Andirons are the metal bracket-shaped pieces that hold logs in a fireplace. Thanks to the wonderfully bizarre English language, they are also called fire dogs. (Though the explanation for this term seems like a bit of a stretch.) In any case, they're almost as classic as the logs themselves.
The functional role of andirons in wood burning fireplaces is to brace the logs and allow air to circulate under them. In gas fireplaces, the andirons, along with the fire logs, are mainly decorative.
People are drawn to andirons for the same reason they still want logs in their gas fireplaces. They are classic, pleasing to the eye and their tradition goes back so far that a fireplace seems incomplete without them.
Andirons are a simple fireplace accessory but, in this article we will give you helpful information so you can make the most informed decision when you purchase. Here's an overview of what styles are available, top brands for andirons, how to use them, and how to care for them.
What Are Andirons?
Pilgrim Grand Forge natural iron andiron
Andirons are decorative fireplace accessories that usually come in pairs and function as a support and brace for fireplace logs. A typical andiron is L-shaped. The horizontal piece acts as a rack and can attach to a fireplace grate to lift the logs up off the floor of the fireplace. The front vertical piece has two support legs and extends up to prevent the logs from rolling forward.
Because they are made to sit within the fireplace, they are very durable. They're often made from wrought iron and may be finished with brass, bronze, nickel, or pewter. These fireplace accessories are made to last and will add a beautiful finish to any wood burning fireplace.
How Are Fireplace Andirons Used?
Their practical use is mainly to keep logs contained and to let air circulate under the logs. They also help protect the bottom of the fireplace since the logs are not in direct contact with the firebox. For centuries, andirons have also played a decorative role, allowing the fireplace owners to display their own sense of fashion and decor.
This decorative role carries on today, even in fireplaces that don't burn real wood. The andirons make the fireplace look more complete and authentic. And even in gas fireplaces, they serve the purpose of lifting and containing the logs instead of letting them sprawl on the bottom.
How To Use Andirons
Andirons are simple and don't take much time to set up. It's best to stack the logs so that even when they do burn and shift, they are easily held back by the andirons. If you balance the logs unevenly or stack them too high, the andirons may not be able to hold them all in place.
Place the andirons parallel to each other with the horizontal pieces facing in toward the fire and the vertical pieces at the front. They should be far enough apart to comfortably support the fireplace logs.
Old masonry fireplace with decorative andirons and heat shield
Pile tinder and kindling on the floor of the fireplace between the andirons. Don't stack it too high since you want the logs to rest on the andiron supports.
Kindling material used for building a fire
Stack the logs on top of the andirons so that they rest on the horizontal supports and are held back by the vertical supports. This would also be the appropriate time to stack the logs on your fireplace grate if you chose to use that item.
Cast iron andirons attached to a firewood grate with wood logs
Ignite the tinder and kindling underneath the stack of logs and watch your fire come to life. There's nothing like the sound of wood crackling in a fireplace to create an atmosphere of relaxation and peace.
Lighting kindling material under a wood log grate
Andirons have been fashionable fireplace accessories since the 17th century, so it's no wonder there is a range of styles to choose from. You can accent any wood burning or gas fireplace with vintage andirons, sleek and modern selections or even animal-shaped andirons. It's the perfect way to add a dash of personality.
Antique or Vintage Andirons
Pilgrim Colonial Wrought Iron Andirons
The styles in this category usually feature ornate, old-fashioned designs like this one. You'll find most of them are made out of cast iron (natural iron) or wrought iron (vintage iron).
Pilgrim Grand Antique Brass and Black Tower Andirons
Modern andirons complement contemporary designs with their clean, straight lines. Typical finishes include polished nickel, pewter, and antique brass.
Fireplace black ball andirons
Traditional andirons have a simple, timeless design. They come in black wrought iron for the perfect understated touch.
Ready to start the search for your own andirons? The following list of companies have a reputation for quality workmanship. It's a great place to start if you are looking to find andirons at a great value. You'll find a selection of pieces to match any decor.
Pilgrim Home and Hearth - Based out of San Francisco, Pilgrim is a privately owned company that has been in business for over 65 years. They focus on fireplace decor items and feature a range of andiron designs.
Plow and Hearth - Started in 1980 by a husband and wife team, Plow and Hearth has quickly become a well-recognized retailer in the home, hearth, and garden industry. Their andiron selection ranges from traditional to whimsical.
Uniflame - Uniflame offers a small selection of quality andirons. Part of their collection includes this solid brass pair.
Minuteman International - Minutemen started out in 1977 supplying basic stove supplies. They eventually expanded into the entire category of stove and fireplace accessories. Minutemen International is the parent company of ACHLA Designs, which is responsible for their home and garden selection. They have a solid selection of andirons ranging from traditional to modern styles.
