Complete Guide to Chimineas & How They’re Used

Few things light up an entertainment space literally and figuratively like chimineas. These fire pits with legs are superbly cozy, useful, and durable. With the joy of being a chiminea owner, there are naturally a lot of questions about them, what you can do with them, and of course, how to take care of them, that need answers.

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In this article are the answers to the questions:

  1. What is a chiminea used for?
  2. How Does a Chiminea Work?
  3. Can You Use a Chiminea on a Deck?

Below are the answers to the questions you’ve always had about your chiminea, and even questions you didn’t have but now need the answers to, all you have to do is read the information below.

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Related Reading: Best Chimney Cap to Install for Your Home

What is a Chiminea Used For?

Originating in Mexico in either the 16th or 17th century, chimineas were made out of clay and traditionally used inside the homes as essential ovens and furnaces for cooking and heating the home.

Today, chimineas are used more decoratively than for necessity. They’re used outdoors mostly, to add atmospheric flair in outdoor dining and entertainment areas. They are also made of various materials these days instead of just clay. These include steel, cast aluminum, copper, and cast iron.

Even today, chimineas can be used for cooking if you use it correctly and have the right equipment.

How Does a Chiminea Work?

Chimineas were specially designed to be used in the homes of the Mexicans hundreds of years ago. They had a nice, wide potbelly base and a tall, narrow chimney that directed smoke and cinders up and through a hole in the ceiling and roof of the house. It also gave the people a fire that was easily controlled and clean.

The fuel (traditionally wood) was added into a large fire bowl on the face of the structure so that the heat would disperse more and any rain that came wouldn’t douse the fire.

These days they come in a variety of sizes to fit most spaces with the larger ones being constructed in two pieces: the base and the chimney. While useful, chimineas are not invincible but can be preserved longer by buying a cover to protect them from the rain, snow, wind debris, or too much light and heat from the sun. A cover will help protect them from cracking or rusting.

Chimineas aren’t designed so that we can just stick wood in the opening and light a fire. You need to cover the inside of the bowl with three inches of sand to protect it from cracking in high heat.

Can You Use a Chiminea on a Deck?

Putting your chiminea on your deck is not typically advised. For one thing, Chimineas should always be placed on fire-proof or fire-resistant surfaces even if they have legs keeping them off the ground. They need to stay on surfaces that don’t conduct heat or catch on fire such as sand, clay tiles, bricks, or pavement slabs.

The main reason for this is that chimineas are capable of reaching high temperatures, even if they run on ethanol, to the point where your chiminea is liable to set your wood decking on fire. On windy days there is also the risk that burning debris will fall out of the mouth of the fire bowl onto the decking beneath it, burning it.

You can place your chiminea on your deck if it’s on top of the correct pad material, but you have to make sure your deck can withstand the weight of the chiminea plus the fire-resistant material it’s resting on, and you need to make sure your deck is large enough that the fireplace will be at a safe distance away from your house. That begs the question, how far is good enough?

How Close Can a Chiminea be to a House?

Chimineas should never be placed very close to your house. Smoke, sparks, and cinders are naturally directed upward, making it unsafe to place a chiminea under any awnings, wooden balconies, lawn shades, etc.

You also need to take the wind in your area into account because a good breeze is all you need to send smoke and sparks onto something flammable that happened to be close by. The smoke can also leave unwanted dark, sooty residues, which do not really compliment your house’s paint job.

According to Consumer Reports, you should give your chiminea the same berth you would give a fire pit, which is a radius of 10ft, away from fire-susceptible materials or structures.

Thankfully, it’s possible to reduce the risk of any accidental fires by installing a spark arrester on the top of the chimney. These handy cages, true to their name, will catch the lit debris. You can make one yourself with just a bit of chicken wire or buy one with a smaller grate that already fits your chiminea.

How Hot Does a Chiminea Get?

How hot your chiminea gets will depend primarily on what it’s made of and the fuel source you use. Clay chimineas are capable of reading 36 degrees Celsius which is almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, radiating that heat nearly 6ft away.

Clay chimineas can’t get too hot or else the brittle clay will start cracking. This means they are not compatible with fuels that burn hotter than wood like charcoal or smokeless coal. You can look for clay chimineas that state on their label they are made with more heat-resistant clay than terracotta.

It’s unclear how hot a cast iron or cast aluminum chiminea can get, but they will absolutely get hot enough to burn you terribly if touched anywhere and can set anything flammable on fire if they’re too close.

Keep in mind there are a couple of other factors that affect a chimineas temperature such as,

  • Weather
  • Size
  • How close you are to it

Can You Use a Chiminea Indoors?

Most people use their chimineas indoors as decoration, and for good reason. Lighting a chiminea with wood in your house will inevitably make everyone choke on smoke and set fire to the furniture.

Chimineas weren’t designed to be inside modern-day houses as they are because there are no holes in our rooftops to release the smoke.

And yet, many chiminea owners do use them indoors. Why? Because they either use a non-wood fuel or have rigged a chimney onto the chiminea to lead the smoke out a window or through a pre-existing chimney installed in the house. We’ll discuss non-wood fuels below, but note that a chiminea is a lovely place to put a large candle into, which won’t burn your house down.

Lastly, if you intended to have a fully functioning chiminea in your home, don’t forget to place it on a fire-resistant pad like tile or brick.

