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We are getting ready to build a new fire pit and, of course, we want to do it right! I see some pits that have fire pit inserts or liners and some that don’t, so I wondered, do we need a fire pit insert to build our fire pit?

Using a fire pit insert is optional and whether or not you need one is dependent what materials you are making your fire pit out of, how and the look you are going for. If using fire brick to build the inside of your pit, you don’t need a liner unless you like the clean look. If using other materials, a fire pit insert will protect your fire pit from heat damage, extend the life of the fire pit, and make for a safer pit.

But what considerations should be made when building a fire pit so that it’s safe AND holds up for years of fun? Read on to find out!

When you need a fire pit liner

There are a few things to ask yourself to answer this question:

1. Are you using fire brick?

The ideal material for building out the inside ring of a fire pit is fire bricks as they are designed to hold up to extreme temperatures without degrading or exploding. So, if you are lining the inside of your fire pit with fire bricks, you wouldn’t need a fire pit liner.

Think of it like this, when using fire brick, fire brick IS the liner.

Fire pit with fire brick inside

2. Are you worried about how your fire pit materials will hold up and their safety?

The reason you would definitely need a fire pit liner is if you are worried about how well your fire pit will hold up to the extreme heat of a campfire (which is over 1400 degrees farenheit).

Most people don’t use fire bricks and use either other kinds of bricks, landscape pavers, hard stone like granite or flagstone, or poured cinder block. These materials will absolutely work for a fire pit with or without a fire pit liner or insert.

However, these materials aren’t as sure of a bet to be able to withstand high heat as fire brick. Some may crumble and degrade, shortening the life of your fire pit. Also, because there may be cracks or pores inside the materials, there is no guarantee that they won’t trap water and gasses inside that will heat up, not be able to escape, and explode.

With the materials listed above, the chances of someone getting hurt at your campfire from exploding brick are not very high at all, so this is where your personal preference comes into play.

  • If you are someone who would rather not have any worry about your fire pit whatsoever, and not using one will cause that little voice of concern to nag at you every time you light it, then you should get one so that you can fully enjoy your fire pit.
  • If you are someone who feels confident in the materials you are using and are just fine balancing a small amount of risk with having a fire pit that costs less or has just the right look you are going for, you can skip the fire pit liner AS LONG AS you are using non-pourous, fire safe materials.

*Safety note – compressed concrete block should never be used to make a fire pit as there is a higher chance of explosion. Limestone, sandstone, river rock and pea gravel also have no business near your pit for the same reason.

3. How much can you spend upfront?

Other considerations for fire pit liners or inserts are price.

They are an investment upfront but may offer many more years of use from your pit in the long run. The choice is yours.

  • I know for some they either need to build a super-affordable pit or it just isn’t an option for them. If you have a limited budget and are using fire-safe building materials, skip the liner and enjoy your pit!
  • If price isn’t as much of an issue for you up-front and you want to protect your investment and extend the life of your fire pit, spring for the insert.

4. Do I like clean lines or a rustic look for my fire pit?

One other thing to think about is the look of your fire pit.

  • Some folks love a super rustic, stone fire pit and see rough edges and irregular shapes as beautiful. If you prefer a rustic look, make sure your materials are fire-safe and skip the fire pit insert.
  • Others like smooth lines and a more contemporary look. If that is you, you may enjoy the look you can achieve with a fire pit insert. Liners or inserts can create a cleaner look and if you are into that, a fire pit liner may be for you.

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5. What size do I want my fire pit to be?

Fire pit with chairs in front of it. Fire pit has a liner.

The last thing to consider is the size of your fire pit.

Inserts determine the size of your fire pit, so if you are planning on using an insert you need to decide that before you do ANYTHING else.

You will need to make sure that you can find a fire pit insert that is the same size as the fire pit you actually want to build! Fire pit inserts come round or square and in many different sizes, however.

The most common round sizes I have seen in the large big box stores are 33″ and 38″.