Complementary Fireplace Accessories
Decorative fireplace kit with log holder, fireplace screen, and fireplace toolset
If you are on the hunt for andirons, you'll likely benefit from some of these other fireplace accessories as well. Here is a shortlist of fireplace items that complement andirons and enhance the safety, convenience, and style of your fireplace.
Fireback and Fireback Support - Firebacks are heavy-duty metal pieces that shield the back wall of your fireplaces. (The fireback supports help hold them upright.) This makes the masonry last longer and the metal also helps radiate heat back into your home. The metal pieces often feature decorative designs. Lightweight decorative firebacks are available for gas models, but these are not durable enough for true wood burning fireplaces.
Fireplace Grate - Fireplace grates are metal shelves that help cradle the logs in the fireplace and hold them up off the bottom. In this way, they have a similar function to andirons, however, they do not have the tall front pieces that prevent logs from rolling out. They can be used together with andirons for a safe, pleasant fire.
Log Holder - Log holders keep a small stash of cut logs within easy reach. Although it's not recommended to store large amounts of firewood indoors, this smaller stack keeps you from having to go outside every time you want to add a log.
Ash Bucket - Ash buckets provide a safe and convenient way to dispose of ash and embers. Some are simple buckets, while others have raised or double bottoms to help protect the floor.
Fireplace Toolset - Fireplace toolsets are both functional and decorative. They allow you to safely position the logs and remove ash and embers. Most toolsets include a stand and four tools: broom, poker, a small shovel, and long tongs.
Hearth Rug - Hearth rugs protect your floors from escaping sparks or embers. They are highly flame resistant and come in a variety of lovely patterns.
Firestarters - Firestarters are blocks of sawdust or wood chips that help speed up the process of starting a fire. The block is easily lit and creates a concentrated flame that helps ignite the rest of your fuel.
How To Clean Iron and Brass Andirons
Cleaning cast iron andirons with vegetable oil
Andirons are durable and should easily last decades if properly maintained. Their proximity to the fire means that they often get covered with soot, ash, and creosote. To ensure a long lifespan and keep them looking nice, we recommend regularly cleaning them using the following steps:
Wait until the fireplace is completely cool before removing the andirons.
Take the andirons outside to clean (this prevents making a mess in the home!)
Start by wiping them down with a dry cloth to remove loose soot (Do not spray water onto the andirons! This could lead to rust and shorten their lifespan.)
Scrub the andirons with a wire brush to loosen and remove the remaining caked-on soot and ash.
Dip a piece of steel wool into vegetable oil and gently rub the steel wool up and down each part of the andiron. Repeat as needed using a generous amount of oil. This removes stubborn gunk and restores the shine.
NOTE: For brass andirons, use brass polish in place of the vegetable oil.
Sweep and clean the firebox and inspect the flue before replacing the andirons.
Use this method to clean the andirons several times throughout the burn season depending on how often you use the fireplace. If you notice corrosion or rust, it may be time to replace the andirons.
If ordered your andirons separate from a fireplace, they will ship by small parcel carrier. Andirons ordered as part of a unit will likely ship with the fireplace itself. Inspect the andirons when they arrive and contact the manufacturer for replacements if you notice any defects. Most manufacturers offer a limited lifetime warranty for the andirons they supply.
Roaring wood burning fire in a fireplace with andirons
Andirons are classic, but they are far from boring. Choose from several styles to find a pair that complements your decor and keeps your logs in check. Even if you don't have a wood burning fireplace, consider adding andirons to make your fireplace look more complete. Follow the cleaning tips and you'll be enjoying these statement pieces for decades to come!
Feel free to reach out to our NFI Certified specialists if you have questions about andirons or any other fireplace-related question. We love to help!
Modern andirons are mainly decorative, but they originally served the same purpose as a fireplace grate. The andirons would have cast iron shanks that extend rearward and held your load of wood and the andirons would prevent the wood from falling out of the fireplace opening. For your purposes, the andirons would simply sit in front or to the side of the grate for decoration.
How do you decide between an andiron versus a grate? Can you use both simultaneously?
You can indeed use both andirons and a grate together. Authentic andirons had large shanks that stood several inches from the hearth floor, allowing wood to be piled on the shanks and combustion air to be drawn from below to fuel the fire. Because fireplace grates do a superior job of supporting partially burned logs, the andirons faded from use. They are predominantly made for appearance, rather than function now. A grate should be used as the primary mechanism for a wood fire.
Submitted by:Collin C. - NFI Master Hearth Professional on November 18, 2013