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Fire pit buying guide

Choosing the best fire pit

By Jade Harding

Article 1 of 2

Our expert fire-pit buying guide reveals the different types of fire pits and materials, how to build your own and reveals our pick of popular fire pits on sale

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Whether you want to keep warm in your garden, spruce up your patio or you’re looking for a more authentic way to cook your dinner, an outdoor fire pit could fit the bill.

Gaining popularity as we all spend more time at home, fire pits are super versatile and can add some glamour to your garden. But choosing the right type, size and material before investing is essential.

Use our expert advice to help you choose the best type and brand, discover interesting fire pit ideas and even learn how to make your own.

In this article:

Alternatively, head straight to our guide on using your fire pit.

Types of fire pits 

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to fire pits so picking the right type can take time. We run through the pros and cons of some of the most popular fire pit types:

Fire pit table

This is exactly what it says on the tin – a fire pit that sits in the middle of a table. Designed with a fire pit in the centre, surrounded by a table around the periphery of the pit where you can place drinks and food, these are great for people that like to keep warm while socialising.  

The extra space between the pit and the ledge also provides a little more safety – children can’t get too close – but you still need to be careful to never leave it unattended. If you’re keeping under an umbrella or covering, you’ll need to check there’s enough ventilation and that it’s high enough so the flame won’t catch.

You can get a variety of designs including coffee tables, dining tables and high-top tables, and they’re almost always powered by gas or electric but you can get wood burning ones, too.

Pros

  • Functional and decorative
  • Great if you’re short on space
  • Lots of designs available

Cons

  • Won’t typically be able to cook on it
  • More expensive
  • If it emits smoke you may not want to sit too close

Brick fire pit

Often homemade and permanent, brick fire pits are structures built from the floor up using fire-safe bricks such as refractory brick for the inner walls and surrounded by a more decorative brick. You can’t use normal bricks for the inner wall because they will crack under the heat. You’ll also need to ensure you have a solid concrete base.

Make sure you leave it to set for about a week before lighting the first fire.

Pros

  • Cheaper if you’re handy with DIY
  • You can match your brick to other décor your garden
  • Durable
  • Can be used as a grill

Cons

  • More time building the fire pit
  • Not portable
  • Less maintenance
  • Will emit smoke

Silhouette fire pits

These are fire pits that have intricate designs that create a picture silhouette. Normally made from steel, you can choose from a variety of sizes, shapes and designs.

Pros

  • They make a statement
  • You can personalise your fire pit
  • Portable
  • Will let off lots of heat

Cons

  • Won’t have a ledge to rest drinks or sit around
  • Will emit smoke

Portable or camping fire pit

Ideal if you like to go camping or you don’t want a permanent fire pit fixed in your garden. Portable fire pits should be either lightweight, have wheels and or a carry case to make it easy to manoeuvre and store.  

They will typically be small to medium-sized and might come with a grill to cook on. Always try to use a safety screen to prevent being burnt by flying sparks.

Pros

  • Easy to move and store
  • Great for smaller spaces
  • Handy for camping trips
  • Budget friendly

Cons

  • Less attractive  

Washing machine fire pit

Made using a recycled drum from a washing machine, these fire pits are great for people that want to get creative and save some money.

All you need to do is remove the drum from the machine, along with any plastic parts and stake it safely into the ground. You can add legs to it if you’d like it higher off the ground.

Pros

  • Cheap alternative
  • Recycling old materials
  • Easy to make
  • Portable

Cons

  • Less attractive
  • The metal can get very hot
  • Can damage the floor underneath if not on legs
  • Will begin to rust over time

Kadai fire pit

Traditional Kadai fire pits or bowls have been used for hundreds of years to keep warm and cook food. Kadai is an Indian word for a thick, circular and deep cooking pot.

Made from iron, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be used as a permanent or portable pit. To keep them in good condition you should rub them with oil after every other use.

