Fire Irons
Photo/Jeff Harris

Since the first time a caveman sharpened a stick and skewered his hunk of saber-toothed tiger because he wanted his meat dead-on medium rare—not bloody, but certainly not burnt—man has worked fires with tools. The instinct to poke at a blaze remains, but today's instruments are hardly as crude and far more effective.

Cooking in front of an open pit may have taken a back seat to sitting around enclosed flames, but every hearth deserves a sturdy, rugged set of fire irons. They should be handy and functional as well as attractive, quality tools that can stand up to a three-pound chunk of burning oak.

In managing a blaze, Job No. 1 is making adjustments to your fire as it burns. You move wood around the andirons to create precise air holes to feed the flame essential oxygen. For this, the poker is the indispensible tool you reach for most often. Its tip is used to ease logs back and forth, trying to find that little opening between stacked wood that optimizes air flow. The halberd-style hook is your friend for bigger jobs, best employed to pull wayward logs back into proper position.

The rake is a less common, but comes in handy after the early logs have been rendered to coals. Those glowing coals at the bottom of your fire will feed the flames for hours, if properly tended. An apparently dead fire can be rekindled simply by working the embers. The rake can also be used with the poker for major log rearrangement. Some sets include a pair of tongs for this.

The brush and the spade work in tandem, for cleanup. The spade can also be employed for moving coals around, should they need to be moved farther than the rake would allow.

Go cheap and you will be frustrated. The Leather Rivet Hearth Tool Set from Restoration Hardware ($325) is a fine example of quality; a masculine set crafted by California blacksmith Jefferson Mack and his team. Iron comes from the furnace blazing red, is slapped on the anvil and hand forged with hammers to take on the final shape. The set is hefty and well balanced, with a strip of leather for a handle to keep your hands cool as you channel your inner Prometheus.

Once your fire is set, you'll need a more fragile tool: a rocks glass. In the cold months we recommend a peaty single malt, a robust cigar and a good book to be your company in front of the fire.