What is a fireback?
A fireback is a cast iron plate, often beautifully decorated, that you place against the back wall of a fireplace or against the back wall behind a wood-burning stove. Fireplace firebacks are also used as a backsplash in the kitchen and sometimes placed against the sides of the fireplace. People also choose to wall-mount the fireback as a work of art.
Four reasons to choose a fireback
The fireback has four different functions and therefore four reasons to choose a fireback:
- Protection of the back wall of the fireplace, or of the wall behind a wood-burning stove, from the heat of the fire. Even if the back wall is made of refractory bricks, the heat of the fire can still cause the wall to crumble. A fireback absorbs the heat and thus protects the wall.
- Increasing the radiant heat of the fire. The cast iron of the fireback conducts the heat from the fire and radiates it. The thicker the fireback, the more radiant heat and the longer the heat is retained. As a result, the room is heated better which makes this a sustainable choice.
- Decorating the fireplace. Firebacks are often real eye-catchers and can therefore improve and enhance the appearance of the fireplace. In addition, a gas fireplace can be transformed into a fireplace indistinguishable from a real fireplace using, among other things, a fireback and a fire grate. This also applies to an unused fireplace.
- Decorating the kitchen or any other space. Firebacks can also beautify a room or wall. Firebacks are in particular often placed as backsplash above a stove. This gives the kitchen an instant atmosphere and an eye-catcher as a 'conversation piece'.
1 | Choosing a fireback as protection for the back wall of the fireplace
Large enough to protect the back wall
Choose a fireback that protects that part of the wall that will be warmed by the fire. For a wood-burning fireplace, this is at least the width of the fire. With a wood-burning stove, this is at least the width of the back of the stove. If the back wall is already damaged then it is both functional and beautiful that the fire back plate at least covers the damage.
What qualities of firebacks protect the rear wall sufficiently?
We give all our products a quality rating by giving them a condition *, ** or ***.
You can find the description of the quality assessment of all products on our website by clicking on the question mark behind 'Condition'
In a wood-burning fireplace, the rear wall and thus the fireback will become very hot. A fireback with many cracks or a large crack (one star) can then fall apart. A fireback with a crack is less conductive. The larger the tear, the less conduction and the greater the chance of further tearing. Therefore, with normal, moderate fires, do not use a fireback with many cracks or a large crack (one star), but a fireback with a small crack or no cracks (two or three stars). For burning large, long-lasting and therefore very hot fires, we recommend that you use a fireback without a crack (three stars).
Behind a wood-burning stove, a fireback will not get as hot as in the fireplace. All quality firebacks (one, two or three stars in the description of our firebacks) are suitable for this purpose. Traditionally, firebacks with a large crack (i.e. with one star) were often placed behind the stove because they were no longer used in the fireplace anyway.
Antique Dutch fireback behind a stove in an old Dutch fireplace
Antique German firebacks behind a modern wood-burning stove
2 | Choosing a fireback for better radiant heat
The thicker and heavier the fireback, the more and longer the heat radiation
The thicker and heavier the fireback the more radiant heat it emits and the longer the heat is retained. A thick, heavy fireback can still be warm and radiate heat the next morning after the fire has gone out in the evening.
In addition, the height and width should fit well with the back of the fireplace. If only heat radiation is a consideration, the entire width and height of the back wall could be filled with a fireback. However, it is visually more attractive not to fill the back wall completely, we will discuss this below. The fireback should not be placed in the chimney opening itself, as this could adversely affect the draught. For more information, see: Which size of fireback fits in my open fireplace?
Avoid firebacks with a large crack for heat radiation
In order to maximize the radiant heat, it is important that the fireback properly absorbs and conducts the heat from the fire. It is therefore wise not to choose a fireback with a large crack (one star on the website). Instead, choose a fireback without a crack (three stars on the website) or with a small crack (two stars on the website). A large crack limits the heat conduction of the fireback too much and is more likely to break. For burning large, long-lasting and therefore very hot fires, we recommend choosing a plate without cracks.
In gas fires, all qualities of firebacks are suitable for heat radiation.
