DIYdiy projects

diy project: karen’s portable fire pit

by Kate Pruitt

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.

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  • This is amazing – I would never in my life have dreamt that a DIY fire pit (indoor, no less!) was a) within my skill set and b) safe. I’m glad to be wrong :-)

  • Very impressive I am amazed at Karen’s site and all she can accomplish!

    I have a New Giveaway from the French Basketeer I think you will love!

    Art by Karena

  • I love this idea! I really like how you thought about everything and I love the creative factor! Thanks!

  • This is pure genius! My husband loves fire pits, but the ones he’s made are ugly. My project list is growing by the minute.

  • Thanks everyone! I appreciate the nice comments. Almost makes burning myself with hot glue and grease splatters every week worth it. :)

    Ceek – I am happy to divulge any and all information. However the planter is from the discount table at a small shop around my house outside of Toronto. So I don’t think you’ll be able to find the exact one. Keep on the lookout at your local garden centre. This time of year the planters are all on sale! Good luck and thanks again. – karen

  • That would look amazing in a living room with a non-useable fireplace.

    My only wondering is how easy/difficult is it to change out the can? Let me know. I’d love to give this a try!

  • Think it would work with an old aquarium tank? Maybe with a deeper layer of rocks? I’d love to try this…

  • Maggie – If you can handle making the firepit you can handle changing the can! All you have to do is pull your rocks off, lift the screen out and put in a new can. Put the screen back on, throw the rocks back in and you’re done! – karen

  • Does the glass get very hot as well? I wonder if it is safe to use the thin glass that comes in pictures frames? I am also a little nervous about guessing whether my rocks are “heavy for their size”. Amy I just being a nudge? I would really like to make one. That copper pot is gorgeous.

  • This is so awesome and creative but I am really intimidated by the potential of exploding rocks !!!

    Also, I’m pretty certain my cat would jump into the flame. World’s dumbest cat.

  • Roseanna – The glass does get hot, but will be fine as long as you use a big planter, where the glass is far enough away from the flame that it isn’t touching it.

    Jess … Chances of your rock exploding are slim! I just wanted to put that little warning in there. It’s most likely to happen actually with wet, porous rocks. They heat up, fill with steam and explode. If you buy a bag of rocks at a craft store you’ll be fine.

  • The flame in the last picture looks like a goose.
    Also, I’m obsessed with this project.

  • Dude, it’s a gel warmer. As if its hot or close enough to the glass or plastic walls to do any damage. If you start sticking logs or a gas line in there you might cause yourself problems but as is no issue.
    Why bash something when there is nothing to bash. The internet is one big web of negativity.

  • Phenomenal idea! I love the look of this, but if you are lazy (like me) it would be even easier if you used a round planter and found a large glass candle cylinder to go over it.

  • Karen, you’re a crafty genius! For several months, I’ve looked for tabletop fireplaces or projects for, but ready-made are so expensive and the projects I found were a little too rustic. This one is excellent! Thanks!

  • Christy – if you can find a round planter with a glass hurricane that will fit I think that would be fantastic! It’ll look great! Just make sure they’re big enough to accommodate the flame from the gel fuel which is much larger than the flame of a candle (which the hurricane is meant for) – karen

  • Could you maybe replace the rock with sand, and then put a dollop of gel fuel on the sand and light it? Of course you’d put the sand on something other than a grill, like a metal dish…

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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. :\

  • @ 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….

  • 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.

    • rb

      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 ;)


  • 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…

  • 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 dollartree.com 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 :-)

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!!

  • Love this fire pit. I just like to have this fire pit in my living room. Moreover, this DIY project is the finest portable fire pit project I have ever seen. Thanks a lot to the admin for this wonderful creation.

  • Hi; great idea; congratulations. I have one question, why use marine silicone vs regular silicone sealer?. Thank you