A fully functional fireplace damper is necessary for a fireplace to remain safe. After a lot of exposure to smoke and soot, dampers deteriorate and must be replaced. Removing the old damper can be difficult, but there are a number of methods you can attempt to make the process easier.
Cleaning and Locating
To lessen the mess, clean out the fireplace. Wear gloves, goggles and clothes that can be dirtied. Remove all the soot and ashes from the body, and take off as much as you can from the beginnings of the pipe. Also remove the fireplace grate.
Look for the fireplace damper. Locate yourself where you have just removed the charred wood and the grate and look up. Wear goggles to protect your eyes. Shine a light up to see the area easier. It will be located about a foot or so higher than the opening of the fireplace.
The cleaner method that sometimes works is by unhinging. There are various types of dampers, and they install in various ways. One type is attached with four bolts. For this, use an adjustable wrench and twist the bolts in a counter-clockwise motion. Once these are taken away, slide the damper sideways and take it off the rod.
The other way that it may be attached is with pins. There may have a handle where the pins must be taken out. Remove these, and push up on the damper. Then move about an inch or two, slide the bottom or the back of the damper from the hinges.
When the damper is stuck in one place, try some aggressive tactics. One entails a sawsall, but this is not recommended because it tends to bring down everything that is stuck in the chimney instead of a portion of it. The alternative is to use a plasma cutter, which is better in smaller places and doesn't cause as much vibration.
When you have made some cuts or if you decide to go without the saw altogether, use a pry bar to move it. This will bring the mess that is directly on top of the damper but not the rest of it. There will be debris that falls down, so keep your head protected and take all necessary precautions.