Railroad Tie Fire Pit: How To Build, Pros/Cons

small railroad tie and gravel fire pit in backyard with white chairs and dark brown tree stumps

If you have a backyard space where you want to put in a fire pit, the options available can be overwhelming.  Do you build with paver blocks or with stone?  Once you start pricing these options out it can seem like you’re going to spend the earth on a simple fire pit.  Are there any other options that’ll be less pricey?  You may be thinking how about a railroad tie fire pit. In this article we’ll go over how to create one, and why you might want to reconsider.

What Is A Railroad Tie Fire Pit?

Now obviously we’re not going to line the fire pit itself with railroad ties.  That would be ridiculous.  We don’t want to be using wood to form a border for the fire where we burn wood.  However, railroad ties can make an excellent border for a sandy fire pit area to keep it apart from your lawn.  Think of the railroad tie fire pit as a pavilion. The sandy or pea gravel area inside the railroad ties will make for the ideal place to burn wood with friends.

You can simply make a fire on the sand or gravel in the middle. Alternatively, we’d suggest you create a fire pit border with some fire pit pavers, or a precast fire pit.  A Solo stove is one of our favorite options, as it’s a smokeless fire pit.  

How To Build A Railroad Tie Fire Pit

A railroad tie fire pit is obviously not something you buy, it’s something you build. In this step by step guide, we’ll walk you through building one. Follow our directions carefully, but also free free to inject your own creativity. Not all railroad tie fire pits look the same, but most work similarly.

Outline Fire Pit Size

Whatever you do for the fire box itself, the first order of business is deciding how big of an area you want to create for the fire pit.  Ideally you’ll not need to cut any of the railroad ties.  Railroad ties are typically 7” x 9” x 8’ long.  At a minimum, you should create a 16’ x 16’ fire pit pavilion.  If you were to create a 4’ fire box in the middle, this would give you a six foot area for chairs around the fire pit. This is just about the perfect amount of space.

Remove Any Nearby Grass

Usually what you’ll want to do is dig through the top layer of grass. Then, you will remove the grass in the fire pit area. That way you can level out the perimeter perfectly where the railroad ties will be laid down. A little prep work here will go a long way.  Perhaps your ground is difficult to level out. You can over dig a bit, and bring in some pea gravel to create a nice level surface to lay the railroad ties down.

small railroad tie fire pit with wooden benches and gray stone pavers in backyard

Drill Spikes And Backfill

Once your railroad ties are placed and leveled out, you can drill through the face of the railroad ties for your spikes. After you’ve spiked the railroad ties into place it’s time to backfill inside the railroad ties with sand or pea gravel.  You may want to get a load of material delivered, or you can buy by the bag from a home improvement or landscape supply store.  

Either way this is going to be heavy and exhausting work without the use of a machine.  If you can drive your truck all the way to the fire pit to deliver the sand or pea gravel that’d be a great help, but that’s not always possible.

Build Firebox + Place Fire Pit

Once you get your fire pit area backfilled, you can set your Solo stove or precast fire pit in place, and it’s fire time!  Or, if you want to build a masonry firebox, you can get to work on that.  Either way, you’re much of the way there.  A railroad tie fire pit creates a safe place to burn. You don’t need to worry about sparks popping out onto the lawn.  However, is it for everyone?

Railroad Tie Fire Pit Cons

Why might you not want to build a railroad tie fire pit?  Sometimes a railroad tie fire pit is not the right solution. Sometimes getting your hands on railroad ties that aren’t complete junk is hard. Other times you may want to use pressure treated 8×8’s or 6×6’s instead.  In still other situations the use of wood to border your fire pit area might not be the best aesthetic solution.  However you get your fire pit built,  a fire pit is better than no fire pit.