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Photo by Chris Casella

Fire in the Bowl

Any Midwesterner worth her weight in long underwear craves a good fire in the Columbus winter. But, for those of us (maybe most of us) not blessed with an expansive backyard, 614Living has a simple, versatile solution, employing another regional staple as a key ingredient.

This clean modern concrete fire pit is an inexpensive project that acts as a great alternative for those of us who have limited outdoor space but still want to enjoy the warm and mesmerizing ambience of an outdoor fire. This weather-resistant and sleek decor uses clean-burning gel sternos as a heat source, so it can be safely used on tabletops, patios, or in a small yard. The entire building process including drying time for the cement takes just a few hours, making it a rewarding and easy weekend project for anyone in the wintery months ahead.

Tools and Materials

1 bag quick-drying concrete

2 large bowls (one slightly smaller)

Trowel

Respirator

Gloves

Goggles

Fine-grit sandpaper block

Gel-fuel sternos

Small grill grate

Decorative stones

Step 1: Making the Concrete Mold 

First you will need to find two large bowls to use as molds for the concrete base. I paid a visit to one of our local restaurant supply companies and picked up a monstrous 30-quart bowl and a 16-quart stainless steel mixing bowl, but if you are thrifty you could easily find what you are looking for by scouring the shelves of the local second-hand shops. Liberally coat your “molds” with a nonstick cooking spray so that the concrete cast will slide out easily once dry.

Working with concrete is not difficult, just be sure to don the proper safely gear (goggles, gloves, and a respirator) and find a well-ventilated area to work. Start by mixing a bag of quick-drying cement according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and begin by filling the larger of the two bowls about half way and pressing the mixture up the sides of the bowl.

The goal is to create a thin uniform layer between the two molds, so use the smaller bowl to see how far the concrete comes up the sides. You may have to remove the smaller bowl a few times to add more material; just be sure to recoat with non-stick spray before placing it back into the mold. Once the mold is full, place weights or rocks inside the smaller bowl to hold it in place while the concrete cures.

Step 2: Finishing the Concrete Bowl

Once everything has dried (mine took about two hours), carefully remove your concrete bowl from the molds. You may need to tap the mold lightly with a rubber mallet to free the outer bowl. Using a fine-grain sanding block, lightly sand the surfaces of the bowl to smooth out any rough areas or imperfections.

Step 3: Assembling your Fire Pit

Place the three to four gel sternos inside and put the grill grate on top. My grate fit inside the bowl about one-half inch above the sternos, but if you can’t find the right size, you can always make a custom one out of metal mesh. Finally, cover the grate with a layer of decorative stones and light it up!

Although this is not going to create a raging bonfire, the gel canisters can burn for several hours and will emit some pretty good heat, allowing you to enjoy the great outdoors for a little longer during the cold weather. For about $50, you can create this easy-to-use and quick-to-snuff-out alternative to a traditional fire pit that is portable and can be used in any small space!

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