6 Best Fireplace Tongs | March 2017
- pick up logs up to 16" in diameter
- suitable for both indoor and outdoor use
- long handles keep you away from the fire
- comfortable rubber grip
- durable yet lightweight
- handle stays cool to the touch
- heat shield for the hand
- stainless steel construction
- power handle folds away and locks
Get a Grip: Fireplace Tongs
For thousands of years, the fireplace was the central fixture of many homes around the world. It was the life-giving source of warmth, it was the place where food was cooked, and it was a gathering point for family and visitors. Today, most homes that have wood-burning fireplaces use them more for pleasure and decoration than as a sustaining heat source, but fireplaces nonetheless remain an important part of the home, and are often still the anchoring fixture of a den or living room.
Every home that regularly burns logs in its fireplace should have a good pair of fireplace tongs on hand. This sturdy tool is helpful for placing logs in the firebox as you prepare a fire for later ignition, but is also an imperative for safety while a fire is burning: if chunks of flaming or smoldering wood roll out of place and too near the front of the fireplace -- or even fall out entirely and come into the room -- your tongs will be necessary for swiftly getting that burning material back into the fire where it belongs. Simply put, if you use your fireplace, you must own fireplace tongs and keep them on hand. Fortunately, fire tongs are one of those rare pieces of hardware that boast both functionality and aesthetic appeal. In fact, a great pair of fireplace tongs can complete the handsome tableau of a fireplace whether or not the hearth is actively being used.
Many households may opt for an entire set of fireplace tools, but by far the most important tool in any set are the tongs, and thus focusing on the sole purchase of tongs is a fine approach. (Also consider augmenting your existing set of fireplace tools with a superior log grabber.) And note that even the most expensive fireplace tongs will usually cost less than even a shoddily-made full set of fireplace tools.
Most log grabbers use a triple-hinged design that allows you to stay well away from the flames as you open wide their grabbing end with a pair of handles. They usually feature a rounded gripping area that is designed to accommodate the average size of a split log used in a residential fireplace. These standard tongs are ideal for keeping your hands clean as you place logs in the fireplace before lighting the fire and for safely adding logs once there are flames and heat filling the hearth.
However, often tongs with rounded ends are not as useful for moving about smaller pieces of wood and fallen embers, as their shape precludes deft control over anything but large, thick pieces of wood. If you regularly find yourself struggling to reposition smaller combustibles (or often need to add smaller kindling or fire starters to a smoldering fire) then a pair of tongs with more precise, pointed tips may serve you better. There are multiple fireplace tongs available that eschew the triple-hinge, accordion-style shape for a scissor-type of mechanism that affords the user more precise control and which can be used to pick up even minute embers. This type of tong has the added benefit of also being suitable for use positioning coals in a charcoal-burning grill, wood chips in a smoker, or pellets in a pellet-burning heating unit. Of course tongs without a rounded head may necessitate loading those larger logs into the fireplace by hand, but there are always protective gloves for that.
Three Great Pieces of Hearth Hardware
As with everything in life, when it comes to working with your fireplace, safety always comes first. That's why you get a great pair of fireplace tongs, of course: to keep your hands (and head and the rest of you) well away from the heat and flames. But there's no reason not to go one step farther and also make the modest investment in a pair of fire-resistant gloves. Thick and protective fire gloves can prevent your hands from being burned even with brief exposure to direct flames. That makes them ideal for tossing logs into a roaring fire or for picking up an ember that has slipped out, but they are equally as useful when used as you flip burgers or kabobs over a hot grill. These gloves also prevent splinters and keep your hands clean as you grab logs off of the woodpile for later burning.
Many people clean out their fireplaces too often, misunderstanding that a layer of ash an inch or two in depth actually helps subsequent fires burn hotter and cleaner by creating a ready bed for new coals. You should, however, completely clean your firebox several times during a season of heavy use, as once the ash bed reaches the bottom of the log grate, it will become counterproductive. One approach is standard brush and shovel cleaning; a more modern and efficient method is to use an ash vacuum. These powerful and carefully-engineered tools have such effective filters that they can suck in the finest ash without propelling particles up into the room. They will clean out an entire firebox in a matter of minutes; just make sure you have remove any larger chunks of wood that might clog the hose using your tongs before operating the vacuum.
Finally, take the time to clean out your chimney at least twice a year, at the start and the end of the fire season, using a creosote sweeping log. These specialty "logs" feature additives (usually natural compounds) that bond with the creosote -- a byproduct of wood burning that consists of potentially flammable oils condensed and collected inside the flue and chimney -- and help to break up and clear the build up that plagues many chimneys, helping to prevent potentially dangerous and damaging chimney fires. Also have your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional every two to three years.
The Best-Laid Fire for the Indoor Fireplace
There's a distinct chance that you have been laying fires wrong for your entire life. It's not your fault: the conventional wisdom has undergone a recent and radical shift, and one that might at first seem upside-down in its logic. But indeed the "upside down fire" is rapidly gaining currency as the best way to create a hot, clean, and safe fire.
The setup sees the largest logs laid down atop your fireplace grate first, with smaller logs placed across those (usually in perpendicular orientation), and then finally with plenty of fine kindling laid across the top. While the approach does seem odd, as fire and heat rise, and thus traditionally kindling is placed below larger logs, this method creates less smoke and leads to fires that burn more cleanly and evenly, consuming more wood and leaving behind less ash.
The upside down (or top-down) fire works because the kindling atop the larger wood creates lots of heat above the logs, while the hot embers that drop down create a coal bed beneath them. This heats up and then combusts the main logs, which will burn hotter and more fully than in a traditional fire, producing less smoke in the process. Just make sure to crack a nearby window until the upward draft is firmly established.