How to Build a Propane Fire Pit Using Gabion Baskets
A fire pit is the perfect backyard complement. Here's a propane fire pit you can build in a weekend.
More than $1000
IntroductionA gas grill is a fairly simple appliance. A 20-lb. propane tank feeds burner tubes through a thermoplastic hose with a pressure regulator. The burner tubes are perforated where gas exits to burn. Fuel, delivery, ignition. A backyard fire pit is even simpler than your gas grill; there’s no device to hold food over the flames. But you still need to consider safety with your backyard fire pit.
- Caulking gun
- Drill driver
- Hole saw
- Table saw
- Tin snips
- 1/2 in cement board
- fiber cement panels
- fire pit components
- Gabion baskets
- metal studs
- treated lumber 2x4s
- vent covers
Project step-by-step (11)
Consider if This Project Is DIYable
I look at most projects and ask, “Can I do this myself?” (I like to answer, “Of course,” and my wife then says, “Really?”) So I looked at fire pit kits, then asked and answered, “Of course.” But just because you can DIY something, that doesn’t mean you should.
My original plan involved making my own fire burner pipes from black steel or stainless steel pipe. Then I’d buy all the necessary connections, drill holes, assemble it and light the fire. I wanted the freedom to create a shape and size for my pit. And I wanted to test the different pipe types to see which worked better.
The more I discussed this with co-workers, the worse the idea sounded. We’re talking about gas and fire here. While many “experts” have shared similar projects online, we’re being more careful. Follow along as I build a propane-fueled fire pit and show you how to do it safely.
Figure Out Where to Put Your Fire Pit
To house any fire pit, start with three main considerations: clearance, ventilation and drainage. As part of our larger backyard project, I fit the fire pit burner into a gabion basket, a steel mesh rectangle filled with rocks. You order any size basket you want, then fill it with boulders to serve as a functionally ornamental border or barrier.
For complete details on gabion basket construction, see this guide
Fill the Gabion Baskets With Rocks
Inside a larger rectangular gabion basket, I placed a 30- x 10-in. basket that would support my fire pit pan-and-burner combo. I filled the larger outer basket with rocks, then filled the inner basket about halfway, adding just enough rocks to help hold its shape.
The boulders in this fire pit are large enough to allow air spaces around all sides. And it’s all noncombustible.
Secure The Fire Pit Controls
The fire pit control box fit neatly after a simple modification to the gabion basket. I cut away a couple of metal pieces to fit the wide box, then I added metal struts below and above the control box to hold it securely in place and to support one layer of rocks above it. This box includes gas flow control, a pilot switch, on/off control and a battery-operated igniter button.
I purchased this UL-listed device separate from my fire pit burner, but the control box included the igniter element that mounts alongside the burner in the fire pit pan. It’s the most expensive part of this whole fire pit, and it’s worth it. Find one online or from a local fireplace store, then follow the instructions to connect the propane line and the gas out to the fire pit.
I used PTFE gas-ready thread tape on all connections and tested them all with a leak detector spray before use.
Drop In The Fire Pit Pan
Fire pit burners and pans come in all shapes and sizes. So do gabion baskets. I started with a 30- x 10-in. fire pit pan and ordered a gabion basket of the same size — a perfect fit. Make sure your burner pan has weep holes to let water escape.
Frame the Propane Tank Box
To enclose the propane tank and its gas hose, I built a noncombustible box to sit adjacent to the gabion box. I wrapped treated 2x4s inside metal studs and nailed the structure together.
Finish the Propane Tank Box
To cover the box, I chose fiber cement siding, AKA “Hardie Panel.” These sturdy panels are normally used as siding for houses.
Because I wanted the top of this box to be even stronger, I first layered 1/2-in. Durock cement board there. Then I covered that and the rest of the box with the 1/3-in.-thick Hardie panels. I nailed the panels on, setting each nail just below the surface, then caulked all the holes and joints before painting.
Add Air Vents
I added two 5-in.-dia. air vents to the enclosure, though I left the back of the box open on the fire pit side. It’s vital to keep good airflow around that propane tank. Drilling the vent holes is slow going — you can count on burning through a hole saw — and you need a proper respirator mask when you cut or drill the fiber cement board.
Install a Door on the Propane Tank Box
You could skip the vents and forgo the door on your box, but I like having the door in place. I built a simple door frame using square aluminum tubing, sized to nest inside the door opening. Add a couple of hinges, a door latch or a heavy magnetic closure, and a handle.
Pour In The Fire Glass
I purchased fire glass to surround my fire burner pipes; lava rocks work too. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s tempered to withstand the fire. Regular glass would smoke, melt or even explode. I chose reflective fire glass (instead of non-reflective) because it acts like many tiny mirrors to enhance the look of the fire.
Fill the pan with enough glass or rocks just to cover the burner holes. Too much fire glass can trap the gas and be dangerous upon ignition, especially when you use propane.
Safety and Maintenance Tips
- Follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions for any fire pit components you purchase.
- Establish a kid-free zone and maintain adult supervision while children are near the fire.
- Insects and rodents could nest in your fire pit or near the propane tank enclosure. Check before using.
- Clean the fire glass periodically with a vinegar-and-water mix.