DEAR TIM: I moved into my starter home and fireplace accessories are top on my list of things to buy as winter is fast approaching. Gas fireplace accessories and wood fireplace accessories are needed as I have one of each in this most-interesting house! Money is tight, so my wish list is far bigger than my will-get list. What tools or items would you put on your must-have list if you were first starting out like me? What mistakes should I avoid? Patty M., Scranton, PA
DEAR PATTY: How excited you must be! I remember when my wife Kathy and I moved into our first starter home. Never in my life did I live in a home that had a wood-burning fireplace. Our modest three-bedroom home had a fireplace in the living room, and I was bound and determined to make it burn wood. I even installed a damper in it. However, once I looked further I discovered the chimney had no liner. The fireplace was only meant to burn gas logs. I didn’t buy any fireplace accessory tools as at that time they were just for show for a gas fireplace.
If you visit a fireplace accessories store, you’ll quickly discover you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store. There are so many distinctive tools, gadgets and decorations that you could spend a king’s ransom in 30 minutes or less. My biggest advice, at this point, is to try to avoid the temptation to purchase discount fireplace accessories. In the long run, you want quality, and quality always comes with a price tag.
Since you have a limited budget, I would say you should focus on equipping the fireplace you intend to use the most. You want function first, so focus on fireplace accessory tools. For sake of discussion, let’s say you’re going to start with your wood-burning fireplace.
I would begin with the common tool set that includes a poker, tongs, shovel and brush. These are all very handy tools that you’ll need when working with burning logs or the leftover ashes and coals. Be aware that these tools come in a variety of finishes and styles. Look at a wide assortment before you make your final decision. I happen to be very partial to brass fireplace accessories, however copper fireplace accessories can also be very attractive.
Last year, I started to collect some iron fireplace accessories. As crazy as this sounds, I got a few from a local blacksmith. He was able to make a custom poker for me that went really well with the set of outdoor fireplace accessories I have next to my fire pit by the lake. If you have a blacksmith near you, or see one at a craft festival, ask about these hardy iron tools.
Last Christmas, my daughter gave me a gorgeous wood bellows for our living room fireplace. The tool really creates a blast of air to get a fire going. However, I discovered that it really blows ashes around at the same time. Be careful using a bellows. Start with small puffs of air instead of a giant high-powered push of the tool.
I also have a very handy and handsome canvas bag that allows me to tote inside about 40 pounds of split and dried wood. This wood is stored in a basket near the fireplace. There are many different wood storage accessories, some made from metal or wood. You’ll know what you like when you see it. Just be aware that on a cold night you can burn through quite a bit of wood in a traditional fireplace. Some of the storage devices, in my opinion, are just for show as they can’t hold enough wood to satisfy my fireplace’s appetite.
You can make big mistakes in dealing with the fireplace the morning after you’ve had a fire. If you feel compelled to clean out the ashes, you’ll need a handy ash can. This is a simple metal can, like a miniature metal garbage can, that has a tight-fitting lid. The lid is very important. You want to shovel the ashes and any hot coals into the can and put on the lid to starve them from oxygen. Store this can well away from anything that can burn.
Never ever use a vacuum cleaner to clean ashes, embers or coals. The debris you think is harmless can still have enough energy to start a fire in the belly of the vacuum or a remote canister in a central vacuum system. This fire may start hours later after you’ve left the house or are distracted doing something else.