Vintage Fireplace Accessories
Since man became able to produce fire, we have had a fascination with it. Early cave dwellers were able to keep warm and cook in open fire pits and to this day, we still find nothing better than snuggling down in front of an open fire.
As the years passed, we have made more of our fires than just a simple way of heating and cooking. We have sought to develop the fireplace into a central part of any home.
The Vikings would have a central fire within their great halls, with the smoke rising up through a hole in the roof. These were often long raised fire pits that would warm the entire hall for meetings and other such gatherings. Even then, the need for fireplace accessories was acknowledged. Fire pokers, brushes and shovels were needed to maintain the fireplace effectively.
Clearly whenever we burn something, there is a waste product left afterwards that will need clearing away. This is where fireplace accessories come into play. Even something like paper that burns away to virtually nothing still leaves ash behind. The more ash that remains will end up choking the fire grates or other breather holes and prevent future fires from burning properly. A good example is a simple garden dustbin like incinerator with a series of holes around the base. After enough waste material has been burnt, these holes become clogged, starving the fire of oxygen and no oxygen means no fire.
Fire pokers can agitate burning material to create more of an air flow and fireplace accessories such as brushes and shovels help to clear the burnt debris away.
Do we need fireplace accessories?
Today when you think about fireplace accessories, you will probably be thinking about the vintage accessories that sit to one side of a fireplace on a metal stand and have no practical use whatsoever, they are simply their to enhance the vintage aesthetic appeal of the fireplace.
This is because a good deal of open fires fitted in houses today are connected to the gas supply and use artificial coals or wooden logs that will not benefit from fireplace accessories, but will still look more vintage and attractive with them.
These gas open fires or even stoves started to become popular as more and more people started to look for something a little more traditional in their homes. Let’s face it, a radiator will never have the same aesthetic appeal as an open fire where you can enjoy the natural beauty of the flames dancing and flickering. Radiators also offer no additional lighting, unlike a fire.
The desire to have something more traditional gave rise to the need for vintage fireplace accessories too. These accessories were often simply a brush, shovel, tongs and a poker, all held on a metal stand, these were often referred to as a companion set.
Historically of course, all these fireplace accessories had very real, practical and important jobs to do. After all, the fires were used for heating the home, cooking, and heating any water required for bathing, laundry and other domestic uses.
Therefore, if there was no fireplace accessories available to agitate the fuel, create space between the fuel particles and clear the ash away, the fire would soon choke and die due to lack of oxygen, so fireplace accessories were very important indeed.
Vintage fireplace accessories are more than just a companion set
It could be argued that the vintage fireplace accessories we have come to recognise today are just a small part of what a true fireplace actually need. A simple bonfire generally needs little help to burn effectively, but as soon as we move to firepits and other types of fireplaces, the need for a well thought out and built fire become even more important. The proper anatomy of a fireplace is discussed below and there is more to it than just a pile of combustible fuel.
As a fire was originally contained in a firebox or firepit; a chimney or some other method of exhaust flue was needed to allow any smoke and fumes to escape. The chimney itself started life as an essential and potentially life saving addition to the fireplace, but was to become another part of the room that lent itself to the overall aesthetic appeal of the fireplace.
A fireplace is generally made up from a series of component parts to allow it to function safely and efficiently. The following elements make up a typical fireplace:
- Foundation: The fireplace must have a good solid foundation, it is not to be built on a wooden floor for clear safety reasons.
- Hearth: A hearth is required in fireplace design. The hearth is the part of the fireplace where the fire burns, usually consisting of fire brick or masonry at floor level or higher, underneath the fireplace mantel.
- Firebox: The firebox is the interior of the fireplace which contains the fire and collects the smoke.
- Flue: The typical flue is made of stainless steel or clay. The flue is the opening at the top where the smoke and gases exit.
- Flue lining: The flue liner is the interior lining that protects the chimney walls. They can be made of clay, metal, or ceramic.
- Fireplace doors: Although more of a feature on stoves, these can be made of metal or glass. If these doors are closed when the fire is burning the airflow is interrupted and can cause the temperature to rise quickly.
- Mantel: The mantel of a fireplace is often referred to as the fireplace surround and may come in two sections. If in two sections, the lower mantel include the shelf, legs, header, inner trim, and hearth. The upper part is the overmantel and this consists of the crown and wadding tiles.
- Smoke shelf: The smoke shelf also deflects downdrafts as is located at the bottom of the smoke chamber which connects the flue to the fireplace.
- Chimney: The chimney carries the smoke and any harmful gases from the fire upwards and out into the atmosphere. The chimney is to produce the draft that draws combustion air into the fire appliance to safely carry it to the outside.
