Imagine that you want to stay warm in your backyard on a cool, starry night. One of the ways you can do so is to invest in a clay or cast iron chiminea. A chiminea is nothing more than the modern version of a traditional Mexican outdoor fireplace. This type of outdoor fireplace was used for hundreds of years as a source of warmth and a place to cook. Nowadays you see them in many backyards as sources of warmth and as accent pieces adding charm to a patio or garden.
You can find chimineas made of clay, aluminum and cast iron. Which one you choose depends on what style fits your patio or backyard and how much money you are willing to invest. (Note: There are several accepted spellings for a Mexican fireplace. The common spellings are: chiminea, chimenea, chiminia, chimenia.)
Choosing a Clay Chiminea
When choosing a clay chiminea, you should look to see if the fireplace was air-dried or kiln-dried. In general, an air-dried fireplace is usually “untreated.” This means you would need to paint it and seal it before use. Kiln-dried versions are typically prepainted and sealed.
Clay chimineas are constructed in two pieces. The bottom piece, called the “bowl” is the largest piece, and looks like a potbelly stove. The smokestack, or “neck” is attached separately on top of the bowl. The joint where the two pieces come together is usually rather weak, so you should never lift a clay chiminea from the neck.
In general, clay chimineas are not designed to handle large fires for extended periods of time. They are also more likely to crack and break than a cast iron or aluminum model.
Finally, remember that a clay chiminea is nothing but a combination of water and dirt. If you let it sit in water long enough, it will turn back into mud. Therefore, cover it during rainstorms and never let your clay fireplace sit in a pool of water!
Cast Iron and Aluminum Chimineas
In general, a cast iron or aluminum chiminea is more durable and sturdy than a clay version. Although they tend to be heavier than clay models, they won’t crack or break as easily. However, they will need occasional maintenance.
For example, if you leave a cast iron chiminea outside long enough, it will rust. Rust is a normal occurrence, so if you sand out the rust spots and paint them as they appear, your fireplace should give you many years of enjoyment.
Cast aluminum models are relatively low maintenance, lighter in weight than cast iron, and also rust-resistant. Therefore, painting and sanding is not necessary.
What to Look for in All Chimineas
As you shop for a Mexican fireplace, pay close attention to the size of the fire bowl area. This is where you will be placing the wood to burn, so be sure it is large enough to accommodate adequately large pieces of wood. The size of the fire bowl is more important than the height of the neck.
You might also consider purchasing a spark arrestor for your chiminea. A spark arrestor is a mesh screen that you place over the chimney hole to prevent sparks from escaping. You might also consider a spark arrestor for the front of the fire bowl, too.
A modern Mexican chiminea is a great addition to any backyard, both as a source of heat and as a decorating accent piece. Make your choice between clay, cast iron, and cast aluminum models. With a little yearly care, you will have a wonderful conversation piece for your patio or backyard. Plus, you will have a romantic and charming way to stay warm as you gaze into the sky on a cool and starry night.