The smoke of an open air fire is charged with memory. One whiff and for a swift moment we are in sympathy with our remotest ancestors and all that is elemental and primitive in us is awakened
- E.V. Lucas
Of course, an impromptu ground fire works for awhile, but in a short time, the advantages of a more permanent fire pit location becomes desirable. For one thing, having the firepit sunken slightly in the ground reduces the smoke-in-the face effect and also if partially walled gives a place to sit or prop your feet. I recommend a diameter of about 7’ inside dimension with a raised wall 12” to 16” tall, 18” wide, with a drain in the bottom if possible. If not, you can create a floor drain on the side of the firepit. Some people have covers for the firepit, which although tidy, creates an unnecessary amount of work to get your fire started (and where do you store the top when the firepit is in use?) Other advantageous accoutrements include grates for cooking, fire andirons and pokers of all sorts and uses.
Outside fireplaces are a more permanent installation requiring more thought in planning but offer a fairly smoke-free experience and adds three months usability to outside living spaces when the weather turns cold.
When building an external fireplace, use the time honored “Count Rumford” design for the fireplace. Its proportions are tall and not very deep but will draw incredibly well. (See www.rumford.com) Most importantly, this design from circa 1796 pushes the heat out of the firebox better than any other design. Luckily, the concept can be purchased in pre-made parts and clad in your masonry.
The interiors of the firebox should have firebrick back, floor and sides. I like to create shelves for a Tuscan grill to sit at different levels while using the fireplace to cook outside. Also, adding iron doors with sliding vents can control the heat and turn the fireplace into a smoker.
I like the firebox to be about 30” off the ground in order to push the heat out to as many people as possible. This also allows you to see the fire from a ways away and makes it easy to use for cooking.
The chimney height can vary, but a minimum to reduce smoke in the seating area should be 6’ above the top of the firebox. Dampeners are unnecessary, but some masons like to use the iron dampener in construction of the smoke shelf.
The fire at night is primitive TV, we see in it our past and draw comfort from its eternal warmth. It is an ice breaker for new friends, a community builder, as well as a source of pleasure if only for yourself.