Firedogs are supportive bars which are put into a fireplace to hold logs up as they burn. The term “firedog” is used most commonly in the American South; these devices are known as andirons elsewhere. Whether you call them andirons or firedogs, these tools are extremely useful, helping fires to burn more efficiently and safely. Many home supply stores carry them, and they can also be custom fabricated by metalworkers if you have a specific style or design in mind.
Firedogs have a strong crossbar which is supported by sturdy legs. The crossbar props up logs in the fire, pulling them off the bottom of the fireplace to ensure smooth air circulation. On one side, a firedog also has a supportive pole which keeps logs from rolling out of the fire as they settle during the burning process. As a general rule, people use two firedogs, one on either end of the fireplace, ensuring even support for fires as they burn.
The colloquial term “firedog” probably comes from the decorative animals which once decorated the pole of the firedog. German artisans are believed to have been among the first to make andirons decorative as well as functional, and fanciful animals or shields with animals on the were often added, especially decorations with dogs in places like hunting lodges. For some reason, people in the American South started referring to andirons as firedogs, and the name simply stuck.
There are a number of reasons to use firedogs. In the first place, they increase the efficiency of a fire, helping it to burn hotter and reducing the amount of emissions generated by burning wood. They are also excellent for safety, especially when used in conjunction with a firescreen, because they prevent logs from rolling out of the fire and they also reduce dramatic resettling which can throw off potentially dangerous sparks.
As you might imagine, firedogs are made from metal, so that they can resist the heat of the fire. Cast iron is a common choice, though other metals may be used as well, and some of the decorative accents may be made in a contrasting metal for more visual interest. Many companies produce coordinating fireplace sets, so that you can have a matching andiron, pokers, and other tools.
Remember to clean your fireplace regularly, and to sweep the chimney at least once a year, ensuring that your fires burn safely.