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Factors And Features To Consider When Choosing A Fire Pit

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Fire Pit Prices Can Range From As Little As £30 To As Much £1500, Depending On Size And Construction
Fire Pits Are Now Sold Widely. The Versions And Styles Available Are Numerous, But They're Certainly Not Made Equal
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By John Turner, 28th June 2012

So What Is A Fire Pit, And What Is All The Fuss About?

what is a fire pit?Fire pits first came in to the garden mainstream with Hotspot's release of its fire pit range in 2006, with the Urban Fire Pit becoming a European-wide best seller. The range was stylish, high quality, and designed to provide something different in patio heating, fuelling a niche following that gradually expanded in to the sizeable market that it is today. Six years on and there are now plenty of products to choose from under a myriad of brands. Naturally, some are better than others, but they all share things in common (1) fire pits tend to stand at low-level for the heat to radiate upwards towards the people sitting/congregating around the heat. A lower centre of gravity also makes the fire more stable and this is important from a safety point-of-view; especially with particularly large fires (2) fire pits tend to be wood/charcoal fed. There are some gas fire pits coming on to the market, but predominantly wood/charcoal is the fuel of choice at the current time (3) most are of metal construction, with mild steel being the popular choice for a balance between cost effectiveness and durability. There was a period of some fire pits being made from copper and stainless steel, but with the surge in the price of these metals within the commodities markets, it's now very rare to see products composed of these materials. So now we have our introduction to fire pits, I want to give my opinion on the what you need to consider if you are thinking about a fire pit purchase

Fire Bowl Gauge

The thickness of the fire bowl, the receptacle responsible for holding and enduring the intense heat of the fire, has to come near the top of the priority list. The industry standard for the barbecue and fire pit industry is a metal thickness of 0.6mm. This is acceptable, but any thinner and the life of the product is going to diminish significantly. It is important to remember that the fire bowl is going to oxidise (the posh word for rust) from day 1, so a thicker bowl mitigates this process and increases longevity. Gardenitems.co.uk has a range of British Forge Fire Pits with a minimum steel gauge of 3mm, which both increases the radiant heat output (thicker steel holds and emits more heat) and the long term durability of the product. With a fire bowl gauge approximately 6 times the industry average, it's possible to determine which products are built for the long term. Of course there are situations where a seriously heavy gauge fire pit will compromise its functionality. A portable fire pit, for instance, is more likely to have a thinner gauge bowl to keep its weight low. And of course we have to look at the products pitched somewhere in between. The Urban Fire Pit, Hotspot's flagship product, has a fire bowl gauge between 1.5 and 2mm, which offers attractive durability at a good price point. The Space Brazier Fire Pit takes the fire bowl gauge to 3mm - this is a high quality product, but of course the price has to be higher than the mean

Constitution - Cast Iron Isn't Always Best

The majority of fire pits are made from mild steel. Round fire pits tend to be made from spun steel, with other (square) shapes made from welded and fabricated steel. There is a perception that cast iron provides better quality, but although this provides the authenticity factor for some, cast iron is a brittle metal with less impact resistance. Given that steel is an alloy of iron and carbon designed to increase strength, I think I have a fair case here for saying that steel is the more appropriate material for a stronger, more durable fire pit . The new mosaic fire pits, such as the Gardeco Calenta, are an interesting development within the market. Mosaic fire pits have a fascia of slate or ceramic tiles, which give a very different visual appearance, and some argue that these versions provide greater durability, as slate and ceramics are not prone to rust. Only time will tell if this hypothesis holds true, but the logic is fair. On to the largely redundant materials - copper and stainless steel. Both of these metals are now punitively expensive for fire pit production and inevitably create expensive products. However, both copper and stainless steel are unreactive, and do not have the same oxidation problems as mild steel. The durability advantage does exist, but one must still consider that copper and stainless steel are still prone to wear and contamination from fire and ash. Both can develop pitting and discolouration. To conclude, mild steel is currently the material of choice for the main structure of the majority of fire pits, and of reasonable thickness it is strong, serviceable, and the price to performance ratio is attractive

Size - Are Your Eyes Larger Than Your Wood Supply, Or Even Your Garden?