- Chimney crown: The crown of a chimney is sloped at a downwards angle. This is designed to seal the top of the chimney as well as directing any rain or snow away from the chimney itself.
- Chimney cap: The chimney cap is there to prevent damage to the chimney. This cover may also be called a bird cowl as it will keep birds and animals out.
- Chimney damper: The chimney damper is often operated by a lever or a cable. It has a moveable plate that when closed, it stops cold air or downdrafts from entering the house when there is no fire lit. When open it allows the smoke to rise and escape up the chimney.
As you can see from the list above, there is much more to a safe fireplace than the primitive firepit in the ground, but once we have the fireplace in situ, there is a wide range of accessories to be used with fireplaces.
For fireplaces that are constructed inside a building, the following fireplace accessories will make for a more vintage feel and look:
- Andiron: An andiron or firedog, is a bracket support, normally found in pairs, on which logs are laid for burning in an open fireplace, so that air may circulate under the firewood, allowing better burning and less smoke. They generally consist of a tall vertical element at the front, with at least two legs. This stops the logs from rolling out into the room, and may be highly decorative. The other element is one or more low horizontal pieces stretching back and serving to hold the logs off the bottom of the fireplace. An andiron is sometimes called a dog or dog iron.
- Grates: A Fireplace grate is the essential component in any open fire, it is the metal grate upon which the fuel is burnt. The fire grate sits above the ash pan, supporting solid fuel. The grate has lateral bars which allows air to feed the fire and the ash to fall below to collect in the pan.
- Fireguards: When you burn fuel in your open fire, a fire guard is there to protect yourself and your home and furnishings from sparks. A solid fuel fire can often spit sparks and embers out of the opening.
- Log boxes and coal buckets: A fireside log box provides a clean, convenient and decorative method of storage for logs or other solid fuel for your stove or fireplace. They could be a simple wicker basket but are often a vintage metal caddy accessory for your fireplace.
- Pellet basket: A pellet basket is a small metal basket that sits inside a woodstove or fireplace and holds wood pellets. Pellet baskets allow a person to heat their home using existing stoves or fireplaces; thus eliminating the need for electric and natural gas. Pellet baskets are lower cost alternatives to pellet stoves.
- Metal firebacks: Heavy metal firebacks are sometimes used to capture and radiate more heat out into a room. They can also help to protect the back of the fireplace, and as an added decoration too.
- Fenders: These are often made from metal and prevent logs or coal from rolling out of the fire and onto the floor.
- Bellows: Fire bellows are designed to blow air into your fireplace, either to help light a new fire or to stoke a dying fire. As you open the fire bellows they suck air in through a valve on one of the boards.
- Pokers: A fireplace poker is a staff of fireproof material, often a vintage looking metal used to move the wood in the fire and to stoke the fire.
- Tongs: Fireplace tongs are used to grip coals and logs to position them in the fire itself.
- Shovels: The shovels are used to scoop up the ash that has collected at the bottom of a fire for disposal.
- Brushes: The brush is used to brush away ash and other debris from within the fire and is also used in conjunction with the shovel.
- Fireplace Stove Fan: The stove fan has blades that circulate the air from your stove effectively throughout the room. The stove fan is placed on top of, or close to, a wood burning stove and circulates the heat from the stove more effectively throughout the room.
- Tool stands: The tool stand we generally see today are for the tidy storage of the brush, shovel, poker and tongs that make up what is often referred to as the companion set. These vintage fireplace accessories are probably the most widely seen in homes throughout the world.
So as you can see, there is quite an array of items needed to complete the traditional fireplace and most if not all of these are available today as vintage fireplace accessories that will make a real fire operate better and a gas one look more authentic.
Even outdoor fires benefit from fireplace accessories
On the exterior there is often a brick crown, in which the projecting courses of bricks act as a drip course to keep rainwater from running down the exterior walls of the fire. A cap, hood, serves to keep rainwater out of the exterior of the chimney; rain in the chimney is a much greater problem in chimneys lined with impervious flue tiles or metal liners than with the traditional masonry chimney, which soaks up all but the most heavy rain. Some chimneys have a spark arrestor incorporated into the crown or cap.
But even on an outdoor fire the principles remain the same because the actual fire itself is the thing they both have in common. Indoors or out, a fire requires a good supply of oxygen to burn effectively and both fires benefit from good quality fireplace accessories to keep them clean and running smoothly.
So whether your fireplace is indoors or out, you will want the finest fireplace accessories to accompany it. When it comes to sourcing true vintage fireplace accessories, you can call us to see what we have to offer. Our passion for antiques and vintage ornaments, furniture and fireplace accessories is clear, so why not call us today?