diy project: karen’s portable fire pit

I greatly admire Karen’s penchant for discount shopping; it’s particularly awesome when she shares her results with the rest of us. We’ve posted her tutorials before, but this fire pit might be my favorite. And it couldn’t come at a better time — the leaves are falling outside my window and I am desperate to make a cup of something warm, sit outside and savor the late sunsets while they last. She crafted this beauty from such simple materials as a planter, cheap frames and a can of gel fuel. One trip to the hardware store and you’re set! The simple modern shape and neutral rocks make this budget-friendly fire pit look totally luxe. I cannot wait to make my own and throw a mulled cider party to welcome the chill. You can click here to see the full post on her site. Great work, Karen! — Kate

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • marine silicone
  • cheap glass frames (these need to fit around the edges of your planter)
  • rocks
  • any kind of metal mesh (available at hardware stores)
  • gel fuel
  • any metal planter with a lip (edge)


1. Once you buy your planter, find cheap frames with glass that will fit around the edges of your planter. I used glass document holders from the Dollar Store for $1 each.

2. Construct a glass box by running a thin bead of silicone along the edge of one glass panel. Place another piece of glass over the siliconed edge. Press edge into silicone and hold for a few minutes.

3. Apply silicone to the second edge, propping both sides up to keep them straight until they dry.

4. Once the silicone on the two sides has dried, flip the box over so the open edge faces you. Run a thin bead of silicone along both exposed edges of glass.

5. Gently place the final piece of glass between the two siliconed edges being careful *not* to smear the silicone.

6. Now you have a box! A glass box. Wasn’t that easy? Let the silicone dry for 15 minutes or so. Go eat a cookie. Don’t be alarmed if your silicone squeezes out like this. You can clean it up with a razor once it’s dry.

7. Run a final bead of silicone around the entire edge of the glass box. Flip the box over, placing the siliconed edge on top of the metal planter. Make sure there’s enough edge near the center left over for some metal mesh to rest on it.

8. Now that you have the structure, just a little tweaking is necessary to prepare it for a fire. Cut a piece of mesh (I used a cheapo grill grate from Dollar Store) to fit *exactly* inside your glass box. It will rest on the lip of the planter. Place your opened can of gel fuel in the center of the planter.

9. Use enough mesh to cover the entire surface of the planter, resting it on the small edge of the planter you’ve left inside the glass box.

10. Cover the mesh loosely with rocks, leaving some space in between the rocks to allow for oxygen so the fire will stay lit.

11. Clear the rocks away from above the gel fuel can and carefully light the gel fuel. I use an advanced technique — I light the end of a piece of spaghetti. Whole wheat of course.


What makes this fire pit so amazing is the glass. The flames reflect against it and dance all over the place! Before I get to the final pictures with the fire pit in it’s rightful home in my back yard, here are a few tips:

1.  Make sure you buy gel fuel that is meant for gel fireplaces. Gel cooking fuel will not work because it usually only creates heat, not an actual flame.

2. If you use a proper gel fuel (Real Flame for example), you can actually use this fire pit indoors. Be careful to place it on heat resistant fabric so it doesn’t scorch your furniture. The metal is a good conductor and can get very hot!

3. Make sure your rocks are heavy for their size. Lighter rocks are full of air and may explode!

4. You can use any metal planter for this. This one was on sale, so that’s why I got it for this little experiment. Black metal square planters that are probably on sale at garden centers right now would look fantastic with white rocks.

5.  The gel cans last for about three hours. If you’d like to stop the flame earlier, simply place something non-flammable over the glass box to snuff it out. Cans can be re-lit for subsequent uses.

  1. Alex says:

    this is a fantastics diy kudos for the great idea!!! will be doing this, this weekend with my gf for a fun stay at home project!

  2. Oh wow that is a very elegant fire pit!

  3. Jon says:

    Great idea

    Here is an instructable for building one with propane

  4. Seul says:

    found via Not Martha– Thank you so much, my BF constantly regrets the lack of a fireplace and the rules in our little starter apt mean we can’t have a firebowl– this is perfect b’day gift for him

  5. lauri says:

    Not only it is stunning, but the fact that you made it with dollar store items just blows my mind! You are my new hero!

    I have just one question. If this is the glass from document holders, I am guessing that it is about an 8 X 12? Can you give me the dimensions of the planter also. I am sure I can find something lovely at a garage or estate sale.

