Update 12/2016: Eek! An extreme overnight temperature dip caused our fireplace finish to crack. We wouldn’t recommend this paint in extreme weather climates (ahem, Chicago!), but if a little chip here and there doesn’t bother you, it still may be worth the makeover. Fair warning. We’ve since had our fireplace powder coated to prevent future issues, and we keep it covered over the winter.
You’ve probably noticed our backyard fireplace in the background of our more recent patio projects (and if you follow us on Instagram stories, we’ve shared sneak peeks there, too!), but we wanted to use it for several weeks before I sat down to write about it. In case you missed our backyard renovation from the beginning, our fireplace journey wasn’t quick, but it was 100%, completely and totally worth it.
A few nights ago, Scott and I were eating dinner by our new-to-us fire, and we started talking about how this pit came to be. At the start of summer (while the back of our house was still being demo’ed), we were so sure that we were going to get a round pit, and it would likely sit closer to sidewalk surrounded by chairs. The idea would have worked, but I couldn’t shake the idea that we were wasting space with a floating fireplace. There’s got to be a different way to lay out the yard, I said. Do we really need a pit to circle around?
I have always loved Sarah’s backyard, and you can tell that the shape of our planter boxes was inspired by her, too! And so, as is typical as we begin any sort of renovation, we switched gears and fell down the Craigslist rabbit hole searching ‘Mid Century fireplace’ or ‘Malm fireplace’ or ‘Preway’ or, maybe not surprisingly, ‘cone fireplace.’ The rest is history, as we quickly found ours in Madison, Wisconsin for about $300 (way, way under the almost $1,000 price tags we were seeing). Although it’s a 2.5 hour drive from Chicago, Scott round-tripped it in an evening (the seller was very strict about his first come, first served! policy), and 5 hours later, we had ourselves a fireplace. We moved it around the yard to find the best spot, and we agreed it looked best along the perimeter. Suddenly, our whole backyard opened up, and the rest of the layout fell into place!
I’m happy to say that after a few weeks of heavy use, we love it. Although it’s traditionally meant to be used indoors with firewood, we had planned from the beginning to convert it for propane use. Because Chicago homes are so close together, this would eliminate the heavy bonfire scent (making for happier neighbors), and you can’t beat the ease of turning it on and off (meaning we use it that much more!). So today, I’m going to share how we took an already nice looking indoor-wood-burning-fireplace and turned it into the outdoor-propane-ready-fire-pit that’s the meanest, leanest thing in our yard.
WHAT WE DID:
First, we took the entire thing apart. The bowl of the fire pit had started to rust, and it was quickly spreading. Scott sprayed this penetrating catalyst onto the bowl, and with the help of a wire brush drill attachment, he was able to completely nix the rust – hooray! He thoroughly rinsed it with a hose and allowed it to dry.
Meanwhile, I used a solution of no-rinse TSP and water to remove grime from the fireplace surround, including the inside. Not only does TSP act as a powerful cleaner (always wear gloves!), but it’s a deglosser as well. In this case, the original powder coat finish was tough as nails, so although it didn’t dull, I still felt better knowing that it was clean and prepped for paint.
Because the fireplace would be reaching incredibly high temperatures (you know, fire and all!), we needed to use high heat paint. Although we toyed with the idea of an eye-popping copper finish, we knew that black would feel classic and slightly contemporary, and with all the work we’d be putting into this makeover, we didn’t want to regret our color choice a year or two down the road. So, black it was! Rustoleum offered up their high heat paints for us to try, and although covering anything this large requires a bit of a learning curve, we’re so happy with the results.
We used these three items, from left to right: High Heat primer (2 cans), High Heat flat black (1 can) and High Heat Ultra in semi-gloss black (5 cans).
Here’s how the paint application breaks down:
- (Almost) everything received 2 thin coats of primer, including the inside and underside of the bowl. The inside of the surround and stacks were in perfect condition, so they were skipped altogether.
