Editors note: Many Clay Chimineas don’t come with decent instructions - our thanks to John Ansart of Chimeneasinc.com for the following guidelines.
As with any product that involves fire it is necessary to use caution and good judgment. Although the vast majority of companies that are offering Chimineas to their retail customers are conscientious, there is that occasional instance where a Chiminea is misused due to lack of knowledge. Below you will find detailed information covering the use and care of your firepot. Although these instructions are applicable for most clay Chimineas we suggest that you ask for an instruction sheet from your vendor at the time of purchase.
Handling and Preparation
Before you purchase your Chiminea be sure and consult your local Fire Marshall. Chimineas are for OUTDOOR USE ONLY and should NEVER be burned indoors!
From the moment you purchase your Chiminea there are specific guidelines you should follow.
A large percentage of clay Chimineas are manufactured in two parts. The base or bowl and the neck. During the manufacturing process each of these pieces dry separately for several days. After this initial drying process the neck and bowl are fused together into a single unit. When handling a chiminea it is important to never lift from the neck as the bond between the neck and bowl could separate. The best way to carry a Chiminea is to grab hold of the chiminea mouth with one hand and cradle the point where the neck meets the bowl with your other arm.
Transporting your new Chiminea
Most people are under the impression that they must have a truck or van to transport their Chiminea from the store to their home. This is not the case. In fact it is easier to set the chiminea in a car seat and fasten a seat belt around it much like a person. If the seat belt crosses the Chiminea at the neck be sure and add a little padding.
Positioning your Chiminea
Most Chimineas come with an iron stand with either three or four legs. Three legged stands tend to be easier to use as they are easier to level however either is fine. Be sure and find a level, immovable surface for which to set your Chiminea. Be sure there is nothing above your chiminea i.e. Branches, awnings, umbrellas or anything else that could potentially catch on fire. Remember do not put your Chiminea in a gazebo or enclosed porch. Set your chiminea a safe distance away from any structures. Do not install the Chiminea on a wooden deck without a large approved noncombustible hearth pad. Be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions for safe placement!
Now that you have found a suitable location lets get your Chiminea ready for a fire.
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Insulating the fire base
It is important to insulate the bowl of the Chiminea so the fire is not directly against the clay. Add sand or pea stone to the bowl until it is 3-4 below the lower lip of the mouth. Play sand works very well and you can find it at your local home center. Once you have filled your chiminea with sand you must remove the sand to move it.
Next place 2 bricks on their side about 6 inches apart. These will act as the grate and keep wood elevated.
Burning Your Chiminea
Start with small fires
The first few fires should be relatively small. You want to season your chiminea. Build small, fires with a couple pieces of kindling. Do this for the first 5-10 fires. Be sure and let the fire burn out naturally. Fat wood, which can be picked up at the local home center, works well for starting Chiminea fires. NEVER use lighter fluid or any other type of flame enhancing material. The clay can absorb the liquid.
You’re ready for larger fires.
Once the Chiminea is seasoned you are ready to burn larger fires. You may burn a few logs making sure to keep them in the center of the bowl. If flames begin to come out of the neck then your fire is getting too big. Typically this will not damage the Chiminea however we do not recommend fires of this size. Chimineas are meant for small fires. They are not meant as a primary heat source.
What should I burn?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions. There are several types of woods that work great in a Chiminea and a few that are absolutely detrimental to your Chiminea and/or your health.
Since most Chimineas can not accommodate traditional fireplace size logs you must either buy pre cut Chiminea wood or cut the logs down yourself.
A good size range for Chiminea wood is from 9-14 inches in length and 4 inches in diameter. This size may vary depending on the size of the Chiminea mouth.
Do Not Burn Pressure treated wood emits toxic gasses when burned. A good rule of thumb is that if it has a greenish tint it may be pressure treated. If you are not sure 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 suggest against burning charcoal.
Burn carefully There are several types of wood that many people love to burn however extra caution is needed.