  6. Joseph says:

    I’ve compiled all the parts I need to build this since this post went up, but still haven’t found a planter for a perfect fit. This is upsetting. I feel like I’ll never be able to replicate this wonderful idea. :\

  7. Wow! This is fantastic, I need to do this!! Thank you for sharing.

  8. HEATHER says:

    @ Joseph – I would buy the planter first then buy the glass frames since they often come in so many different sizes so you could get a custom fit and also think about round planter/round class hurricane, etc….

  9. rb says:

    looks great/easy/cheap – BUT
    what the post doesn’t tell you is that:
    1) the glass you’re going to get in most inexpensive picture frames is going to be super-thin and impossible to glue w/o breaking
    2) You can’t buy Real Flame in lots of less than 12, making a purchase of the $4 canisters $48 – oh, and you can’t find them in any store
    3) nobody seems to carry square planters (or any planters for that matter) off-season.

    1. grace says:


      perhaps your local shops aren’t stocking what you need for this project, but i managed to find all of this on budget. our local ikea carried a HUGE amount of square planters but you can try target and cb2 for similar options.

      the real flame does tend to come in packs of 12 for $38, but you can always split that with a friend (or 2) and do the project together. or you can make a few to keep outdoors around your home. you will go through a few cans if you burn them often, so having a few extra won’t hurt ;)


  10. danielle says:

    Does any glass work for this? I have not been able to find any at a dollar store but Ikea has some glass shelves.

    I’m worried about exploding glass…

  11. Keyla says:

    I bought square metal planters in Home Goods for $7.99 each, with enough of an edge for the glass to rest as well as the mesh. I did not use the glass from the dollar store, even though you can purchase them from for 99 cents. I bought the glass from Lowes and they were able to cut them free of charge to the size I needed. glass was $2.32 each and the real flame I purchased from ebay. Hope this helps :-)

  12. says:

    this is awesome

  13. Laura says:

    Great Idea!!!! Can you use this without the glass to simulate an outdoor campfire for roasting marshmallows indoors? Just wondering about the safety factor of that!

  14. Define Lust says:

    I am in love with Design Sponge! All of the DIYs are so amazing. This one would be my particular favorite and one that I can do right away. I’m looking more for this as an indoor fire pit. Wish me luck, thanks!

  15. Dora says:

    superb. The outcome is awesome

  16. Dianne says:

    I wonder if u could use a mirror for one side. That would add to the look of the fire dancing around. Anyone try that yet?

  17. KimTurkoc says:

    Love this idea! Definately going to make this…genious idea

  18. Kim says:

    Love this idea. Definately going to make this……genious

  19. Frances says:

    I looked at the site Douglas mentions. They cost a fortune. I don’t think he knows what DIY means!?! Anyway, just to be a voice of reason here it would take a very hot fire on or very near it to cause the glass to break, I don’t think the gel even gets hot enough. If you follow the instructions there will be no problem. Beautiful project.

  20. Carson says:

    I absolutely love the creativeness of this project. However, I have asthma and can’t be around smoke, can anyone tell me if the gel fuel produces smoke like an actual bonfire? Candles don’t generally cause a problem, so if it’s similar to a candle that’s fine. If it does, are there alternatives besides gel fuel I could use? Thank you for the instruction, and possibly an answer as to if I should even make it.

  21. Sheila B says:

    Wow! I can wait to make this. I just recently found a site where I can make my own outdoor fire pit. I Love fireplaces (which I don’t have ) so this will be the next best thing for me. Thanks!

  22. Brittany says:

    really great idea.. but i would use pyroceram glass!! it can withstand heat up to 1400 degrees! you can order it at

  23. Nicole says:

    Wow! Wow! I was searching for something else and came across this DIY thank you for being so creative and sharing your projects. Karen you have just save me thousands of dollars I wanted a fire pit coffee table which I put on my wish list for christmas now I can do it myself.

    Thank you!

  24. Jay says:

    A glass shop will cut what you need, and it’s really pretty cheap. You don’t need to get it just at hobby and craft stores.

  25. Keeley Hollis says:

    Is Marine Silicone required or can I use any silicone?

  26. Julie says:

    Oh My!! Your so brillant Karen.
    Love it. :)
    You should be proud of yourself

  27. sarah says:

    instead of the rocks around the flame could you use those new glass rocks?

  28. azg george says:

    Oh, all the fire pit are elegant. Really i love this all. Most importantly i would like to give you thanks for sharing this innovative ideas about tabletop fireplace. I’m glad to know information that this page provides. Finally, i just love this ideas!!


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