Build an Ultimate Outdoor FirePit Complete With Custom Cap Stone: the ManPit




Introduction: Build an Ultimate Outdoor FirePit Complete With Custom Cap Stone: the ManPit


In the steps ahead you will learn to build a great fire pit that's aesthetically pleasing as well as easy to build and last but certainly not least pretty easy on your wallet, in fact this project cost me less than 100 bucks. Let me stress that anyone can do this and its not as hard as you think, and when your done its something you can brag to your friends about which we all know is the most important thing right? The remainder of page 1 will be mostly the thought process and design elements i went through prior to actual construction.

This is my entry into the Outdoors Contest, all votes are greatly appreciated.


Build the ultimate fire pit that would:
     1.- Be sturdy built, and will last for years.
     2.- Double as a functional grill with accessories (which i will also show you how to make)
     3.- Be much cheaper than a store bought fire pit as well as be personally customizable.
     4.- Must be somewhat kid safe (i have a 2yr old as well as a 1yr old)
     5.- Must be easily built with everyday building materials.

Materials list:

1.- Quikrete ( 2 x 80lb. bags and 2 x 5000 mix)
2.- Mortar ( 2 bags )
3.- Bricks ( standard red )
4.- 2x4's ( i actually reclaimed some from a couple broken pallets)
5.- 55 gallon drum ( cut in half long ways )
6.- One 4'x8' sheet of malamine wood. (reclaimed scrap from wood working shop)
8.- Large box of 3" wood screws
9.- tube of caulk (silicone)
10.- Re-mesh and wire
11.- Table saw
12.- Miter saw
13.- Trowel
14.- Wheel barrow
15.- Hoe and shovel
16.- Rubber mallet
17.- Drill
18.- Cut off wheel

1.- Broken bottles of your favorite color (b** light platinum : blue)
2.- Spent 12 gauge shell casings with plastic cut off
3.- 67 camaro emblem
4.- Gravel for leveling

A little on the author and the thought process that went into this project:

      My name is Daniel, I work in the electrical maintenance field. I recently purchased my first home and noticed the last owner has left me several standard red bricks. Right away I knew what they would become however I have zero masonry experience. I then began doing research on fire pit designs and masonry construction. Some things I noticed about most well built fire pits was two things; 1.-  Most of them were quite expensive for what i felt was not much and 2.- All of them used either fire brick or a metal ring neither of which are cheap. Since I had regular red brick I decided I needed something along the lines of the metal ring to shield the heat from the bricks so I asked myself what do I have laying around that would work well?. That is what led me to design mine utilizing half a 55 gallon drum as the basis for designing my fire pit. Also with the curvature of the barrel it works to keep the fire centered in the fire pit which keeps the temps of the cap stone and walls cool to touch for up to six hours, which goes back to making it safer for young children. Also makes it nice to be able to sit cold beverages on it during cool nights outside.
     After deciding to base my design around a 55 gallon barrel, next came the cap stone which led me to this site to an instructable I had read a couple years ago dealing with how to build a concrete countertop. I read the instructable several times and then began planning mine, with the mindset that i wanted it to look good, and also wanted to personalize it to where no matter who saw it they would know it was me. It was only after these things i started drawing it on paper as well as my cad program, designing it from foundation to finish.

So lets get started!!!!

Step 1: Draw It Up

Creating your blueprints:

     Now that you know what materials you will be using its time to begin putting the design on paper. Since you know the design will be based around a 55 gallon barrel we can begin by drawing the dimensions to scale on graph paper or in a cad program.  The barrel i used has the dimensions 23.5" x 34.5" which means that the inside edge of the foundation needs to be larger than that. Lets start by drawing the 2x4 forms we will be setting in place to pour the foundation.

Foundation blueprints:
   To create the foundation blueprints we will start by drawing the actual dimensions of the foundation itself to scale using graph paper. Next we will encase the foundation in forms by drawing 2x4's to scale around the inside and outside of the foundation. This way we can double check our math on what length to cut each 2x4.

Capstone blueprints:
  Creating the capstone blueprints are almost exactly like the foundation blueprints with the exception that you will cut the inside walls with 45 degree miters. This is done to keep the water saturated concrete from swelling the inner layer of wood in the malemine which is basically just compacted sawdust.

Foundation cut-list:

  • 2 x 24"

  • 2 x 32"

  • 2 x 39"

  • 2 x 47"

Capstone cut-list:

  • 2 x 35" w/45 degree miter

  • 2 x 24" w/45 degree miter

  • 2 x 37.5"

  • 2 x 47"

Step 2: Grab a Shovel and Scare the Neighbors

Getting a level foundation.

