Build an Outdoor Fireplace
She had never mortared or laid bricks before...and look what she accomplished all on her own!
By Peggy Barnard, Bettendorf, Iowa
After I had an addition constructed on the back of my house, I decided I wanted to build my own outdoor fireplace. I've had a more primitive fire pit since 1980, but once I added on to my home, I felt it needed a more formalized place to relax with family and friends.
I had never used mortar or laid bricks before, let alone score and cut them, but with some research, I felt it was a project worth pursuing.
I used graph paper to sketch a preliminary drawing to determine the size and height I wanted and estimated the number of bricks I would need. With help from my boyfriend and my brother, we trenched out the ground to accept the pad needed to handle the weight of the fireplace. We dug approximately 1 foot down and built up a frame around the perimeter.
We dug 4 footings spaced across the length of the pad, added rebar in the footings and added 6 inches of crushed rock to the floor. To give a good sound structure to the pad, we laid down wire mesh and more rebar, and then had a cement slab poured that was 6 inches deep. We also added rebar pins in the cement so we would be able to lock the first course of brick to the pad. Needless to say, the fireplace was not going to sink, shift or topple off the pad.
The cutting of the bricks turned out to be harder than I thought. I had purchased the scoring tool and mallet, and on my first attempts to score and cut bricks that way, I quickly found out that it was going to be a futile proposition. Miss hits, partially cut bricks—I was horrible at it. Frustrated, I bought a wet saw for $200 at a discounted tool store. It paid for itself many times over.
For the seating areas, I intended to lay a pattern of brick, but was advised not to by a masonry contractor, whose advice I sought on how to taper the bricks in on the chimney. When I told him my plans for the brick benches, he suggested a solid bench rather than the brick ones because of our harsh winters. He explained that freezing and thawing would quickly destroy the integrity of the benches. So with that new bit of information, I designed and measured for limestone benches and caps for the chimney.
I made many trips down to our city's brick and stone store to go over the measurements of the limestone pieces I would be incorporating into my design. The folks down there were great. I brought the employees treats on occasion for putting up with my needy behavior.
Eventually, things wrapped up and the last pieces were mortared into place and I was down to the last details on my fireplace. I decided to put a time capsule under the bench area where I had stacked six cement blocks on end to fill the void under the benches. I gathered some items of interest to me and my family, and some newspaper clippings of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, plus a few River Cities' Readers. I put them into plastic containers and inserted them into the holes of the cement blocks. I bricked up the end of the cement blocks under the bench to secure the time capsule. We figure it will be there for the next 200 years.
Now that I'm finished, I must say that my fireplace is everything I hoped it would be. How's that for someone who's never laid a brick before?