Introduction: Upcycle Old Steel Wheels Into a Fire Pit
Spring is here! That means more outside time is right around the corner!
Only problem is my fire pit is worn out... Again. What's worse, I can't just buy replacement parts for it... Sigh.
Know what that means? It means its time to end this circle of fire pit disappointment - We're going to turn some Trash To Treasure and make a fire pit that's better than the ones you can buy at the big box stores!
This is going to take some doing! Rar! Lets get to it!
Step 1: Tools, Materials, Safety
Here's what we'll need. The list looks long, but if you have a welder and grinder you probably have the rest of the stuff too!
- Angle Grinder
- An inexpensive flux core welder works fine for this project. More info on this later.
- I've found that the Forney 42300 Flux Core Wire works great in this Harbor Freight welder!
- Step Bits and Drill Bits
- Cutting Oil
- Wire Brush
- Tin Snips
- Spring Loaded Center Punch
- Welding Magnets
- Hammer (What project doesn't need a hammer?!?!)
- Big Ol' Wrench
- Vice Grips
- Blue Tape
- A tub large enough to fit a wheel into.
- 3 Steel Car Rims, 15" diameter
- Don't use aluminum wheels, the fire really can get hot enough to start melting them. Stick with steel.
- The wheels need to all be same diameter, but can be different widths
- I found these for free on Craigslist
- 1 Large Truck Brake Drum, 14" diameter
- 1" smaller than your rims so they nest together tightly
- I found these at a scrap yard for $5 each
- 1 Large Vented Brake Disc
- Vented is important, more on this later
- Try to find one about the same diameter as the brake drum. +/- 1"-2" is fine
- I saved the discs from the last brake job on my truck
- Three to six lugnuts and bolts to fit the lugnuts
- 1 brake caliper mounting bracket
- 1 Webber Smokey Joe 14" Grill Grate
- Fits perfectly on top of the 14" brake drum.
- Expanded Steel Sheet
- If you use a 15" wheel, a common 48" sheet wraps around the wheel perfectly with 1" of overlap. (Circumference = Pi x Diameter, or 15" x 3.14 = 47.1")
- Check your local hardware store to see if it's cheaper than buying online.
- High Temperature BBQ Paint
- Misc Hardware.
- Sharpies or Markers
- Simple Green
- I prefer simple green, it works and isn't as toxic as some other products. Use what works for you.
- Dish Soap
- Scrubbie Sponge
- Respirator / Mask.
- I like my 3M full face respirator, use what fits you best.
- Appropriate Filter Cartridges
- Links not provided, online sales of masks and respirators is... um... yeah right now.
- Hearing Protection
- The 3M worktunes are awesome. For real. They're comfy and they work. I wish I'd bought them years ago.
- Welding Helmet
- An auto-darkening helmet isn't necessary, but it is really nice to have.
- Welding Gloves
- Disposable Gloves
Step 2: Play Time / Layout and Goals
So yeah... at first I just grabbed a bunch of stuff and played with stacking it to get a better hands on idea of how things would stack together. Yes, I did realize I'd gotten a bit carried away once the cordless drill shrine appeared...
Anyhoo, I started with the "traditional" style car rim fire pit layout, which is 2-3 rims with a cutout in the middle of the stack for adding wood. I even did a test burn but just wasn't happy with it. It was smokey, kind of hard to load wood into and you couldn't really see the fire. There's something about being able to see the burning fire that is comforting and relaxing. The internets tells me that this sensation has something to do with our prehistoric roots. Dunno if that's true, but I do know I want to be able to watch the fire burn in my fire pit!
So after playtime was finished and we sacrificed a drill bit to the tool gods I reset and laid out some project goal.
Reset - Why are we doing this?
We're doing this because we want something that works better than most of the commercially available fire pits.
OK. Good. What don't we like about the fire pits that we're trying to fix?
#1 - I hate not being able to easily replace the "wear items" on fire pits. Mainly the mesh screening and grates on most fire pits. This is an outside appliance. It needs to live outside and not disintegrate.
#2 - The fire pit needs to be easy to use. That means easy to load more wood and easy to empty the ash.
#3 - It needs to have a visible flame and produce a good amount of heat all the way around it. Nobody likes a smokey fire pit you can't gather around.
#Bonus -Lets also not make it look like we're only burning it to try and hide the evidence of a poorly executed grinder and welder project OK? I don't want to sit next to something that looks like it got attacked by a feral angle grinder...
