Chimineas can add a lot of character to your backyard. Not only are the structures themselves unique art pieces, but when you build fires in them, the flickering flames have a mesmerizing appeal that can be hypnotic. Clay and cast iron chimineas are like outdoor fireplaces, and although they look rather durable, they do require occasional maintenance to ensure that they’ll provide years of enjoyment. Whether you purchase a terra cotta clay chiminea or one made from metal, you’ll need to set it up properly, use it correctly, and take preventative measures to maintain it.
1. Choose Your Chiminea
You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to buy a clay chiminea or one made from cast iron. Each type has its good points and challenges. For example:
Metal chimineas won’t break as easily, are simple to repaint, and will last longer than their clay counterparts. The downsides to metal structures are that they rust, assembly is required, and the surfaces can get extremely hot, so they can be dangerous if you are not careful.
Chimineas made from clay are safer to use, because they don’t get as hot. They’re also easy to repaint. You can find some that are unique pieces of art. The downsides to the clay versions are that they require more maintenance and can crack or break if not handled with care.
2. Proper Set Up
If you buy a metal chiminea, there will be some assembly involved. Disassembled cast-iron chimineas usually come with instructions when you purchase them. It’s important to not only thoroughly read these instructions, but to save them in case you have to move or repair your outdoor fireplace at some point. To set up either your clay or metal fire pit, choose a spot that is:
- On a flat surface
- Fireproof, such as on top of rocks, bricks, pavers or concrete
- Clear of overhanging tree branches or bushes
- Clear of anything over the top of it which could catch fire
- Far enough away from fences
3. Rust Prevention
If you’ve purchased a cast iron chiminea, it will probably be coated with a fire-resistant finish or paint. Even with the protective finish, rust can form, unless you take time to cure it. To cure your chiminea, follow these steps:
- Fix the grate inside your chiminea.
- Light a modest fire inside using kindling.
- After the kindling burns for an hour, light a larger fire using logs or wood.
- Allow the roaring fire to burn for another hour.
- Let it cool down.
4. Chiminea Safety
Chimineas are designed to burn small amounts of charcoal and wood, so don’t ignite an entire bonfire in your structure. In order to keep your outdoor fireplace from becoming a hazard, follow some safety rules, such as:
- Purchase a pair of stove gloves that have long sleeves.
- Purchase fireplace tools so you can add logs, stoke the fire, and put it out without getting burned.
- Build small fires in a clay chiminea until it’s fully cured.
- Do not use gasoline or alcohol to ignite your flames, especially with cast iron. Doing so could cause an explosion.
- Don’t try to extinguish the fire with water. Dashing the fire with cold water could cause the chiminea to break, because of the rapid drop in temperature.
- In freezing weather, warm up your chiminea before building a roaring fire.
5. Use Sealers
The outside of a clay chiminea must be protected from moisture, and the best way to do this is by sealing it. Sealants protect the clay so that it becomes waterproof. Sealants last approximately three to six months, depending on how much you use your outdoor fireplace. To seal your chiminea:
- Make sure the outside of it is dry and clean.
- Spray on the sealant or apply it with a paintbrush.
If you have a metal chiminea, you will need to paint it with heatproof paint.
6. Chiminea Covers
To protect your chiminea from snow, ice, rain, and other harsh conditions, buy and use a cover. There are lots of custom covers on the market, so you can find one in the color and thickness of your preference for approximately $30 to $50. Your cover is a great investment, because it will:
- Repel moisture
- Keep out damaging UV rays
If you don’t want to spend money on a customized cover, you can also use a basic plastic tarp. It won’t fit as snugly, but it can still do the job adequately.
7. Cleaning Chimineas
You’ll need to regularly clean your chiminea, too, regardless of whether it’s made from clay or metal. The process for each material is different, however. Here are some tips for cleaning chimineas:
For the clay chiminea, remove the pea gravel or small rocks you should have lining the bottom of your structure, and shovel the ashes out into a bucket. Rinse the gravel with water. Let the rocks dry, and then put them back into your chiminea.
One of the cleaning challenges with cast iron chimineas is rust. To clean rust from your metallic outdoor fireplace, put on a pair of safety glasses, grab a wire brush, and start scrubbing. After you’ve gotten most of the rust off, use a wire-wool cleaning pad along with some water and detergent. Once you’ve gotten it cleaned up, thoroughly rinse with water. After drying it, finish up with some fine sandpaper.
8. Repairing Cracks
If you have cracks in your clay chiminea, it will be your judgment call whether it’s still safe to use. If there are tiny cracks, your device may still be safe and last years; if the cracks are large or your chiminea has been weakened from moving or other stressors, it could crumble, so beware. If you decide to try to repair it, follow these steps:
- Clean the cracks
- Make sure the surface is bondable
- Apply an automotive bonding material
- Sand it smooth
Repairing cracks is an iffy proposition, but it may work if you want to give it a try.
9. Use Common Sense
Finally, use good common sense and safety practices when you’re using your chiminea — you are handling fire, after all. Always remember to:
- Only create small fires
- Keep it covered
- Bring it inside during freezing temperatures or harsh weather
If you take good care by cleaning chimineas properly, setting them up correctly, using them safely, covering them up, and having good common sense, you should be able to enjoy your outdoor fire pit for many years to come.