Now that you have your blueprints, lets get some real work done. Start by digging out an area about twice the size as your pit. Dig down 6 to 8 inches and make sure to inform your neighbors its not a grave lol. Try to dig it out somewhat level. Doesnt take to long and in an hour or so you should have something along the lines of picture 1 and 2

     If you purchased gravel now is the time to use it.Pour A 3-ish inch layer of gravel and get it level-ish. Make sure to tamp the gravel down with something i used a hoe. Once you have a level-ish surface it should get you looking somewhat like picture 3 this

     Now get out your foundation blueprints and cut-list and begin cutting your 2x4's to proper length. Now you can construct two boxes which will create the foundation forms for the concrete. Pay special attention to squareness and levelness while constructing your forms it will make it easier on you in the long run. Once the forms are complete lay them in your dug hole and center them up. True them to each other by measuring the distance in between the inside and outside form in several spots while adjusting them.
     once your forms are in place level them ( this may be one of the most important steps ) make sure that they are not only level but level with one another by placing the level across both forms in several spots. This step may take some time but time well spent here will make it easier for the duration of the project.

     Now its time for our first concrete pour and by first i literally meant this was the first time i mixed concrete. Grab your wheelbarrow and pour a bag of your standard 80lb quikrete into it. Take a hoe and push 3/4's of it to one side. Dump approx half a gallon of water onto the side with the least amount and get it good and soupy, then slowly pull small amounts from the other side into your soupy mix til you get the correct consistency at which time add another half gallon of water and continue pulling mix into the soupy mixture til you have it all mixed up. When your done you should have the consistency that isnt soupy but not dry either. As i realize that statement is as clear as mud do a quick search online of what your concrete should look like when its ready to pour.
     Shovel the concrete into your form it should take less than two bags. Fill the forms full and overflow them, take a scrap piece of 2x4 thats long enough to span the forms and screed the concrete to the same height as your level forms, creating a level foundation for your project.

     Now grab a cold beverage of your choice and kick back in a chair and envision what your manfire-pit will look like. Allow a couple days dry time.

Step 3: Become a Master Mason... ISH

Brick laying 101

     If your like me you've never laid a brick in your life though you may have seen someone do it. A bit of advice..DONT Watch youtube video's..... I did and it killed me, not because there wasn't instructional videos but because you get sidetracked and end up watching master masons laying like 1.5 bricks a second and think hell that doesn't look to bad then when it takes you 10 minutes to lay a brick and level it you feel like a failure. Trust me they make it look easy and there good at what they do. With that being said i will never brick a house but a fire-pit oh yea bring it. Due to the shear volume of videos and articles on brick laying i will not have much on the subject. Pretty much just lay down a glob of mortar on your foundation take a brick and apply a glob of mortar on the leading edge and set, level and repeat.  The goal is to get approx 3/8" mortar joints on all sides of your brick but don't get carried away with a tape measure. You may have to split a few bricks if so use a chisel and chisel a line all the way around the brick where you need it split. Make sure to stagger each layer as if you were building a lego fire pit.
     It doesn't have to be perfect and mine sure isn't but make an extra effort on the last layer to make it level so your capstone will seat right and not wobble. Also on the last layer take and fill the holes in the bricks as added level support to your capstone. Let them sit for around 4 hours before continuing.
     After letting your bricks sit take a look at your mortar joints, if there anything like mine they looked horrible, some had to much and others not enough. Well my father showed me a trick that worked amazingly, take a wire brush and brush every joint so that they all look consistent. Worked great just make sure you wait 3 or 4 hours before you do this.
     While your waiting its a good time to split your barrel in two with a cutoff wheel, or sawzall (be careful and check what contents were in the barrel previously and watch for flammable liquids, if needed, purge barrel with argon or other non flammable gas for added protection). Now take and test fit your barrel half into your man-pit. Test fit both pieces as one will probably fit better since its tough to split a barrel in half perfectly. Save the other half as we will use it to make an accessory to the pit.

Once again kick back have a cold beverage and in a couple days once your mortar has set test out your pit before moving on to the most labor intensive step thus far.

Planning ahead

   It was at this time that i started thinking about my capstone, i didn't want it to be as smooth as glass but wanted a rugged outdoor-ish look with some shine to it. I began searching for a concrete sealer that would withstand high temps, i dunno whether they don't make it or i didn't find it but after searching i decided to try something out of the normal.
     I noticed some of the sealers was nothing more than just an acrylic enamal like clear coat. So i decided to go with super high temp engine clear coat in a spray can. And after several fires i can say it works very well. Although after doing some r&d by placing a thermometer on the bricks where the capstone will sit i found only the inside edge is exposed to high heat, the rest could be regular epoxy sealer/coat.