- High Heat matte black was used for the inside of the bowl only
- High Heat Ultra was used on the entire exterior, including the underside of the bowl and the stand
The exterior of the fireplace received a total of 5 coats. 5! To be honest, I was a little worried after the first few, because the finish wasn’t looking as perfect as I would have liked. I took a break and Scott took over, and after another 2-3 coats, it started to look so shiny and pretty! So my advice is this, when in doubt, keep adding coats. It gets better! I took the photo below after 2 coats, and you can see how uneven it still is. Tip: We followed the instructions on the can as closely as possible, which called for applying coats within minutes of each other.
After everything had dried but before putting it back together, we began prepping the fire bowl for the propane conversion. Because our plan is to keep the fireplace outside year round (and covering it in the winter or during especially bad summer storms), we first added drainage holes to prevent rainwater build up and future rust. This step drill bit was ah-mazing for drilling holes into metal:
Next, we used a large metal hole saw bit to give the flex line from our fire burner kit (more on that in a second) a place to exit. All of these holes were sprayed again with primer and flat black high heat paint to protect the raw edges:
With the fire bowl prep work done, we could move on to adding the fire kit! We chose this 18″ kit for its star shape, which supposedly gives off a more natural looking flame (as opposed to, say, a circular ring of fire). Although the kit has almost everything you need, we still needed to purchase a 1/2″ male gas line fitting and this regulator with a 3/8″ fitting to properly connect everything to our propane tank. Side note: We originally ordered the wrong parts and went on a wild goose chase before we found these. If you’ll be replicating this project with a propane tank, trust me that these are all you’ll need to complete the kit!
We set the fire ‘ring’ close to center in the bowl, and the flex line exited through the larger hole we made. Finally, we could put the surround back on (while also replacing the old rusted bolts with shiny new stainless ones) and add our rocks! We used these sleek black lava rocks and ended up needing three 20 lb. bags to fill the bowl nicely and strategically hide the fire kit:
To connect our kit to propane, Scott followed the instructions closely, but in our case, we also wanted to hide the tank far enough away from the fireplace. To do this, we used an 8′ long 1/2″ galvanized pipe and a 1/2″ 90-degree elbow to connect the kit behind the fireplace:
The pipe runs behind our planter box and comes out the other side, where it then hooks up to our propane tank! To turn on the fireplace, we open the propane tank and use a lighter near the lava rocks to ignite the flames. The flange and key (seen below) can be turned to change the intensity of the fire, although if it were up to me, we’d keep those flames on high, all the time. #alwayscold
We completed the project over the course of one weekend, although the longest part for us was painting. The shiny black finish is so good, and although the copper would have been stunning, this is a look we won’t be itching to change anytime soon!
To prevent too much rain or debris from getting into the fireplace (and to keep it outdoor friendly), we also picked up a galvanized steel rain cap and gave it the same high heat semi-gloss finish:
The weather is just starting to cool in Chicago, and we’ve been spending our evenings with a glass of wine (me), bourbon (him) and a nice fire. I can’t believe it, but we haven’t yet made a s’more – soon though!
I took this video the other night, because, well, CC! We’ll often turn the fire on just for her, and we’ll go back into the kitchen (with a clear shot of the yard, of course) to start dinner prep. She might love lounging next to the heat more than anyone, as evidenced here:
Has anyone else converted a wood burning fireplace to propane? We’d love to see your projects! In the meantime, I’ve gotta pick up some marshmallows and chocolate.
Wow – that is awesome! You guys are just nailing your outdoor style. The fireplace rocks….be forewarned that our fire pit has been nicknamed the pit of truth….many a friend has revealed secrets whilst sitting around the fire pit…people we’ve known for years have told us stuff we just can’t believe! Get ready to have your minds blown by the beauty of your backyard and the power of fire. Would love an update on your front garden too! Are you planting bulbs in the front or in your planter boxes?
Haha, hilarious! I suppose ours has been a pit of truth just between us to this point. These poor pups get an earful!
We didn’t plant any bulbs (we did that once a couple years ago to sad results, womp womp). and the front garden looks pretty much the same! We will see how it does next spring, but it might need a few small tweaks as we continue to learn.
