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.