How to Decorate With and Safely Operate Chimineas
Chimineas (pronounced chi-mih-nee-ahs) were first crafted in the 17th century by Mexican tribesmen. Today, they are mass-produced and the quality and workmanship varies.
Traditionally, they are freestanding potbellied clay ovens with a chimney stack that provides warmth and/or a place to cook. You can now also find ornamental cast aluminum and cast iron varieties. Today, chimineas are a very popular decorative and functional addition to any outdoor deck, patio, or porch as an outdoor fireplace.
Indoors, chimineas can be used as a decorative addition for a bit of the southwestern flare. Candles can be placed inside in place of an actual fire for the same glowing ambiance.
Do Not Burn Your Chiminea Indoors!
This can be very dangerous and should be avoided!
Caring for Your Chiminea
Chimineas should never be burned indoors! You can place candles inside your chiminea, but remember to use the same caution you would with any candle indoors.
Most clay chimineas are manufactured and assembled in two parts: the bulbous base and the chimney stack or neck. When handling your chiminea, it is important to never lift from the neck, since it could cause this seam to break. The best way to carry it is to grab hold of the chiminea opening with one hand and cradle the point where the neck meets the base with your other arm.
Positioning Your Chiminea
Most come with an iron stand with either three or four legs. Locate a level surface for your chiminea that is not directly under branches, awnings, or an umbrella. Do not place it in an enclosed porch or gazebo. If you're placing a chiminea on a wood flooring such as a deck or porch, it is highly recommended that you place a non-combustible pad down first. Ceramic tiles work well for this.
Insulating the Fire Base
It is important to insulate the bowl of the chiminea, so the fire is not directly against the clay. Add play sand (found at your local DIY store) or pea stone to the bowl until it is 3–4 inches below the lower lip of the mouth.
Setting Up a Grate
Next, place two bricks on their side about 6 inches apart. These will act as the grate and keep wood elevated.
Seal the outside of your chiminea before its first use!
Some manufacturers recommend applying a sealant like Future acrylic floor finish or Thompson's Water Seal to the outside of your chiminea to protect it from absorbing moisture. Any moisture absorbed into the clay will turn to steam and crack the pot.
The chiminea should be resealed at least once a month during periods of use. You should always protect it from rain. If the chiminea accidentally gets soaked, let it dry naturally for a few days before using it again.
If it begins to rain while your chiminea is in use, try to extinguish the fire by cutting off its supply of oxygen. Cover the hole in the stack with a piece of metal or slate.
Never Use Lighter Fluid!
The clay will absorb lighter fluid (or other similar liquids). Use only wood instead.
Burning Fires in Your Chiminea
The first 10 fires in your chiminea should be relatively small, because you want to get it properly seasoned. Be sure and let the fire burn out naturally.
Fat wood (found at your local DIY store) works well for starting chiminea fires. (Note: Never use lighter fluid or similar products. The clay will absorb the liquid.)
Once the chiminea is seasoned, you are ready to burn larger fires. Burn a few logs in the center of the bowl. If you see flames coming out of the chimney neck, then your fire is too large.
Recommended Wood to Use in Your Chiminea
Most chimineas are too small for traditional fireplace-sized logs. You will have to buy pre-cut chiminea wood or cut the logs down yourself. A good size is 9–14 inches in length and 4 inches in diameter. However, this largely depends on the size of the chiminea mouth.
Pinion Pine is known for its lovely fragrance and the smoke is a natural mosquito repellant. This makes it probably the most widely used wood in chimineas.
Other woods to try are apple, alligator juniper, and hickory.
Things to Avoid Burning in Your Chiminea
- Do not burn pressure-treated wood, because it emits toxic gasses when burned. If wood has a greenish tint, it may be pressure treated. If you are not sure, play it safe and don't burn it!
- Pellets, which are a type of manufactured wood stove fuel, are not recommended for use in a chiminea. They tend to burn hot—and if the quality is poor, they will leave a lot of ash.
- Most chiminea manufacturers do not recommend burning charcoal.
Things to Be Careful Burning in Your Chiminea
- Red Cedar has a very nice aroma and helps ward off the mosquitoes, but it has a tendency to pop and crackle. You will want to put a screen over the mouth of the chiminea if you use it.
- Mesquite is an excellent cooking wood, but it burns very hot. Be sure and use only a few small pieces at a time.
- Scrap lumber is a popular choice—but dry pieces of pine and spruce 2x4s and 2x6s burn really quickly and hot. This type of wood should be splintered into smaller kindling.
- Green or wet wood causes a lot of smoke, which can be annoying to your or your neighbors.
Putting Out the Fire
It is best to let the fire die out naturally. But if you must extinguish it, cut off its supply of oxygen by covering the smokestack with a piece of metal or slate. You can use sand to extinguish it too.
Note: Never use water or CO2 to extinguish the fire.
Do Not Extinguish Fires With Water or CO2!
This can be dangerous and may also lead to the cracking of your pot!
No Matter What You Do, It Still May Crack
All chimineas are not created equal. There is no way to really tell from a visual inspection how long yours will last. A poorly made chiminea may break with the first fire.
The best product for repairs would probably be a high-temperature epoxy adhesive. They are commonly used for repairs on automotive mufflers and exhaust pipes and can be purchased at some hardware stores and most car parts stores. This product is both sandable and paintable.
Another adhesive that might be useful is RTV high-temperature silicone caulk. This is the material used to make "instant" gaskets between metal automobile engine parts subjected to high temperatures.
Great Links for Buying Chimineas Online
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.