Big can be beautiful, but it's not always appropriate to your needs. I have a friend who decided upon a fire pit with an 90cm diameter fire bowl. He was so excited about receiving his fire pit, only to get something of a shock when he tried to make a place for it in his Islington courtyard garden. It was huge! and to put it in perspective, the average charcoal barbecue has a charcoal bowl of 40 x 40cm, which is enough to cater for a garden party of 10 - 15 people. My friend's 90cm fire pit was definitely overkill, but he struggled on, only to realise that he didn't have the resources to fuel it - ready access to logs in central London is fairly limited! The moral of the story is to ensure that you scale the fire pit to your garden, and to be realistic about how it will be used. As with most things, it's best to think about utility more than the sheer size and cost of the product

Maintenance Requirements - The Harsh Reality Of Fierce Flames

Given that the majority of fire pits are made from steel, the fact follows that the majority will rust. The combination of intense heat, air, and moisture is the perfect cocktail for the oxidation of steel, and this oxidation will start to happen from first use. Most fire pits are coated with a thermal paint, allowing it to fend off the oxidation reaction for a while but, sooner or later, the inevitable will happen. Covering your fire pit from the elements when not in use is the first action of prevention, as well as keeping it clean to prevent ash and other waste products of the fire from reacting with the metal. If you really like your fire pit to stay looking good, I can strongly recommend an application of stove paint once a year. Simply rub down the rusted areas with wire wool and apply the paint with a brush. I prefer the brush applied stove paint - I have tried the spray and my shed door suffered an impromptu colour change. Perhaps another way to approach fire pit maintenance is to forget it altogether. Allow it to rust and acquire its natural charm; it is a fire pit, after all. The big, heavy gauge fire pits, especially the British Forge range, look good when oxidised, and the fact they are so robust and hardy makes the statement "I'm so well built, the oxidation on my surface is immaterial". With such thick steel it would be possible to rub such a heavy fire pit down and paint it is many times as you wished over the years. A heavy gauge fire pit bowl does allow for more maintenance freedom, whereas a product of lower steel thickness runs the risk of rusting through eventually. Whatever the way you decide to approach your fire pit maintenance, buying a quality product of reasonable gauge definitely counts

Additional Features - A Barbecue Grill Or Table Can Prove Very Handy

fire pits are more useful with a selection of accessoriesI always feel that if a fire pit doesn't have a cooking grill option, it's a bit of a missed opportunity. It's not the much more production effort, and it is extremely handy to have the option of being able to cook a snack, otherwise the garden can fall victim to the clutter created by having two separate appliances for patio heating and barbecuing. Barbecook of Belgium disagree with me. They brought their products to the UK during winter 2012 and take the purist's view that some fire pits have to concentrate on their job of heating the social environment, and look good while they do it. Take the Barbecook Modern 60 Cast Iron Fire Pit. This fire pit is indeed a fine piece of hardware that uses production techniques I didn't mention above, choosing enamelled cast iron for the constitution, to provide a flawless and extremely durable finish. I think in this case I could be tempted to allow this exception - a barbecue grill would somehow taint this refined product, but I'm standing fast because (1) even if the grill doesn't look so good in situ, it isn't a permanent fixture (2) it's always best to give the user a choice, especially if it's relatively inexpensive to provide. A recent development are fire pits that can double as coffee tables, by having a central in-fill piece that bridges the fire bowl. This is commonly provided with the new range of mosaic fire pits on the market, as well as some very recent aluminium versions such as the Jamie Oliver Fire Pit Set by Hartman. The versions that I am really impressed by are complete sets that incorporate an infill piece, grill, and interchangeable ice bucket. This is true product versatility that can save space and provide excellent value in both financial and practical terms. What's the point in spending money on several appliances, when you can have a single piece of furniture? I definitely advise watching the fire pit space during 2012 and 2013 for products with these enhanced features. They are gradually filtering in to the market, and my feeling is that they will extend the enthusiasm for the garden fire pit in to the forseeable future

What About The Future Of Fire Pits?

gas fire pits will become more commonThe future is bright (no pun intended), and the innovations will keep on coming. The Vega is the first gas fire pit in Europe and it is made here in the UK. The price is high, but as popularity picks up we will see costs coming down and new versions coming available. Gas is clean, easy to use, and very lively if you want it to be. I can't wait to see more developments in gas fire pits. We'll be seeing many more fire pit dining sets coming through, much like the Jamie Oliver Fire Pit (which has quite a low seating position for dining at, to be honest) and other sets that allow you to sit upright around a table to enjoy the heat and food coming from fire pit grill in the centre of the table. In terms of what I want to see - some stone fire pits. Granite is a heat resistant material, so perhaps there is some scope for a completely corrosion resistant stone fire pit to be introduced to the market. It would perhaps be a specialist product, but in a growing market I'm sure there would be takers?

John Turner is a freelance writer for the Home and Garden retail sector. All opinions and rights remain with him. Any duplication of prose or images is strictly prohibited without prior consent

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