WOW! The amount of time and energy you’re putting into this is awe-inspiring. It’s looking phenomenal; it’s hard to wrap my mind around where you started to where you are now after just one summer. Love the choice of black paint and I’m pretty sure my dog would never leave the front of the fire! She (also CeCe…but short for Cecelia) knows where the heating vent is in every room of the house and in front of them is generally where you’ll find her.
So funny. CC is definitely a little heat seeker. She could bathe in direct sunlight ALL day, and being her loyal servant, I’m just good for bringing her fresh water.
Off topic- how are you liknig the outdoor poofs/ ottoman/ faux wicker stools?
They’re just what I’ve been searching for, but I havent pulled the trigger yet.
Loving the renovations as always and you give me a lot to think about for our yard when we are able to get to it!
We love it! We got this one from Container Store, and it’s great for propping our feet up. The top isn’t completely flat, so we don’t use it to hold drinks or anything, but we did just get this one from Target for storing blankets AND using as a side table! We’ll be putting it to use at an upcoming gathering. :)
Aww CC! Be still my heart that is adorable!
Oh man, it’s amazing. And I am so jealous that you got such a deal. I’ve had a saved search on my Craigslist ap for this fireplace for months and months, and so far, not a single thing has popped up. Which isn’t really that surprising, since midcentury is crazy popular in Austin and it’s too hot here most of the year for a fireplace. But still! I hold out hope! Nothing makes a backyard more cozy for lounging at night.
It turned out fantastic! I can see now why you guys weren’t too worried about the proximity to the surrounding wood. The conversion to gas is really great
I’ve said it before, but I LOVE the way you incorporate your pups into your blog posts. The video of CC at the end snoozing away has got to be my favorite thing I’ve seen this week. :) Of course, it helps that your fireplace is so beautiful. I am thinking of ways to make this happen at my house now too!
Separate question: Do you plan on “covering up” the propane tank at some point? I’m curious how it looks with the rest of your beautiful decor!
Thanks, Kim! And yes, we’d love to build a breathable slatted box around it, with enough room to store other outdoor supplies – like citronella candles, dog toys, etc. We had hoped to get to that this year, but it’s looking like that might happen next spring.
CC reminds me of my mixed breed, Mellie! She’s definitely part chihuahua and lays in full sun just soaking up the rays. Then she comes inside with a doggie grin on her face. They crack me up!
The fireplace is gorgeous! Now I want to find a place in my yard to install one.
Aren’t those grins the BEST? We call it their Grinch-y smiles.
Love this backyard! Knowing the winters in Chicago are harsh, how do you plan to winter over the fireplace? Cover it? Move it into the garage? Thanks.
We’ll be covering it. We have some feelers out there on quotes for a custom cover (because of its unique shape), but we’re hitting some road blocks. Anyone local to Chicago have an upholsterer they love and could recommend for this weird job?
In the off chance we don’t have a cover before winter, we’ll tarp it and secure it with bungee cords!
Check the FB MCM group! I know they have group documents that list a bunch of upholsterers and then I think there is a guy, Davincho or something like that? That does really amazing upholstery stuff. Plus since it’s an MCM fireplace, I’m sure you’d have better luck posting there. Someone always knows something!
I didn’t even think of that! I’ll have to do that. We actually gave away our extra fireplace parts that we didn’t need to someone through the MCM group. Thanks for the tip!
I missed this before. Maybe try a sailmaking company, they are used to working with custom shapes and large sizes. Many of the fabrics which make sails seaworthy, will also serve as weatherproofing for your outdoor item.
Have been loving reading about all your projects. Thank you so much for sharing such great detail. Question: did you feel compelled to anchor your fireplace to the ground in any way?
We thought we MIGHT, but the fireplace itself is pretty heavy, and once we added 60 lbs of lava rock, we felt that was anchor enough! :)
We rescued a Cavalier King Charles who would run out to the fire pit and bark at it until (magically) a fire appeared! He LOVED hanging out by the fire ??
Thank you for rescuing! He sounds ‘magical’, haha!
