Fireplace Grate

Fireplace Grates (The Complete Guide Including Types)

In Wood Burning Fireplaces by James O'KellyLeave a Comment

Table Of Contents

Fireplace grates can be considered as a staple component for many open wood burning fireplaces.

Masonry fireplace open fires are commonly started within grates, which sit at the bottom of the firebox on the hearth.

Fireplace grates can help to increase the efficiency of wood burning fires, but not everyone uses a grate.

We use a grate for our own open fires and so we’ve put together this complete guide to fireplace grates to discuss and explain:

  • What fireplace grates are and their purpose.
  • Whether grates are necessary and what they’re typically made from.
  • How to place and orientate a fireplace grate and what types are available.

Fireplace grates can be an essential tool for any open wood burning fireplace, and can help tremendously when it comes to being able to light fires successfully and keep the heat of a fire away from the hearth and the walls of the firebox.

You can find the best fireplace grates available right now here, or you can view the grate we recommend along with all our other recommended fireplace tools and accessories.

What Is A Fireplace Grate?

A fireplace grate is an object, typically square in form with mesh or grille like features, that is placed on the floor of a fireplace on which wood and other forms of solid fuel can be stacked on when starting a fire. A grate helps to raise the main part of a fire off the floor and can help with airflow to a fire.

Grates are a fireplace tool commonly found and used within the fireboxes of traditional masonry wood burning fireplaces.

A fireplace grate typically takes a rectangular form and will have mesh or grille like features to allow air to flow to the fire from below and for ash to fall through onto the hearth.

As an example of a fireplace grate, the image below shows the grate we use for our own living room open fireplace.

Fireplace Grate
Our fireplace grate

Legs in each corner of a grate allow it to stand up from the floor of the fireplace.

Fireplace Grate
A grate sits up from the floor of a fireplace on legs

Grates will also have holes in the base of them. These holes can be in the form of slats or mesh-like patterns, but the pattern can depend on the design of the grate, the material the grate is made from and whether the grate will be used for burning wood and coal or firewood only.

Fireplace Grate
Fireplace grates are typically full of gaps in the from of holes or slats

Fireplace grates also come in a range of styles, sizes and patterns to suit every fireplace and personal preference.

In additional to the typical flat fireplaces available to buy, certain models of fireplace grate allow you to stack logs vertically up against the back wall of a firebox.

What Is A Fireplace Grate Used For?

The purpose of a fireplace grate is to:

  • Help raise the main body of an open fire off the floor of the fireplace.
  • Help protect the hearth from the intense temperatures of a fire.
  • Provide a fire with the ability to receive a source of air from below.
  • Improved ventilation can help to reduce the amount of smoke produced that could be as a result of poor combustion of the fuel due to not getting enough oxygen.
  • Improve the ability to start fires with fewer problems.
  • Keep fires within a certain area so that they can burn and be managed more effectively.
  • Help raise fires higher up towards the throat of the chimney to help reduce the chance for smoke to come into the room.
  • Help keep fires more towards the back of the firebox to also help prevent smoke from coming into the room.

Do You Need A Fireplace Grate?

Fireplaces grates aren’t always a necessity when using an open fireplace, but for a relatively low cost of purchase it can provide a number of benefits that can help to make open fire less hassle to start and maintain, as well as help to maximize efficiency and heat output.

You won’t typically need to have a grate in order to start a fire in an open fireplace.

However, fireplace grates have always been popular because of the additional benefits they bring to starting and managing an open fire more effectively.

A fireplace grate helps to lift the fire off the floor of the firebox. This In turn allows you to manage the lighting of a fire more easily, and a fire lighter such as newspaper can be added below the grate rather than under the kindling and logs.

Fireplace Newspaper
Grates allow you to place a fire starter such as newspaper under the grate instead of directly underneath the logs and kindling

This aids in helping to prevent the firewood from moving once the newspaper has burnt away.

Keeping fires raised off the floor also helps to protect the hearth from damage due to the heat of the fires. Constant and prolonged exposure to hot and cool temperatures may cause some hearths to become damaged over time.

Although we use a fireplace grate and our concrete hearth is in good condition, the firebricks at the back of our open fireplace have started to wear, which can also happen to hearths if subject to the same conditions.

While fireplace grates can also help with starting fires, their bowl-like shape helps to keep logs together for better burning experiences and potentially less maintenance throughout fires when moving logs back into position.

Fireplace Top Down Fire
A grate can help to keep logs together both when starting a fire and when they’ve burnt through

Excess ash from wood burning fires can also be collected beneath a grate by using a form of ash pan/tray or ash dump for easier removal and cleaning.

