What is a fireback?
A fireback is a beautifully decorated cast iron plate placed against the back wall of a fireplace or behind a wood-burning stove. It serves various purposes, including as a kitchen backsplash or a decorative piece on the wall.
Four reasons to choose a fireback
Firebacks offer multiple benefits:
- Protection: It protects the back wall from heat, preventing damage even if the wall is made of refractory bricks.
- Increased Radiant Heat: The cast iron material absorbs and radiates heat, enhancing the room's warmth sustainably.
- Decoration: Firebacks serve as striking decorative elements for fireplaces, transforming even gas fireplaces into visually authentic hearths.
- Decorative Versatility: Beyond the fireplace, firebacks can adorn kitchens or other spaces as unique conversation pieces.
1 | Selecting a fireback for fireplace wall protection
Size considerations for adequate protection
Select a fireback that sufficiently shields the wall area exposed to heat from the fire. For wood-burning fireplaces, ensure the fireback spans at least the width of the fire. For wood-burning stoves, it should cover at least the stove's back width. If the back wall has sustained damage, a fireback that conceals this damage serves both a practical and aesthetic purpose.
Further reading: How do I protect the wall behind my wood-burning stove?
Criteria for fireback effectiveness
Our products are rated for quality with a condition system of *, **, or ***.
Detailed descriptions of our product quality assessments can be accessed on our website by clicking the question mark next to 'Condition'
In wood-burning fireplaces, both the rear wall and the fireback can become extremely hot. A fireback with significant cracks (rated one star) might deteriorate under intense heat. Firebacks with any size cracks have diminished thermal conductivity, and larger cracks could lead to further damage. For moderate fires, it's advisable to use firebacks with minor or no cracks (rated two or three stars). For more intense and prolonged fires, a fireback without cracks (three stars) is the best choice.
For wood-burning stoves, the thermal stress on a fireback is typically less intense. Therefore, firebacks with any quality rating (one, two, or three stars) are suitable. Historically, firebacks with larger cracks (one star) were often placed behind stoves due to their unsuitability for direct fireplace use.
Also read: What to do about a fireback with a crack?
Antique Dutch fireback positioned behind a stove in a traditional Dutch fireplace
Antique German firebacks placed behind a contemporary wood-burning stove
2 | Choosing a fireback for better radiant heat
The thicker and heavier the fireback, the more and longer the heat radiation
A more substantial fireback not only emits more radiant heat but also retains it for a longer period. A thick, heavy fireback could still be warm to the touch and radiating heat the morning after a fire has extinguished. Be careful not to sit too far from the fire to feel the effect of the radiant heat. While it's beneficial to fill the entire back wall with a fireback to maximize heat radiation, aesthetically, it's often preferable not to cover it completely. Placement in the chimney opening should be avoided to maintain proper draught. For details on sizing, see: Which size of fireback fits in my open fireplace?
Avoid firebacks with a large crack for heat radiation
To optimize heat radiation, select a fireback that properly absorbs and conducts heat, avoiding those with large cracks (one star). A fireback with no or minor cracks (rated three or two stars) is preferable, especially for intense fires that last longer and generate more heat.
In gas fires, all qualities of firebacks are suitable for heat radiation
Firebacks can improve the heat output in gas fires as well. Due to the consistent heating of gas fires, firebacks with any rating (one to three stars) are appropriate, though a one-star fireback may have slightly less thermal efficiency.
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 decorative feature for your fireplace
Enhancing fireplace beauty with a fireback
Adding a fireback can significantly increase the visual appeal of any fireplace, whether enhancing an already beautiful one or elevating a less attractive fireplace to a centerpiece.
Firebacks are available in various architectural styles, with the earliest examples dating back to 1500. It's essential to match the fireback's style with that of your fireplace for a cohesive look. This doesn't necessarily mean matching styles exactly; sometimes, a simple Neoclassical fireback can complement an elaborate Baroque fireplace beautifully without overshadowing it. Conversely, a bold fireback can stand out in a simpler setting. Even traditional firebacks can pair well with modern fireplaces, depending on personal taste.
Further reading: How do I decorate my fireplace?
Further reading: How to style a gas fireplace like a real one?
