Smokeless Fire Pit

“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

My family likes to… in the winter months… have a little fire going in back of the house. A place to sit and wind down at the end of the day. Over the years we have bought these metal fire pit things – they last a year or two and then rust out.

This summer I thought we might up our fire pit game. There was some time – the backyard is not where you want to be during the killer months here in Texas – but from, say mid-October on through the winter it’s pretty nice. Also, we had an extra large flat-screen TV leaning in a closet, so I bought a swivel mount and set it up outside under our patio roof. That worked a lot better than I anticipated and as the days shortened and the nights cooled everyone began to get antsy for a place to burn some wood, hang out, and watch TV.

I went to YouTube for ideas and quickly stumbled across the idea of a “smokeless fire pit.” There are hundreds of videos on that subject. I watched a few and learned the basic principle.

You start with a perforated metal ring. Most DIY pits use a 36″ metal ring from a big box agricultural supply store and then you drill a row of holes. Next you surround this with some sort of masonry – bricks or cement – leaving a gap between the stone and the metal ring and vent spaces along the bottom row. Then you cap the assembly with a flat row on top.

The idea, what makes it “smokeless” is that the metal ring gets hot and as air comes in the bottom, it rises along the ring and heats up, entering the fire area through the ring of holes – which then burns off any smoke.

Sounded good to me. Easy enough and not too expensive. So off to the local hardware store for supplies.

I did change the usual design in one way. Instead of a solid 36″ ring, I chose an already-perforated 30″ lattice-type one. Three feet seemed a little big and the smaller ring was less expensive. The hardest part was lugging all the masonry to the car and into the back yard. The stones were held together only by weight – no cement or mortar. If I want to move the thing I can (though I don’t want to).

Starting to assemble the fire pit. You can see the lattice-cut center ring and the first rows of the walls. Notice the gaps between the bottom stones – to let air in.
The finished fire pit.
The fire pit at night.

Well, does it work? I was surprised, but it does. There is very little smoke once the thing heats up. I remember the old, cheap fire pits, you had to move around depending on which way the wind blew. I’m not sure it works exactly like it is claimed – I think that actually the fire is simply well-fed with oxygen – but it works.

So we have been collecting wood from around the neighborhood – some recent severe storms have left piles of downed limbs set out on the curb before the city can pick them up – we try and scoop up what we can.

Can’t wait for winter to get here.