Fire captivates us and touches our primal emotions. Fire is the element that first gave manpower in the darkness. That's part of the reason one of the best parts of camping is the campfire. You can capture that magic at home by building an outdoor fireplace in your yard to have a contained fire. You might even catch yourself roasting marshmallows.
Two ways to have a contained fire in an outdoor fireplace are with a fire pit or an enclosed fireplace.
Clear an area of burnable material. Give the fire a clearance of at least 15 feet on every side (check with your local city codes for required safety distance---it varies). This includes wooden decking and fences, and most certainly your house. Survey the area for overhanging vegetation that could ignite from wayward sparks.
Dig a circular pit up to 4 feet in diameter and 8 to 12 inches deep in the centre.
Line the edges of the pit with large rocks, stone pavers or bricks. You can leave the mouth of the fire pit at ground level or build up a wall of stone or firebrick around the pit.
Line the bottom of the pit with an inch or two of rough gravel. This will help water drain from the bottom of the pit in wet weather, which serves two purposes: to keep the bottom layer of your wood dry and to help air circulate under the fire. The rocks will also pick up radiant heat and reflect this heat back to you and the wood. You may pour sand on top of the gravel, for further protection of any plant roots under the pit.
Check with your city for outdoor burning restrictions, chimney height restrictions, and the required safety distance from flammable materials. Also, check building codes to see if this sort of structure is allowed outside your home.
Choose the placement of your fireplace with safety in mind. The sides, back, and hearth will need to be masonry---stone, brick, pavers, or breeze blocks. You will also need to check your vertical space for constructing a proper chimney.
After you've decided on a design, construct the fireplace using your preferred masonry material. For the firebox, you will need to use special heat-resistant materials such as firebrick and refractory mortar. You can build the basic design of your fireplace out of unattractive materials such as breeze blocks, for strength and structure, and cover the exterior with stucco or stones and mortar.
In general, when venting a masonry fireplace, you want the flue (the centre of the chimney) to have a diagonal measurement 1/10 the size of the fireplace opening. See resources for engineering of combustion box, flue and smoke chamber.
Place seating areas no closer than three feet from the flames, and enjoy your fireplace.
Refractory mortar is more durable than regular mortar when dealing with the high heat of fire. You can shop online or at your local home improvement store for ready-made fireboxes to make building your outdoor fireplace a snap. Some outdoor fireplace kits come with parts for building proper chimneys on covered-roof patios.
Be aware of outdoor burning restrictions in your area---you may need a permit. Be certain your property is wildfire-safe. Have a fire extinguisher handy, just in case. Always supervise children around an open fire, and never leave fire unattended. Make certain the fire is out completely before you go inside your house for the night.