One of the interesting features of a traditional fireplace set are the pair of andirons placed on the sides of the fire chamber. Often the andirons are decoratively fashioned of intricate wrought iron or polished brass lathe work. An andiron typically has three supports: two legs under the post at front and a third leg extending down from a horizontal bar that runs back from the post. The top of the post frequently has a shiny sphere of metal, most commonly brass. But the andirons also have a practical function: they serve as a rack to elevate the firewood above the chamber floor and to prevent logs from rolling out of the fireplace. Andirons are designed to provide a space underneath the firewood for the lighter and more flammable materials that are used to start a fire. Andirons are free-standing to allow removal for cleaning ashes from the fireplace. Follow the steps provided here, using the andirons to set up a fire that will light with just one match.

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Using andirons
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Brass andirons

Gather suitable flammable materials for the tinder and kindling. Natural sources for tinder are often dry grasses, leaves, bark and conifer needles. Birch bark and spruce needles contain volatile oils that provide a quickly ignitable source for tinder. Kindling is typically comprised of smaller pieces of split wood, or dry twigs and branches that will catch fire easily, but will burn stably for a longer time than the tinder, to provide an ignition source for the larger logs and cord wood. Cord wood is made of split lengths from large cross-sections of tree trunks or branches, cut to fit inside the fireplace width. Avoiding the use of fire-starter fluids such as kerosene, gasoline, petroleum distillates or alcohol is highly recommended for both safety and environmental concerns, as well as being unnecessary with a well-built fire.

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Placement of tinder and kindling

Place the tinder directly on the floor between the andirons. Arrange the tinder in a loose pile with plenty of airspace in the pile. Tightly packed material is harder to ignite and will create excessive smoke. Adjust the placement of the andirons to accommodate the length of your firewood logs or cord wood.

Step 3

Place the kindling atop the pile of tinder. Crisscross the pieces of kindling in alternating layers to allow gaps for airspace. Add small amounts of tinder to the first few layers, sprinkling it into the gaps between the kindling. Build the pile of tinder and kindling up until it reaches just above the height of the andiron's projecting horizontal support bars at the back.

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Placement of logs

Place larger logs and cord wood atop the pile of tinder and kindling, resting them on the horizontal supports of the andirons. Allow gaps between the firewood for the passage of air and flames for more complete combustion and less smoke.

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Hearty blaze

Insert a lighted match or fire-igniting implement slowly into the bottom edge pile of tinder and kindling. Start from the center of the pile, and, as the tinder ignites, move to other spots of the pile to either side, as long as the match or implement burns sufficiently. If the fire is set up correctly, usually just one ignition point will suffice, so don't risk burning your fingertips. The air, rising upward into the chimney as the fire heats it, will create a draft that stokes the fire. Soon you will be enjoying the radiant heat from a hearty blaze.