How to Build a Slipform Stone Fire Pit
My Dreams of Living the Good Life
I moved to this little plot of land I own about ten years ago.
Living here in the country was a dream I’d had for many years, and during those years of dreaming and planning, I read tons of books about living in the country. The people who make their living off the land, who know how to build things, plant things, and make do with what they have are my heroes.
As a child I enjoyed reading the Little House on the Prairie series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Then I read them to my daughters, and now I’m reading them to my granddaughters. In the book I’m reading to them at present, Pa Ingalls is building a house—by himself. He cuts his own logs, hauls them, hoists them up the wall as it’s being constructed, splits the shingles for the roof, hauls rocks for the chimney and constructs that. I am still so impressed by that type of ability.
When Dreams Become Reality
By the time I was able to get my little plot of land, I had my retirement income secure. I did not need to make a living here. And the land I was able to afford is not farm land. It is hilly and rocky and mostly covered with trees. But I wanted to try all those skills I had been reading about for years.
I have managed to grow some vegetables each year on the land that has been cleared. And to harvest the black walnuts and blackberries that grow wild. I have learned to fell a tree (a small one) and to cut firewood. To split kindling and make green tomato pickles. To hang my clothes outside to dry and build a good fire in the fireplace.
Putting Our Knowledge to Use
I’ve tried to put the lessons I learned in all those books I’d read to good use. In one these books, The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing, I read about slipform stone building.
The Nearing’s are the gurus of the sustainable living lifestyle, beginning in the 30’s when they left their home in the city to live off the land. They built their home using the slipform method. They also built garden walls and other structures. In their books they gave a brief discussion of how they did this. I always wanted to try it.
When I was building this home, after the initial push out by bulldozers to clear the land, I (with a little help) did most of the other clearing myself. During this process of clearing off the land, I picked up many, many rocks. For a long time they were just a pile of rocks, mostly small ones, where the grandchildren liked to play.
Last summer, I decided to use that pile of rocks and the information I had picked up about slip form rock building to build a fire pit.
The Good Life
What Is Your Idea of the Best Place to Live
When I first began planning to live here on this plot of land I thought I would be living here by myself. I had been divorced many years and my daughters were grown. They applauded my efforts all the way, but I was in this by myself.
About the time construction of my house began, however, I met someone to share things with. He too was retired, but he was living in the city in a condo (Ugh!) and planned to spend his retirement playing golf and attending all of the home games of his favorite college team.
He was here to help me during the construction process, and we were married just before we moved in. He’s always game to help with the many projects I come up with, and was here to help me with this project.
He still plays golf regularly and attends all the home game of his favorite team.
Building the WallsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Building the Fire Pit: How We Did It
- The first thing I did before beginning this project was to go back to the Nearing's book to read the instructions there. These instructions were not very clear to me, so I also looked online for information about the process. Nothing I found had all the information I needed because none of the projects were exactly like mine. But I took the information I had learned and improvised to come up with a plan that I thought would work for us.
- First we chose a place in the yard that we had already been using for campfires and leveled the site.
- Next we staked out the corners for the pit. The outside dimensions of our pit are 62 inches by 62 inches, but this can easily be adjusted. The inside dimensions are 48 inches by 48 inches. Our walls are thick enough that we can sit on the edges to roast marshmallows or hot dogs.
- First we built the inside frame and came out the desired length and built our outside frame.
- After the frame was constructed, we put in a layer of rocks on the ground.
- Then we put a sack of Sakrete in a wheelbarrow, added water according to the directions, and shoveled it over the rocks in the form.
- We kept repeating this process all the way around the form over and over until the frame was completely filled in.
- We smoothed off the top, and removed the frame and had our completed fire pit. Simple as that.
Things We Learned
- If we had them, I would have preferred to use bigger, flatter rocks. Most of the projects I have seen online use bigger, builder type stones. Many of our rocks were small, irregular field stones that were harder to use. But you use what you have.
- We decided as we were almost through that we should have braced our forms more. They began to bow out at the top. They're not terribly noticeable, though, and it's good enough for our purpose.
- The other thing we might do differently is the type of mortar we used. It tended to get a little crumbled at times. We'll research that more if we attempt a project like this again.
Don't Be Afraid to Fail
Since it was constructed, our fire pit has served us well. We have often used it for burning debris as we're clearing, and we have had many cookouts there since it was constructed.
John and I were both retired when we moved here. Prior to that, we had spent our professional lives in offices and classrooms. We've lived here now for ten years, so we're not spring chickens anymore. We're amateurs when it comes to this type of project (and sometimes it shows). But learning and trying new things is challenging and helps keep us young.
This is not a perfect fire pit. It bows a little in a couple of places and a few stones are loose. But we have received quite a few compliments on it, and we and our granddaughters all love it.
It was a perfect addition to our little place in the country.
Now I'm trying to decide what our next project should be. Any suggestions?
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