The Fire Pit Project


Mrs. Dano had mentioned wanting a fire pit for some time now. She wanted one and not knowing where to put it or exactly what would work, I (being a diligent husband) dragged my feet, made excuses and avoided the topic by all means. That all changed when I took delivery of a rock crusher cone from a local gravel pit.  Game on!

These thousand pound beauties are relatively common and I have seen pictures of them installed as fire pits around the interwebs. I scoped out a location out back that wouldn’t wreck our traffic patterns and dirt bike test loop on our not so vast one acre estate.

Dropping this thing into the ground presented two problems: (1) How to dig a tapered hole to match the crusher cone angle and (2) how to lift it from my trailer and get it into the tapered hole all the while sitting level. The tapered hole is a must as you don’t want this bugger shifting about after a few rains.

I used a common shovel to dig the hole in a relatively short time. I then placed two straight edges (some half inch square tubing) leaning along the tapered sides extending above the ground. I used a common length of mild steel welding rod to copy the angle of the cone. I compared the rod to the two straight edges by eye until they met.  I checked the depth with another straight edge and a tape measure; I wanted a lip to extend a few inches above the ground level.

I must admit being more than thrilled when I remembered my friendly neighbor a quarter mile down had an operable field forklift that he uses on his citrus ranch.  Bingo!  I asked if I could borrow it, and in a few minutes I had roaded it back to the Casa Dano.

I rigged up some chains to get a grip on this heavy chunk of iron and manganese alloy or whatever the hell they make these things out of.  It took me under twenty minutes to place it level into the hole.  I delivered the forklift back to my neighbor in under an hour.  I was thankful that the forklift had allowed me to complete this project on my own.

After back filling along the sides with water and soil I dropped some gravel into the bottom and packed it in.  There is about a ten inch diameter hole in the bottom of these things, so it will drain while sitting in the ground.  I had a round grate from an old Weber BBQ that I tossed in the bottom to keep the fire off the very bottom.


Because this thing has a diameter of about five feet and a lip above the ground and could cause a tripping hazard.  I rolled some 2″ angle and 40′ of 3/4″ HR round rod into this interesting looking human roll cage and foot rail.  I placed a horizontal rod across the center to allow hanging a dutch oven at some point; we shall see if it ever gets used.  It should keep drunk people out of the fire.

I finished up the odd shaped small area with some random utility pole segments dug down about half way and a trailer load of 3/4″ crushed rock.  The seating is from some redwood benches that were old when we bought the house 20 years ago.  Was this project a ton of work?  No, not really.  But if I didn’t have the tools and equipment that I do, it would have been necessary to spend a few bucks at the rental yard to make it all happen.  Mrs. Dano is happy with her new fire pit and that is all that really matters now, isn’t it?



The Mysterious Ratchet Strap

Mrs. Dan works in the Agriculture Industry and has the frequent need to deliver pallets or bins of goods to customers.  Most of the employees at these places are men who of course want to help her out.  I know that this has happened when she arrives home annoyed that the common person cannot operate a ratchet strap properly.  For the safety of our highway traveling public, and tourists in rental cars everywhere, Dan’s Shop Class is eager to post our first How To:  The Mysterious Ratchet Strap.

Everybody has seen a motorcycle on a trailer going down the highway secured by a few nylon cam lock straps like the ones shown here.003

These work great for light loads that do not move much.  Ancra brand are among the best (IMHO) and the cheap ones you get at the discount parts place in the strip mall generally suck and will wreck your weekend.  Cam Lock straps are notorious for coming loose on their own.  As these wear out around our shop, we cut them up to make handlebar loops like the ones shown.  These keep the metal hooks off your spendy Pro Taper bars, but that is for another day…..


The better way to handle loads that will likely move or are heavier than a few hundred pounds are Ratchet Straps, like the ones above.  The yellow ratchet at the top is rated at 5,000lbs and the lower one perhaps 400lbs.  These come in a variety of sizes and lengths so you can buy what you need to secure your junk on the highway.  The uses for these things is limitless, from desert race trucks to commercial gardeners and weekend hacks like most of us.

Their use is relatively straight forward, but a mystery to most.  The handle fully closes in one direction only.  In the above picture, you see that the handles are almost all the way closed.  This is the direction from which you will feed the strap into and out of the ratchet.


You will see the load side of the strap is inline with the hook side of the ratchet and the dead end of the strap is next to the handle.   This is what it looks like in the real world:


All we do next is pull up the slack with one hand before we start ratcheting this bad boy with your other.  The silver tab below my knuckle is the secondary pawl.  It works against the ratchet just as the primary handle pawl does.


Make sure your tie downs are safe for the weight and don’t use a cheater bar or lever on the handle.  Just use your pizza grabbers and make it snug and finish with the handle fully down and latched.  Without fail, you will have a long, loose tail waiting to flap in the breeze all the way to Bakersfield.  If you get lucky, you will drive over it on the highway resulting in a custom length strap!  Some people overthink this long end and use tape or zip ties to secure this end (like the hot rod shop with a Discovery Channel TV show who we cruised with for a day…).  The easier, faster, safer and WAY cooler technique is to wrap up the end against the loaded strap and simply pass the end under the last pass and snug it down.  I have never had one of these come loose; your results may vary.  Practice makes perfect.  The hot rod shop had never seen this technique before. I taught them and that lesson gave me wild street cred with Mrs. Dan and the hot rod shop.



To undo the strap, you will unfurl the remnants of the flapping tail.  Then you will move the primary handle (the one you tightened) up a bit and then you will TIGHTEN the strap just a bit to allow you to pull back the secondary pawl (the real term for that spring loaded thing) and then you will work the primary and secondary pawls against each other to allow the strap to loosen.  Again, a little practice makes this much easier.

Your straps will not last forever.  That is a fact, so get some longevity out of them by storing your straps indoors without tension on them.  Sunlight and abrasion will kill a strap in no time, as will tightening it with a knot in it (you will never get it out).  Throw some WD-40 or Tri Flow on the mechanisms once in a while and they will last for years.


With a pair of properly secured ratchet straps, this top heavy, sketchy looking rig is ready to go safely down the road!  Yes, that machine is a lot of fun, but like so many things around the Dan’s Shop, we will have to get into that on another day.