Light a fire for mother’s day

I knew Patricia would really like a fire pit. Maybe it’s that memory of big fire-based barbeques using good old South African hardwoods and vines that was re-emerging… So me and the kids thought for mothers’ day we can pave a small little area using some left-over half-broken pavers and buy one of those steel fire pits. Easy hey? Not in our world!

Coincidently, just as I had already cleared the area and had already laid the pavers neatly on some weed mat, a mate of ours shared a clip of a home-made fire pit, made from those roundish retention wall bricks dug into the ground. The moment Patricia saw it, she said “that’s what I want!” Well, there went our easy little project…

So I had to start scheming with the kids how we were going to do this. Then suddenly, things fell into place. Patricia booked herself for a fitness coaching seminar in Brisbane for the week-end two weeks before mother’s day. Perfect. Yes, we can construct the whole thing over that weekend! I quietly snuck away with the kids and got the bricks in the trailer before the weekend. She never looks in the trailer so our little secret should be OK.

However, on the Friday before the weekend, Patricia’s mother fell ill, she cancelled the trip and our plans for a heavy work weekend were slightly derailed. Not to be disillusioned by a logistical challenge, we banned her from the backyard and carried on with our building project. Markus helped digging, levelling the ground, carting in bricks and sand, and when we started assembling the little structure, Micaela helped by squirting on the cement glue and passing on the bricks.

Little challenge

Halfway through building the fire pit, we had to resolve a major challenge quite quickly, as the “no nails” cement-glue-stuff dries very quickly. The retainer bricks have these little lips that stand up on the inside edge, so we packed layers 1 and 2 back-to-back, and we were planning to pack layers 3 and 4 back-to-back. But the challenge was that couldn’t pack layer 3 on layer 2, as the two sets of lips clashed. Of course, the guy in the video had flat blocks… Grinding off the edges would have been a massive, noisy, dirty, time-consuming effort. Besides I only had metal grinder disks from the “nets” projects. In the end we made a quick on-the-fly decision and glued a single layer of the half-broken old pavers between layers 2 and 3. This actually made the fire pit a few centimetres taller, which in the end was a good thing!

Unfortunately, as it often happens, we were so involved in the building process that we never took any photos while we were busy.

Fire - its that big

“We can build a fire THIS big!”

We wanted to put the left-over little pavers in concentric circles around the fire pit, so that the mulch (or whatever we may end up with around the pit) does not get too close or get affected by the heat. We had a lot of broken pavers, so as Markus rushed off to a birthday party, Micaela and I packed them around the fire pit. Lastly we filled the bottom with some small white granite pebbles we had left over from the natural pool filter from many, many years ago. Sometimes hoarding pays.

So the pit itself was done and we tested it with an impromptu marshmallow roast on a cold but not too windy night – a few nights before the actual mother’s day in fact.

Happy Mother’s Day!

But of course, no project is complete without the side projects!


Markus wanted a brick path from the lawn to the fire pit. I don’t know why he doesn’t want to walk on mulch, as he is the one that usually wears shoes in any case? Anyway, this had us scrounging for bricks all over the two properties. Fortunately there are a lot of bricks lying around at Dreamland, so it was easy to scrape together enough for a little path.

Of course, as we gathered more and more bricks, it had to be turned into a wall first (thereby blocking the cart’s path to the fire pit.)  But anyway, the kids had great fun “building” and they learnt a bit about stability, anchors, cement (or the lack thereof) and the influences of overlapping bricks or not… And they had even more fun bombarding the “wall” with a soccer ball until it fell over.

Fire - wall

Playing on the way to building a path

Eventually we got the path laid while waiting for the bench posts to set. Nothing too neat, but it fits in with our informal style.

fire - path

Path to fire


Last came the benches. This was a big project, and that’s why this post appears so late after Mother’s Day. In addition to the paths and winter crops at Dreamland that had to be planted with the first rains falling and before it became too cold, it also entailed sawing hardwood for the posts and the benches. This mission tied in with another massive project, but more about that in the next post.

So on one drizzly day I was digging through the hard clay (getting real filthy in the mud), planting the posts and getting them level in one shot. Two days later, on a beautiful autumn sunny day I bolted on the seats and sanded them. Fortunately the advice I got from Richard, my old surfing buddy and best mate in South Africa, was that I didn’t need to varnish the benches. Now if Richard says something about wood and carpentry, you listen – he is an amazing carpenter, very creative and very precise. Anyway, before I get side-tracked into some of the most beautiful projects he did for us way back when – not using varnish is a bit more ecologically friendly, and it saved me and the kids a few layers of varnish and another day or two of work.

Of course, after I acquired (and sawed) the posts and the hardwood for the benches, the design changed! I guess it is for the better as it looks a bit more “arty” than 4 square benches, and now more people can actually sit closer to the pit. But now I have two long lengths of hardwood spare…. Well, you blink and they come in handy somewhere. Maybe I can now start on that wicking bed?


So thank you for sending through the clip, Scott. At the time I was muttering a few choice words for the extra work, which I needed like a bullet to the head in between all the other projects. But in the end, I’m really stoked – both for the teamwork with the kids and for the outcome – a way more natural and organic structure built into mother earth than some store-bought piece of steel. Bring on the pine cones and the marshmallows!

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

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