On Chimneas – an Owner’s Report



Gardening magazines and especially television shows seem deeply enamored with firepits these days, which has
got me thinking about my long-forgotten chimnea – bought about 10 years ago and used exactly twice.  Here it is and sure, it’s good-looking but what I soon learned is that only about a half-person can actually be warmed by the thing – the front half of the person who’s sitting directly in front of the opening.  Most of the heat escapes through the opening at the top. 

I also agree with what Elizabeth wrote, that these garden fires make no sense in the winter, are too hot to use in the summer, and they’re often outlawed, anyway, at least where she lives, and for good reason.  They’re not just fire hazards but also serious health hazards. (Michelle Derviss has lots to say about that.)  And one website about firepits even warns: "If you don’t want smoke in your eyes, don’t buy a firepit."

I did a little post-purchase research about my lovely clay chimnea here and learned that it can fall apart suddenly (!) and that it’s not really suitable for wooden decks.  And there’s more.  You’re supposed to insulate the inside because there should NOT be fire next to the clay (news to me!)  It won’t take full-size logs, and there are problems with all sorts of wood types as fuel.  Pinion is the best wood to burn in them, or alligator juniper, to both of which I say:  Huh?  And they need to be sealed and – again, who knew? – stored indoors if winters drop below freezing.  At least it was cheap – about $150 bought locally.

Then one helpful website, after listing all sorts of warnings, provides some alternative uses for them:

Other Chiminea uses
Although Chimineas are primarily designed for small, outdoor fires many
people are using them as decorative accent pieces in their homes or

We have seen chimineas used for everything from a towel holder to
housing for pets. Homeowners who are going for a southwest theme have
been purchasing chimineas as oversized planters and candle holders. A
large Chiminea in the corner with a big, three-wicked candle makes for
a great conversation piece. This may seem kind of bizarre to some
people however Architectural Digest one of the leading journals for
designers and decorators featured a large Chiminea indoors.

In The Garden
We have seen some incredible uses of Chimineas in the Garden.
Sunflowers popping out of the top. Vines poring out of the mouth. A
fallen Chiminea filled with topsoil and a variety of flowering plants.
Broken Chimineas are becoming a big seller. They add a unique twist to
the boring old clay pots.

Towel holder?  Housing for pets?  Maybe not, but I’m LOVING the vision of this thing sitting in one of my garden beds with maybe some sweet potato vine trailing out of its mouth. 

So, what would YOU do with this thing? 


  1. I really like the idea of using it to grow vines or other trailing plants out of the top and maybe the bottom too. What a great way to recycle something you don’t use that is hanging around collecting dust.

  2. I had a beautiful cast iron chimnea with a copper finish and an outer surface embossed with decorative reliefs. It seemed an improvement on clay for a number of reasons including its sturdiness and how well it radiated heat.

    The darned thing was so heavy though, I left it for the new owners of my old house. That’s been a decision I’ve regretted for some time, as I’ve since imagined it as a lovely garden sculpture with plants in the front opening and growing out the chimney. There were a number of things I left behind at that house I’ve come to regret. Oh well, too late now! I hope the current residents are enjoying them.

  3. Looks like a canon to me. I’d use it as a canon and take out ugly garden art in your neighborhood. Yes. I would.

    My parents gave us a fire pit thing, and though I love the idea, it’s just too stinky and hot. Like Nebraska.

  4. We use pinon wood in our firepit table (which I love, but don’t use as much now that I am home during the day to enjoy my garden). It smells heavenly as it burns and it supposedly keeps the mosquitoes away. We found it at HD pretty cheap a few years ago, but I’ve also ordered it on-line, but probably the shipping costs now with the higher fuel prices would make that prohibitive. Sure the whole things’s not practical, but I love a fire every now and then and I don’t have a fireplace.

  5. I do enjoy an outdoor fire as much as the next person, especially if oysters and beer are involved. However, am I the only one who feels a tinge of guilt at releasing yet more CO2 and particulate matter into the air – especially for no other reason than pleasure?

