Andirons have served a decorative and practical function in American homes for hundreds of years. Early Americans used fireplaces and accessories that usually included andirons, tongs, and shovels, according to Barbara Clark Smith, curator of the National Museum of American History. Andirons often have decorations such as emblems, animals, or ball tops. Historically, blacksmiths made andirons and other fireplace accessories, employing techniques dating from medieval times, says the Penn State University website. A strong grate holds firewood securely, and ornamental andirons add character to the room.
Measure the width and depth of the fireplace interior. If there are ledges or other features inside the fireplace that could interfere with the placement of the legs of the grate or andirons, take the measurement inside those features. For example, measure from inside the hearth's lip in the front of the fireplace, to the back wall. Measure the width of the fireplace floor from one side to the other at the narrowest point. If it's a small fireplace, measure the height of the fireplace opening, to be sure the andirons will fit vertically.
Select a fireplace grate and andirons that will fit inside the fireplace based on the interior measurements. Choose the grate and andirons at the same time to make sure they will fit together. Andirons with long shanks work with wood. Short shank andirons are for gas logs or shallow fireplaces.
Install the andirons first. Center the andirons at the back of the fireplace with the decorative fronts facing the room. Check that any decorative projections on the andirons don't interfere with the fireplace's screen or doors. Many andirons include sculptures or other ornamental features on top of or in front of the andirons' feet.
Center the fireplace grate between or on top of the andirons' shanks. If the fireplace grate will fit in either of those positions, try both options to see which looks best in your fireplace. For fire safety, support your firewood on a grate at the back of the fireplace. A grate raised on the andirons' supports will offer more air circulation under the firewood.
Large andirons may overwhelm a small fireplace. If you want the bold look of figurative sculptures in your fireplace, make it work by keeping the hearth and mantel simple and uncluttered. To install andirons in a gas fireplace, set short shank andirons in front of the gas logs for a realistic effect. If the fireplace tends to look dark when not in use, keep birch logs on the andirons. The white bark brightens the fireplace area and makes an appealing display for spring and summer, or for a nonworking fireplace.
Some andirons are extremely heavy. Get help moving and positioning them if needed, to avoid the risk of injury. Keep a fire extinguisher in an easily accessible location several feet from the fireplace. This increases your chances of being able to get to the fire extinguisher in an emergency. A fireplace grate isn't necessary in a gas fireplace, and attempting to install one could cause damage. Never bend or damage gas fittings in a gas fireplace, as this could cause a gas leak, and result in dangerous conditions. Keep flammable items away from the fireplace.