The heat emission of a gas fire can also be increased by using a fireback. Since a fireback in a gas fire heats evenly, a fireback with one to three stars can be used here, although the thermal conductivity of a cast iron plate with one star will be slightly lower.
Read also: What to do about a fireback with a crack?
Antique French fireback in a French castle fireplace
Antique French Phoenix fireback in a Louis XV marble fireplace with antique andirons and modern fireplace grate
3 | Choosing a fireback as a fireplace embellishment
A fireback can make the fireplace a lot more beautiful
A fireback can make the fireplace a lot more beautiful. A less beautiful fireplace can become a lot more interesting with a fireback. The beauty of a beautiful fireplace can be enhanced with a fireback.
Firebacks have followed the architectural styles. The oldest firebacks date from 1500. Make sure that the style of the fireback fits well with the style of the fireplace. That can be in the same style, but it doesn't always have to be. Sometimes a simple Neoclassical fireback looks great in an exuberant Baroque fireplace. The fireback then enhances the beauty of the fireplace but does not dominate. The other way around is also quite possible, in which case the fireback dominates in a more simple fireplace. An old fireback can also form a beautiful whole with a modern fireplace. This is of course a matter of personal taste.
Read also: How do I decorate my fireplace?
A fireback must be wider than the fireplace basket or grate
A fireback is often placed in a fireplace together with a fireplace grate or andirons. Visually, it is nice if the fireback is as wide or wider than the fireplace grate. In the case of a wood-burning fireplace, this is also important from a practical point of view, because the fireback is then at least as wide as the fire. In addition, it is also important that the height and width of the fireback visually match the size of the back of the fireplace. For more information, see here: Which size of fireback fits in my open fireplace?
All qualities of firebacks are suitable for decorating an unused fireplace
In a fireplace that is no longer heated (such as a bio-ethanol or unused fireplace), the fireback has a decorative function. This makes it possible to also choose a fireback with one star. This is a fireback that is only suitable for decorative purposes, usually because of a large crack. These firebacks are still very attractive, but a lot cheaper than firebacks without or with a small crack.
Also pay attention to the color of the fireback
The color of the fireback is also important from an optical point of view. The color of the fireback is brown or black. Brown firebacks have been cleaned and have a natural patina. The fire makes them black again over about the width of the fire. Black firebacks have been treated with stove polish. It is always possible to make a brown fireback black (at no additional costs).
A modern Spanish fireplace with a 17th century french fireback and 19th century andirons
A sturdy Polish fireplace with sturdy, antique French fireback and andirons
An unused, colonial fireplace in the New York area with a sturdy French fireback
4 | Choosing a fireback as a backsplash above a stove
The size of a fireback as a backsplash is primarily a matter of personal taste
When choosing the size of the fireback, the size of the stove plays a role. It's nice when this is in balance. This is of course a matter of personal taste. As well as the choice of decoration on the fireback and the extent to which this is impressive or not. The more impressive the fireback, the more it is an eye-catcher in the kitchen. In 'Our projects' you will find many examples of firebacks that are installed as backsplashes.
All qualities of firebacks are suitable for use as a backsplash
Whether a fireback can be attached, and how, depends on the type of wall on which it is hung. In this blog we explain that: How to install a fireback backsplash above a stove?. It is important to always follow the contractor's judgment.
A fireback that is mounted as a splash guard above the stove has only a decorative function. It is therefore possible to choose a fireback that is only suitable for decorative purposes (with one star). Usually this is because of a crack in the fireback.
Decorating of other rooms with firebacks
A fireback can also be attached to the wall as decoration in other rooms. Conceivable examples are reception areas, stairwells, corridors, walls in rooms, etc.
Large antique French fireback over a stove in a monumental kitchen
Antique Venus fireback in a modern Canadian kitchen
Large antique French fireback in a reception hall of a hotel in Venice
How to judge the quality of a fireback?
As mentioned above, we give all our products a quality rating by giving them a condition *, ** or ***.
