Ever wonder, why are fire pits round? I saw this question the other day when poking around a few outdoor sites and blogs and thought I’d give it a go.
This is going to cover some history so if that subject was kryptonite to you back in school you might want to move to the next article. I hope you don't though.
Check it out…
So, question for the ages…why are fire pits round? As with fire pits of yore, the typically round fire pit of today is simply a matter of efficient use of space. In the old days people would gather around a fire for survival, wedging themselves shoulder-to-shoulder to get a spot.
A square or rectangular shaped fire of any kind doesn’t provide the same level of exposure to the heat generated in a fire in the center of a gathering.
A fire in the middle of a circle gives everyone the same amount of exposure to heat. The bottom line is, you can get more people around a round fire pit with everyone enjoying the benefits equally.
Ok, so that might have been a little boring but round fire pits, or any fire for that matter, is about getting a place at the fire and benefitting the same as everyone else.
As I go on, I might get a little deep into why I think fire pits are round and much of it is just theory, backed up with some history.
These musings are outside all of the possible science, math, or marketing theory on why most fire pits are round.
Aaannd…it might get a touchy-feely at points so I’ll understand if you need to stop reading to find a sick bag.
Just remember, this article is just for fun and while I get all “sciencey” in the beginning, most of it comes from my own experiences and observations stored in my pea brain.
Thanks and please read on…
Practical Answers to Why Are Fire Pits Round?
Fire pits as we know them now are the evolution of early man’s fires set below the surface of the ground, i.e. in a hole.
Fire pits today are normally up off the ground at a level suited to modern seating. Below the surface, the fire is contained and protected from wind, fundamental conditions we rely on in modern fire pits which are typically, but not always, elevated.
The hole-in-the-ground-type fire pit made sense at one time and still does depending on certain conditions you might find yourself in (a survival situation or similar).
As humans evolved from the time when fires were used exclusively for cooking, warmth, keeping predators away, etc. to using fire for recreational purposes, man has decided to sit on something elevated vice remaining on the cold, wet ground.
Getting Your Piece of the Pie…Uh, I Mean Fire
In the beginning, I mentioned something about how fire pit shape affects the amount of heat everyone around the fire is exposed to.
Now, I haven’t tested this, so it's entirely theoretical. But people sit facing a fire pit for a reason, so they can get the most warmth to their front.
Think of a fire pit as a pie, cut into equal pieces, where everyone is trying to get the same thing, which in this case is the same amount of warmth.
In a circle, with a fire in the middle, heat is radiating outward in a generally even circular pattern.
Using a square fire pit with a fire in its center, many sitting around it are getting an unequal share of the heat as it radiates from the center.
People sitting in the middle of each side are in the best spots.
People sitting to the left and right of them and on the corners are positioned a little further away and facing slightly away from the center of the fire.
They’re not getting as much heat where they want it than others sitting in better spots. Its simple geometry.
More Why Are Fire Pits Round Theories and Other Nonsense
Since people have been gathering around fires for thousands of years for their own basic survival, it would make some sense that they would actually start communicating with each other verbally when doing so.
This is what we call “socializing” in the modern age, for those with their noses in their phones regularly, myself included.
This socializing has become a thing around fire pits in recent years and in scenarios that don’t usually involve the potential of freezing to death, cooking a wooly mammoth, or being eaten by a saber-tooth tiger.
What I’m getting at is that people throughout history have used fire as a focal point for gatherings in addition to the survival aspect, and it doesn't look like that’s going to change anytime soon. Don’t worry, I’m getting to the “why are fire pits round” question.
Like I mentioned before, a fire is 360° of warmth, a circle, its round. People gathering around a fire can look at and speak directly to everyone without having anyone in their way. It just makes sense not just from a functional perspective but from a social one.
It's from this that I believe fire pits are mostly round today. There might be some bit of marketing data on round fire pits that provide fire pit builders with a perspective not shared with the rest of us, but I don’t think that’s the case.
When a fire pit is round everyone is equal and included, with everyone getting the same amount of heat.
Other non-circular shaped fire pits just don’t offer that perspective.
I think that’s just one of many subliminal thoughts going through people's minds when they decide they want a fire pit in their backyard.
If you are a family, everyone gets to see everyone enjoying themselves which is why I, and I hope you, are here.
Fun Fact: Speaking of round gathering spaces, legend holds it that the table for King Arthur’s knights was round so no knight would feel inferior to another based on where they sat.
Conclusion: Why Are Fire Pits Round?
If you were looking for a more straight, business-related answer to the question, “why are fire pits round,” then I apologize for taking so long to answer. The answers is, I don’t know specifically.
Fire pit manufacturers are going to make and sell what is in demand at the moment. If you are new to fire pits, the majority of wood-burning and propane fire pits on the market are either circular or oval in shape, However, square gas fire pits are very common and gaining in popularity.
With that, I like both round and square-shaped, but there is a lot of truth in what I said about being able to see everyone around a fire pit. It's just a little easier with a round fire pit. Spending time with family, talking, seeing your kids laughing, it's all a lot clearer when everyone is in clear view.
If you’ve got a theory or something more official that answers the question why are fire pits round? please drop me a line and I’ll update this space with your wisdom.
Shameless plug: Speaking of being around a fire pit with family, friends, and others, check out my article Can You Roast Marshmallows on a Propane Fire Pit? for something to do next time you have a fire.
Thanks for reading and take care!
What is the best size for a round fire pit area?
There’s really no straight answer to this question as everyone's situation is a little different. Based on the size of the fire pit you have in mind and the amount of space you have for a fire pit area, you will then have to consider a variety of space-related safety factors to get a good idea of what your specific “best size” fire pit area looks like.
When determining the amount of space you’ll need for a round fire pit area its best, in my opinion, to work from the center out, accounting for fire pit size, the space between the fire pit and seating, the space depth for your seating, and finally a space behind the seating and the potential far edge of the fire pit area.
The distances provided in the diagram below provide adequate space between people and the fire pit, and the seating area and foot traffic in the front and rear of the seating area.
The spaces given are minimums and I wouldn’t recommend lowering them too much to fit a fire pit into an area that does not have adequate space.
Check your local laws or consult with contractors in your area who do fire pit construction. These are typically masonry or hardscape contractors.