Chimineas are a popular option for warming up outdoor areas during the winter months and they provide a beautiful piece of art for your yard during the rest of the year.
In this article, we will cover the history of chimineas, some pros and cons of owning one, what you should look for when purchasing a chiminea, and more.
History of chimineas
Chiminea (sometimes spelled chimenea) is the Spanish word for a chimney. It is a fireplace or outdoor oven with a shape similar to a lightbulb, often made out of clay. The bottom of the chiminea is bowl-shaped, with a long-necked chimney on the top. Unlike other kinds of outdoor fire pits, the fire is in one opening on the side, and the smoke is funneled through the top.
The first use of chimineas can be traced to over 400 years ago in Mexico. It was then a necessity rather than a decoration, as it was a means of heating and cooking, much like traditional fireplaces or pot-bellied stoves. Chimineas were created in a variety of sizes – a large one might serve as an oven, a medium-sized one for heating, and a small one might hold a single candle for light and added warmth.
Types of chimineas
Clay chimineas are the traditional and most-often recognized type, but there are several metal options available now, too. While many chimineas are viewed as a usable piece of décor, some of the more modern chimineas can have a different purpose – such as grilling, pizza-making, smoking, etc. Metal chimineas are made with cast iron or steel, and there are aluminum or copper versions available.
Clay is biodegradable and is better for the environment (and is the traditional style), while metal varieties may last longer but might also need more maintenance (such as applying a coating to prevent rust). What type of chiminea you purchase will depend on the look you want to achieve, the types available to you, and what you want to use it for.
Benefits of a chiminea
As we mentioned earlier, chimineas are by themselves a work of art. The fact that they are also useful is an added benefit. If you’ve ever sat around a bonfire or fire pit, you know that the smoke can go in any direction. The unique shape of a chiminea allows the smoke to escape through the chimney, away from anyone enjoying the warmth of the fire.
The design of the chiminea also guarantees that you don’t have to worry as much about a windy day. The bowl and chimney protect the fire from much of the wind.
Chimineas work well in a smaller area, so you don’t need a lot of space for one – just ensure that there is nothing flammable nearby, such as branches above or wood underneath. They create a lot of heat from a small fire.
It is possible to cook food in a chiminea if you know how. Some chimineas are created for the purpose of cooking, with chiminea grills and even chiminea pizza ovens.
What should you look for when buying a chiminea?
While pottery used for gardening often has cracks in it and is just fine, any crack in a chiminea could spell disaster because of the air leaking into the fire. Examine any chiminea for obvious signs of damage. Twenty years or so ago, the popularity of chimineas skyrocketed, leading to sub-par creations. Now, however, the quality has improved greatly. Buying from local craftspeople or from a local store is a good way to ensure your chiminea is of good quality.
One consideration is to check if the chiminea is large enough to fit standard sizes of logs. If not, you will need to find smaller pieces of wood (or chop your own), or use an alternate fuel such as coal.
If your neighborhood does not allow wood-burning outdoors, a gas-burning chiminea might be a good alternative option.
Where to place a chiminea
It should be noted that chimineas should never be burned indoors. Learn more about why (and see some other chiminea tips) in this article on The Natural Handyman.
If you plan on adding a chiminea to your Tucson-area yard, you may want to figure out the best place for it beforehand. Large chimineas (the size typically used in outdoor spaces) are incredibly heavy and can be difficult to move. Also keep in mind that a chiminea is usually created in two parts, so the spot where the two pieces are joined is susceptible to breaking when moved.
Chimineas should be located in a spot that you can see clearly from other areas of the yard or even from indoors, if possible. Don’t place it under the branches of a tree or on a grassy area. Placing it directly under a patio roof or other structure is dangerous, as sparks can fly out of the chimney and can ignite anything above it.
The best spots for a chiminea are on a concrete, brick, or stone patio. Placing on a wooden deck is not recommended unless there are pavers underneath.
It is recommended to place the backside of the chiminea to the wind – while it’s not easy to predict that, it is helpful and helps the fuel burn more efficiently.
Ensure that the chiminea is upright and not leaning in any direction. The outside will get hot so don’t place it near areas where people need to walk.
Clay chimineas should come with a metal stand, or sometimes clay legs are built into them. It’s important for the chiminea to be up off of the ground.
Read ten chiminea safety tips to keep in mind >>
What can you burn in a chiminea?
Before adding any kind of fuel, it is recommended that you protect the bottom of the chiminea by adding a layer of sand, gravel, or lava rocks. Pile it three inches thick, with a bit more at the edges to match the curve of the chiminea.
It’s best to cure (break-in) a chiminea before using it for the first time. This means to start with some small fires and gradually increase the heat. You can read about how to cure a chiminea (or watch a video tutorial) at this link.
Unlike other types of outdoor fire pits or fireplaces, a little goes a long way. Because of the design of the chiminea, you don’t need to overload the basin with much fuel. Avoid using lighter fluid or any other fire starters as this could cause the chiminea to crack.
Hardwood or charcoal can be used as the fire source for your chiminea, and you can add herbs or dried fruit for a unique scent. Note that charcoal can burn hotter than wood, so the high temperature may harm a clay chiminea. Check if it is an appropriate type of fuel for your chiminea before using charcoal.
Maintaining a chiminea
Once you have picked out the perfect chiminea for your yard, you’ll want it to last as long as possible. Below are some tips to help it survive both hot fires and our few rainy days.
- For clay chimineas, applying a sealer before the first use and again as needed will protect it from the elements and help it last longer.
- An acrylic finish or sealer can be applied every 6 to 8 weeks if you use it frequently.
- If the chiminea is smaller and portable, you may want to store it when not in use.
- The ashes should be cleaned out after each use to avoid any kind of build up over time. Use a small rake to remove the ashes from the sand or gravel, or dump the whole thing out into a pail and rinse it off before returning it to the bottom of the chiminea. (It will need to dry out before building another fire).
- Store the chiminea out of the elements if possible or purchase a cover if the chiminea is too heavy to move.
- Never put out the fire with water, the extreme change in temperature can cause the clay to crack.
- When moving the chiminea, enlist the help of someone else. The chiminea is weakest at the point where the top is joined to the bottom and can crack or break. Chimineas can break into several pieces if they are dropped or tipped over.
- Cast iron chimineas should be painted with a heat-resistant paint and kept out of rainy weather.
Where in Tucson to Buy a Chiminea
Check out our Tucson Yard and Garden Business Directory for several local options to buy a quality chiminea.
Chimineas have also been found at big box stores and online – but we always encourage you to shop local – especially if you’re buying the traditional clay model, as you’ll want to check for any obvious signs of damage before you buy.
No matter where you find the perfect chiminea for your yard, we hope it brings comfort to those chilly desert nights that are perfect for stargazing outdoors!