Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)

Need a homemade gift idea that’s quick, easy, and inexpensive but still a crowd pleaser? Fire bowls may be just what you’re looking for. This 101 comes from HOMEGROWN member Vicki, a self-described organic dirt digger from Springfield, Tennessee, who, along with her husband, is in the process of relocating to a new farm. Want to wish Vicki luck on her new property or thank her for sharing her awesome how-to? Post a comment below—then get fired up!

In our family, we try to make all of our holiday gifts—a pretty daunting task since there are 18 of us. So it was a good day when I happened upon a tutorial by Bold Beautiful Brainy for these pretty little "fire pit wannabes" that use canned heat—i.e. Sterno, kerosene burners, or candles—as the fire element. I made six in three days; each took about 30 minutes of hands-on time. Ready? Here we go!



» 1 bag of Sakrete or Quikrete fast-setting concrete mix (not shown in photo; 1 bag makes 3 bowls)

» 1 chafing dish fuel pack (a.k.a. Sterno), kerosene burner, or pillar candle

» 1 5-gallon bucket for mixing

» 1 sturdy wooden stick for stirring (I used a large paint stirrer)

» 1 medium plastic bowl to use as a mold (the dimensions of the bowl I used were: 11-inch diameter bowl opening, 5-inch diameter base, 5.5 inches tall)

» 1 full can of food with a diameter greater than your Sterno can, with the paper label removed

» 1 small disposable plastic bowl with a diameter equal to your food can

» Ice pick or sharp knife

» Cooking oil

» Newspaper (This is a messy business)

» Small rocks, shells, or other decorative items to embed in the top of your fire bowl

» Gloves

» Water



»  Concrete mix: $1.67 (I bought a 50-pound bag at Lowe's for $5 that yielded three large fire bowls)

+  Bowl for mold: $1 (I got mine at The Dollar Tree)

+  Fuel pack: $1 (ditto)

= $3.67 total



Things move quickly once you get started, so you’ll want to make sure you have everything ready before you begin. Gather your items and spread the newspaper over your work area. (You may want to do this outside if the weather is nice.)

To measure how much concrete mix you’ll need, pour the dry mix into your medium bowl to whatever height you want the finished fire bowl to be, adding a little extra since the mix will settle once it’s wet. Transfer half of the mix into the bucket and add enough water, a little at a time, to make a thick slush. Stir very quickly and very thoroughly. Once this mix is completely blended, add the second half of the dry mix and stir, stir, stir. The consistency should be quite thick but still pourable. Rub cooking oil on the inside of your plastic mold bowl and pour the concrete mixture into the bowl. Tap the bowl on the ground or the floor a few times to help the mix settle.

Now take your food can, rub it with oil, and press it into the middle of your drying concrete. You may have to twist the can a few times to nestle it all the way in. Press it into the concrete to a depth that’s equal to or deeper than the height of your fuel-pack can. Arrange your rocks or other decorative items on top of the concrete and press in to set.

After about five minutes, twist your can so that it doesn’t get stuck as the concrete sets. After about ten minutes, gently remove the can by twisting and wiggling it from side to side. At this point, if your drying bowl does not seem stable enough to hold its shape, punch holes in the bottom of your smaller plastic bowl, oil the outside of the bowl, and press it into the hole of your drying concrete bowl. Excess water will probably come through the holes in the bottom of the plastic bowl; you can absorb this with an old rag or paper towels. Leave the smaller plastic bowl in place until the concrete has set enough to hold its shape; another ten minutes should do the trick.

At this point, I let my fire bowl dry in the mold for about half a day or overnight, depending on what time of day I got started. If you take your fire bowl out of the mold too early, you might accidentally damage the edges (I’m speaking from experience here). When you’re sure you’re ready to remove the fire bowl from the mold, just tilt the mold a little, and the bowl slides right out. 

If the smooth exterior of the fire bowl doesn’t suit you, you can give it a more distressed look by gently tapping it with the rough side of a meat mallet. I used this treatment on mine and crumbled the edges the same way for a more natural look. You can try a variety of methods and decorative treatments on the bowl’s exterior; just make sure you do so before the bowl dries completely (about 24 hours). Next time, I plan to try scraping the sides with a barbecue fork or doing some carving with a sharp knife. The distressing that I did with the mallet loosened a couple of the rocks, but a little super glue took care of the problem.

That’s it! You’re done! Place your heat source in the bowl, light it, and sit back and enjoy—or, if you’re able to part with your lovely new fire bowl, give it to a friend. If you’re not quite ready to hand off your handiwork, good news! You’ve got enough supplies to make two more!


Got a question for Vicki? Or another use for Sterno? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling! If you’re a real concrete aficionado, you might also be interested in the Outdoor Earth Oven Building 101, or if you’re looking for further homemade gift ideas, check out the Hand-Knit Apple and Pear Ornaments 101. You can always find more things to make, craft, cook, preserve, plant, grow, and stir in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.




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