I am always so impressed with all you do! You two rock?!
love how you did this conversion. and i love the shot of the dog at the end!!!
Wow, it looks great – what an awesome idea to convert it to propane!
CC is too cute lounging by the fire – our family dog also is obsessed with laying by the fire and we put ours on just for him a lot too :)
What a wonderful project! Repurposed things are probably my favorite DIY to read about, and do myself – but I tend to love all of your projects!
Do you have a sense of how long the propane tank will last, perhaps in hours? It seems like perhaps it pulls a bit more gas than some of the commercial gas patio fireplace units, but less than (say…) a grill. Is there a mechanism to regulate how strong the flames are – maybe just how much twist you give the tank?
Hope winter holds off long enough that you get a long, happy fall in front of your flames!
Thanks, Mandi! We actually don’t have a very good test just yet of how long we get on a tank. We had a half tank, and it just ran out last night after using it consistently for about an hour a night for the last week, so yes, it definitely burns through it… but it’s not too crazy. :)
And yup, the key/flange pictured above is what adjusts how strong the flames are!
Totally amazing, you made this fireplace transformation look like a piece of cake! the end result is impeccable – i would have sworn you got the fireplace re-powder coated!
I am always blown away by your projects, and this one is no exception! Absolutely brilliant and beautiful!
So sweet, thank you so much!
Wow, that’s awesome! That’s why I love reading your blog!
Looks amazing!! And I am so impressed with your all’s dedication and plan! That was not an easy project – looks gorgeous and so modern and clean:). Enjoy!! And def go get you all some s’mores!
This is so beautiful! I love it!
You guys nailed this project. It’s incredible…makes me want to redo my backyard a bit… :-)
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This project rocks from start to finish. Creative & stunning! Is this the 30″ unit? Any sense of weight prior to 60# lava rock anchor?
Thank you! I want to say that the base was about 32″ across at the widest point. It wasn’t TOO heavy – like I could pick it up and move it a little bit on my own – but if we wanted to move it around, it took two people to do the job, mostly because it’s such an awkward shape!
I am in the process of converting my preway from wood burning to propane as well. I am keeping it outside however I want to keep it under my metal roofed cover. I’m concerned about how to vent it since the pipe is single walled & not doubled. It looks like your stove is sitting right next to your wooden fence. Does your stove & pipe get extremely hot? I’m worried about the pipe or stove getting too hot & starting a fire.
Any advice u can give me would b appreciated.
Hi Patricia! It gets hot, but not so hot that it radiates heat waves from the pipe. To be honest, it’s only the warmest when you’re directly over the opening to the fire itself. Still, I’d be careful to keep it at least a foot away from any walls. Remember, these fireplaces were made to work indoors, practically all the way up against a wall!
You’ve inspired me to go on a hunt for our very own midcentury outdoor fireplace. Can you share how much you paid for powder coating? The cheapest I can find so far is $580 or $600 in our area but usually there is a discoloration requiring a paint job or powder coat. Since it may require additional costs I’m trying to determine if this fireplace is out of our budget…
Hi Linda! We’re located in Chicago and we paid $320 for a powder coating. Keep shopping around!
Where did you go to get the powder coating done? We aren’t in your area but I’m trying to figure out where to start. Thanks
Try searching for automotive shops!
Or you can also try a search for ‘powdercoating’ or ‘metal coating’ in your area. We drove about an hour into the far Chicago suburbs to get ours done. It was a pain in the butt dropping it off and picking it up, but it saved us hundreds of dollars!
Wondering if you ever found someone to make a custom cover?! We also live in Chicago and are hoping to use a Malm fireplace outside, but concerned about the weather.
We did! Randomly, someone responded to Scott’s plea on Facebook. They build and repair those bouncy house tents, and he made us a custom cover. SO RANDOM. I can have Scott look up that request if you’re interested? Otherwise, we were about to check with our local upholstery shop!
We got ours for $150 on Craigslist! We were very happy. Well until we moved recently and left it behind. :-(
It is the yellow one featured here.
The chimney cost like $1,000 to complete our $150 fireplace lol.
