High summer’s the perfect time of year to sit outside late into the evening, and nothing makes that better than the cheeriness and warmth of a fire. But if you don’t want to spend megabucks on an outdoor fireplace and don’t want to spend hours stacking bricks and slathering them with mortar to build a permanent fire-pit, what are you to do?

Fire bowls are the answer. They can be as low-tech as a big fireproof bowl for burning real wood or they can be fueled by propane, natural gas or clean-burning gel. Either way, instead of spending your time on installation, you get to spend your time enjoying the ambience. Here are a few tips to be sure you don’t also enjoy a visit from the fire department.

Traditional Exterior

Gravel ground cover, four lounge chairs and a free-standing fire bowl is all it took to create a lovely spot for late-night chats in this clearing in the woods.

Tip 1: Consult with building officials, local codes and certified professionals before installing a fire bowl no matter what it uses for fuel — wood, natural gas, propane or gel. Codes vary from city to city so not all of the bowls pictured in this ideabook may be legal in your area. Check, check, check!

simple fire bowl

The simplicity of a fire bowl submerged up to its rim in the sand lends itself to the serene atmosphere in this outdoor sitting area. This one is wood burning, but it could also be fueled via natural gas or a propane tank out of view. For gas you would need to run a gas line to it, but the time spent setting it up pays off in ease of use. Just turn it on, light it and you’re good to go!

Tip 2: Make sure the area right around your bowl is clear of branches or foliage that could catch fire. A good rule of thumb would be to allow at least six feet of cleared space from the bowl — but again, check what is required in your area.

Mediterranean Patio

Okay, this isn’t a bowl, it is a concrete fire pit. But I included it because the cover over the fire is so decorative!

Tip 3: Most fire bowls made for burning real wood come with a mesh cover. Once your fire is lit and has burned down a little, be sure to use the screen. This keeps sparks from floating out of the bowl and any flammable debris from blowing in to the bowl.

 metal bowl

This big metal bowl is all you need to get your campfire fix this summer. Plunk it down, insert logs, light the fire. What could be easier? You’ll be toasting marshmallows in no time.

Tip 4: Never leave a fire unattended. Even though we don’t see people in any of these photos, when the people go in, the fire goes out! This fire bowl has a pool nearby, but don’t put your fire out by dumping a bucket of water on it. That will just raise a cloud of steam, send ashes flying and make it harder to light the fire the next time.

Keep a bucket of sand, dirt or cold ashes handy, along with a shovel or metal rake. Move partially burned logs away from each other so they begin to cool and use the sand or dirt to cool and smother the coals.

This rusted steel bowl fits the rustic charm of this wide deck and rattan rocking chairs.

Tip 5: Even though you’d like to spend more time rocking and less time building the fire, never use accelerants like charcoal lighter fluid or gasoline to light the fire.

Rustic Landscape

I love this sitting area overlooking a distant view. Higher bluffs like this can get very windy, so a gas-fueled fire bowl is a better idea than a wood-burning one. Since those aren’t logs in the bowl, I’m sure that’s exactly what this is.

Tip 6: Take wind into consideration when deciding placement and type of fire bowl. Burning embers can get blown out of the fire bowl, so choose a protected area if you are going with wood as your fuel.

Contemporary Patio

A freestanding wood-burning fire bowl is pretty portable. This one is being used in a courtyard surrounded on at least three sides, so it is very protected from wind. A portable fire bowl is also easy to scoot it off to the side when not in use, as I think they did here because it is very close to the shrubbery.

Tip 7: Remember that the metal gets hot. Let it cool thoroughly before attempting to handle the cover or moving the bowl.

Mediterranean Landscape

In gas or propane fueled bowls, you have the option of changing up what you put inside for interesting visual effects. These fireproof spheres are a great look!

Tip 8: Make sure what you use is approved for this use. The wrong material could explode or shatter.

Beach Style Patio

I just think this picture is magical. The fire reflecting off the glass tile in the spiral pattern makes it look like the fire is running through it. I can imagine sitting here gazing alternately at the fire and the ocean for hours and hours.

Tip 9: Now that you know all the safety stuff, choose a fire bowl with a style and beauty that fits its surroundings

Mediterranean Patio

This lovely, wide and shallow bowl is filled with blue glass, making it very pretty even when it isn’t lit.

Traditional Landscape

I love that this fire bowl incorporates water, too. This one is also a nice choice if you want something beautiful with or without fire. I also really like the concrete blocks placed around it for seating.

contemporary Patio

Just because it isn’t shaped like a fire bowl doesn’t mean it can’t work like one. I believe this one may be fueled with gel. The sleek style definitely fits in with the furniture.

Modern Exterior

This low bowl complements the modern architecture, and the low cushions work well with it. A great spot for meditation.

Beach Style Landscape

This little fire bowl wasn’t as easy to install as the others in this ideabook; it’s part of the built-in concrete bench. But I included it because I just love how it feels like your own personal little fire bowl. I’d be happy as a clam toasting marshmallows by the bagful here.

Tip 10: No matter how convenient the fire bowl is, limit your toasted marshmallow consumption to one bag.

Okay, just kidding about that last tip. I don’t think there’s actually any limit on the marshmallows.

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