What is a Chimenea [All You Need to Know]

What is a Chimenea

Chimeneas are a kind of charming, hand-decorated outdoor furnace that you might often see on sale at furniture and outdoor patio stores. 

They are freestanding and are usually constructed out of terracotta with a bulbous body shape and a long vertical chimney. No wonder, this traditional fire pit has now become a popular accessory that a lot of people install in their backyard or patio as garden art. 

However, chimeneas aren’t merely decorative items; instead, they function like other regular fire pits and, therefore, have the ability to keep you warm and toasty. 

So, if you’re searching for a conventionally structured outdoor accent piece that also doubles up as a functional fire pit, then look no further! This is just the thing you need. 

What is a Chimenea | Chimeneas 101

What is a Chimenea 02

Types Of Chimeneas

At present, there are many different kinds of Chimneas available on the market. 

A traditionally structured chimenea, for starters, is made of clay and has a round chamber at the base with a chimney-like vent on top. This is the original kind that has also recently become available in steel and cast iron bodies. The only other difference between the two is that the first requires to be placed on a circular stand while the latter usually has a built-in stand. 

Other than these conventionally built chimneys, we have relatively modern variants of this firepit available in varied shapes and sizes. These contemporary chimeneas are available in pyramidal, elliptical, and conical shapes that grant users the option to decorate their backyards in a variety of aesthetics. 

In this article, we will specifically be focusing on and discussing the traditional chimenea, its origin, functionalities, and maintenance processes. 

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Origin And History

The word “chimenea” is actually a Mexican word that directly translates to ‘chimney’. These were traditionally built with fired clay and used for cooking all across Spain and parts of Mexico. One of the very first chimeneas known to exist can be traced back to the 16th or 17th century, approximately 400 years ago. 

The very first people to use this ingenious fire stove were chefs from small Mexican towns. They used this fire pit as an elevated cooking vessel while families throughout the village gathered around it for warmth. 

Soon after its conception, the chimenea quickly became a domestic necessity in the daily lives of people. They were mostly placed indoors near a window or at the center of a hut with an opening in the roof to enable the smoke to escape. The modern and more popularized version of the chimenea, however, is now placed outdoors and used for recreation rather than for domestic purposes. 

Furthermore, the concept of this stove is very similar to that of a conventional pot-bellied stove made of cast iron. It is structurally also very similar to a stove called “kotao” that was traditionally used for cooking in certain East European countries. 

How To Use It?

The unique and creative design of a chimenea makes it an ideal addition to your backyard. The narrow chimney-like vent seamlessly directs all the smoke out of its top while keeping the immediate surroundings smoke-free. Additionally, the vase-like base with a wide-open mouth on the side enables you to put firewood in and operate the pit with relative ease. 

What’s more, the innovative design of this firepit allows you to use it in the rain without worrying about the water extinguishing the fire. Hence, unlike other more wide and open fire pits available on the market, this one is a lot more contained by nature. However, this characteristic in no way limits its use. 

Once you’ve bought a chimenea, there’s a wide range of aromatic woods that you can use to light it up. Some of the most popular choices amongst users are – cedar, pinon, hickory, and mesquite wood. Each of these woods further facilitates the fire pit to efficiently blow the smoke up and out. 

After the initial ignition, this pit takes about 15 minutes to reach its full burn capacity and has the ability to give off a considerable amount of heat. Ideally, you should let the stove burn the wood entirely into ashes. 

However, if you want to turn it off earlier, you can douse the flame with a few buckets of water. Alternatively, a smaller flame with a lower ember can simply be doused using a shovel to turn the sand mixture placed at the bottom of the base. 

The amount of smoke produced by this fireplace depends mostly on the fuel you are burning. In order to keep smoke production to a minimum, it’s important to avoid burning unseasoned or wet wood and leaves. It’s also recommended you avoid adding too much tinder during operation and clean your stove on a regular basis.

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Safety Precautions

The location of your chimenea is vital to the safety of its operation. For starters, it’s always a good decision to place it in a spot where the flames are visible from inside the house. Some of the most obvious choices of location are the patio, deck, or courtyard of your home. 

Other than that, it’s also recommended you install the chimenea at a location where the predominant wind patterns carry the smoke away from the house. Since these fire pits are more traditional and therefore not smoke-free this is a rather crucial consideration to look into.

