Origin of Clay Chimineas

The chimenea (pronounced chim-en-ae-a), literally ‘chimney’ in Spanish, can be traced back over a thousand years to Mayan times. The Mayan Indians were a nomadic tribe native to the mountains of Mexico. They discovered that the wet clay scooped from the floors of caves could be fired and made into vessels suitable for cooking. Their designs were later adopted by town dwellers.

The simple shape and efficient draw of the chimenea make it an excellent heater, a superbly effective outdoor oven, a flat-bread maker and insect repellent.

The traditional methods of production of these hand-made ovens have been passed down through the generations, and the skills remain today in the villages around the central highlands of Mexico, where the best type of clay for the purpose is to be found. Chimeneas were originally made of natural terracotta, dried and then wood-fired in kilns and did not have the decorative paint effects we see today.

clay chimeneaThe process for making high-quality, hand-made chimeneas is still a simple one. The special clay used is found only in the central highlands of Mexico and has been used for centuries to make fire and frost-resistant pots and ovens. Many chimeneas available today continue to be made in the same tradition as described below, utilising skills passed down through the centuries.

Refined clay is trampled underfoot until the texture is even. It is then rolled out using an oversized rolling pin. The rolled slabs are pressed by hand into the moulds for the particular size of chimenea that is being made for the day. Each chimenea is made in a number of sections and the moulds for these are placed together, smoothed and joined inside. The moulds are then removed and the chimeneas are left to dry for several days until ready for firing.

This stage is done in a cool area away from intense sunlight as the sun would dry the clay out too quickly and lead to a potentially weaker final product. The kiln is heated with wood or gas to over 1000°C (depending on the village's own technique) and the chimeneas are fired. The kiln is left to cool for twenty-four hours before the contents are removed. The fired chimeneas are then decorated.