    We once sold chimineas at work and during Christmas tree season we would burn the cut ends of the trees and other scraps. I had to put an end to that as I found that my employees spent more time around the chiminea than they did working – I’m such a Scrooge.

  6. I see two options: (1) I’d find a skilled laborer and have the top taken off and make a planter out of it. Seems too tall, as is, for plants on top, but it would be great shortened with front & top in plants. Lots of great combos come to mind. A “fire” plant theme?
    (2) Better yet, leave it like it is and make a water feature with planter. Plants on bottom, fine mist out the top? Cool…and misty.

  7. I have a clay chiminea gathering moss in a corner of the patio, unused but too pretty to part with. I’ll have to think about another use for it, since I should finally come to terms with the fact that I won’t ever be burning wood in it.

  8. I’m utterly petrified by all fire and hate the smell of it. We have a gas insert (safely vented) in one of our fireplaces and that is as far as we will go. I say–use the thing as a planter!

  9. My aunt had one of these things. Until I saw her use it I had absolutely no idea what it was. They look like some kind of ancient idol thingie that someone left upside.
    She lit it up at a Christmas party and 5 people were fighting over that half a warm spot.

  10. Good point, Carol! Maybe you’ll like it better when it’s crammed full of plants, maybe lying on its side, maybe broken and looking like a ruin on some Greek island.

  11. How about drilling more holes in it (with a drill bit or dremel blade for tile?) and making a giant strawberry pot of sorts. Succulents or trailing beauties would be neat.

  12. I never warmed up (pun intended)to those odd looking things for my Patio.In fall,when we are sitting outside in the evening we dress warmer.When it gets chilly,we go inside.There are four seasons were I live,each one with it’s own Beauty,each one enjoyed for the different offerings.Or maybe it’s just because we have a nice Fireplace inside.

  13. No, Les, you’re not the only one concerned about releasing CO2 and particulate matter for pleasure. Some argue that wood is carbon neutral because the CO2 released was taken from the atmosphere more recently than natural gas or petroleum products. That point aside, the particulate matter released is a serious problem for everyone, not just those with lung health issues, and it is as serious a concern as global warming. I recently posted about this on Sunset’s freshdirt blog: http://freshdirt.sunset.com/2008/07/all-fired-up-th.html and http://freshdirt.sunset.com/2008/07/its-just-smoke.html.

    My in-laws have a chiminea they bought on a trip to Mexico. They turned it into a candle holder by placing multiple votive lights inside, placed on top of a layer of sand. It offers great ambiance for their patio. You could do something similar and maybe even add more holes for light to shine through (use a masonry bit).

    I love the suggestion of creating a water feature with your chiminea. Check out the water feature local designer, Laura Crockett created using steel columns and river rock (last slide at http://www.gardendiva.com/picshows/crockett/index.html. The water pipe feeds up the center and the water spills out, trickling inside and out of the column and through the rock sounding like a babbling brook. Maybe you could do something similar.

  14. I don’t find the shape or form of a chimnea attractive.
    It has nothing to do with it’s serviceability or function.
    I just don’t find the shape pleasing.
    I would probably take my stone cutting angle grinder to it and in less that 5 minutes cut the canon cylinder off then find a place in the garden to place to two separate clay appendages and plant the living daylights out of them.

    If I found that the clay cut like butter ( which I imagine it would ) , I may that the extra time and slice some vertical lines into the canon segment and place it over an outdoor light fixture to spiffy it up or place it over a rigid irrigation riser to hide it.

  15. I guess I’m in the minority as someone who loves the smell of wood smoke. I don’t have a fire pit myself but my neighbor does, and I truly enjoy it. I actually miss the days when we were allowed to burn leaves outdoors. Of course, I also grew up drinking from a garden hose, playing with toys that were likely painted with lead paint, and playing yard darts at my grandparents and I survived. Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I do garden organically, I recycle everything I can, and I drive a small car that gets great gas mileage (this was a decision I made long before the current gas crunch.) I recently read an article where scientists theorized that one of the reason our children may have some of the health issues they do is that our society is so gung-ho on the use of anti-bacterial everything that their immune systems are never challenged and therefore don’t develop as they should. I’m not saying we should deliberately use toxic products or pollutants, but on the other hand, if we worry over every little thing that might possibly be bad for us, what fun would life be? Just my two cents — your mileage may vary :).