It’s also essential to make sure the chimney is always erect and vertical while in use. This position ensures that the sooting happens inside the bulbous chamber instead of on other outdoor surfaces. 

Besides the above, it’s important to look into the surface you will be placing your chimenea on. Some of the most popular fire-safe surfaces are brick, concrete, and stone patios. If your outdoor living area is a wooden deck or terrace, it is recommended you place some fire-safe pavers to create an elevated platform or hearth. You can then proceed to install your chimenea in the middle of this hearth. 

Lastly, it’s important to ensure that there is no patio roof or overhead cover above the installed chimenea. The smoke emitted by this chimney has a tendency to light inflammable materials on fire, and hence you must let it escape into the open air. 

Care And Maintenance

Traditional chimeneas are quite prone to cracking because of their clay construction. While most current models are constructed of heavily grogged clay that better handle thermal stresses, they’re still not very resilient. 

Furthermore, most of these stoves have either a low-fire glaze or a single coat of regular paint on them. It is therefore recommended that you apply a layer of acrylic finish coating or sealer before installing it. Then, ideally, you must continue to reapply this paint on it every 8 weeks in order to maintain it at its optimal condition.

This acrylic overcoat will keep your chimenea safe from variable weather elements such as moisture and water that tend to make the clay soft. Furthermore, if you’re installing the pit outdoors, it’s a good idea to separately purchase a chimenea cover to protect it from damage. 

Additionally, during extended periods of rainy or humid weather, it’s ideal to store this stove away in a garage, shed, or basement. It’s also crucial to never light up a wet or damp chimenea to avoid the formation of cracks. If fissures occur even after having taken all these precautions, you can repair them by applying a silicone sealant on both sides of the injury. 

Other than that, it’s recommended you put either sand, gravel, lava rock, or fire glass at the bulbous bottom of the chimenea. Once the fire is out, you can simply take out the ash and sand mixture, hose it off, and then return it back to the stove for reuse. Alternatively, you can also rake out the sand or gravel and turn it over in order to get a clean unit. 

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Factors To Consider While Purchasing A Chimenea

Before purchasing a chimenea, there are a few factors that you must take into consideration. Glancing through these will help you judge whether you should invest in this traditional fire pit. And if yes, then what are the various determinants to look out for. 

  1. Location

It is absolutely vital to study your outdoor living area and determine if the environment is suitable for a chimenea. As we mentioned above, there’s quite a bit of care and maintenance that goes into owning this fire pit. 

You need to ensure that the area you are planning to install it in has the required base surface and no overhead cover. Furthermore, in the case of rain and other weather changes, you should ideally have a separate covered space to store your chimenea in. This will not only protect it from the elements but will also ensure that it lasts longer. 

  1. Size

The size of the chimenea you are planning to purchase is a rather important factor to look into. This will depend on not only the area you want to install in but also the kind of wood you want to burn. 

If the fire pit opening of this stove is small, it might not fit the standard-sized pieces of wood available freely. In that case, you will either need to specially order smaller chunks of wood, or you’ll need to chop the larger pieces yourself. 

  1. Material

As we mentioned earlier, there are different types of chimenea available in the market now. While the traditional kind is made of clay, there are newer versions that imitate the structure of the original stove but are built with steel, copper, or cast iron instead. Hence, if the clay version is too high-maintenance to invest in, these metal versions may be a decent alternative for you. 

  1. Fuel

Firewood and hardwood such as cedar, oak, cherry, sycamore, etc. are the most common types of fuel that can be used to light a chimenea. Softwood, on the other hand, should only be used for rekindling the fire. There are also certain modern variants of the chimenea that run on gas, charcoal, and liquid propane. 

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Final Thoughts

A chimenea is, therefore, a great way of adding a warm and cozy element to your outdoor living area. They’re not only perfect for enhancing aesthetic appeal but are also functional in the way they can produce heat for chilly winter evenings. 

Although not as easy or straightforward to operate as commonly available modern fire pits, traditional chimeneas exude warmth and ambiance that is difficult to replace. Hence, this fire stove has all the potential to be a stellar addition to your home!

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What is a Chimenea [Definition & All You Need to Know]


Anna Vaughn

Anna Vaughn

Immense painting experience recommends Anna. She shaped The Little Painters, a small local painting workshop for children that invites the little ones to explore painting through simple and creative means in a safe, loving and extremely colorful environment. In her home panting studio she plays with all paint mediums but watercolor is her expertise.

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