Step 4: Build Your Capstone Forms

Building a concrete capstone

     Pull out the capstone blueprints,the malamine sheet and your large box of 3" screws (malamine is used because the water in concrete will not make the malamine swell as long as it doesnt come in contact with the inner wood on the sheets). Grab the cut-list and begin ripping 2.5" strips of malamine off the 4' side followed by cutting the strips to the dimensions you determined on the miter saw. Make sure the inside wall has 45 degree miters on them, the goal is to make sure as little of the inner wood is exposed as possible, then use caulk to seal those places.
     First take a sharpie and layout the dimensions of your capstone, this way you know that the box you build should keep the lines you have drawn inside it. If you look closely in picture 1 you can see the layout done in sharpie, also you can see the 45 degree miters on the inside form. Take the pieces of 2.5" malamine and dry stack it to ensure it will be correct. Now were ready to secure our forms to the base. Take a 3" drill bit smaller than your wood screws and begin drilling pilot holes through the strips and into the base, i started with one corner than the other corner making sure the inside edges lined up with my sharpie lines, secure the ends with screws. Then drill every 3" inches and secure with a screw. Take the extra time to make sure your forms are straight and make good corner joints. Once you have your form made and screwed down, take some silicone caulk and caulk all the joints to keep the water in the concrete from getting into the wood. This also will create rounded edges which looks better and from a parents point of view may be the difference between a bruise and stitches from a sharp corner.

Time for man-decor time

There are endless possibilities for aesthetics for your cap stone, i chose broken glass bottles, shot gun shells and a camaro emblem. Ive also seen sea shells marbles and just about anything else you can think of also done so its really about making it personal. Anything you want to strategically place, use spray glue and glue it to the form. And dont forget like i did to glue some glass to the side walls so they dont look plain.

Call in the re-inforcements:
Now we need to insert remesh for added support and longevity of life. Without some kind of reinforcement it will probably fall apart at some point. Pick up some remesh from your local supplier and cut it to fit inside your form making sure that it will not come within 1" of any wall. Then get some small pieces of 2x4 and make spacers to hold the remesh above the surface of your form while you secure it with wire. I drilled and inserted screws on the outside of the mold every 5 inches inside and out then secured the remesh to them with copper speaker wire. Once the remesh is tied off all the way around then remove your 2x4 blocks. Whalah were ready for some more concrete.

Step 5: Pouring, Curing, De-Forming and Grinding.

Filling the capstone forms with quikrete 5000:
Now its time to fill your form with concrete. Grab a couple bags of quikrete 5000 and mix to the same consistency as the foundation maybe a hair more wet. Using your hands to start off gently lay concrete into the form all the way around the form until your about an inch deep so not to disturb the manly decor underneath. Once you have it built up all the way around to about 1" you can get more aggressive with it. Fill it till its slightly overflowing. Now grab a rubber mallet and begin wailing on the form in a downward motion striking the outside of the form for approx. 10-15 minutes, this is to vibrate out the air bubbles in the concrete which weaken the concrete and give a bad appearance.  Let the mold sit for 20 minutes then wail on it some more. After two or three sessions screed off the overflowing form to a nice level surface.

  The curing of concrete happens over a prolonged period of time, up to 30 days. We want to catch it before it has hardened to the point of requiring diamond grinding pads which are costly, instead lets catch it while its soft enough to use traditional grinding stones and sand paper.  Around day 2 or 3 is when you want to move on.

Once the concrete is starting to harden to the point that you have trouble scratching it with your fingernails then its time to take apart the forms and flip the capstone over so you can grind and sand it.  The outside of the form is easy remove the screws and put them back in there box for another project and remove the outside form walls. The inside walls may be more difficult. I chiseled a corner of one wall off then removed the rest one at a time. Be careful during this process and pay attention to the concrete, if you dont think its hard enough to flip then wait another day but if it is then grab a buddy and flip it over and begin the grinding process.

  I did my grinding at a different point than most that make concrete countertops. Most suggest waiting 5 or 6 days then using diamond grinding pads to sand the concrete to a mirror finish that resembles granite. I on the other hand didnt want to go that far with it, i wanted it to look more natural. So after two days i decided instead of waiting til it was super hard and investing in diamond pads, i would wait two days and hit it with regular sand paper and grinding wheels.  I gotta say i think it turned out rather well. The concrete was dry enough to hold shape but soft enough to sand. Use a 2x4 as a sanding block if you dont have one.
     First use a regular grinding wheel to expose the aggregate and broken glass, it wont take much so dont use any pressure. Once you have the desired amount of aggregate and glass showing move on to sanding with 60 grit paper. Use the 60 grit to get a flat surface and remove your grinder marks. A 2x4 or sanding block makes it pretty easy. Make sure to sand the sides of the capstone as well as the top and to make it extra smooth keep the capstone slightly wet.  Once your done with 60 grit repeat this step with 120, 180, 220, 320, 400 and 600 at which time you will be done. 