Fireplace Grate Ash Tray
Ash trays can also be used underneath a grate if your fireplace doesn’t have an ash dump

However, open fireplaces are traditionally very inefficient sources of heat from a room or home, and using a grate instead of building fires on the floor of the firebox may not help to increase the overall heat output of an open wood burning fire.

If you’re looking to be able to manage open fires more effectively and get more enjoyment out of them (without worrying about heat) then using a fireplace grate can help, even if the use of a fireplace grate isn’t a necessity.

What Are Fireplace Grates Made Of?

Fireplace grates are typically made from either steel or cast iron. Steel fireplace grates are typically more favorable for wood burning fires, while cast iron grates can be more favorable for use when burning either wood and coal.

There are two main materials used for the construction of fireplace grates:

  • Steel
  • Cast iron

Fireplace grates will usually be made of one material or the other.

Steel Fireplace Grates

Steel fireplace grates are typically designed for burning wood only.

Steel grates are often found with spaced out bars along the length of the unit; ideal for holding logs but not so useful for holding coal as it will most likely fall through.

Steel Fireplace Grate
An example of a steel fireplace grate with spaced-out bars

The bars are also commonly raised on the long sides of the grate to help logs fall into the middle of the fire and improve the burning experience thanks to less maintenance of moving the logs around.

Steel grates may also not be suitable for the higher temperatures generated by burning coal.

Cast Iron Fireplace Grates

Cast iron fireplaces grates are ideal for use with either wood or coal.

While steel grates are often made of individual bars with wipe gaps between them, cast iron grates provide a more enclosed space on which to burn wood or coal.

To help prevent coal and embers from falling through, cast iron grates typically provide more of a bowl-shaped design with raised ends on all sides, and wil usuallyl have smaller gaps between the slats.

The design of the gaps within a fireplace grate will differ between each model and brand.

The image below shows our own cast iron fireplace grate that we use within our living room open fireplace.

Cast Iron Fireplace Grate
Our new-ish fireplace grate (with intrigued cat)

This particular model is am Amagabeli fireplace grate. We bought it because we needed a new one to replace the run-down grate that came with the house, and it had good reviews and we liked the more modern design of it with square gaps.

You can view the range of Amagabeli fireplace tools currently available here.

This new fireplace grate replaced our old one, which was also a cast iron grate.

Our old cast iron grate came with the house and was run down and didn’t look great. This grate has a more traditional look compared to our new one.

Our old fireplace grate that came with the house

What Is The Best Material For Fireplace Grates?

The best material for fireplace grates where only wood is being burnt is steel.

The best fireplace grate material for when either wood or coal is being burnt is cast iron.

Steel fireplace grates shouldn’t be used for coal fires because the gaps between the bars on a steel grate may not be close enough together to keep coal from falling through, and the material may not be able to withstand potentially higher fire temperatures.

However, cast iron grates are always a safe bet because they’re great for burning wood and/or coal. A cast iron fireplace grate can be fine even if you’re only planning on burning wood.

We use a cast iron grate and we only burn firewood in our open fireplace.

When it comes to choosing the right fireplace grate for you, deciding on the type of grate (for wood burning only or for both wood and coal) and the right design to fit your personal preference and the décor of your home should be done in the first instance.

The material used for the construction of the grate will automatically come from deciding on the above.

If you’re looking to use a fireplace grate regularly then consider getting a heavy duty grate that is stronger, ticker and more durable.

What Is A Self Feeding Fireplace Grate?

A self-feeding fireplace grate is a grate that has sloped or angled sides that allows logs to roll down into the middle of the grate once the logs at the center have burnt through. A self-feeding grate helps to reduce maintenance requirements for open fires.

We don’t personally own a grate that is self-feeding and so we can’t comment on their effectiveness, but if the logs are lined up correctly within a self-feeding grate then they should work well.

You can check out the range of self-feeding fireplace grates available right now here, along with their reviews.

What Kind Of Fireplace Grate Should I Buy?

A traditional flat fireplace grate should be bought when looking to raise a fire off the floor of an open fireplace, while a vertical grate should be bought when looking to keep a fire towards the back of a firebox. Steel grates are ideal for wood fires but cast iron grates should be used when coal is being burnt.

There are three main types of fireplace grates:

  • Traditional flat fireplace grates
  • Vertical fireplace grates
  • Fireplace grate heaters

Traditional Fireplace Grates

Traditional fireplace grates sit flat on the floor of a masonry fireplace. They hold the fuel within their basket-like shape and are raised slightly off the hearth on legs.