All we did was pour more fireplace concrete inside the pit since it was looking worn and cracking. And then painted all the black parts black. We loved it.
Just wanted to give you major props! I’m about to purchase one of these fireplaces and it is in need of some reno. Thanks to you post I now know how to go about it. TU!
Thanks for the kind words, John! Not sure if you saw the update, but we’ve since converted the fireplace over to natural gas and it’s been a fantastic upgrade! If you have the means to run a gas line, we highly recommend it! Link here!
How how long ago did you do the powder coat? Has it held up? Do you have any steel fireblock inside the fireplace? Have you found a cover for it? Anything you wish you did, or did not do? Thank you so much for your blog!
Hi Brian! The powdercoat has been in place for about 2 years of harsh Chicago temperature swings and we haven’t noticed even the tiniest bit of chipping or rust. We’re very happy with it. Not 100% sure what you mean by steel fire blocking, but there is an interior steel panel inside the back of the cone the separates the actual fire from the back of the main cone. Does that help? We did have a custom cover sewn by a local shop that specializes in repairs and covers for bounce houses and inflatable entertainment. It cost around $150 and is incredibly well made. The only thing we wish we did was powder coating and converting to natural gas sooner! We’d recommend that you learn from our mistakes and do it right the first time! Good luck!
Hello..love your fireplace and are trying to replicate it. We have the fire kit but the fire ring is sitting up almost 6 “ from base…how did you get yours to sit lower almost on the base? Thanks
Hi Barbara! Our ring sits a few inches above the center of the base ‘dish’ as well, but maybe closer 4″ or so as opposed to 6″. To counteract the height of the center of the fire ring, we piled our lava stone up toward the middle to make a bit of a mound. This also helps to disperse the flames so they look more natural. Feel free to email some pics over to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like me to take a look. Hope this helps!
Hi there, first off, this is completely excellent and converting mine to propane is now the plan. 5 years ago I went on the hunt for a preway fireplace for my outdoor space….finally, after some patience, one came up on Craigslist. Love it, got it for 400.00, never used, fire engine red. I was going to use is with wood, but with neighbors, fences and shrubs all within close proximity, my wife said “NO” to that idea…so it has been sitting in my garage for all this time. I had thoughts of using biofuel with it, but that is costly and inconvenient to get the fuel and not the look I want…You came up with the look that I want! So, with that said, can you point me in the direction of where you got your propane kit and the approximate cost of the kit? Any help would be great, and THANK YOU for posting. Fantastic job.
Links to the kit we purchased are in the post! Later on, we even wrote about converting to natural gas here: https://yellowbrickhome.com/converting-fireplace-to-natural-gas/
This project turned out really well.. as you already know! Congrats! We have an orange preway that also needs a makeover. But you said the Rust-oleum didn’t do the trick? Ours will remain wood-burning and indoors. Would you say powder coating was cosmetic, related to yours being out in the cold, or for it to function as a fireplace? Thanks!!
I think it was a result of the temperature shift, more than anything. It’s be worth a shot to use rustoleum for indoor use!
Thanks for sharing! Great idea and execution
Hi there, I no you posted this a while ago but I was hoping you could help me. I have a majestic mid century fireplace. Similar look to yours and I wanted to get mine powder coated and my question was is your powder coating high heat powder coating? Thanks so much. Laura
It is high heat! Anyone who does the powder coating for you will be able to specify this.
Make sure yours is powder coated as well. I have a porcelain coated PREWAY. It’s been a bit of a struggle. Powder coasters won’t touch it due to the metal density and the fact it will take 10 hours to sand blast. Mine has some major imperfections. Iv tried sanding and it barely scuffs the surface. I was able to feather it out around all the gouges. I might be making a big mistake, but I went with thin layers of Bondo to smoothie it out. I’m hoping to find a inside the pit alternative to reflect the heat from the surface. I have read that bondo will the last the heat regiment of the paint. So high heat in and out. If anyone wants to stop me now, please give me some ideas a-sap!
Get the paint in tomorrow (high heat universal gold) almost done with all the bondo. Went very thin just to smooth it out with the top coat.