Red Cedar has a nice aroma and keeps the mosquitos away however it has a tendency to pop therefore be sure and have a spark arrestor in or on the neck and a screen over the mouth.
Mesquite is an excellent cooking wood for those with grill chimineas but it burns very hot. Be sure and use only a few pieces at a time.
Scrap lumber is a popular fuel for chimineas however dry pieces of pine and spruce 2x4s, 2x6s etc burn fast and hot. This type of wood can be easily split into small kindling.
Green or wet wood causes a lot of smoke, which may annoy neighbors.
Favorite woods of Chiminea users
Pinion Pine both smells great and wards off mosquitos. This makes it probably the most widely used Chiminea wood.
Apple is harder to come by but it is an excellent Chiminea wood. Apple has a wonderful aroma.
Alligator Juniper - This traditional firewood will provide a unique aroma when burning in your chiminea.
Hickory Who doesn’t love the traditional taste of a tender ham smoked with some good old-fashioned Hickory? Try using Hickory in a Chiminea grill for some great tasting burgers.
Mesquite - Although mesquite is noted for its ability to thrive in near drought conditions, this culinary wood is best known for its qualities in smoking meat. Chefs, regardless of culture or location, hail mesquite as the only option for smoking brisket. For Chiminea grill users mesquite gives steaks an incredible flavor. *Remember Mesquite burns hot so limit the number of pieces.
The quality of Chimineas currently available varies dramatically. At on end of the spectrum there are basic terra cotta clay models some of which are not baked or kiln dried. Many of these models are not painted or sealed to help protect the clay from the weather. At the other end is El barro clay models, which typically have been fired and upon drying are painted and or sealed. Price does not dictate whether or not you purchased the best or worst model. Regardless of what type of Chiminea you have there is some amount of maintenance.
Although not necessary with some styles it is important to seal most of the Chimineas on the market today. Future floor wax or Butchers wax are two brands which work well. Simply take a rage and if using future squirt some on the outside of the chiminea. Next rub it around using a clean rag, towel or cloth. You need not due this more than once. This helps to seal some of the pores and hairline cracks that are not visible to the naked eye.
When you are not using your Chiminea you should protect it from the weather. An old grill cover works well. Most Chiminea dealers also offer storm covers specifically made for Chimineas. Storm covers are a good investment and in most cases can be had for under $20.00.
Storing your Chiminea
If you live in a climate where temperatures dip below freezing during the winter it is a good idea to store your chiminea inside the house, shed or garage. The combination of freezing temperatures and moisture could potentially cause your chiminea to crack.
First remove the sand. Then remove the Chiminea from its stand and place it inside. If you are storing it in a non-heated environment set your chiminea on a pallet or on a couple of pieces of wood so that air can circulate underneath. Do not store your chiminea on its stand.
Other Chiminea uses
Although Chimineas are primarily designed for small, outdoor fires many people are using them as decorative accent pieces in their homes or gardens.
We have seen chimineas used for everything from a towel holder to housing for pets. Homeowners who are going for a southwest theme have been purchasing chimineas as oversized planters and candle holders. A large Chiminea in the corner with a big, three-wicked candle makes for a great conversation piece. This may seem kind of bizarre to some people however Architectural Digest one of the leading journals for designers and decorators featured a large Chiminea indoors.
In The Garden
We have seen some incredible uses of Chimineas in the Garden. Sunflowers popping out of the top. Vines poring out of the mouth. A fallen Chiminea filled with topsoil and a variety of flowering plants. Broken Chimineas are becoming a big seller. They add a unique twist to the boring old clay pots.
General safety tips
Although most people are conscientious we always provide a few common sense tips just to be on the safe side.
Always have a fire extinguisher handy when burning in your Chiminea. Be aware of children and pets. Never leave your fire unattended. Do not touch the outside of your Chiminea while it is in use. Do not extinguish your Chiminea fire with water.
We hope that the preceding information will help you to enjoy your Chiminea to its fullest!