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Do You Need a Fire Ring for a Fire Pit?

With the upcoming change in the season, you may be thinking about finally building that fire pit on your property that you’ve been dreaming about. 

If so, you may have a few questions regarding which way to go with regards to fire pit design, components, etc., especially if you want to keep it simple and not spend unnecessary time and money on details that aren’t absolutely required. 

A question that comes up frequently when looking to build a backyard fire pit is, do you need a fire ring for a fire pit?

Regardless of which way you go in the end, understanding the benefits of using a fire ring in a new fire pit will help you make the right choice depending on your needs and a number of other factors.

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So, to answer the question of whether you need a fire ring (a.k.a. a fire pit ring, fire pit insert, etc.) when building a fire pit is…it depends.  If you build a fire pit that you intend to be a permanent fixture in your backyard, a fire pit ring insert is highly recommended. If your fire pit is intended to be semi-permanent or temporary, an insert may not be entirely necessary.  The use of a fire pit ring will assist in maintaining the structural integrity of your fire pit and the surface on which it sits all while protecting its long-term appearance.

Ever notice that masonry fireplace chimneys (the flue specifically) have metal or ceramic linings?  This lining is what keeps your chimney from deteriorating from constant exposure to high-heat (and cooling) conditions.  

Ever notice that masonry fireplace chimneys (the flue specifically) have metal or ceramic linings?  This lining is what keeps your chimney from deteriorating from constant exposure to high-heat (and cooling) conditions.  

While the danger is not the same, the point here is that heat will affect your masonry fire pit over time and a fire pit ring or liner can help it hold together longer.

What’s the Purpose of a Fire Pit Ring?

As I mentioned, fire pit rings are designed to extend the life of your masonry fire pit, and in particular, the stone or brick that holds the whole thing up.

Most construction materials are not designed for constant direct exposure to intense heat, and the pavers or bricks you pick up at your local Home Depot or Lowes are no exception.  

Regular exposure to intense heat and cooling degrades bricks to the point that they will eventually fail, due to splitting, crumbling, etc.  The heat generated by fire pits can exceed 1,000 degrees, which is way more than enough to cause a problem. 

In addition to breaking down your pavers or bricks, constant direct heat exposure is going to break down the mortar or construction adhesive you use to hold everything together.  

Worst case, you have a safety issue on your hands, best case, you have to repair or replace your fire pit.  Neither option is good.

Choosing the Best Fire Ring for Your Fire Pit

Not surprisingly, all fire pit rings on the market are not created equal.  There’s a lot of overpriced, cheap junk out there so if you are going to make the investment in time and your hard-earned dollar to build a nice fire pit, I recommend investing in a fire pit insert that will hold up itself while acting as that heat shield for your fire pit’s structure.  That doesn’t mean spending a fortune, but you should go into the process with a couple of key “specs” in mind prior to buying.

  • Gauge of the steel:  a quality fire pit ring that will get the job done and not break the bank is in the 10 gauge range, look for that number specifically; gauge, in this case, means thickness, with the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel; commonly available fire pit insert/ring gauges run from about 20 gauge (.0359 in./.911 mm) to about 8 gauge (.1644 in./4.175 mm) in the U.S. market
  • Number of pieces:  the fewer the pieces, the better, with the rare one-piece options, naturally being the best; most options on the market today come in anywhere from 2-4 pieces that have to be bolted together to make the fire ring; often times the pre-drilled holes don’t line up well with the other pieces and then you have fit issues with your fire pit, particularly where the lip of the fire ring sits on the rim of the fire pit opening.  

These two suggestions aren’t necessarily the end-all-and-be-all but they’ll get you on the right path and help you avoid the cheap, poorly-made fire pit inserts which currently dominate the marketplace.

Conclusion: Do You Need a Fire Ring For a Fire Pit?

So, to summarize: do you need a fire ring for a fire pit?

I would say the answer is yes from a long-term investment perspective.

In the long run, your fire pit will look better and perform better with a fire ring.

The price of entry is relatively low and you may save a lot of money and time over that long run especially if you build the fire pit yourself.

For the most part, there’s not much difference price-wise from the cheap crap at the bottom and the well-made fire rings on the market. 

Take your time when shopping to make sure you get a good value for your money.

For more on the subject, check out my fire pit ring buyer’s guide!

Thanks for reading and take care! : )

John

Related Questions

Can you cook or grill over a fire pit ring with a bottom?

Yes, like most wood-burning fire pits you can cook or grill over a fire pit ring with a bottom. Some, specifically those with a metal flange or lip around the rim that rests on the fire pits inner wall, are equipped for adjustable grilling posts with grates, or rotisseries.

For those fire pit inserts not specifically equipped or designed for cooking, there are a number of universal fire pit grates for grilling, available in multiple sizes and shapes (round and square; click to see these examples at Amazon).

Additionally, portable rotisseries (not attached to the fire pit) can be used to straddle the fire pit when roasting.

For both the fire pit grate and rotisserie options, check your local outdoor fire pit/fireplace specialty store or the Amazon links above for a solution that may work for you based on your specific fire pit’s design.

Does anyone make a smokeless fire pit insert? Yes, there is one company that I know of that currently makes smokeless fire pit inserts and that is Breeo, their Zentro model specifically.

The Zentro is a drop-in smokeless fire pit insert with a bottom. Its double wall construction and airflow system create a secondary combustion at the opening of the fire pit that burns off excess smoke before it can escape.

Considering that the Zentro fire ring inserts cost a little more than your average insert, I’d advise talking directly to your local fire pit contractor/installer or directly with Breeo to see if the Zentro would be a good fit for your plans. That link will take you to their online contact form.

Will my fire pit ring rust over time?

Bottom line? …Yes, your fire pit ring will experience at least some rusting over time. As the insert’s protective coating is burned off, the exposed metal will be subject to oxidation (i.e. rust), just how much depends on its level of exposure to the elements, the general humidity in your area, etc.

Periodic inspection of your fire pit ring with some light sanding and repainting with high heat paint will help to keep rust at bay.

Take a look at my article 5 Ways to Become the MacGyver of Stopping Fire Pit Rust for more on protecting fire pits from rust and what to do about it once it becomes a problem.

Image of a backyard fire pit