A fireback must be wider than the fireplace basket or grate
When paired with a fireplace grate or andirons, the fireback should be as wide or wider for a harmonious look. This also ensures practical coverage of the fire. The fireback's height and width should be proportionate to the fireplace's back wall for both visual appeal and functionality. 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 non-operational fireplace, like a bio-ethanol or decorative one, any fireback quality, even those with larger cracks (one star), is acceptable for aesthetic purposes, offering a cost-effective decorative solution.
Also pay attention to the color of the fireback
The importance of the fireback's color is not just aesthetic but also from an optical perspective. Firebacks come in shades of brown and black. The brown ones, cleaned and showcasing a natural patina, turn black over time with exposure to fire, typically across the fire's width. Conversely, black firebacks are treated with stove polish. Transforming a brown fireback to black is always possible at no extra charge.
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
Selecting the right fireback size ensures it complements your stove’s dimensions, offering a balanced and aesthetically pleasing look that suits your taste. The decorative aspect of a fireback significantly influences its visual appeal, from subtle to bold, turning it into a kitchen focal point. For inspiration, visit 'Our projects' to see firebacks serving as kitchen backsplashes at 'Our projects'.
All qualities of firebacks are suitable for use as a backsplash
The feasibility of mounting a fireback depends on the wall type. Our blog details the mounting process: How to install a fireback backsplash above a stove?. Following the contractor's advice is crucial. Mounted firebacks above stoves serve a purely decorative role, allowing for the selection of firebacks meant only for decoration due to imperfections like cracks.
Decorating of other rooms with firebacks
Firebacks enhance the decor and ambiance of various spaces, including reception halls, staircases, corridors, and living areas.
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?
We rate our products' condition with stars (*, **, ***), although these ratings are not guaranteed to be absolute. A fireback from 1700 that has endured centuries even with a crack is unlikely to fail soon. Rust is not a concern; it's normal on both sides of a fireback and does not compromise quality. Horizontal or vertical lines on old firebacks are not cracks but impressions from plank molds used traditionally, indicating authentic sand-cast firebacks.
Historic wooden mold for casting firebacks, showcasing traditional craftsmanship
Why are some firebacks brown and others black?
We preserve the brown patina on antique firebacks when possible, but we treat others with stove polish for a black/greyish hue. While we can change a brown fireback to black, the reverse is not possible. A fireback in use will naturally darken in its center over time.
Why are some firebacks black and others grey?
The variation in color among our black/greyish firebacks is due to the application of stove polish and the lighting conditions. Bright light or sunlight makes the fireback appear grey, while it looks black in dimmer light.
Are there any precautions for using a fireback?
It's crucial to allow a fireback to heat up slowly if it has cooled down, especially at the start of the season or after being unused for a while. Begin with a moderate fire to avoid cracking from thermoshock. Never use water to extinguish the fire.
For more tips: Tips about the use of a fireplace fireback
Do firebacks really work?
A fireback significantly increases the warmth radiated by a fire. The size and thickness of the cast iron fireback influence its heat radiation and retention abilities. A well-used cast iron fireback can retain warmth long after the fire has died down, facilitating easy rekindling the following day.
Radiator effect: how efficient is a fireback?
Firebacks can increase a wood-burning fireplace's efficiency from about 10% to 15%. While not directly comparable to stoves or inserts, cast iron firebacks enhance a fireplace's radiating heat, providing warmth and ambiance unique to open hearths. Do keep in mind that the effect of the radiant heat diminishes as you sit farther from the fireplace.
How to maintain my fireback?
Maintaining a fireback's appearance involves regular cleaning with a steel brush and stove polish, though its function remains unaffected without such care.
How to install a fireback?
A fireback should be securely fixed to the fireplace's back wall to prevent accidents. Mounting brackets are available for this purpose, and elevated positioning can be achieved using refractory bricks or special brackets for a more aesthetically pleasing setup.
Learn more at How to install a fireback in the fireplace.
For personalized recommendations, contact us via phone (+31 (0) 850805908) or email ([email protected]). Sharing your fireplace or stove dimensions and photos can help us provide specific advice.
All our firebacks can be ordered online and are available for viewing by appointment in Amerongen, Netherlands.
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