Everything you need to know about Chimineas

With Spring just around the corner, it is time to start planning for pleasant outdoor evenings, instead of being cooped up inside for months.

A chiminea or firepit is the ideal solution to enjoying your garden, patio or deck for all but the most adverse weather conditions. This article attempts to answer all the questions you might have about chimineas. If you want to know more, the experts at Firehouse are standing by with free specialist advice and can supply all the premier models of chimineas.

What is a Chiminea?

Chimineas have been used for outdoor heating and cooking for centuries, originating in Mexico. In essence, chimineas are decorative, portable, outdoor fireplaces, used for heating and cooking.

The conventional chiminea is shaped with a pot-belly base that rises up to a neck and chimney, although innovative designs are now available to suit a variety of décor styles. Although traditionally chimineas have been constructed from clay, modern, high-performing chimineas have been designed in cast iron, cast aluminium and even brass and stainless steel.

Why do I want to own a Chiminea?

Once you have it, you will wonder how you ever managed without it! A Chiminea is the perfect focal point for family gatherings around a mesmerising fire. Your chiminea will add a totally new dimension to your backyard, patio or deck. Not only are they highly decorative pieces of art in themselves, adding appealing character, they are also highly functional and versatile for outdoor heating and cooking.

Cast-Iron Chimneas v Clay Chimneas

The Pros and Cons

Cast-iron chimineas are extremely robust and durable. They do not easily break or crack and can produce high levels of heat for many years.
They are easy to maintain and simple to repaint with fire-resistant paint to retain the “as good as new” look.
Cast-iron chimineas have evolved into extremely attractive designs and are available in a large variety of sizes and shapes.

On the downside, because they get so hot, care has to be taken not to touch them and children need to be supervised closely, especially if there is no protective screen around the chiminea.
If not cared for and maintained properly, cast-iron can rust, leaving ugly marks.
Cast-iron chimineas are heavy and cannot be moved easily, although this can be overcome by using a trolley.

Some traditionalists may prefer clay, because they have the “authentic” look and can be decorated in a variety of artistic ways. Each clay chiminea is an individual work of art and even if the traditional shape is the same, each one is made separately, and the decorative design is unique to the manufacturer.
Clay chimineas do not get as hot as cast-iron chiminea, reducing the risk of skin burns if they are touched.
Clay chimineas are relatively easy to repair and repaint, but they are much more fragile and do not last as long as their cast-iron counterparts. Larger clay chimineas are not easy to move, particularly because they can be damaged.

The set up

Ensure the cast-iron chiminea is on a flat, solid, level base, without any danger of toppling over.
Especially when installing your chiminea on your patio or deck, make sure it is set on a fire and heat-proof surface such as pavers, concrete, bricks, or other protective bases, large enough to catch any hot ash or coals that may fall out when opening the chiminea.
Make sure it is far enough away from anything that can catch fire, such as buildings, tree branches, bushes, fences, sheds, etc. To protect children from burning themselves, place a safety screen around the chiminea and do not leave it unsupervised.

Some cast-iron models will require assembly. Be careful to follow the assembly instructions carefully. Keep these instructions for future repairs or maintenance.

Your new cast-iron chiminea will be coated with a fire-resistant finish that might give off a smell the first time you light a fire inside the chiminea. It is therefore important to prepare it properly first, before entertaining your friends or family.
Light a modest fire on the grate and let it burn for about an hour, before adding logs and letting the bigger fire burn for another hour. Let the chiminea cool down completely, clean it out and then it will be ready for use.

In particularly cold weather, build the fire gradually to increase the heat in steps, rather starting a large fire that causes damage through thermal shock. Chimineas are designed to burn small amounts of charcoal and wood, so don’t build a bonfire. Never use gasoline or flammable liquids to start the fire – it will likely cause an explosion.

Make sure you have a pair of heat resistant gloves and fireplace tools ready when adding logs, or if you are cooking food in the chiminea.

Except in emergencies, do not use water to put out the fire in a chiminea. Because metal expands and contracts with heat, the sudden shock of cooling it down with water might cause it to crack. If you are obliged to put the fire out with water, make sure the chiminea is dried properly before covering it or leaving it out. Dry it properly before using it again.

It is a good idea to cover your chiminea when not in use to prevent rust. There are lots of custom covers on the market, so you can find one in the colour and thickness of your preference. Just remember to let it cool down completely before covering it!
Cast-iron is highly resistant to temperature changes, but even so because of its hardness, extreme cold, ice or frost can cause thermal shocks and cracks. In such cases, you are advised to protect the chiminea with a special cover, or in really bad conditions, even to store it away in a shed.

Ensure the chiminea is set up on a flat solid, level surface where there is no danger of it toppling over and where the entire base is supported to avoid uneven pressure that may cause cracking.

Protect the surface underneath the chiminea from fire and heat, especially when installing your chiminea on your patio or deck. Make sure the chiminea is far enough away from anything that can catch fire, such as buildings, tree branches, bushes, fences, sheds, etc.

