How Does A Barrel Fire Pit Work + Alternatives

large barrel fire pit with wood burning inside and a blue patio chair in background

For the sake of simplicity, there are times you want to instantly have a landscape feature complete and installed. This is where the prefabricated sheds, bird feeders, and pergolas come from.  But there’s another feature that can show up and instantly be complete, the barrel fire pit.  Ranging from the traditional 55 gallon drum to the Solo Stove, a barrel fire pit can give you an instant fire pit to gather around.

How Does A Barrel Fire Pit Work?

Some people may be telling you a barrel fire pit will look like a trashcan fire in a bad movie.  But in reality it’s not a terrible reuse of a barrel.  In most cases however, you’ll want to cut the bottom of the barrel off, as you certainly don’t need it to be as tall.  

With an experienced hand, a grinder or a cutting torch can cut a barrel in two.  For a built in barrel fire pit, the best way to go about it is to cut the top two feet of the barrel off. Then, you will discard the bottom of the barrel.  What you want is the circular perimeter for the fire pit.  Then dig a hole roughly 6-12 inches larger than the barrel, and about 12 inches deep.  Place 6 inches of masonry sand in the base of the hole. Afterward, set the barrel in place and backfill around the exterior. This will give you a partially buried barrel fire pit.  

DIY vs. Manufactured Barrel Fire Pits

If you’re thinking to yourself ‘hey that sounds like a lot of work’ you are right.  This is where some simpler solutions come into play.  When considering the trouble of cutting a barrel in half, digging a hole, and burying the thing, you may want to instead buy a barrel fire pit off the shelf.  Our favorite barrel style fire pit is the Solo Stove and the other smokeless fire pits which mimic the Solo Stove’s design.  

silver stainless steel solo stove barrel fire pit on a wooden deck with friends gathered around

Smokeless vs. Barrel Fire Pit

A smokeless fire pit is shaped like a barrel fire pit, but has an advanced ventilation system to catalyze the combustion process.  This means there’s a dual burn allowing the fire to fully combust what would become the smoke, and instead give a cleaner burn with far more heat.  This is both better for your guests. That’s because there’s very little smoke to blow in people’s faces. Additionally, it’s also good for the environment.  A cleaner burn reduces the particulates which makes its way into the air we breathe.  

If you don’t want to spring for the Solo Stove, there’s always prefabricated metal fire pits to consider.  These are purpose built to provide a safe space to make a fire. A Solo Stove doesn’t need you to do any excavation or subsurface preparation.  Obviously you should always use any fire pit a safe distance from any combustibles, like a wood deck, house, or garage.  Especially when you’re using a traditional fire source like a prefabricated metal fire pit or a barrel fire pit, safety is paramount.  

Barrel Fire Pit Summary

A barrel fire pit can be so much more than just a barrel on fire in an alley.  It can be a great addition to your backyard living and give you a traditional look in the meantime.  It’s an excellent way to augment your existing shabby chic outdoor living design. A barrel fire pit plays well with corrugated metal detailing and corten steel planters.  The use of a barrel fire pit may seem over simplified for some, but can be an excellent source of heat for the right backyard.