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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 those present. 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 wooden 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 aluminium-design outdoor fireplaces and concern for safety have mostly replaced the traditional clay building techniques.
Visually, the cast-aluminium 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-aluminium chiminea will not rust, heats the same as cast iron, is very low-maintenance, and is easier to move for a patio or entertaining rearrangement.
The aluminium 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-aluminium 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 24 hours, a small fire should be set to cure the glue and clay.
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Most available firewoods can be used as chiminea fuels. However, there are certain types of wood that are not recommended for use as fuel. For example, pressure-treated wood may emit toxic gases that are dangerous to the health.
It must also be noted that the kind of fuel used for a chiminea boils down to the kind of chiminea in question. As already mentioned above, most wood can be used as fuel for chimineas, but not all kinds of wood. Also, there are other fuels that can be used efficiently for lighting up and firing a chiminea. Listed below are most of the fuels that can be used for your chiminea:
Charcoal is one of the best fuels that can be used as fuel for a chiminea. It is the ideal fuel for use in a cast-iron chiminea. However, it is not advisable to use either coal or charcoal in a Mexican clay chiminea as charcoal can become very hot and might damage the chiminea. On the other hand, cast-iron chimineas can handle any kind of fuel thrown into them. Charcoal is also the ideal fuel for cooking with a chiminea because it does not add its own taste to the meat or whatever is being cooked. Wood on the other hand will add an unpleasant taste to the meat. To prevent this transfer of flavour, meat should be covered or wrapped with tin foil before being cooked in a chiminea.
Wood, as was mentioned above, is the most popular fuel used by chiminea owners because of its abundance. Wood can be found almost anywhere, making it the favourite to most. However, wood used in chimineas should ideally be dry wood, as this burns with little smoke. Wet or green wood makes a lot of smoke.
Wood is the ideal fuel for Mexican clay chimineas. However, they must have the bottom filled with sand or lava stones before they are fuelled, because clay chimineas crack open at the base if heat is applied directly.
As an alternative to wood, you can also use heatblox, hollow blocks made of refined timber. They are very good alternatives to firewood.
Ethanol is another fuel that can be used in a chiminea. Ethanol must be handled with care when being used as fuel in a chiminea because it is a flammable liquid. It is first placed in small metal cans that fit well inside the chiminea and then lit with a long-nosed lighter.
The advantage of using ethanol as fuel in a chiminea is that it can then be used indoors, because ethanol does not produce smoke when it burns.