By Charles Wheaton - December 2007 Issue
Fireplace andirons are paired supports that are used to hold up logs in a fireplace. When air flows around them, the andirons help the fire to burn. They are sometimes called "dog irons"; "fire dogs," or simply "dogs". These terms were once used in the southern regions of the United States while the term andirons were used in the north. Today andiron is the most widely-used term. They stand at either end of the grate to hold the logs. Some andirons have an additional leg that sticks out from them for the logs to rest on and can be used instead of a grate. As this article will explain, andirons can appear in many shapes, sizes, and decorative styles.
Andirons can be made of different materials, but the materials need to have certain important characteristics. First, they need to be made out of a material that can withstand high temperatures. Second, the materials needs to be durable and resilient. Third, the material needs to be able to be formed into decorative shapes and sizes. These requirement generally restrict andiron materials to metals. Most andirons are made out of iron, steel, copper, or bronze. Some extremely artistic andirons can be made out of precious metals like gold or silver.
Andirons have been around a long time. This is evidenced from the word itself. The word andiron has its origin from the Middle English "aundiren" which it likely some combination of the middle Middle English term "iren (iron)" and the Old French term "andier." Andirons have been used almost ever since metals were forged. However, before the Renaissance, they were always relatively simple and were used to hold up logs and for cooking food with ratcheted uprights over spits.
There's a lot of variation in how they can look. As long as they are heavy enough to hold the wood in place, any sort of decorative enhancements are fine. In fact, for the size of fire typically built in the home these days, andirons aren't really necessary to support the logs. Not many people today still use them for cooking either. However, they are still quite popular and may even be increasing in popularity. Many homeowners have them simply as decorations or keep them in the fireplace for their artistic value. Some people may remove the andirons before using the fireplace to keep them clean.
A simple andiron consists of a black iron post on a three-legged stand. Two of the legs form a flat front while the third juts out behind them to keep the andiron steady and upright. A pair of these can flank the wood in the fireplace and keep it from rolling off to the sides as it burns.
There is no limit to the variations on that simple design. The black iron post can have all sorts of curves to it, like a bedpost. It can terminate in a brass ball at the top for a bit of color. Or the whole andiron can be made of polished brass to add even more color to the mix and to reflect the light of the fire.
The top doesn't have to be a ball, of course. It can be any other sort of knob, again with all the curves of an ornate bedpost or the top of a hookah pipe if you desire. You can get andirons with a Chinese design and a pagoda-like top if that's what you're after.
Andirons can be quite ornate, and not just in the bedpost design. They can have all sorts of wrought iron scroll-work curlicues, filigree, fleurs-de-lis are just some basic ideas. Branching out from that, there are andirons in leaf, flower, and tree designs as well. For a really bold variation on this design, there are andirons with a black iron stalk with a polished brass sunflower atop it.
Andirons also can feature ancient Greek or Roman styles. These styles would include ornaments of classical columns or statuary. Some classical styles could feature ancient soldiers or throw in a human or lion face in relief.
There are also andirons that are designed to look like cats or owls. These can provide a less serious or lighter look to a fireplace area. In addition, some andirons can be shaped like deer, birds, or other animals..
For a more modern look, simple curves and a silvery, reflective surface may be the way to go. Ovals and circles can also add a classy feel to a fireplaces. Tall, steel pyramids can provide a more angular look. There are also similar designs that are displayed in a more square pattern, like simple skyscrapers and still hold the wood in place.
Iron works for a more rustic look. But rustic styles don't include curlicues and filigree. A simple rod, or perhaps two rods braided together may be be enough for a cabin or lodge. For some andirons, the rod can curve back at the top or end in a large iron ring.
The pricing for andirons varies considerably. Since andirons are made of metal, they are generally quite heavy and often cost a good deal for materials, production, and shipping. A simple or basic set of andirons can cost under two hundred dollars. However, andirons produced by skilled artisans or craftsman can be quite distinctive and take time to produce. These can cost several thousand dollars and are available in specialty art shops or fireplace stores. However, some historical andirons, particularly the ones produced at the time of Louis XIV of France (when craftsmanship and skill for andirons design was at its apex), are priceless works of art.