can be adjusted higher or lower to change the heat level.

The heat given off by these systems can be quite impressive, providing enough even heat to warm a small group of people. The flames dance and sway just like a log fire and are quite impressive.

When done, simply shut off the propane valve until next use. When comparing the power of these pits, remember that maximum heat levels are measured in BTU’s, or British Thermal Units. The higher the number, the hotter the fire pit’s flame can get.

Design And Beauty

Fire Pit Guide

Propane fire pits come in styles to fit any taste. The main aesthetic elements of an outdoor gas fire pit are the base, pit, and tabletop (not on all models).

The Base

The base is what holds everything up, including at least three legs. The base can be made from artificial brick, ceramics, or metal (most common).

The metal is usually powder coated with a heat resistant paint.

Heat resistant paint can be highly decorative, coming in not only flat colors but textured or speckled ones as well. Generally, wrought iron bases are not painted, as this type of metal does not need protection from the environment.

Bases like the one shown on the right conceal the propane tank from view. The gas hose is connected to the tank and then slid underneath out of sight. Some bases are not designed to conceal the tank, as shown in the first picture.

Instead, the tank sits at a distance underneath hidden away under a table. A hose runs along the ground to provide the fuel.

Basics of the Pit

The pit holds the artificial logs and flame ring. The pit can be one of the most decorative parts of the unit, as shown in the beautiful copper pit on the right.

The pit is made from a heatproof material which can be metal, ceramic, or even glass. Typically, the pit can be removed from the base for cleaning.

Fire in a Pit

If glass is used, it is of a high-temperature tumbled variety as to not shatter under extreme temperature changes. The gas line valve is attached to the bottom of the pit where the fuel travels to the emitter ring to be ignited.

Table Top

Some propane fire pits have a decorative table top where users can place drinks, food or even rest their feet. As shown on the right, table tops can be made from elegant and expensive materials such as polished granite.

A granite propane fire pit can cost quite a bit of money but are unparalleled in beauty.

A tabletop can turn any fire pit into a great place to chat and dine at the same time. Other table materials include glass, metal, and stone. Stones are often arranged in a mosaic pattern on the surface in earthy or garden designs.

A propane fire pit is not only an amazing piece of outdoor furniture but also a creative outlet of self-expression.

While you might be able to roast up a couple of hot dogs on a propane pit, a more substantial gas cooker is needed for outdoor cooking. For this, I recommend the Weber Go Anywhere gas grill.

Copper Fire Pits

Copper Fire PitSome of the most appealing forms of fire pits are the ones which utilize copper in their design. Copper is a weather resistant metal which has a beautiful gold/bronze color.

When kept clean, a copper fire pit will exhibit a dull sheen which is instantly recognizable and eye-catching.

The Copper Fire Bowl

It is important to note that copper fire pits are not made entirely of copper, only the fire bowl.

The fire bowl, or reservoir, is a large bin which is designed to hold wood as it is burned.

These bowls are made out of 100 percent copper and are shaped using a cold-press method. Many such bowls are polished to bring out their natural sheen.

The bowl sits within a steel frame which has at least three support legs.

The copper fire pit bowl easily lifts up and out of the frame for cleaning and maintenance. All steel surfaces are protected with heatproof paint to prevent rust.

Mesh screen covers are commonly included which are placed over the fire pit for protection.

How to Properly Use Your Pit

While it is possible to simply throw a few logs into the copper fire pit bowl, many fire pits come with a metal insert from which the logs sit on.

This raised surface allows air to flow underneath the log pile, increasing the intensity of the fire. For best results, logs should be stacked in a tee-pee orientation and lit at the base using a log starter or balled up piece of newspaper.

After lighting, the cover should be immediately placed on top. If you wait too long to put the cover on, the fire may be too powerful to get close enough to do so.

Cleaning of Copper Fire Pits

Copper fire pits are unique in that they do not necessarily need to be cleaned. If left untreated, the copper will eventually develop a bluish-green coating called patina.

Patina actually serves to protect the copper from weathering, which is why it is used on the roofs of many skyscrapers.

Some people enjoy the look of this patina, while others choose to maintain regular cleanings in order to prevent it. No harm will come if you leave the patina on the copper fire pit.

However, the steel frame which supports the pit should be cleaned regularly to prevent rust and paint chipping. Over time, the grated steel cover may warp and lose its paint coating. A coat of spray paint can return the cover to its former look.

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