Is your hearth looking a little bare? Do you feel like your fireplace is missing something? While fireplaces aren’t terribly difficult to use, there are a few tools and accessories out there that can enhance your experience. Some are purely decorative while others are mostly practical; your needs will probably vary depending upon whether you have a gas fireplace or a wood-burning fireplace. Regardless of which category you fall under, here are some recommendations to consider:
Gas Logs (or a Firewood Holder)
These two items may look similar, but the way they work is quite different! First of all, gas logs aren’t really logs at all; they’re sculptures made out of ceramic, cement, or steel designed to mimic the appearance of real logs. They’re generally added to gas fireplaces to give the setup a more natural look. Most gas fireplaces can function perfectly fine without them, but the logs are prettier to look at than a plain, “naked” gas line.
Firewood, on the other hand, is essential rather than ornamental; traditional fireplaces require a steady supply of fuel in order to stay burning, and seasoned wood fits this bill perfectly. Different kinds of wood are better suited for feeding different kinds of fires, so do your research before you stock up. And while many folks store their firewood outside, it’s not a bad idea to keep a small amount in a bucket or rack near the hearth, too. That way, it’ll be close on hand whenever you need to toss an extra log on the fire.
Pokers, Tongs, Shovels, and Buckets
These tools are the “big four” of wood-burning fireplace accessories. They’re so ubiquitous, in fact, that it’s not unheard of for folks with gas fireplaces to obtain a set and simply use them to beautify their hearth! Doing so might sound a bit silly, but we suppose it’s comparable to decorating an in-home office with fake books made of solid wood. Remember: interior design is not our forte!
Now, despite their relative importance, the big four aren’t particularly complex or extravagant. Pokers are—as their name implies—used to poke and shift logs around in the fireplace, and some (daring) people even use pokers to spear food that they’re planning to cook over open flames. Tongs, on the other hand, are helpful for adding wood or rescuing wayward items out of the fireplace. Brooms are well-suited for sweeping up bits of ash, and shovels can either scoop out large amounts of ash or serve as a dustpan for the broom. These tools are nearly always designed to have long handles; this characteristic, combined with their composition—usually cast-iron or brass—allows users to interact with smoldering (or actively burning) cinders and logs without burning themselves.
Starter Keys and Specialty Lighters
When it comes to gas fireplaces, there are two main ways to start a fire. In some homes, you simply flip a wall switch and the flames come to life. This setup is quick and hassle-free, although some house guests might get startled if they try to turn on a light and accidentally turn on the fire!
Other houses, meanwhile, lack a starter switch, so building a fire is a little more complicated. The process requires a tool called a starter key, which actually resembles a lug wrench more than a house key or a car key. The user inserts the key into a designated opening near the fireplace, and once the key “clicks” into place, it can be turned (about ½ of a full rotation) to allow a small, controlled flow of gas into the fireplace. Then, it’s simply a matter of igniting the gas with matches or a lighter to create a flame.
The key can also be used to control the size of the fire; letting loose more gas makes the flame grow larger while tightening the valve makes the flame shrink or fizzle out completely. For safety reasons, you should not leave the key inserted into the keyhole when the fireplace is not in use, as a stray bump or jostle could create a house fire or explosion hazard. Also, while many homeowners leave their key on the fireplace mantle so it’s always easy to find, it might be a good idea to instead keep the key in a hard-to-reach place if you live in a house with small children.
One more thing on the subject of fire safety: when lighting a gas fireplace, please be careful to keep your face and fingers out of harm’s way! Use a long-necked butane lighter or long-handled matches instead of pocket-sized cigarette lighters or “book” matches. These tools will allow you to put a greater distance between the gas flow and your body, reducing your risk of burns (or lost eyebrows).
If you want to get technical, the only three things that you really “need” to enjoy a fire are a fireplace, a fuel source, and a way to get the fire started. At the same time, though, these tools can make using your fireplace a lot easier and much more aesthetically pleasing. If you’re missing any of the items we just described, then you might consider adding them to your arsenal. Retail stores with housewares departments often stock fireplace tools, though items like gas logs might require professional installation. Never fear, though—we’d be more than happy to help with that endeavor!