If you’re looking to burn wood then a steel fireplace grate will work well. If you’re looking to burn firewood and/or coal then a cast iron grate will usually be required.

Fireplace Grate
The most common type of fireplace grate by far is the traditional flat grate with legs

Vertical Fireplace Grates

Vertical fireplace grates differ from traditional grates in that they keep the fire pressed against the back wall of the firebox.

A vertical fireplace is useful when there can be issues with:

  • Fires that won’t stop smoking.
  • Smoke coming out of the fireplace and into the room.
  • Fireplaces that are troublesome in general.

All fireplace fireboxes are of different sizes (read more about fireplace fireboxes here) and in certain circumstances poor draft or poor fireplace design can lead to smoke coming into the room rather than leaving up the chimney.

While it may help to push a standard horizontal grate right to the back of a firebox, a vertical grate ensures that fires are pressed right up against the back of a fireplace.

Many models of vertical fireplace grate also promote self-feeding which can aid in keeping fires burning for longer without adding further logs or moving them around.

When using a vertical grate instead of traditional one you’ll need to consider the condition of the back of your fireplace firebox and whether it will be able to withstand the intensive heat of a fire right up against the firebrick.

If the back of your fireplace is damaged (like ours was) then a vertical fireplace shouldn’t be used.

Firebox
Don’t use a vertical fireplace grate if your firebox is damaged like ours was

A fireback can be used in conjunction with a vertical grate to reflect some of the heat and help prevent premature damage of the firebricks. Firebacks may be a mandatory requirement when using a vertical grate with certain types of fireplaces.

You can see the range of firebacks available here.

Fireplace Fireback
An example of a fireback located at the back of a fireplace, useful for when a vertical grate is being used

Grate Wall of Fire are a reputable manufacturer of vertical fireplace grates where you can view their entire ranger of vertical grates.

Contact the manufacturer of a vertical grate before purchasing to confirm whether your type of fireplace is suitable for use with them, and whether a fireback is recommended or mandatory for when a vertical grate is used.

Fireplace Grate Heaters

Fireplace grate heaters are the ultimate form of fireplace grate that help to promote circulation of air through the grate and push warm air out into the room.

Grate heaters are typically far more expensive compared to traditional fireplace grates but can provide more heat to a room than what is possible with a traditional grate.

The range of grate heaters can be found here.

What Size Fireplace Grate Do I Need?

In order to understand what size of fireplace grate is required, measure the front and back width, and the depth of the firebox. The maximum size of fireplace grate will be 6 inches smaller than the minimum width and depth of the firebox.

Sizing up the right fireplace grate is a relatively straightforward procedure.

You’ll need some form of tape measure and a way to note down the measurements for reference so that when you’re looking for a grate at a later point you won’t have to go back.

To measure for a fireplace grate:

  1. The front width of the fireplace opening.
  2. The rear width of the fireplace firebox.
  3. The depth of the firebox.

It helps to measure both the front and rear width of a fireplace because certain fireboxes can be tapered, and many grates (including ours) are also wider at the front than they are at the back.

Subtract 6 inches (around 150mm) from the minimum width and depth of the fireplace.

This will give you the maximum size of fireplace grate for your particular fireplace.

Subtracting 6 in. from the total fireplace dimensions helps to allow for 3 in. of space on all sides of the grate to cater for improved airflow around the fire and help prevent the heat of the fires from being so close to the firebricks.

You can then use this maximum size of fireplace grate as a reference for when looking to a buy a new grate. A grate can be smaller than these dimensions, but shouldn’t be any larger.

Example

We recently bought a new grate to replace the old cast iron one that was already in our living room fireplace when we bought the house. To measure for a new grate, we took the dimensions of the firebox floor width and depth.

As our fireplace isn’t quite perfectly straight, we measured the width and depth at both ends

Minimum width = 31.5 in. (800mm)
Minimum depth = 15 in. (380mm)

If we subtract 6 inches (152mm) from the width of the fireplace (for 3 inches of clearance each side of the grate) it gives us a maximum grate width of 25.5 in.

If we subtract 3 inches from the depth of the fireplace (for 3 inches of clearance out the back of the grate) it gives us a maximum grate depth of 12 in.

From this info we were able to buy the cast iron grate we now have and use in our fireplace. As our fireplace is quite wide compared to its depth, the main factor when choosing the gate was the depth.

We could have opted for a wide grate but we only use the fireplace for enjoyment purposes of watching and hearing a real open fire. A wider grate would have allowed us to build bigger fires but we don’t use the fireplace for heating purposes (as they’re so inefficient) and so it didn’t bother use that we wouldn’t be using the full width of the fireplace.