Alright. Good. Now we got a plan, no more running around.
Step 3: Brainstorming
- Wear items like grates and screens need to be easy to get and inexpensive.
- BBQ parts were the first thing I thought of. My Webber BBQ's are super easy to get parts for and I have a charcoal box that uses off the shelf expanded metal sheet. Perfect.
Ease of use:
- I've had a few fire pits with doors in the side, they were worthless IMO and required additional parts. We're sticking to a top loading fire pit.
- Moving the whole fire pit to empty it is a PITA. Scooping out the ash also ends up being messy. We need to be able to separate the ash bin below the grate from the rest of the pit to make clean up easy.
- The fire triangle tells us we need heat, fuel and oxygen to make a fire. Air seems to be where most commercial fire pits fall short. To improve this, ours will need an ash grate and an air intake.
- This is a fire pit, not a wood stove so I'm not really worried about throttling the fire pit, I like knowing it will burn faster instead of sit and smolder. We'll control heat with the amount of wood we add.
Here's the lowdown from the bottom to the top:
- Air comes in the bottom through the vanes in the vented brake disc.
- The brake drum works as a great ash pan, it's big and thick so it won't rust out.
- On top of the brake drum there's an ash grate for the wood to sit on, this allows the fire to draft air from the brake disc as it needs.
- The bottom of the fire fire barrel is a thick steel wheel that won't rust out
- The middle is made from 3 cut up wheel sections welded to the bottom rim, wrapped with expanded metal. This allows us to see the fire and it's easy to replace when it wears out.
- The top is another wheel. It's got a removable top cut from the center of the hub, this will be big enough to load a few logs at a time through.
Plan downloaded, ready break!
Step 4: Building the Ash Pan and Air Intake
This part is pretty easy, it forms the bottom air intake which is the brains of the operation and one of the things that sets this fire pit apart from other car rim fire pits.
1. Get the vented brake rotor, the brake drum, the drill, drill bit, cutting oil and your fasteners.
2. Looking back now, I should have at least cleaned the brake drum with the wire brush to knock off the big chunkies...
3. Align the brake drum on top of the brake rotor. Hopefully one or more of the existing bolt holes from the drum to the disc line up.
4. I wasn't so lucky, the holes on my parts aren't close, we gotta drill. Shoot for a minimum of three fasteners to hold the drum to the disc. Center punch your three favorite holes and start drilling, this should be fun...
(Huh, turns out drilling through a brake disc isn't that bad. I'm pretty surprised! It went quick and I didn't break anything!)
5. Make sure your bolts fit. I only test fit them since we still have to paint this thing.
6. The 14" Webber Smokey Joe grill grate goes on top of the brake drum to form the ash grate for the fire pit.
7. (Optional) After my first test I decided to add a sheet metal plate under the brake disc to keep the ash off the patio.
Next up, the fire barrel!
Step 5: Building the Fire Barrel
This step requires cutting and welding and assumes you're familiar-ish enough to know how to do that. Checkout the awesome Instructable class on welding if you want to learn more about welding!
1. Get your three steel rims, angle grinder, cut off discs, grinding discs, flap discs, welder, welding helmet, gloves an sharpie. Notes - Cutting and grinding is messy and gives off a lot of crud. Wear your mask while doing this!
2. Decide which wheel you want to be the top, middle and bottom. I had one wheel that was a little wider than the rest so I chose to use it for the middle section.
- Bottom wheel - Use the angle grinder and cut off disc to remove the whole center section of the wheel. Grind your cut edges flush and smooth as needed. This will allow it to nest onto the brake drum.
- Middle wheel - We need three 3"-4" sections of the wheel drum. Mark where you're going to cut with the sharpie, try to avoid having to cut out the center of the wheel if possible. Fire up the angle grinder again and get after it! Debur your corners so you don't cut your fingers later.
- Top wheel - Only the middle hub area needs to be cutout on this one. This is the hole we will load the wood through. Mark about 2/3 the way down on the recessed hub/lug nut area and make your cut with the angle grinder. A fresh cutoff wheel might help here. Also be sure to spend some time smoothing this cut out since our hands will be around this area regularly while loading wood.
3. Layout the three sections for the middle wheel about 120 degrees apart from each other and mark their locations on the bottom wheel with a spring loaded center punch or scribe (sharpie will be ground off).