What do You Burn in a Chiminea?

Chimineas will typically use regular firewood as their fuel source. Hardwoods such as ash, apple, cedar, or oak tend to work better as fuel because they burn so much longer than softwoods like fir, spruce, and pines, or other conifers, which are better as kindling.

This is because softwoods aren’t as dense as hardwoods, so once set on fire, the flame will use the softwood up quickly.

You should avoid using pressure-treated lumber because it goes through a process of reservation that uses dangerous chemicals during the pressurizing.  If burnt, and especially if burnt indoors, these toxins pose health risks.

If the amount of smoke your current fuel is producing is bothering you, you can diminish the amount of smoke by:

  • Using seasoned wood (wood that has had as much moisture removed as possible).
  • Avoiding the use of leaves as kindling
  • Not using too much tinder
  • Regularly cleaning the inside of your chiminea.

If you would like to use your chiminea for the atmosphere while you and some guests sit around it, there are hardwoods that are very aromatic like apple, red cedar, and pinion. The pinion is the most commonly used wood in the United States and works as a natural mosquito repellent as it burns.

Charcoal is another readily available fuel source that will be easy to use and light, it just won’t be half as pretty or atmospheric.

There are some fuels that can only be used for specially designed chimineas, specifically non-wood fuels. This is what gives the cast iron chimineas an edge over the clay chimineas as they can have removable propane and other gas inserts to make fueling easier on you.

Can You Paint a Chiminea?

Painting your chiminea is an important part of maintaining it. We will go into more detail on how to maintain your chiminea in the section “How to Maintain a Chiminea,” but for now we’ll focus on painting.

What kind of paint do you use? You need to use heat-resistant paint or else all your hard work will be for nothing. Use paints that are designed for BBQs and stoves to allow easy cleaning afterward. This paint is for metal chimineas. You can even paint a cast iron chiminea. If yours is made of clay, you can use everyday household emulsion paint once you’ve removed loose old paint.

To paint your chiminea,

  1. Clean the inside and outside thoroughly, using a brush to scrub off loose paint.
  2. Sand all over the chiminea with coarse 80-grit sandpaper to make your new paint adhere better.
  3. Apply a heat-resistant primer to even better adhesion and durability of your paint
  4. Paint your chiminea
  5. Apply a clear sealant to ensure your coat lasts for years to come.

Can a Clay Chiminea Get Wet?

Thankfully, there’s no real damage that happens to your chiminea just because it gets wet. However, if your chiminea is not dried completely before you light a fire in it, the water that’s soaked into the clay will expand in the clay as it starts turning to steam and cause the clay to crack.

There’s also no means for water to drain if it’s left out in the rain, leaving your chiminea waterlogged. Avoid covering up a wet chiminea because then the water won’t evaporate off and just seal itself into the clay. Don’t let this intimidate you into not immediately covering your outdoor chiminea if you notice it’s raining. It’s still a good idea so long as you remember to take the cover off when it’s done raining.

How to Maintain a Chiminea

Like all clay and metal items, chimineas will require maintenance if you want them to last for years and years. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard.

First, there’s the base care every chiminea needs, regardless of what it’s made of.

  1. Using a cover to protect it from the elements
  2. Buying a rain lid for the top of the chimney to keep any water from getting inside. Make sure your chiminea has cooled down before putting the lid back on.
  3. Regular cleaning of the fire bowl and chimney.

Clay chimineas need to be sealed and repainted routinely. Clay sealants tend to last 3-6 months based on how often you use your chiminea and cover it.

Before sealing the clay, you need to clean and dry the outside of the chiminea. Then, apply the sealant with a brush or spray bottle.

For cast iron and cast aluminum chimineas will have to have rust routinely cleaned off. Both clay and metal chimineas require being repainted eventually with heat-resistant paint.

What Can You Cook in a Chiminea?

Before you start flambeing food in your chiminea, make sure it’s reading for cooking by,

  • Make sure your chiminea isn’t cracked and damaged
  • Make sure there are three inches of sand on the bottom of the bowl.
  • Inserting a girl into the fire bowl
  • Placing a grill on top of the chimney

 What you want to cook will determine where you put the grill. If you want to

  • Saute shrimp in a pan
  • Cook soup in a pot
  • Grill fish or meats

Then you can do that with a grill on top of the chimney. Just be sure to leave room for smoke to escape.

If you want to use the fire inside to cook, you can put the grill on top of the logs and create deliciously,

  • Casseroles
  • Pizzas
  • Ribs and potatoes
  • Vegetables wrapped in foil
  • Or meats, of course.

How Much Does a Chiminea Cost?

Chimineas are typically sold in patio shops and home improvement stores such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Ashley Furniture.

Chimineas are one of the most cost-effective fireplace options, with no installation costs unless you want a fully-functioning chiminea inside your house. That will definitely take some labor and more materials.

Chimineas cost between $100 and $500. This range applies to all chimineas because the cost also depends on size, available modifiers, and any additional design and functional features.

It’s only fair to warn you that the more popular chimineas get, the more expensive they will be because of their popularity.

Conclusion

That brings us to the end of the complete guide to the lovely Mexican Chiminea. Hopefully, all the questions you had about chimineas before buying them, or questions about chimineas now that you have one, were all answered. At the very least, you should be much more curious about these wonderful furnaces and look at them in another tab.