Using a wider grate (if made possible by a wide masonry fireplace) will also allow you to burn longer logs. Our grate is the right size for the length of logs we burn.

Fireplace Grate
Our grate is the right size for the fireplace allowing for clearances and can also hold the length of logs we buy

For vertical fireplace grates, the height of the rear wall of the firebox will also need to be taken into account when choosing a vertical grate.

Grate Wall Of Fire recommend a minimum 10” clearance between the top of the fireplace opening and the top of the vertical grate.

Proper Fireplace Grate Placement

A fireplace grate should be placed within the center of an open fireplace, allowing for a 3 inch gap between the edge of the grate and the walls of the firebox. The wider side of a fireplace grate typically faces towards the front of the fireplace.

Fireplace Grate Placement

A fireplace grate should be located at the center of a fireplace with 3 inches of clearance provided between the grate and the sides of the firebox.

If the correct procedure for sizing up a fireplace grate has been followed by measuring the width and depth of the firebox and subtracting 6 inches to give the maximum grate size, then the grate should fit well within the firebox of a fireplace.

All fireplaces are designed and built differently and so the best placement for a grate within a fireplace can come down to best fit and personal preference.

  • Keeping a grate within the middle of the fireplace helps to prevent it from looking off-center.
  • Keeping a grate more towards the back of the firebox but leaving enough clearance between the grate the wall helps to prevent it from sticking too far out into the room. This also helps to ensure that smoke being produced by a fire is going up the chimney rather than out into the room.

Our own living room open fireplace is much wider than it is deep and so the below shows how we place our fireplace grate

Fireplace Grate
Grates look best when located at the center of the fireplace

For vertical fireplace grates, clearance distance from the back of the grate doesn’t matter because it should be placed right up against the back of the firebox, either against the firebricks or a fireback. A vertical grate can then be placed centrally so that there’s an even amount of space either side.

Fireplace Grate Orientation

Not only should a fireplace grate be placed centrally within a fireplace leaving enough clearance around it for airflow and protection purposes, a grate may also need to be orientated the right way.

Some grates may be square or rectangular and so it may not matter which way the fireplace is oriented because both main sides of equal length (as was the case with our old grate).

Fireplace Grate
Some grates are rectangular and so it won’t typically matter which way they’re facing

However, many modern fireplace grates have a tapered shape where the front is wider than the back (as with our new grate)

For these types of grates the wider length of grate will typically be oriented to the front of the fireplace so that it’s facing the room.

The manufacturer of our own grate states that the wider side should be at the front, but check with the manufacturer of your own grate to confirm if you can’t find any info.

Fireplace Grate
Grates that have a wider side should be sat with the long side facing to the front

Therefore, proper fireplace grate placement can be summarized as a grate that is:

  • Located centrally within the fireplace in terms of both width and depth.
  • Proving at least 3 inches of clearance between the sides and back of the grate and the walls of the firebox.
  • Facing with the wider length of the grate out into the room, and the short side located at the back (if the fireplace is tapered and not rectangular).

What To Do With An Old Fireplace Grate

An old fireplace grate can be scrapped or refurbished and reused or sold on. Old grates can also be used as planters or other decorative purposes.

We’ve kept our old, run-down cast iron fireplace in the garage for storage until we decide what to do with it.

We may decide to try and clean it and paint it until it looks as good as new, and we can always leave it back in the fireplace if we sell the house, or can simply be used as a decorative fireplace grate.

Fireplace Grate
We’ve not yet decided what to do with our old fireplace grate

There are also other options for using an old fireplace grate such as using it as a planter.

Does A Fireplace Insert Need A Grate?

A wood burning fireplace insert will not typically need a fireplace grate, but should be confirmed with the manufacturer of the insert prior to doing so. Firewood can burn best when sat on a layer of ash, and a grate can take up important space within a fireplace insert.

What Is A Zero Clearance Fireplace Grate?

A zero clearance fireplace grate provides the minimum amount of clearance possible between the underneath of the of the grate and the hearth. This zero clearance distance is 3 inches, while many traditional grates are raised slightly higher than 3 inches off the ground.

Zero clearance fireplace grates are useful for when height of a grate is important, which may be impacted by a using a fireplace that is shallow in height.

You can view the entire range of zero clearance fireplace grates here.

Where To Buy A Fireplace Grate

The range of steel fireplaces grates can be found here.

You can view the list of cast iron grates available here.

Quotes for getting a custom fireplace grate can be retrieved here.

Further Reading

Parts Of A Fireplace Explained

How To Stack Firewood On A Grate

How To Start A Fire Using A Grate

Leave a Comment