Even the best quality clay chimineas have to be cured before using them. This is done by making a small fire inside the chiminea, letting it burn for about an hour and gradually increasing the fire and allowing it to burn down completely, letting it cool down and cleaned out. This process may be repeated once or twice until the clay has cured sufficiently to be used for entertainment or cooking.

It is necessary to protect the bottom of the clay chiminea from direct contact with the fire. The easiest way of doing this is by placing a layer of river sand (play sand), pea gravel, or pumice stones in the bottom.

In cold weather, it is essential to build the fire gradually and to increase the heat in steps, rather than a large fire that suddenly heats up the chiminea, causing potential damage. An inferno will not work in Chimineas, as they have been designed to burn small amounts of wood. Never use gasoline or flammable liquids to start the fire – it will likely cause an explosion or flare which can injure you. The clay will also absorb the liquids, causing damage to your chiminea.

Take the lid off before starting a fire and make sure you have a pair of heat resistant gloves and fireplace tools ready when adding logs, or if you are cooking food in the chiminea.

Except in emergencies, do not use water to put out the fire in a chiminea. You are virtually guaranteed that it will be the end of your clay chiminea. The rapid drop in temperature will cause the clay to crack and water will soften the clay. If there is any moisture inside your chiminea, dry it properly before using and build up heat slowly to burn off any excess moisture.

It is a good idea to cover your chiminea when not in use to protect it from the weather and accidental damage. There are lots of insulated covers on the market, so you can find one in the colour and thickness of your preference. Just remember to let it cool down completely before covering it!
Frost and freezing temperatures can damage the clay and you are advised that even if the chiminea is protected with a special cover, to store it away in a shed at such times. Make sure it is not stored directly on the ground or floor surface. Place the chiminea on pieces of wood to keep it away from water or direct contact with moisture and allow free flow of air underneath.

The maintenance

A tried and trusted method of protecting cast-iron Chimineas is to lightly coat the outside with cooking oil and then to “burn it on” at high heat. All that is really required is a light wipe with a cloth dipped in vegetable oil before and after using the chiminea.

Other than regularly cleaning the inside, you do not have to worry about a protective coat on the inside. The build-up of soot, creosote and other particles protects the inside against most instances of rust. Of great importance is to make sure the inside is not left wet or moist. Wipe it dry and burn off any excess moisture slowly when lighting the fire before increasing the size of the fire.

When rust marks first appear, scrub it with a fine wire brush or steel wool. If necessary, lightly sand the surface, then clean and paint the outside of the chiminea with a good quality heat- and fire-resistant paint.

The clay chiminea’s biggest enemy is water. The outside of a clay chiminea must be protected from moisture, by sealing it with a waterproof sealant. Depending on where you place your chiminea, and whether you keep it covered, sealants on average last approximately three to six months.
When applying a new coat of sealant, make sure the outside is dry and clean. Apply the sealant with a brush or spray it on in thin layers.

Any moisture absorbed by the clay makes it more prone to freezing and cracking. Protect your clay chiminea from moisture, frost and freezing temperatures with a good insulated cover, or by storing it away during adverse conditions.

Depending on how often you use it, at least every few months, remove the sand, pea gravel or pumice stone covering the bottom of your chiminea and rinse it with water. Allow it to dry properly and then spread it again in a layer on the bottom of the chiminea. When it has become really dirty, or particles can no longer be rinsed out, replace the sand, gravel or stones.

Regularly inspect the body, neck and chimney for cracks. Small cracks can cause smoke to leak out, whereas larger cracks can lead to structural weakness and the chiminea may collapse.

How do I repair cracks in my clay chiminea?

Generally, it is a job best left to experts, but if you are an accomplished do-it-yourselfer and judge that it would still be safe to use the chiminea, you may try the following:
Clean the cracks properly, by brushing them out and removing loose pieces of clay.
Sand the outside of the cracked area with medium grit sandpaper to remove all old sealants or paint.
Make sure the material you are using to fill the crack will properly adhere to the surface.
Use only a material that is resistant to high heat and fireproof to fill the cracks. Some types of high temperature automotive repair putty, high temperature epoxy adhesive, epoxy fire putty, or RTV high temperature silicone caulk can be used to repair the crack. Please note that silicone cannot be painted though.
Firmly clamp any broken pieces into position so they won’t move when applying the bonding material. Support them from the inside if necessary.
Apply enough of the repair material, pressing it firmly into the crack and allow a slight mound on the surface that can be forced deeper into the crack.
Shape a piece of wood or something similar, to follow the contours of the area to be repaired and then use it to apply firm pressure to the bonding material, forcing it into the crack and keeping it in position to dry.
Allow the bonding material to dry thoroughly. Sand it, first with medium grit sandpaper until level with the rest of the surface, and then smooth it with a finer grit sandpaper.
Repaint, or redecorate the chiminea to hide the filler material and if required, finish it with a clear topcoat of lacquer.
Clay chimineas are meant to be rustic in appearance, so slight imperfections may even add to its character

Ask the experts

Firehouse supplies all the top brands of cast-iron chimineas, and our heating and design experts will be able to provide you with valuable information and assistance.