There’s an art to lighting a wood-burning fire. It takes a rudimentary knowledge of the craft and a good amount of fireplace accessories and tools to carry out. Isabella Beeton beautifully explains how to get the job done in her book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861.
“Fire-lighting, however simple, is an operation requiring some skill; a fire is readily made by laying a few cinders at the bottom in open order; over this a few pieces of paper, and over that again eight or ten pieces of dry wood; over the wood, a course of moderate-sized pieces of coal, taking care to leave hollow spaces between for air at the centre; and taking care to lay the whole well back in the grate, so that the smoke may go up the chimney, and not into the room. This done, fire the paper with a match from below, and, if properly laid, it will soon burn up; the stream of flame from the wood and paper soon communicating to the coals and cinders, provided there is plenty of air at the centre.”
Today, many of us have the convenience of gas fireplaces operated by the flip of a switch. Since the temperatures rarely drop here at my Austin interior design studio, my own fireplace is a TV screen set to a Yule log channel. However, a lucky few out there have an old-school wood-burning fireplace with time to tend to a fire. For them, I’m reviewing the different types of fireplace accessories and tools available in this Interior Design Glossary entry.
What are Fireplace Accessories?
Fireplace accessories make up the fireplace tools you need to properly build, ignite, and tend to a fire in the home. These tools help to promote proper airflow, adjust logs, and protect the interior from ash and sparks.
A Brief History of Fireplace Accessories & Tools
The history of fireplace tools began soon after early humans discovered how to light a flame. The earliest tools most likely consisted of large sticks used to move burning logs and stone borders to contain the fire. The first formal tools consisted of stone log pokers dating back to the early Stone Age. Tools continued evolving with metal accessories in the Middle Ages and more intricate designs as the fireplace moved from the kitchen into formal rooms. Those with wood-burning fireplaces today use many of the same accessories refined in the 18th century.
Types of Fireplace Accessories & Tools
A fireplace grate is a raised metal stand with rows of metal slats designed to hold fireplace logs in place above the hearth floor. The raised design brings more oxygen to the fire and helps promote proper ventilation up through the flue.
Andiron or Firedog
Before fireplace grates were popularized, people used andirons to keep their fireplace logs elevated. An andiron is a thin metal bracket support made up of a horizontal bar, two legs, and a tall, often decorative, element on the front side to keep logs from rolling off. Andirons come in pairs and are placed at either end of the hearth. Unlike fireplace grates with support bars running all the way down the middle, andirons only offer support on either end. So, logs require a more intentional arrangement. While early andirons were simple, people eventually added decorative metal elements to the front guard bar. Andirons reached their decorative peak under Louis XIV and the Baroque movement, with design motifs including florals, mythical creatures, and dogs. Andirons were often referred to by the animal they were modeled after, so the term firedog became popular.
A fire poker is a thin metal rod with a point at one end designed to move and reposition burning logs in the fire. Fire pokers are one of the oldest fireplace tools, with the earliest examples dating back to the Stone Age. Before its invention, large sticks were most likely used to adjust logs, a technique we still implement for campfires.
Like kitchen tongs, fireplace tongs allow you to grip burning logs at a safe distance and move them to control the fire. Fireplace tongs offer more control over movement than a fire poker.
A bellows consists of two paddles joined by a hinge and a pleated leather bag. Air is drawn inside the chamber when the panels are opened. When closed, the air is pushed out through a nozzle. Operating as an air pump, the bellows supplies the fire with extra oxygen to fuel the flames when needed. It was likely popularized during the Medieval Era as blacksmiths sought to produce a stronger, hotter fire.
A blow poke is a long hollow tube with a poker on the end. It serves a similar purpose as a bellows but with a different means of operation. You can blow in at one end to supply the fire with a burst of air to help fuel it. It also doubles as a fireplace poke, allowing you to reposition logs as needed.
After the fire has died, you will be left with a pile of ash and soot. A fireplace brush is a small broom designed to sweep the fireplace hearth. Small, rounded brushes make it easier to get into corners and crevices.
A fireplace shovel is a small but wide-mouthed tool for scooping up ash and soot during cleaning. Ash must be regularly removed from the fireplace hearth to ensure proper oxygen flow for the fire.
Tool Rack or Stand
As you can see, there are a lot of fireplace tools that go into tending a fire! A tool rack or stand keeps your fireplace tools organized and easily accessible. Racks feature a bar with attached hooks that can be mounted on the wall near the firebox. Stands include a base tray, vertical pole, and crescent-shaped bar to hang or rest tools. The benefit of stands is that you can position them closer to the firebox, and the tray will collect any loose ash.
A fire screen is a glass or metal mesh screen panel that prevents sparks or embers from entering the room. Fireplace screens are typically designed as a flat panel supported by two legs or a tri-fold screen. In some cases, a fire screen may be built into the fireplace insert itself. Fire screens can be plain and functional or highly decorative with intricate metalwork.
A cheval or horse screen is an old-fashioned fireplace accessory dating back to the 18th century. Like a fire screen, this screen also features a flat panel supported by two legs. However, the purpose of a cheval screen is purely decorative. This solid panel is placed in front of the hearth to hide the firebox and any messy ashes when not in use. Many designs feature inlaid wood panels, paintings, or embroidery. While associated with older homes, many people still use a cheval screen as a decorative feature.
A pole screen features a small, adjustable screen mounted on a vertical pole supported by tripod legs. Popular in the 18th century, pole screens were placed next to chairs near the fire to shield a person’s face from the heat. Many aristocratic women used pole screens to protect their makeup from the heat of the fire. Screens were often highly decorated and made from fabric, woven straw, or paper. They aren’t used today.
Tend to the Fire
Whether you plan to tend to a wood-burning fire during the holidays or simply decorate your modern gas fireplace, fireplace accessories add a sense of importance to this central feature. Folks place great value on their fireplaces, with some fireplace screen designs fetching thousands. However, modest, quality tools will do the trick. I hope this list provides you with everything you need to tend to the fire.
Keep your home and your design warm.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.