4. Prep the parts for welding by grinding them until they're shiny. The angle grinder and the flap discs are our friend here. Make sure to also grind a spot for the welder ground clamp. If you want to, at this stage you can wire wheel and clean the parts in preparation for paint later.
5. Line up the first chunk of the center section with your marks and space it off the lip of the rim barrel far enough to allow the expanded metal sheet to slide in between. Tack weld it in place and repeat for the remaining two chunks.
6. Set the top wheel in place and check to make sure you have a similar gap from the center wheel sections to the top wheel to allow the expanded metal sheet to be captured by the top and bottom wheels. Give the center sections a tappy tap tap if needed to align them.
7. Once you're happy with the alignment, go back and fully weld the center sections to the bottom rim. If I had a stick welder I'd use it, but I don't. I know Mr. Fluxerton the cheap flux welder will not fully penetrate the thick steel on these wheels, we wouldn't want to drive on these welds but it will stick the two pieces together just fine for a fire pit.
8. Now it's time to use the tin snips and cut the mesh / expanded steel sheet to fit (the angle grinder will work too if you don't have tin snips). 48" / 4' is perfect for the length, I used an uncut section of the center wheel as a cut guide for the height. Wrap the mesh around the wheel and then tuck and fold the ends together. My mesh has two seams since I used leftover mesh from a charcoal box.
- The top wheel doesn't get welded on, we need to be able to remove it in order to install the mesh. I debated on whether or not it needed to be fastened on, so far it's held on fine without fasteners. I may weld some on later if needed.
9. Last, the top cover. Grab the piece you cut out of the top wheel, the lugnuts and bolts, the brake caliper mounting bracket. Flip the top pieces over and if we're lucky it will nest nicely into the hole we cut. If not, we'll fix it now.
- If you need to make your top cover wider so it doesn't fall through, cut slits in it and hammer those slits out to make the top wider.
- Cut a circle of mesh to fit on the bottom of the cover. This will keep ash from flying out of the fire pit.
- Attach the mesh with the lugnuts and bolts. Drill holes in the mesh as needed.
- Attach the brake caliper mounting bracket with the smaller bolts to form the handle. Drill out the holes as needed or slot them with the angle grinder as needed to make them align.
- (I forgot to get pictures of this step, sorry! Check out the finished pictures for more info)
10. With all that done, we can now set it on the base and admire our creation! My parts fit tightly together and won't fall over. If yours ended up a little loose feel free to add pins or bolts to hold the bottom wheel tighter to the brake drum.
Whew, big step! Hang in there, we're nearly done now!
Step 6: Make It Purdy
Alrighty, now that we just finally got everything together, take it all apart!
(My pictures of this stage are a bit... lacking... things got messy, the camera and I weren't getting along, so I didn't take many pictures. I attempted a bit of a "reenactment" which is why you see some painted parts in a few of the pictures).
1. Once everything is apart, its time to clean the parts up.
- Dress your welds, scrub it, wire wheel it, etc. Get it clean enough to paint. You know what you're doing here!
- I stopped at the wire wheel finish since I'm painting the parts. Although I do think they would look pretty cool with a little rusty "patina." You can go as far as you like on this step, mirror polished would look awesome I'm sure!
2. Paint the parts with the high temp BBQ spray paint.
- Try to paint the parts as soon as possible after cleaning them. This will prevent any flash rusting.
- I gave the parts a quick wipe and hit them with 2 coats of high temp BBQ spray paint. It holds up pretty well but will need to be touched up from time to time.
- I decided to paint the handle silver. I thought it looked good with the silver of the lugnuts.
3. You can re-assemble the parts in a couple hours after the paint has dried, but give it a full day before exposing the paint to heat. It's also good to take it easy on the first burn in to help the paint set.
Check it out now! Lookin' good!
Step 7: Rundown and Wrap Up
Well then, that was an adventure!
I am thrilled with how this project turned out! It looks great, out of pocket cost was under $50, it burns way better than any of my other fire pits and it won't rust into oblivion in a few years! Amazing what a little planning can turn fabricobbling into, haahahah!
As a final touch, Wiferneer made a new handle for the fire poker from the "retired" fire pit!
I forgot how much fun it is to make an Instructable! Hopefully you all enjoyed the journey with me, please throw me a vote in the Trash to Treasure Contest!
If you'd like to see what I'm up to when I'm not Instructable-ing you can find me at these places:
My Website: https://www.makerneer.com/blog
Note: This post contains affiliate links.
Grand Prize in the
Trash to Treasure Contest