Looking for tips on how to build a DIY smokeless fire pit? Do you love a warm fire but hate the fire pit smoke?
Very few people like the campfire-level smoke that burns everyone's eyes and saturates all your clothes!
And the musical chairs around the fire every time the breeze shifts is an exhausting process.
A traditional fire pit may look nice but controlling the smoke and/or greatly reducing it is a huge challenge.
Obviously, if you have a gas fire pit this isn't an issue. But then you don't get that satisfying crackle of the wood!
At Yardiac, we have written a number of related articles about some specific branded smokeless fire pits. SOLO Stove and Breeo both make a great smokeless wood burning fire pit.
The SOLO Stove Bonfire and the Breeo X-Series 19 have their own unique features and you can read more about them here (SOLO) and here (Breeo). We have also written an article titled "Best Smokeless Fire Pit."
But if you are a little bit handy and you enjoy building, you don't have to spend the money on a commercial unit like the SOLO Stoves or the Breeo stoves. Instead, you can build one that meets your design aesthetics and personal preferences.
A Brief History--and I Mean Very Brief!
The commercial smokeless fire pits you see might have come on the market a few years back, but smokeless fires are not necessarily a new phenomenon.
In fact, the use of smokeless fire pits dates all the way back to the 1600s!
They were used in hunting herds of Bison by the Dakota people during America's colonial era. Since then, smokeless fire pits have evolved into different designs, including DIY ones.
How Do Smokeless Fire Pits Work?
While smokeless fire pits still use firewood, they burn so efficiently, and with almost complete combustion, that they produce virtually no smoke.
Incomplete combustion is the main reason behind the smoke. In a traditional fire pit, the wood simply does not burn in an efficient enough manner.
If you are trying to burn wet/damp wood you are in trouble no matter what you do. Dry wood is the only type to make this smokeless thing happen.
A smokeless fire pit has two combustion systems--the outer combustion system and the inner combustion system. There is a gap or wall between these two that allows the air to flow through the outer edge of the fire pit uninterrupted and help create a secondary combustion at the top.
What you'll find, and can even see it visually at times, is what appears to be an almost rocket stove! A jet engine-like burning takes place!
How To Build a Smokeless Fire Pit
Out With The Old
You might be able to repurpose an old fire pit and build it into a smokeless firepit instead of having to build an entirely new one.
If you will be starting from scratch on a DIY fire pit, you'll need:
- Spray paint or marking chalk
- Sharpie Marker
- Tape Measure
- Power Drill
- Chunky 3/4" (or larger) Gravel/Rock (Ideal) or sand
- One of: pavers, bricks, concrete blocks, stacking stones
- Steel Fire Ring or Stock Tank Ring
- Curved Steel Top Plates
Once you have gathered all the necessary tools, you can proceed using these steps:
- Prep the area by removing grass or other ground coverings with your shovel. Remove any other debris.
- Make measurements of the fire pit area--for both the inner and outer compartments. Ensure that you leave a gap of 3 to 4 inches between the two chambers. Use the spray paint or marking chalk to mark the areas on the ground you choose for the pit's compartments.
- Add the gravel/rocks (or sand) to the area you have marked out. Make sure to provide a wide buffer of rocks to protect from sparks possibly igniting dry grass or other dry tinder.
- Place the fire ring at the marks for the inner compartment. Using the marker and tape measure, draw marks at regular intervals around the top of the ring where you will drill the air holes.
- Drill holes around the fire ring using the markings you made earlier as a guide. This ensures the airflow is efficient and equal.
- Place the bricks or stones or concrete blocks for the outer compartment. Don't forget to leave some spacing of 3 to 4 inches for airflow.
- Once the bricks or pavers are at the level of the top of the fire ring add your steel top plates. This will force the air back into the inner chamber through your drilled holes and help with that secondary combustion.
The Dakota System
The Dakota fire pit is named after the Dakota people, a native American tribe. As mentioned earlier, the smokeless fire pit can be traced back to their ancestors.
