Stage-One of My Up-Cycled Backyard--The Fire Pit:
My husband and I purchased a house for nine thousand dollars from my Great-Grandfather’s estate way back in 1988 (that rhymes! Who knew!) We’ve been plugging money into it ever since. At first it was to keep a roof over the heads of our four great kids but now it’s a labor of love.
I like to up-cycle, reuse, convert, buy-sell-trade, craigslist, free or nearly free-anything to save a buck. My advice is, if you buy anything online, check rebate sites—ebates, honey, retailmenot-I’m sure there’s more. Using end of the season sales, rebate sites, free ship and no-interest financing is a big money saver. A couple years back on a store card I bought a $1200 outdoor table big enough to hold my grown kids and their families, for around $400.
So, my backyard….Its small. It’s drab. Thank goodness my kids grew up on a block where they had neighbors with kid friendly backyards because ours wasn’t that place. The outside table was one thing off the list but the rest of my backyard project? What to do?
When I was 18, I started collecting rocks from everywhere-the first was a rock from Kansas. Some are giant rocks, over 50 pounds and some are smaller. When friends go places where I haven’t been I ask them to bring me a rock. Given the years and years of collecting, I’ve amassed a small mountain.
I’ve found many uses for these fine prehistoric treasures both inside and outside the house. One project is to keep the animals out from under my porch.
I knew somehow I wanted to use some of my mountain in my backyard fire pit project but wasn’t sure exactly how that was going to come about.
A truck driver told me about his in-laws house and then I was inspired. The new owner was tearing the house down and inside was an Italian marble fireplace. I said, “What a shame. Real people can’t afford Italian marble.”
“You want it?” he asked.
“Uhhh, YES.” I replied and then wondered how that was going to work? How the ‘H’ does one move a fireplace?
He gave me the phone number to the eye doctor who bought the property. So, I called the Doctor and the Doctor said…. “Sure, you can have that fireplace but you have two weeks.”
I hung up and thought, “Uhhh—maybe not. Italian marble…ok, I’ll figure it out.” I used Google and YouTube to get ideas as to how to take out a fireplace.
I recruited the talent of one son-in-law and we dismantled that fireplace using a shotgun hammer and muscle (he had the muscle.) I was so proud of the find. My son-in-law? Not so much but he and my daughter needed some groceries so that was my bribe. Cost me $100 in food for four hours hard labor. We drove home in a way overloaded pickup--think driving uphill for 45 miles.
Once home, I showed my husband the awesome find. He said, “I’m not helping you unload that. You’re a hoarder.” He walked away shaking his head. I moved thousands of pounds of heavy rock myself and stacked it neatly behind the shed in wait for my fire pit.
Flash ahead a few years in time with my idea. I work at a landfill, with semi trucks and such. There was a hollow semi tire rim and I thought, “Fire Ring.” So the guys put it in the back of my truck. I lugged it home and my husband said, “I’m not helping you unload that. You’re a hoarder.” And he walked off shaking his head.
I had rock, I had a ring, I had a shallow hole—my immediate family is slightly pyromaniac—and used a really big firecracker to blow a hole in the ground just about in the right place for my pit. I used that spot—I needed weed block and something for fill. And a way to put it all together.
After talking to the guys at Menards about my project, I purchased 6-50# bags of Stone Mortar Mix at about $6 a bag.
Lucky for me, there were some remnant pieces of landfill liner at work for the weed block.
I arranged my former fireplace and landfill liner in the shape and size I wanted to surround my fire pit.
I mortared the rocks making sure there was airflow under and around the truck rim and mortared the parameter. I was babysitting my 4 year old granddaughter and discovered she has quite the talent for cement work! She loves to mix.
A road crew was reworking a section of the highway not far from my house. I asked and they gave me a load of crushed asphalt that normally would have gone into the landfill. I packed that over the liner.
I wanted some fill on top of it all and discussed my project with one of my adopted kids (Hi Jazz!) and she said, “I know a guy who has a pile of bricks he doesn’t want. Score! Free brick.
It wasn’t enough to fill the space but it was enough for a design. My husband said, “I’m not helping you unload that. You’re a hoarder.” And he walked off shaking his head. I seriously think he needs a turrets syndrome diagnosis. He should see a doctor.
Now, several years ago, I purchased a used bed.
The seller said I couldn’t buy the bed unless I took a heavy, pink marble coffee table. I didn’t want the table because it weighed about 300 pounds but I did want the bed. I put the table outside over an old tree stump.
With the change of the seasons, the glue on the table failed and the top broke in two pieces. I used that top, along with some antique cement blocks, to make tables to set around my fire pit.
The blocks were from a shed we tore down at my parent’s house (and I have enough left for my backyard outdoor kitchen counter—a future step in my backyard rejuvenation project.)
Until right here, you thought the table had nothing to do with my fire pit. I know.
My husband thought the same when I brought that home and set it over the tree stump.
I was then at a standstill because I needed more fill. Luckily, I work with people who work with rocks. I got a pickup load of rock for fill between the bricks.
I leveled it all out as much as I could. (To me, level is just a suggestion.)
I washed it all off with my little, trusty power washer from Sears and-TADA-fire pit!
I finished it off with my awesome peacock –found at Junkstock in Waterloo, Nebraska. I had to buy that because I really liked it and my friends wouldn’t let me leave without it—they are always happy when I buy something new (I have a story about socks but won’t get into that.)
I was able to talk the vendor down in price so the peacock cost me $82 plus I had to drink 13 bottles of wine for the tail-NOT ALL AT ONCE!
My husband hasn’t called me a hoarder since.
This is just a picture of a Tiger Lilly I got from my Grandma's property before she passed--at 99! Lillys don't stay long so I just had to snap it.
Next step of my up-cycled backyard project will most probably be expanding my patio and building my outdoor kitchen. I still have a few things to collect before that happens.
If you’d like to see more of my reuse-up-cycle projects, you can find some on my blog in the Nebraska archives https://annettesnyder.blogspot.com One of my plans is to someday put my projects on a page but I haven’t made time for that yet but I’ll post here when I do.
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