Hi David, do you know if you can use the porcelain coated preway outside?
We have a vintage Majestic that is just starting to show some signs of weathering, and I want to get it refinished before it deteriorates. How is your powder coat finish holding up? Are you happy with it? Anything you’d do differently? Thanks for the update! :)
So I had been drooling over this post and by some crazy awesome luck was able to find one similar to this on Craigslist. Ours is in good shape, but we know we need to weather-proof it for outdoors. If we don’t live where it gets super cold, do you think the Rust-Oleum trio would work well? Or should we just bite the bullet and look into powder coating – no idea what that costs but I’m assuming much more haha. Anyway… I love y’all’s design and creativity, and pup! Thanks for the inspo on this project!
It’s a tough call, since we only have experience with fluctuating Chicago weather! Where do you live?
I am thinking about putting a preway made fireplace outside. It is not the cone design but the original finish is in perfect condition. I am wondering if you think it still needs to be powder coated to stand up to Chicago winter’s if covered. I’m not really concerned about the look so much as it not rusting out.
I think that if you keep it protected during rain and winter, you might be okay! But I would be super diligent about covering it when not in use.
I am buying one this week to refinish. I’ve be curious on how much and what the temperature dip was that caused it to crack. Also do you mind sharing what type of business you used to have it powder coated and cost? Thank you!!!
It dropped almost 40 degrees pretty quickly! We had it powder coated at a body shop, but it took us a while to find the right person.
You gave us inspiration …. can’t thank you enough for your post!We have been using our conical fireplace with wood for years but getting tired of the mess… just filled ours with the lava rocks you suggested and waiting for a cool day to use it…. thank you again! Ginger and Richard
How did you clean and paint the inside upper part of the fireplace and chimney? Looks great! I have One that is rusted and I want to restore it.
Hello! I recently purchased a vintage fireplace and want to convert it to gas. I have a gas line to where I plan to install it. Would the install be the same to a gas line vs the propane? Thank you for much for this post! I was having a hard time finding resources on how to convert a vintage fireplace from wood to gas.
Hi Denise! The install is similar, but after a season or two using propane tanks, we actually switched our setup over to natural gas as well. Some fire pit kits are convertible, but just make sure that that one you purchase can be used with your fuel type.
Hello, I’m restoring one just like this and had it blasted and recoated. The shop that did the work, did not keep the screws to connect all of the parts back together. What did you use to connect the pipes together and the hood to the base?
Yikes! Our shop kept all the screws for us, so we were able to put it back together the same way it was taken apart. I’m sorry!
What size chimney cap did you order?
Where did you find the rain cap? I have a Preway fireplace in my yard that needs a rain cap, and I can’t find one to fit the pipe.
That’s a good question… it was so long ago, I honestly don’t remember. We just Googled it!
We just picked up almost the exact same style of fireplace for our backyard patio (inspired by your post). The porcelain enamel is in amazing shape so I don’t think we will refinish it, but the base is loose/wobbly and the interior dish has a little rust. Any tips for taking it apart?
Hi Geoff! Our fireplace has small slotted tabs at the back and the sides that hold the ‘cone’ onto the bowl. There are also a few small set screws that hold the bowl onto the base. Hope this helps!
Thanks, Scott! Very helpful. Curious if the high heat and high heat ultra sprays held up well on the bowl (prior to powder coating)? This is the only area we need to refinish so would be nice to DIY it instead of trying to find someone to powder coat it.
If memory serves correctly, I don’t think any of the paint held up well due to the massive temperature fluctuations we see here in Chicago. The powder coat job on the bowl alone shouldn’t be too expensive, so I’d argue that it’s worth the expense in the long run so you don’t have to disassemble and recoat.
100% does not hold up. I did the exact same thing. Process and all. Paint bubbled and flakes off after getting rained on. Let’s see how much powder coating is..
Correct! If you read the update at the top of the post, we outline the issues that we had with the high heat paint and our powder coat solution. We hope that posting about our projects that didn’t work out as we hoped can help folks to utilize the better solutions the first time.