The Dakota fire pit is quite common, especially when on a camping trip, thanks to its smoke-reducing design and high efficiency burning for maximum heat output.
For this, you will need:
- A shovel
- Stick (ensure it is strong)
- Marking Spray Paint or Chalk
Building the Dakota fire pit is relatively simple. But you'll definitely sweat!
When you have gathered all you need and chosen your preferred spot, follow these steps:
- Mark the area where you want to dig your fire pit.
- Start digging a hole in the chosen spot using your shovel or spade. Regardless of the size of the fire pit, it is best to keep in mind that bigger holes give you greater space for burning wood.
- Remember that a smokeless fire pit must have two compartments? So, make a marking of the second or outer hole away from the inner one you have already dug. This will provide the internal compartment with oxygen for burning the fuel efficiently. It needs to be at least one foot away from the initial pit.
- Once you have dug the second hole, dig a tunnel to connect the two. You will need the shovel and the long stick you gathered for this.
- Once you are done, your fire pit is ready for use. Build a fire on the one side and light it up!
- This is probably the closest you will come to a smokeless campfire!
The Solo Stove System
Before we get too far into this you may just want to drop some cash and buy yourself a real SOLO Stove. The perforated old rusty inner tank of your washing machine will only look so good in your manicured backyard.
Yes, you can build a knock-off type SOLO Stove, but you've been warned! At the end of all this, remember that you might still be able to use your newly drilled pots as a "gardening collander" to help with washing your rock collection. That is, if you don't find your homemade version to be worthy of Instagram!
But if you are incredibly gifted at this, and an artist as well, this might be the start to your new business handcrafting portable smokeless fire pits!
Grab these tools and let's get rolling:
- Marker--Sharpie type
- Masking Tape
- Small stainless steel pot (12-quart)
- Big stainless steel pot with a lid (20-quart)
- Steel Cutting Snips or Angle Grinder
- Power Drill
Your tools and supplies already cost more than a real SOLO Stove! OK, maybe not exactly, but close.
Here are the build steps:
- Start by drilling holes on the bottom and the side panel of the small pot. When you are done, remove the handles from it.
- Pick the big pot and place the tape at least one inch from the bottom. Then, drill holes around it in line with the tape. Ensure the holes are equally spaced for better airflow.
- Using the sandpaper, sand the drilled holes in both pots. This helps clean up rough edges. Leaving them as is may end up costing you more at the urgent care center getting stitched than it costs for a real smokeless fire pit at the store.
- Place the small pot in the middle of the big pot's lid. Using your marker, mark that spot and cut it. You will use it in holding the small pot above the bottom of the big one once you insert it. Remember to use the sandpaper on the lid once you cut it to smooth the edges.
- The fire pit is now ready for use. Add your fuel and start basking in the heat!
- This baby looks good!! And I mean REAL GOOD!!
- Your wife is going to love you!
How Do You Make a Fire Pit Smokeless?
Always keep multiple bottles of lighter fluid on hand and spray a consistent stream of fluid into your fire!! This will provide an insane burn and greatly limit the smoke.
Seriously, follow the steps above or follow one of our links and buy a SOLO or Breeo stove!
What Makes a Smokeless Fire Pit Smokeless?
Smokeless fire pits do not produce any smoke (OK, really it is a greatly reduced smoke), thanks to their engineered design.
The holes, and dual burn chambers, help in allowing air to flow freely in and out of the fire pit. In addition, the gap between the two compartments allows for the smoke from the fire pit and the oxygen flowing to mix, leading to a re-burn. Because of this re-burn, referred to as secondary combustion, the smoke is consumed by the fire instead of floating into the surrounding air.
The Breeo fire pits, that we incessantly mention, have a patented X Airflow system. This stuff is getting serious with patents and such!
Finally, for a much more visual DIY build, hop on over to YouTube and enjoy some "Holy Smokeless!"