Pros

  • Authentic
  • Individual designs
  • Portable
  • You can use for cooking
  • Lots of cooking accessories available

Cons

  • More maintenance
  • Can be expensive
  • Will create smoke

Gas fire pit

Built with convenience and aesthetics in mind, gas fire pits are normally impressively designed around pebbles, faux wood or glass.

The fire will be powered through gas and will be able to be switched on and off easily. Although you can get portable models, gas fire pits are most likely permanent fixtures for the garden and can be expensive.

You’ll also have the added expense of buying the gas and you’ll need to make sure it’s topped up before entertaining.

Pros

  • Attractive
  • Easy to use
  • No ash to clear

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Might not be portable
  • Less authentic

Tabletop fire pit

Built to sit directly on an existing surface, tabletop fire pits are great if you want something small and portable.

Most will be powered with bio-ethanol which means it won’t create smoke and should be easy to switch on and off. It should also have some type of safety screen or glass surrounding it.

If you’re keeping under an umbrella or covering, you’ll need to check there’s enough ventilation and it’s high enough so the flame won’t catch.

Pros

  • Easy to move and store
  • Smokeless
  • No ash to clear

Cons

  • Will need to be refilled
  • Won’t give off as much heat as other pits

If you fancy having a homemade pizza while you relax around your fire pit, here's our pizza oven buying guide.

Large or small fire pit? 

If you’re buying a fire pit from the shop then the dimensions will be predetermined but there’s no one size fits all. The size of your fire pit will all depend on the type.

Portable and table tops will most likely be the smallest options, while fire pit dining tables and gas fire pits will typically be bigger. However, most brands should offer models in small, medium and large options.

Height will depend on whether you want to rest things on the ledge but you shouldn’t go much higher than 50cm from the ground if you really want to feel the warmth.

Generally speaking, the larger the pit the more heat it will give off but other factors can change this including the materials it’s made from and the fuel you use to power it.

Are you renovating your garden? If so, how about adding a hot tub? Here's our hot tub buying guide

Stainess steel, copper or cast iron fire pit? 

Who sells fire pits?  

Both generalist retailers and dedicated garden shops offer a wide range of fire pits. To make sure you're buying a fire pit that's well built and safe to use, only shop with trusted sellers online or in-store. 

Ideally, you'd get to see the fire pit in-store before buying, but if this isn’t possible, find out as much information about it as possible before investing. 

For more details on shopping online safely and arranging refunds for faulty equipment, see our online shopping advice.

Popular fire pits 

We don't currently test fire pits but Homebase, The Range and John Lewis are some of the most searched-for retailers for fire pits at the time of writing. So we asked each to tell us which are their most popular fire pits. Below is a selection of different types and styles from those picks.

La Hacienda Palamo Rustic Fire Pit

  • Price: £45
  • Available from: Homebase
  • Type: Portable fire pit 
  • Size: H38cm x D56cm

Already naturally oxidised, the La Hacienda Palamo fire pit will bring an authentic feel to your garden. 

The simple design will allow a 360 degree view of the fire and it should only need minimum, if any maintenance at all. 

Homebase Texas Black Painted Steel Stripe Fire Basket

  • Price: £30
  • Available from: Homebase
  • Type: Portable fire basket 
  • Size: H45cm x D43cm

This budget-friendly powder coated steel fire basket from Homebase looks a little bit different to most models on the market. 

Painted black and designed to burn wood, it will feel super authentic in your garden but you'll need to be aware it will emit smoke and you'll need to be careful of embers. 

La Hacienda Cricklade Large Steel Log Store Chiminea Firepit

  • Price: £179
  • Available from: John Lewis  
  • Type: Chiminea style fire pit
  • Size: H167.5cm x W43cm x D43cm

This relatively pricey, steel chiminea style fire pit has a chimney that will push the majority of the smoke upwards and has a handy wood storage unit underneath the drum.

It's designed to burn wood, not coal or gas, and you won't be able to cook on this fire pit. 

