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If you’ve ever resided or traveled through the Southern United States (Arizona, for example), or around Mexico, odds are you have encountered a chiminea: a sort of pot made of clay, with a wide mouth on the front for your firewood, and a tall, round, slender neck for the smoke to come out of. Contrary to what you may think, a chiminea is not only a nice decorative accent for your garden—it comes with a decent amount of perks you might like. That said, it is not without its weaknesses and special needs. In this article, we will cover some facts about chimineas; why you need to cure your chiminea, and how to do it; and ways to fix any cracks that might appear.
How to Cure a Chiminea & How to Fix Cracks: A Storied Origin
If, upon gazing at a chiminea, you feel like you are looking at an echo of the past, you are not wrong, as these stylish fireplaces have been around for roughly 4 centuries. Their origin is typically traced to Spain; from here it was brought to Mexico, and eventually trickled into the United States.
However ancient they may seem, chimineas are far from finished. Nowadays, aside from clay, they are also offered in metal, such as aluminum. This makes them more durable, but also somewhat unsafe due to getting extremely hot during usage. Clay chimineas are easy enough to find, but it is better to procure one locally rather than order it online, as they tend to break in transit.
Why It’s Worth the Trouble
In centuries past, chimineas were not relied upon simply for their looks, or as entertainment. In those days, people typically placed the chiminea at the center of the abode, lined up with a hole at the roof to let the smoke out, so it would warm up the place. Today, the function of these fireplaces is purely recreational, but you can still rely on it for heat.
Smoke is no trouble when you use a chiminea, thanks to its tall neck; it can, in fact, be an ally, depending on the wood you burn. Apple, cherry, pear, to name a few, can provide a pleasant aroma while burning, to delight your guests and family. Pinon wood is another favorite, as not only does it have a nice scent, it is also a natural mosquito repellent.
What of cooking? That can be done too! All you need is a grill (which you can find easily enough), and you can use your chiminea as a rustic and perfectly functional BBQ. You can also do some baking, pizza being a common favorite. And that’s in addition to the usual campfire cooking, such as marshmallows, s’mores, wieners, you name it.
Cure Now, Less Cracking Later
One of the main causes for cracks developing on a chiminea, seems to also be one of the most overlooked: abrupt exposure to high temperatures. To address this, curing it is one of the first things you should do once your chiminea is settled in within your yard.
Curing is not hard, and it will save you some headaches down the road. Begin by applying a layer of sand (fireproof is better) to the bottom of the pit; this will help protect the bottom. Then, start a small fire, using paper balls or some other fuel of similar size. Let that fire burn down naturally (this is important). When the chiminea has cooled off completely, start another fire, a little bigger this time, and let it run its natural course. Do this a total of 3 or 4 times, each time making the fire a bit bigger than the last, always letting the fire run out and the chiminea cool down between rounds.
Once you’ve cured it, it definitely doesn’t hurt to apply a sealer all over the chiminea. This will help protect it from moisture, which is important for reasons we will cover further down. For best results, sealer should be reapplied every 3 to 6 months, depending on how often you use the chiminea and exposure to moisture or lower temperatures.
Considering a Chiminea for Your Deck or Patio?
Other Ways To Help Maintain It
As functional as attractive as clay is, it’s not the most hardy of materials; and failing to cure the chiminea is only one possible way to eventually see cracks on it. Here are other actions you can take to help it last longer.
Wherever your chiminea will be, it should be an even, flat, firm surface, to minimize the risk of it toppling over. It should also be at a safe distance from anything flammable, such as fences, buildings, bushes, branches, furniture and the like; better be safe than sorry.
The bottom should be adequately supported, to avoid uneven pressure that could end up causing cracks. It is highly recommended to protect the ground underneath the chiminea, which can be easily done by way of a fire pit mat of appropriate size.
2. Fire Setup
It begins with the appropriate base, sand. It should be there whenever you start a fire, as it will insulate the bottom of your fire pit from the worst of the heat, and will help it last longer. Then, one should pay careful attention to what is being burned in the chiminea. As we said before, scented woods such as apple, cherry, maple and the like are alright, but preference should be given to hardwoods such as oak, ash, birch, hickory, to name but a few. These woods provide the most efficient burn and help reduce smoke, which can be a concern for some chiminea owners.
Fuel amount matters as well. Chimineas are designed to use less wood than, for example, fire pits. And remember to not use any accelerants such as gasoline! Worst case scenario, this might cause an explosion; best case, the liquid will be absorbed by the clay, eventually damaging it.
Water in any of its forms is your clay chiminea’s worst enemy, as it can easily lead to cracking if it seeps in and freezes. For this reason, it is highly recommended never to use water to douse your fire, unless it is an emergency and you must act quickly. If, for any reason, you just can’t let the fire die out on its own, sand is a perfectly good alternative that won’t be so detrimental as water can be. Also, remember to protect it with an appropriate cover between uses.
Whether in use or in storage, keep it elevated, away from the ground. Many chimineas come with a metal stand; if you’d rather stash it elsewhere, you can always place the chiminea on a pallet or similar base, when you’re putting it away for extended periods.
4. In Winter
Clay, as we mentioned before, can be somewhat sensitive to more extreme temperatures; this applies to cold as it does to heat. When winter comes, build the fire gradually, so the clay does not heat up suddenly. If you don’t plan to use it, store the chiminea in a shed or somewhere similar, where it won’t be exposed to frigid temperatures.
If, despite your best efforts (or because your chiminea is second hand), you see some of these, there is no reason to worry. Fixing, whenever possible, should be left to a professional, but it is still perfectly accessible for a DIYer. Here’s what you will need.
- Sandpaper, medium grit (80 to 100) and finer (120 or 220). A pack with a wider range of grits should serve you well.
- Automotive repair epoxy putty; a hardy, heat-resistant material commonly recommended for repairing clay chimineas.
- A putty knife.
- A clamp or two, in case there are loose fragments.
Once you have the materials and tools, here’s how to proceed.
- Begin by sanding the area where the crack is located, using the medium grit sandpaper. Apply a certain degree of pressure all over that location, until every bit of paint or sealer has been scratched out.
- If there are any loose fragments that need reattaching, use the clamp to keep them in their rightful position. When this is done, you can begin to fill the crack with the automotive repair putty, enough for it to create a bit of a bump higher than the surrounding surface.
- Allow the putty to sit for a while. When it changes to a lighter hue, touch it carefully; continue with the next step if you feel it completely dry.
- Sand the top of the putty application with the medium grit sandpaper, until it is level with the area around it. Then, give it another pass with the finer grit sandpaper, to smooth it out.
- Repair is done; all that’s left is to paint over the repaired crack, if you so wish. There’s nothing wrong with letting the crack show, either, for a more rustic look.
Ancient though they may seem, chimineas are still in their prime, as functional as they are aesthetic. Clay chimineas don’t have to fall prey to cracks, as long as some measures are taken to help preserve it from moisture and extreme temperatures. And if cracks should develop, it doesn’t have to be the end. A quick repair job, a paint touch-up if desired, and this popular fireplace will be good to go.