Historically chimeneas, also spelled chimineas, have been made out of fired clay and used for heating and cooking. These traditional designs can be traced to Spain and its influence on Mexico. The first use of a traditionally designed chiminea appears around 400 years ago.
The chiminea was once a daily life necessity that served a domestic purpose. The chiminea of the past was used indoors for heating and cooking, usually by an open window or in the center of the hut or home with an opening in the roof to allow smoke to escape. With the advent of the modern home, chimineas are now used outdoors mainly for entertainment in a backyard setting.
The design of a good chiminea creates a draughting action, drawing fresh air into the fire directing smoke/fumes upward away from you and your guests. The fire burns hotter and cleaner, leaving behind only a small amount of ash. The efficient draughting of a good chiminea design means the fire will burn out completely in a short period of time so they can be used safely on wood decks or other locations where an open burning fire pit may cause damage. Chimineas can also be converted to use natural gas or propane.
Clay was used in the production of traditional chimineas because it was readily available and very cheap to produce. Most homes that used chimineas in the past had dirt floors so a broken clay chiminea was not a real crisis. Today, chimineas are primarily used outdoors for entertaining.
Because of the exposure to elements and occasional usage, clay chimineas no longer serve as the material of choice. The lifespan of the newer Cast Iron and Aluminum design outdoor fireplaces and concern for safety has mostly replaced the traditional clay building techniques.
Visually, the Cast Aluminum and Cast Iron chimineas look the same. They are the same thickness and cast from the same mould. Only the weight of the material is different. Compared to Cast Iron chimineas, the Cast Aluminum chiminea will not rust, heats the same as Cast Iron, is very low maintenance, and is easier to move for a patio or entertaining re-arrangement.
The Aluminum chiminea is readily transported and can be easily stored in the wintertime in the off season. (Chiminea storage is only recommended to prevent damage or theft). Both Cast Iron and Cast Aluminum chimineas are designed for year-around use in any climate.
In Mexico, when the cooking pot or clay Chimenea cracked and fell apart, the people simply scooped some more mud or river clay together and made another.
A clay Chimenea can also be repaired by the use of automotive repair putty or high temperature epoxy to join major parts. Fresh clay can be used as a final binder after application of glue. After the clay Chimenea is left to cure for 24hrs a small fire should be set to cure the glue and clay.
Clay chimeneas are biodegradable. They can be disposed of by smashing to bits and using in gardening.
Most of available firewoods can be used as a chiminea fuels for burning. However, there are certain type of woods that is not suggested to be used as fuel, for example pressure treated wood may emit toxic gases that are dangerous for the health.