Step 6: Setting and Sealing

Setting the capstone:
     a week after the pour its time to set the capstone, theres two ways you can do it, set it in mortar, or drystack it. I decided to drystack just in case i ever needed to access the barrel. Grab a buddy and tilt the stone up and set it in place, making sure to center it.

Sealing the capstone:
Before sealing the capstone give it a good bath and let it dry very very well before sealing. After doing some tests with a thermometer i believe any sealer would work on the surface of the capstone due to the fact that it doesnt get hot. However the inside edge does, i recommend using some 1200 degree black grill paint on the inside edge, then seal the top, i used 1200 degree clear coat but may go back later with epoxy. Let it sit overnight.
     Now you need to cure the high temp paint or clear on the capstone, to do this start a small fire inside the pit and let the capstone slowly warm up, the next day start a slightly bigger fire and the third days start a full size fire. This will cure the ceramic in the paint.

And just like that its a manpit.

Now to the accessories.

Step 7:

Manpit accessories:
This page i will go over a few accessories ive made for the man pit and why they are worth building. I will start with the easiest to build and progress to the more difficult ones.

Water drainage:
Drill 1/2" holes every 6 inches in the bottom of the barrel in the pit so water can drain out.

The man-weenie stick:
    Take a green, straight stick thats around 4 ft in length and has a smaller end diameter of approx. 1/4".  Shave the end to a point, now move up 6 inches and score a line around the diameter of the stick with ur knife cutting through the outside layer of bark, move up 1" and do the same. Score a line from the first score line to the second and peel the bark off to make a clean cut revealing the white under the bark, repeat every 6 inches.

Ash removal and barrel saver:
Take the other half of the barrel from this build and cut the circular ends off leaving you with a rounded piece of sheet metal, place in the pit as a removable bottom which makes ash removal a breeze and also keeps the bottom of your barrel from ever burning out.

Almost a must for this fire pit, take some 1" angle and expanded metal and weld together a grate that will set on the manpit then take two 1/4" brake lines or stainless lines thats about a ft in length and bend them into a handle so you dont need gloves to pick it up after cooking with it.

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    great ible!!!!!! Just one question though what was your final cost?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    My final cost was not much at all, The bricks were already here when I bought the house, Already had the barrel, and the white malemine. My only real costs were the mortar, concrete, trowel, caulk and some other odds and ends so my cost was under 50 bucks I think. do some searching on craigslist and you can probably source most of the parts as well.


    9 years ago

    Very nice job, well done. M


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome looking pit, love the instructable! Couple questions, Where did you get the drum? Around how much did it cost ? And lastly, how easy would it be to take down? I'm living in a rental house and the grass has to be back before we move out in a couple years.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    The drum was free from a friend however the prices vary wildly, I can get them for around 20 bucks around here but some people say they can get them cheaply at all. If you need one that can be taken down I have some suggestions, instead of using mortar, use construction adhesive or just drystack the bricks, also instead of pouring a cement foundation use "dense grade" gravel and sand to create a level surface then it should be as simple as removing the cap stone and unstacking your bricks followed by disposing your gravel and sand then the grass will be able to grow quickly.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    If You Enjoyed My Instructable Vote For It In The Outdoor Projects Contest


    Question 4 years ago

    I know this is a very old post, BUT, how has the concrete capstone held up over the years? Anything you’d do different?


    67 camaro emblem LOL. I have an old 1971 MGB emblem. I could give it a British touch and have to work on it every week. How hard would it be to use a burner like this? We have a wood burning ban in place here at the moment and don't want to get the authorities crashing our party.


    Reply 7 years ago

    it wouldnt be difficult at all i dont think, pipe it in and have a tank for a supply. i almost did that myself


    8 years ago

    Be cautious when cutting into old drums/barrels. If previously used, it may have contained flammable product at one time. Make sure the barrel is open when cutting it and try to remove any old contaminants before starting so that combustible gases can escape. Safest bet is to use a new one!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Really depends on what you mean, usually we sit by the fire and prop our feet on the capstone to warm up. Are you asking if you can feel the heat from where I usually sit??


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I'm sorry, but your text is unreadable to me because of your use of capitals on every single word. Could you perhaps fix that ?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks!! I just wanted something unique, and relatively cheap.