You have three basic types of chimenea or fire bowl to choose from - a fire clay chimenea, a cast iron chimenea (including a mix of cast iron and steel) or a steel chimenea or fire bowl. Although designed for a similar purpose, the three types are made from different materials and have different performance characteristics.
All three types of chimeneas or fire bowls (clay, cast iron or steel) are available in several different sizes, from very small to very large. The weight, cost and heat output increases with size. The larger models burn more fuel and will heat a larger area. If you have a large patio then a larger chimenea or fire bowl will is more suitable. For a really large patio then consider two chimeneas, one at either end.
Clay chimeneas need no assembling, they come finished and ready to use. Place the stand on your patio, lift the chimenea carefully into position and place sand or lava stones in the bottom. It’s ready. More assembling is necessary for cast iron and steel chimeneas, which are supplied as components in a carton and must be assembled before use.
Chimeneas and fire bowls are safe provided you follow the operating instructions and apply common sense. They are real fires and will burn hands if touched when lit. If you have young children and pets then make sure they do not come into contact with the chimenea or fire bowl while in use. You can buy a chimenea guard which will keep curious fingers and noses away from the hot surface. The surface of a clay chimenea is less likely to become so hot it will give a serous burn. However the surface of a cast iron or steel model is hotter and will cause immediate burn if touched while in use.
The heat output depends on the size of the chimenea or fire bowl and the amount of fuel used. Essentially, the more fuel is used, the bigger the fire, the more heat output. More fuel is more heat. From a performance point of view Mexican fire clay models have the best combustion characteristics and will burn fuel to fine ash with almost no residue.
Wood burns with air from above but charcoal or coal need air from underneath to burn properly. Mexican and clay chimeneas work best with wood for that reason, although we have used them with charcoal successfully too. Do not use coal on a clay chimenea. Coal burns very hot and might damage the chimenea.
Cast iron and steel chimeneas or fire bowls will burn wood, charcoal and coal, but remember if the chimenea becomes very hot then the paint will burn off. The heat-resistant paint used is resistant up 600 degrees C, but it is not fire proof – fire proof paint does not exist. If the paint burns off, the surface will rust.
For all three types little maintenance is required apart from removing ash and occasional repainting if the surface paint is damaged or burnt. Clay chimeneas can be repainted with ordinary emulsion paint and cast iron or steel with heat resisting stove paint. Clay chimeneas require the least maintenance.
The short answer is protect all chimeneas from the UK weather - we recommend you buy a cover for all three type of chimeneas. Cast iron or steel will rust very quickly if left outside and clay will become waterlogged if left in the rain because there are no drainage holes. Similarly your chimenea will last longer if you bring it in for the winter. Never use a waterlogged clay chimenea, wait until it is completely dry.
Medium sized clay and cast iron chimeneas weigh upwards of 35 kgs, and larger models upwards of 50 kgs. Chimeneas have an awkward shape and are too heavy for a comfortable lift! Steel chimeneas weigh half as much, about 15 kgs and are especially suitable for anyone who finds lifting is a problem.
The cast iron model lasts longest but it also depends on how a chimenea is treated/mistreated and maintained.
Modern chimeneas are primarily designed for space heating, although there are removable bbq grills available for the fire clay types and swing out bbq grills for the cast iron and steel. We suggest a chimenea is at best used for occasional barbecuing, for the serious outdoor chef nothing is better than a proper bbq.
The cast iron chimenea rusts when it is exposed to certain elements eg. rain/frost, and when the paint burns off.