Of course we cannot give a 100% guarantee for the above classifications. But if a fire backplate from 1700 has survived centuries with a crack, there is little chance that this will happen in the short term. Don't worry about rust. Although cast iron does not corrode very much in itself, some rust on the front or back of a fireback is normal and will not affect the quality of the fireback in any way. Often horizontal or vertical stripes run across old firebacks. These are not cracks, but the impressions of the planks that used to be used to make the mold (see photo below). This mold was put under pressure in the sand, after which the cast iron was poured into the impression. These stripes are therefore often one of the signs that the plate is still cast in the sand in the traditional way (i.e. it is an original, not a reproduction).
Antique wooden mold for a fireback made of planks
Why are some firebacks brown and others black?
If an old or antique fireback has a nice brown patina of rust, we tend to preserve that; thus the fireback remains brown. In all other instances, our fireplace firebacks have been treated with stove polish and thereby have a black/greyish color. If you prefer to have a black-colored fireback, we can deliver any brown fireback in black. Yet, a black fireback cannot be delivered in brown. Realize that a fireback in use in a fireplace will get black in its central section regardless.
Why are some firebacks black and others grey?
Most of our black/greyish firebacks have been treated with stove polish. The color variations on the pictures of the website mostly depend on the light shining on the fireback. If the fireback is in bright light or sunlight it will look grey while less light shows the fireback black.
Are there any precautions for using a fireback?
The most important rule for using a fireback is to allow a thoroughly cooled down fireback to heat slowly (usually at the beginning of the season or after a week or so of no use). This means that you should start the season by making a moderate fire. A cold fireback subjected to intense heat can crack due to ‘thermoshock’. For similar reasons, you should never extinguish the fire with water.
Read more on How do I use a fireback?
Do firebacks really work?
The effect of a fireback behind a fire is immediately tangible. A fire without a fireback hardly radiates any warmth, while a fire with a fireback very much does so. There is more radiation if the fireplace fireback is larger or thicker, and a thicker fireback retains heat longer. After burning a fire for a day, you can still feel the warm cast iron back plate the next morning. If you used thick logs, the fire box will still be hot enough so that you can easily light your fire again the next morning using the smouldering remains of the previous night’s fire.
Radiator effect: how efficient is a fireback?
The efficiency of a wood-burning fireplace to heat air is typically 10%, but with a fireback this may increase to 15%. This is less efficient than a stove or fireplace insert in heating air, but efficiency is a complicated concept with open hearth fireplaces. Most efficiency tests consider just the effect of heating the air. An open fireplace is not, and never was, intended to heat the air. A fireplace with a fireback is a radiant heater, so don't worry that it's drafting air from your house. In fact, it's replacing it with radiant heat, and typically much more of it, and has done so since the 15th century. The best way to gauge the output of a fireplace fireback is if you notice you're turning the thermostat up or down.
And don’t forget--while a fireplace may be less efficient than a stove or fireplace insert, there’s no substituting the warmth and pleasant ambiance it brings to your home.
How to maintain my fireback?
A fire always yields soot. You can remove the soot by brushing the fireback with a steel brush. And use stove polish to buff the fireback. Stove polish can be bought in any DIY shop. Note that this is an aesthetic treatment and is unnecessary for the upkeep of the fireback.
How to install a fireback?
In principle, a fireback can be placed against the back wall of the fireplace. However, it should be fixed to the wall so it doesn’t crack if it falls forward. To prevent the fireback from falling, secure the fireback to the wall using one or two hooks attached to the wall on the topside or sides of the fireback. Normal hooks and plugs can be used, as the wall just above the fireback usually does not heat up very much. However, we do sell special mounting brackets for this purpose (see Mounting brackets).
Sometimes an elevated fireback looks nicer. You can lift it with refractory bricks or by using our special mounting brackets (see Mounting brackets).
Read more on How to install a fireback in the fireplace.
If you have any doubts about the right fireback, it is always possible to contact us: by phone (+31.653493998) or by email: ([email protected]). With the measurements of the fireplace or stove and possibly a picture, we can certainly give good advice.
All our firebacks can be ordered online and can be seen by appointment in Amerongen, Netherlands
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