Tips for Choosing Fireplace Andirons and Grates
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Learn how andirons and grates differ and why you'll favor andirons for your fireplace.
I used to love my fireplace. On dreary winter days, I’d burn away the blues with a roaring fire that made the room delightfully cozy.
Now I don’t feel so great, and it’s because of my grate. I’ve learned a grate is second-rate compared with a classy set of andirons.
“If you had a big, beautiful fireplace, it would be a shame to use a grate in it,” says Leroy Hite, CEO and founder of Cutting Edge Firewood in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. “A big, beautiful fireplace is just begging to have andirons. They look so beautiful, whereas a grate does not. With a grate, the fireplace is not meeting its potential.”
The last thing we want is an underperforming fireplace. Read on as we fan the flames of andiron envy and explain why you should choose andirons over grates.
What Are Fireplace Andirons?
Andirons are typically L-shaped metal bracket supports, normally found in pairs, that secure logs in an open fireplace. The upright arm of decorative andirons may feature balls, finials, pheasants, harps or similar items. Grates are metal grill-like baskets that hold burning logs.
“Grates are more traditional than useful,” says Hite. “In the past, the English cut down almost all of their trees and used them for fuel. They therefore used charcoal or coal instead of wood in their fireplaces. Grates hold charcoal better than andirons, and so we inherited grates from the English.”
Hite says andirons create more heat because they increase airflow around the logs.
“People are familiar with grates and andirons, but they are not familiar with the name andiron,” he says. “Everybody has seen andirons in Westerns or old English movies with castles and such, but 95 percent of the time when I say `andirons,’ people have a confused look on their face. When I show them a picture, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, I know what those are.’ ”
How Do Andirons Differ From Fireplace Grates?
- Andiron metal is typically thicker than grate metal, which over time sags due to prolonged exposure to heat. That’s why andirons last much longer than grates. “I’ve had set of andirons for about a decade and they are essentially in perfect condition,” says Hite. “You can buy antique andirons in the U.S. that are 150 years old and Europe that are 1,000 years old. I burn a lot of hot fires, but before I realized how much better andirons are, I would usually go through a grate every winter.”
- Andirons are easier to clean because you can sweep ashes around them more easily than grates, which often must be removed to reach the ash.
- “Andirons are generally decorative in addition to holding the firewood,” says Hite. “Nobody thinks a grate is pretty, but andirons look attractive year round.”
Why Use Fire Grates or Andirons at All?
Grates and andirons allow airflow from beneath the fire. That makes a fire easier to start and burn more robustly with less smoldering. Plus, grates and andirons keep the logs in the fireplace. Hite says that grates and andirons function the same way, but andirons do it better.
Considerations When Buying Fireplace Andirons
- Appearance: “A grate will melt if you burn enough fires, and that’s when you should replace it with andirons,” says Hite. “There is no other reason to replace your grate with andirons. The one exception is some people care about aesthetics or how it looks so much that they will throw out the grate and buy andirons.”
- The thickness of metal: Andirons should be steel or caste iron at least 1/2-inch thick. The thicker they are, the longer they last.
- New or used: New andirons are easy to find online or in fireplace stores, costing $150 and up. Used andirons are cheaper ($50 and up); just make sure they aren’t rusted out. Antiques can be pricey but are a great conversation piece. These from Antwerp Belgium, circa 1870, run $2,600.
- Size: Andirons vary in size, so “make sure the andirons fit your fireplace,” says Hite.
You can get new, simple bent-metal andirons for less than $80. But why not make a statement with yours? These lookers aren’t antiques (special category) and fall into two price ranges:
- Around $160: Chambliss Leaf Andirons feature a simple yet attractive design topped by maple leaves.
- Around $300: Wrought Iron Andiron Set With Ball Finish offers a traditional twisted-rope design with ball finials and center legs for additional support and durability.
Considerations When Buying Fireplace Grates
- The thickness of metal: Like Andirons, the thicker they are, the longer they last.
- New or used: “You definitely want to get one that is new, nothing used,” says Hite.
- Size: Measure before you buy so the grate fits your fireplace.
These attractive grates come in two price categories:
- Around $160: The 22-inch Stronghold Zero Clearance Lifetime Fireplace Grill features 3/4-in. bars build to last.
- Around $250: Black Lifetime 36-inch Fireplace Grate — Extra Heavy-Duty comes, as the name suggests, with a lifetime guarantee.