There’s nothing quite like spending time by the side of an open fire in Africa. We all love hearing the sound of crackling wood as it is engulfed by the flames that comes from it. I imagine everyone gets lost in their imagination as the auburn beams swirl around hypnotically. And although I’d usually have to wait for a camping trip to experience this wonder, neither you nor I have to wait for such expeditions.
Here’s how you can bring the awe of fireside splendor to your backyards. Build a fire pit bowl ,which is weather resistant, sturdy and portable. Though this project will need proper preparation, the materials you will need will only cost you between R100 and R200.
To get you started, you’ll need these tools and materials:
- AfriSam DIY concrete premix
- One extra-large bowl for exterior mold (Consider a bowl with 17″ diameter)
- One large bowl for interior mold (Try a bowl with 15″ diameter)
- Vegetable oil, non-stick cooking spray and a paintbrush
- Large mixing bucket
- Medium-duty masonry trowel
Proper safety gear for working with concrete:
- Dust mask for sanding and grinding
- Safety goggles
- Work gloves
- Plastic or reusable cloth
You’ll also need:
- Heavy objects such as exercise weights or rocks and bricks
- Sandpaper or sanding pad in coarse and fine grits
- Gel fireplace fuel canisters
- Replacement grill grate (Based on our bowl diameters, we used a grill grate that is 14 1/2″ in diameter)
- And lastly, fire safe decorative stones
With all your tools and materials ready for use, you can start making the fire pit bowl. Keep in mind that safety comes first and whether you’re a DIY beginner or pro, don’t take for granted the terrible mishaps that can happen if you have not taken proper safety measures.
The first of the four phases in constructing the fire pit bowl is:
CASTING THE BOWL
Again, try finding the largest bowl you can find for the outer main bowl. Go to a party supply store or ask the chef at your nearest restaurant for extra-large mixing bowl suppliers. We used plastic and stainless steel for our bowls. If you have a glass bowl, try making a dummy mould to test it out.
It can be a challenge to do by hand, so be prepared to put in some elbow-grease when mixing the cement. Make sure that you protect your work area by laying plastic on the table, bench or floor area. Tape all your plastic down to avoid any spillage and be sure to work outside or in a well-ventilated area.
We cannot stress the issue of safety enough, so have your eye goggles, gloves and mask ready to protect your lungs, eyes and skin from exposure to cement particles. Visit your local hardware store and ask for advice on the best – affordable – safety gear.
Begin by spraying your bowls with vegetable oil or non-stick cooking spray, to help release the cement once it’s dry. Do this on both the outer bowl and the inner bowl, applying an even and generous layer of the oily substance on both.
- 1.Now, mix up your cement. It may be hard to determine the exact matric of how much you’ll need, so rather start by making a lot in the beginning. Add bits of water to your mix until it’s formed a thick, cookie batter-like consistency.
- 2.Use the trowel to add the cement mix to the outer mould. Fill it about half full, and then check the inner mould to see how high the cement comes up to the side. It’s okay to take the inner mold in and out a few times, just make sure you don’t lose all your non-stick spray. (You can wipe it clean and reapply). A friend or extra pair of hands is helpful here. Then, use weights or rocks to keep it in place.
Good to know:
- As you place the inner mould, make sure that it’s centered so your bowl will have an even thickness all the way around
- Keep the lips of the bowls coplanar for an even, symmetrical finished product
- Adjust the weights so that you have the biggest inner bowl as possible while keeping the structure thick enough to be strong. You’ll want to be sure that there’s enough space on the inside to place your gel canisters beneath the lip of the bowl.
- 3.For a super smooth finished surface, try this: use something with a motor to vibrate the bowl to remove any air bubbles inside the mold. Anything with an oscillating or rotary tool, even an immersion blender willOnce it’s settled and things are no longer moving, allow the cement to cure according to the package directions, which roughly translates to about 48 hours.
FINISHING THE BOWL
- 4.Now that the cement has cured, carefully remove it from the mould. A light tap with a rubbery peg, mallet or log-like object will do the trick. Do this to free your inner and outer moulds. The cement is solid at this point, so don’t be afraid, but do be careful since it’s quite heavy.
- 5.Use a coarse sanding pad (60-80 grit) to clean up the top lip, and give everything a nice rounded profile. Again, since you’ll be generating a lot of fine particulate dust, wear your safety glasses, gloves, and dust mask.
Wipe away the debris and give the whole thing a round of fine grit sandpaper. Since cement doesn’t have any fibers or grain like wood, you don’t have to work your way up. Any pattern of sanding will remove any irregularities or smooth things up.
ASSEMBLE THE FIRE PIT
- 6.Lastly, take the fire pit bowl outside, and place the gel fuel canisters inside. Those are available at a local fireplace, swimming pool or outdoor recreation store. But, some hardware stores supply them as well.
- 7.Place the grill grate in theMake sure it sits about half way form the surface of the internal diameter bowl. If you can’t find one, you can cut a larger one to size with a hacksaw or grinder, or create your own from hardware cloth or steel mesh.
- 8.Then, cover the grate with a layer of rocks. “Mexican beach pebbles” are commonly used with fire. They’ll definitely stand up to the heat and won’t explode into flaming shrapnel with extended use. So, be sure that whatever rocks you’re using are appropriate for the purpose.
LIGHT IT UP!
The fires generated by these fire pits aren’t very large but they do provide a great ambiance for entertaining. And don’t worry about getting the fire started or snuffing it out. Doing both is quite easy.
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