The Range Industrial Fire Pit

  • Price: £60
  • Available from: The Range
  • Type: Portable fire pit
  • Size: H30cm X D50cm. 60cm diameter

This low standing, steel industrial fire pit will provide 360 degreed of wood burning fire. 

With three legs and handles, it can be manoeuvred around the garden and you will be able to cook food over it if you want. 

The steel will naturally oxidise over time and it shouldn't need much maintenance. 

Making your own fire pit: top tips 

If you’re handy and would prefer to make your own fire pit, here are some top tips:

  • Build it at least three metres away from building structures, trees and fences.
  • Make sure there isn’t anything directly hanging above your fire pit.
  • Ensure you have a stable base for the pit walls so the walls don’t crack as the ground moves over time.
  • Make sure you use fire-safe bricks.
  • Fill a hole in the middle of the surface with gravel to help drain rain water, and then also cover the entire surface with gravel.
  • Keep a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby in case of emergencies.
  • Don't use stones that have been submerged in water; they can explode with the heat of the fire.
  • Don’t make your pit too small or too big. Too small and the fire won’t get started, too big and it can get out of control. 0.9-1.2 metres wide is around average.
  • Leave small air gaps in the inner wall to feed the fire.
  • Leave the fire pit to set for at least seven days before lighting your first fire.

Lawsons gives a step-by-step guide on how to build your own fire pit. Or you can head to Wickes to watch a video on how to make your own fire pit.

Alternatives to fire pits 

If you want something to keep you warm while relaxing in your garden, but you don’t fancy a fire pit – here’s some other outdoor heating options to try.

Chimineas

Chimineas are front-loading, freestanding fireplaces with a round bottom and a vertical chimney. Typically made from clay, cast iron or steel you can get them in a variety of sizes and opt for a model that you can cook on, too.

Chimineas are normally smaller in width compared with fire pits, but much taller. The surrounding walls offer more safety because they can contain the fire, while also retaining heat and funnelling the smoke upwards rather than outwards like a fire pit.

However most fire pits will gives you a full 360-degree view, and allow you to make a larger fire.

Patio heaters

Patio heaters are powered by gas or electric and come in all shapes and sizes. You can also find heaters for a wide range of budgets.

If safety is a priority, a patio heater should give you much more peace of mind. They should come with grills and screens to shield the heat, automatically switch off if it overheats and turning the gas off if the flame goes out. Plus, there will be no ash and embers to worry about.

You’ll also have instant heat, with some also offering temperature control.

But patio heaters won’t give the same experience as a fire pit or a chiminea and you won’t be able to cook on them either.

Want to reduce your energy costs? Compare gas and electricity prices now using
Which? Switch, our independent energy comparison website.

Are outdoor heaters bad for the environment? 

No outdoor heater is ‘good’ for the environment. Unfortunately, wrapping up in blankets or throwing on an extra jumper is the only real eco-friendly way to stay warm in your garden.

Gas patio heaters are one of the worst in terms of energy efficiency and the amount of CO2 emissions they emit. They are also pretty pricey.

Fire pits and chimineas aren’t great either. In fact, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), while UK air quality has improved significantly over the past few decades, the burning of solid fuels (such as coal and wood) in our homes is the largest contributor of harmful particulate-matter (PM) emissions.

This is because when wood is burned, it releases harmful pollutants, such as small particles known as PM2.5. These tiny particles can be easily inhaled and can enter the bloodstream.

Wet logs and house coal emit higher levels of PM so if you still want to invest in a fire pit always burn dry wood.

Is a wood-burning stove bad for the environment, too? Our guide covers everything you need to know about stoves and pollution.

How we selected prices and retailers  

We've chosen these retailers and fire pits based on popular UK search terms, availability and what the retailers told us were popular. Prices correct as of 18 August 2020 and obtained from manufacturer's own website where possible; otherwise, obtained from third-party retailers listed on Google Shopping.  

When you click on a retailer link on our site, we may earn affiliate commission. This supports our not-for-profit mission to empower consumers and in no way affects our recommendations. Find out more.
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