However, specialty sites offer more options, or you can find cut-to-length options for your fire pit liner, like this option from Starfire Direct.

Purchasing your fire pit insert needs to come first, so if you have an existing fire pit and are interested in adding a liner, it may be hard to find the right size without having one custom made.

If you are interested in using fire bricks in your pit but are struggling to find them in your area, you can have them shipped to your door here.

What to put in the bottom of a fire pit

Whether or not you decide to use a fire pit insert, you will need to put something under your pit.

If you are taking the time to build this, take the time to prep the area first, removing grass, leveling the area, adding a layer of paving base, and using a tamper to decrease how much it will shift.

Any masonry done on an uneven, unprepped surface that can settle and shift will result in a wall or pit that crumbles, topples, or looks jacked up. It’s definitely not the fun part, but DON’T SKIMP on the prep.

Options for what to put at the bottom of your fire pit:

  1. Sand
  2. Lava rock
  3. Dirt
  4. Gravel
  5. Refractory Cement

If you’re interested in using refractory cement in the bottom of your fire pit, you can find it here and have it shipped right to your door.

What to put around a fire pit

Fire pit with pavers around it

Obviously, you know embers will be flying and you want an area designed around your fire pit to account for that and isn’t flammable. Because these materials aren’t exposed to the super-high heat of the campfire itself, you have a lot more options here.

Ideas for the areas surrounding your fire pit:

  1. Flagstone-my personal favorite, it is gorgeous, rustic, and will outlive you. Prep work is important, but if the slabs are big enough, they can withstand movement cause by freezing and thawing much more than brick or pavers.
  2. Concrete-This can be flat, or you can make it look more natural with concrete forms. My neighbor used these and it looks fantastic. See several different style on Amazon here.
  3. Gravel-Simple, cheap, and effective
  4. Brick-You can get incredible looking areas paved with brick, but prep work prior to laying your brick is key. Honestly, if you don’t prep it well, the bricks WILL quickly shift and move out of place. But, if you can prep it well, this can be gorgeous.
  5. Dirt-Free and simple, but with the obvious drawbacks dirt has, like mud. But, depending on your climate or soil type, this could totally work, especially if tamped down until hard.
  6. Landscape paver stone-Find every color, shape, and size possible, with some even having natural looking lines and edges. Prep work is again key here. Pavers and bricks are small and don’t weigh much (relative to the force of the ground when freezing/thawing) so you can be confident that if you don’t property prep the ground underneath, you will have one season where it looks fantastic and after that they will shift. But, with proper prep work, landscape pavers around your fire pit can look beautiful for years.

Never use mulch around your fire pit. It may look pretty, but it could definitely catch on fire!

Fire pit-the easy route

If you feel overwhelmed when thinking about building a permanent fire pit, but still want one, try a fire pit kit.

You can find kits at many hardware or home building stores and they come with the fire pit insert and the exact bricks or stones you need to complete your pit.

Fire pits have become so popular that you can find fire pit kits with many different looks and colors.

Titan Great Outdoors makes really high-quality steel products, including fire pits. You can have them shipped right to you! Find inserts and rings here and fire pits that are ready for action here.

Whether you take the easy route, or you build your own custom fire pit, enjoy your next campfire and have fun!

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Cooking with a tripod over a fire feels a little like I should be camping next to my covered wagon. It’s old school, rustic, and pretty darn fun. But, if you’re going to cook over an open fire, make sure you get one that’s sturdy! This Lodge tripod is the model that I use and I don’t think it will every give out on me or need replaced. Get yours here and start your campfire cooking adventure now!

You may also enjoy our articles:

When to Use Fire brick in a Fire Pit and When to Skip It that you can read here

How Many Brick Pavers You Need for your Fire Pit read here

Cat is a nature lover who wants to help you make the most of your family and friend time in the great outdoors by offering helpful tips about fire pits, backyard activities, and camping. Learn more about Cat here.