Introduction: Backyard Guardian: Steel Drum Fire Pit
This is a backyard fire pit made from a 55-gallon steel drum, inspired by the Guardian Stalker robots from the video game Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The top half is removable and can be used like a chiminea to keep the fire contained, which is beneficial in our relatively small yard.
The fire tub itself sits about 8 inches above the ground so the grass underneath doesn't get singed.
And bonus: it's yard art! There's a decorative lid that goes on top when we're done with a fire, which completes the Guardian look.
This instructable documents the steps I took to make this, and the things I learned along the way. Hopefully there's something here you can take away for your next project.
Thanks for checking this out!
Step 1: Steel Drum
I started with this old 55-gallon barrel drum.
It was used to hold wheat, so there were no nasty chemicals to worry about.
This drum came with a lid which is a key part in the design.
Step 2: Plan
The basic plan was to use the top rolled edge of the drum as well as the bottom pan portion, and join these parts together to essentially create a squatty little barrel as the fire tub.
The ribs from the middle section would be used to make some legs.
The remaining drum material would be used to make the chimney portion later on.
This diagram shows the approximate measurements for how I cut up the drum.
Step 3: Mask, Mark, Cut
I put some masking tape on the areas I planned to cut so my marker lines would show up easily for cutting.
To mark these lines, one approach would be to stack up some scrap boards or books to the desired height and hold a marker in place on top, and either slide the stack around the drum to make a line or gently spin the drum against the marker.
Two tools made quick work of cutting up the drum after the lines were marked: an angle grinder to make the initial plunge cut followed by a jigsaw with a metal cutting blade.
Step 4: Breakdown Complete
After breaking down the drum, each rib ring was cut into three equal sections using a portable bandsaw. This is a portable bandsaw stand I made to hold my little metal bandsaw.
The remaining three rings of metal were set aside for now.
Step 5: Prep Metal, Clamp, Spot Weld
I recently picked up this cordless Milwaukee right angle die grinder, mainly for doing this type of careful sheet metal prep work.
This thing is amazing and I love it. I don't want to give up the shop space or the coins for a huge air compressor capable of handling tools like pneumatic die grinders and sanders, so thankfully there are some excellent electric choices on the market now vs. when I was younger.
I used this little grinder with a 36 grit disc to remove the paint along the edges where the drum top and bottom sections were to be joined.
Using some sheet metal clamps (got mine at Harbor Freight) I clamped the two sections together.
I'm using a 110v wire-feed mig welder (Hobart 140) with argon/CO2 gas mix.
The two sections were joined with tack welds placed on opposite sides first, then in between, and then filling in the gaps every few inches apart all around.
Step 6: Close the Gaps With More Spot Welds
You have to manage the welding heat with sheet metal far more carefully than when you're welding thicker metals.
Aside from dialing in your welder settings correctly, you have to be quick-ish on the tacks and space them out to keep the heat from concentrating in one area for too long and warping the metal.
More single tack welds were added by working around the drum continually to eventually close all the gaps.
This was new to me and several times I stayed a split second too long on a tack, and it would blow right through the thin metal leaving a hole.
When this happened I'd carefully fill the hole back in by angling my wire gun as needed to gently build up the wall material until the hole was gone. This required very short spurts, followed by a few seconds of letting the metal cool, then repeating: zzzt, wait wait wait, zzzt, wait wait wait, etc.
After there was a continuous joint all around, I ground the weld down with an angle grinder. This revealed how wavy my joint actually was (last photo). I'm okay with that, as I'm just learning and this is for fun.
Step 7: Add Legs
I set the completed tub up on a small bucket to hold it, and welded the leg pieces in place.
I just eye-balled the placement and tried to space them evenly.
Step 8: Basic Fire Pit
At this point the basic fire pit was done.
Time to figure out how to make a Guardian-looking chimney structure!
The two larger rings of metal were about 8" tall. Each of these was cut into 7 equal sections which were about 10 inches long.
All 14 of these sections were then cut down the middle lengthwise, making 28 rectangular pieces sized approximately 4" by 10".
Step 9: Chimney Structure, Lower Half
The lower half of the top is shaped like a Bundt cake.
To make this I started by taking one of the 4" by 10" pieces of metal and bending it into a profile that felt Bundt-cakey.
Then I traced this onto my worktable to make a template for bending all the other pieces. I wasn't sure how many pieces this would take so I only worked on one piece at at time.
Each piece was bent to match this profile, and then placed at an angle against an existing previous piece. A line was traced onto the new piece where it should mate against the existing piece, then cut, prepped to bare metal for welding, then tacked in place against the previous piece.
The photos show the process I went through and I've added some photo notes to explain details.
This was the most complicated part of the project, but also where I had the most fun.
Step 10: Hole in the Lid
The middle of the original drum lid was removed.
Step 11: Weld Bundt Cake Shape to Lid
The completed Bundt cake shape was now welded to the drum lid.
A ring was cut from the middle portion of the lid that was removed in the last step, and this was tacked onto the top.
Step 12: Chimney Structure, Upper Half
At this stage there were 10 remaining pieces of the 4" by 10" metal, and these were used to create an upside down bucket shape to become the upper half of the chimney.
Each of these pieces of metal was cut so there was a 1/2" straight taper down each long side. Using a mallet and a small piece of rail track, I pounded each piece to curve it slightly across the width.
These pieces were then prepped and tacked together to create the bucket shape, and this was then tacked in place on top of the Bundt cake.
Step 13: Ring
I still had a 2.25" ring of material left over, so I used part of this to create a ring to add to the middle of the existing inverted ice cream cone / bucket & Bundt cake / chimney structure.
Step 14: Lid
I used the center pieces from the original drum lid along with some remaining bits of metal to fashion a new lid to go on the very top of the chimney.
Step 15: Cut a Hole
A hole was marked and cut out on one side of the Bundt cake portion of the chimney structure.
This was done with a variety of tools: angle grinder, jigsaw, and die grinder for smoothing out the tight lower corners.
Step 16: Decorative Elements
I added some decorative elements - fancy lid handles were cut from my last bits of remaining metal along with a circle shape for the front of the chimney, and these were welded in place.
Step 17: Add Rust
I put some vinegar in a spray bottle and misted it over the exterior metal parts, to expedite the formation of some rust.
The next day it was drizzly so I set this out in the rain as well. I was happy with the rusty results.
Step 18: Fire It Up
Before the first fire-up, I drilled some holes in the bottom for rainwater drainage.
I laid a thin rag flatly over these holes and added about an inch of sand to the bottom of the fire tub to act as a heat shield to protect the grass below.
Then I lit up the first fire.
Step 19: That's It
Notes for the Safety Police:
The top lid isn't left on when a fire is actively burning. It's just for decoration.
If the chimney portion is hot, heavy gloves must be used to lift it off.
The legs stick out and present a mild trip hazard to the young, blind, clumsy, or drunk.
Fire is dangerous; hot metal burns.
If a red laser starts tracking you, get behind something solid FAST.
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Hey, thanks for checking this out.
This was a fun project, and now we've got a a sweet fire pit for hanging out, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, and perhaps cooking up some hearty salmon meunière!