"Mr. Fire Face" the Outdoor Fireplace Made From Old Propane Tank




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of www.zcorp.com, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

This outdoor fireplace turned out really well, and brings joy to all our friends.

It's a quick project for anyone who has a way to cut metal.

Star and I built it a couple of days ago,
and it's already been the center of some nice fireside gatherings.

The main safety concern is to make sure there's no flammable gas left in the tank when you start brutalizing it.

You can start out with any metal tank, but we used a 20 gallon vertical propane tank.
A few years ago they changed the valves on new propane tanks, and no one wants the old ones anymore. So you can get them for free.

We were going for a SF Burningman aesthetic, but you can make yours any style you want.

Step 1: Safely Remove All Traces of Fuel

It's pretty important not to burn yourself to death while making this project.
Here are some hints as to how to avoid that.

Open the valve just a little and see if anything comes out.
If not, proceed.

Tap on the side of the tank with a wrench. Tap up and down on the side. If the sound changes as you go up and down the tank, you could be encountering liquid in the tank.
If not, Proceed.

Lift the tank - is it really heavy? That could be a sign that there's something in it.
If the tank seems light for its size, proceed.

Employ any other means at your disposal to determine if there's anything in the tank.
If you're sure it's empty, proceed.

Drill a very small hole in the top of the tank. Hopefully nothing comes out. You'll probably smell a little bit of propane stink. That stuff is pretty rank. If there's no gas gushing out but you still smell it, that's probably okay. You can expect some traces.

Drill the hole big enough to put in a compressed air nozzle. Not a tight fit, you want it loose so you can flush the old air out around it.
Blow lots of compressed air in until you don't smell that propane stink anymore.

Drill the hole even bigger so you can fill the tank with water. Fill it with water. Now you're sure you've flushed out all the old flammable gas. If you want to be fancy like an Alaskan you can start cutting the chimney hole or fireplace door out while there's still water in the tank.

Step 2: Cut Chimney and Door Holes

We used an oxy-acetylene torch to cut the chimney hole. A sawzall or even a drill and chisel would work fine. Our chimney hole is just smaller than the inside of the valve guard flange. We thought it would be too small but it works fine.

We cut teeth in Mr. Fireface's mouth door and bent the teeth out afterward.
Eye and ear holes completed the face.

Star hung the cutoff top with valve and siphon tube on the top of the tank. Now we can't figure out how to unhook it. We left it there as a grandad puzzle for someone else to solve.

Step 3: Weld Some Legs On

Make sure you do a good job of welding the legs on. You don't want Mr. Fire Face to fall over and headbutt and burn you while you're relaxing.

For the front legs we used the base of an office chair for a "skull-and-crossbones" look.
Also to give people something to put their feet up on without burning their shoes.

For the back legs we used a couple of pickaxe heads. We buttressed them with some curved bits of pipe scrap for extra insurance.

Step 4: Enjoy!

Now burn a lot of stuff and have a really cozy time!

Step 5: Wheels, Taller Stack, Larger Grate Holes

Here's Mr. Fireface a few months later after some improvements.

I cut big triangular holes in the bottom to let more air in and to let the ashes fall out.
Actually the triangles are flaps that I bent up at an angle to make the fire spin.

I cut the flue hole larger and welded a smaller propane tank on top with top and bottom cut out.
That makes it draw better and puts the smoke a little higher from your eyes and lungs.

I welded the whole thing onto a shopping-cart-dolly to make it easier to move around.
I put a big clay bowl under it to catch the ashes.



    • Comfort Food Challenge

      Comfort Food Challenge
    • Faux-Real Contest

      Faux-Real Contest
    • Warm and Fuzzy Contest

      Warm and Fuzzy Contest

    17 Discussions


    3 years ago

    That would look absolutely terrifying to come across in the pitch black! It's fantastic!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I wonder if the sidewall of a discarded helium tank is heavy enough to do this.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I'm building something very like this. I'm using the tank from an old water heater so there is no concern about fuel in the tank.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    You could also do this with an old dead compressor tank and not have to worry about the flammable gas. You might also get wheels for rolling, free.


    8 years ago on Step 1

    Totally agree with the first comment. Remove the valve and fill with water to displace any trace remnants of the gas. Saw a propane tank dismantler do it with those old tanks that you can't fill any more. Cheers!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I just yesterday took a valve out of an old 100 lb. cylinder and was going to junk it. Great save! Truguillotine has given excellent advice about cleaning a tank out before cutting. Having been knocked down by a 1 quart gasoline tank that was full of water while being brazed, I can attest to the danger. Consider this as a final safety precaution before cutting. Wire up a model rocket engine and drop it in the tank, get in a safe place, and fire the rocket engine to be sure no hazard remains.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    First let me just say that this is an awesome idea and a great way to recycle something old that doesn't have a use anymore. BUT..... I do work at a place that fills and sells gas(Oxygen,Nitrogen,Helium,Acetylene,Propane...ect.) We often have people come in to take old cylinders off our hands and make large bells out of them. Anyway, the way you are supposed to empty out a propane cylinder is to.. 1.Open the valve and bleed out the gas. 2.When there is no more gas exiting the valve, you can just remove the valve. No need to cut any holes just yet and risk blowing yourself up. Just secure the tank and use a wrench to unscrew the valve. 3.If you are going to be doing any cutting on the tank fill it with water for at least a week with water and degreasing detergent (dawn dishsoap works well). 4.Empty the tank and then you should be set to start cutting. The metal inside of propane tanks is porus so it will pit out the cylinder, leaving little bits of untraceable gas. So be safe when cutting and have fun with your creations!

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Do you know of a site that shows how to make a bell,that sounds like something I might like to do.


    9 years ago on Step 1

    I done a bunch over the years and I reckon the water fill is the best way.Im loving the face on this,git on Tim,you the man


    10 years ago on Introduction

    would it be possible to make say... charcoal with this? Take out the face, keep the holes at the bottom, and cut the top completely off?


    11 years ago on Step 1

    I have done soemthing similar. Small barbecue using an old helium tank like those you get at party store.

    1 reply

    11 years ago on Introduction

    Yery nice, but could you add a picture that shows the exhaust port on the top? Looking at it, turning the non-pickaxe legs the other way around might have enabled you to use the wheels for moving this? L L

    2 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    The hole on the top is about 5" diameter, just smaller than that valve guard flange thingy on top. You can see the part we cut out with the valve hanging on the flange on top.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Oh yes, thanks. The top hole is much smaller than the bottom, and must restrict airflow - does this help to control the rate of burning and heat output? And have you tried cooking/boiling water on the top of this? L


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This is very nice. I generally disapprove of patio-heater thingies, since what else are they for but warming the environment? This, however, I like - burn scrap lumber, undergrowth etc, and it has no larger a carbon footprint than leaving the fuel to rot on the ground. It has a sort of mega-hobo-stove ethos. Your next job is, of course, to fit racks inside the top section for cooking / smoking purposes (cut a hatch round the back so that you don't spoil the image).

    1 reply