  16. Thanks Tom, the link is much appreciated.
    Those who relish the ‘good old days’ of burning and polluting the air with wood smoke may have ingested a little bit too much lead paint.

  17. Had one–never really used it. Bought it because it had this great lizard climbing the side (whole thing is terra cotta).

    Now it is laying on its side so the lizard can survey the garden with an ivy planted in it.

  18. Oops, need to correct an error in one of my links (the period at the end of the sentence threw it off) – http://freshdirt.sunset.com/2008/07/its-just-smoke.html

    Burning issues site is an excellent resource, thanks for posting the links, Tom.

    Nana, I understand that some enjoy the smell of wood smoke. Heck, I know some who love the smell of a good (?!) cigar. Each to their own, I guess. Breathing it in and exposing oneself to toxins should be a choice each of us gets to make. And that’s where the problem lies. Smoke does not stay put, forcing itself on others who prefer to breathe clean air. Having watched 2 uncles succumb to lung diseases (lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis), I’m inclined to keep my lungs healthy.

    And now back to the topic at hand. Creativity by division as Michelle suggested sounds intriguing. If sawing through a chiminea is difficult to do, drilling a series of holes, one slightly overlapping another should work. It would leave a scalloped edge but perhaps that would add to the charm. Now I’m wishing I had a chiminea to slice in half!

  19. I have to say I find it very troubling, even disturbing, that some of you are advocating the burning of candles inside of these death chimneys. Everything unhealthful and impure and toxic that you can say about wood smoke is true ten times over for candle smoke. Particulate matter? Try greasy soot. Carbon monoxide? Did you know that almost all candles are made of oil? And that nearly all of the wicks are made in China and that independant tests have confirmed that virtually all candle wicks contain lead, arsenic, and asbestos fibers–which do NOT burn but which are released INTO THE AIR! When I see my neighbors burning votive candles on their picnic table I immediately close my windows and call the fire department and poison control. I also turn my sprinkler system on, lest any ash or sparks drift toward my house.

    You may pollute the inside of your homes as you wish but those of you who brazenly burn candles out of doors are putting in jeopardy the lives of everyone within 500 yards, not to mention the pets of those people and all of the wildlife.

    I come to this website to be enlightened and uplifted and moved by nature’s glory, but today you have all just sickened and repulsed me!

    Shame on you all!

  20. Well…um…My name is Cindy and I’m a hopeless romantic and I love my Chimena. Is there a 12 step plan for this? I’m with Michelle. I recycle, I drive a small car or walk when I can. I organically garden. But I don’t sweat recycling my sawed off dead limbs, and downed branches by having a cozy fire for an hour or two. I figure with two foundries in my community in continuous operation since the 1850s, my Chimenae is the least of my concerns. And I always was taught that forest fires were necessary. So how come that’s the case if burning wood is so horrible?

  21. the shape of a chimnea is related to the african clay storage containers and the greek amphoras.in the rectangular world of apartments and condos it does not fit.therefore the dislike towards it. living in nature and being an artist- the flames shooting out of my little bellied devil,hey you bureaucrats, eat your heart out! win

  22. The concerned reader got it down. A direct line to the White House would also help. Have the marines sweep in , arrest the dreadful neighbors and wipe out those miserable candles.Bbut ,what if there should be sweet and friendly laughing or singing accompanied with a ceremonial, romantic candle light in the dispised backyard? I suggest you purchase 3 or4 shop vacs , turn them all on, they filter out any human noises,fibers and all. I bet ,Win thinks you are a “bureaucrat”.RELAX,buddy.

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