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Geoff Keyes

Anvils: Why, Where, and How

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I suggested that a pinned post about anvils would be a good addition to forum. I've banged :lol: together a first draft and I'm going to post it here. What I need is input from the rest of you. Once we've got a good post, we can take that and clean it up and move it to a pinned thread. Don't hesitate to rip this apart, correct things I've said that aren't true or clear. Add to it, post pictures, that sort of thing. I won't take offense. I'd like this to be a collaborative thing .

 

 

Anvils

Where, Why, and How

 

We, the community that makes up this forum, get the same questions over and over, and sometimes we're smart enough to try and put the answers in one place and pin it there, so we don't have to do the same job, over and over. With some luck, this is one of those times.

 

Since I suggested that we do this for the collective anvil wisdom, I will start off. For all of the rest of you, please feel free to add to, and comment on what I say, and we'll edit that together and pin it.

 

What is an anvil?

 

An anvil is a bottom tool, the top tool is your hammer, much of the time, or some other struck tool The anvil has a number of surfaces built into it (such as the horn, and if yours still has any, sharp edges and corners) It also has a tool holder (the square hole) called a Hardy, and it may have a smaller round hold to assist you in punching operations, called a Pritchel.

 

How do I test an anvil?

 

A good anvil returns energy to your hammer stroke. It does this by having a hard face and mass beneath the hammer. An anvil with a soft face will still work, but it won't return much (or any) energy to your blow. You can test an anvil with either a ball bearing or a light hammer blow. You should ask before testing the anvil, many owners will be angry if you start hammering in their anvil without doing so. Once you've received permission, take the ball bearing and hold it about 12 above the center of mass of the anvil, and drop it. On a top quality anvil the ball should rebound nearly as high as the drop point. You can do the same thing with a hammer, hold the hammer in two fingers about 12 inches above the sweet spot of the anvil and let it fall, while holding on with your fingers. Just let the head pivot down and strike the anvil face. The hammer should rebound almost back to the same position.

 

The "sweet spot" on an anvil is the area of the face that is directly over the center of the base.

 

If the hammer or bearing only rebounds a bit (see Fisher anvils, below), or if it just lies there, that is a bad sign. If the anvil thunks, or buzzes, those a both bad things. This poor anvil is junk and should be left where you found it.

 

Anvil Physics

 

Hammers will not rebound on anvil surfaces that are not hard. Soft steel is more susceptible to plastic deformation, which means the atoms can slide around each other very easily. When the hammer strikes soft steel, the hammer's kinetic energy is absorbed by the soft steel atoms deforming, creating heat (which is the exact same process when hammering hot steel). Hard steel does not deform as easily, so instead of the anvil face deforming, making the hammer lose kinetic energy, there is no other place for the energy to go but back to the hammer. Having both the hammer face and anvil face hard makes forging more efficient due to these properties.

 

If something interrupts that path, the anvil is much less efficient than it could be. If there is a crack in the heel, or a broken horn, or a broken waist joint, the pieces will vibrate against one another and damp out the energy of your blow. You will have to lift the hammer off of the surface over and over, wearing out your arm. You will also accomplish less work with each blow, further frustrating you and making what should be fun, a chore. An anvil that is not connected to it's block will bounce, this also is stealing energy from your hammer blow. If you strike the anvil on the horn, or on the heel, you should notice much less rebound, and a "clonky" noise. This is because those parts of the anvil are not supported well and are flexing under impact. This is even more true with makeshift anvils.

 

The engineers at Nazel believed that a 20 to 1 ratio of anvil to hammer weight was ideal for a hammer to be efficient. I'm not sure how that relates to hand hammers, but it is something to keep in mind.

 

Where do I find an anvil?

 

Anvils are where you find them. Look in junk stores, flea markets, garage sales, craigslist. If there are smiths in your area (and we are like spiders, we are everywhere, you just don't see us) contact them and ask. Tell everyone you know that you are looking.

 

What should I pay for an anvil?

 

This is a tough call. In the long ago before times, when wild anvils roamed the earth in packs, we used to say $1 a pound. I paid about $2.25 a pound for my first anvil, and that was a pretty good deal then. Once you get past $5 or $6 a pound, you're into new anvil territory, and maybe that is where you should spend your money. In reality, there are tool prices, and there are collector prices. In a collector market the prices are very high, more than a poor bladesmith can (or should) afford. Just because an anvil is 200 years old does not make it a lost treasure.

 

 

Anvils, new and used

 

There are a number of modern anvil makers, which should not be confused with the makers of Anvil Shaped Objects (ASO) sold by certain purveyors of cheap tools. These ASO will not hold up to the stresses of forging. Do not buy one, even as a stopgap, until you find something better.

 

New anvils start around $6 a lbs

 

http://www.blackiron.us/anvils.html

http://www.blacksmithsdepot.com/

http://www.incandescent-iron.com/

http://nimbaanvils.com/

http://fontaninianvilandtool.com/

http://oldworldanvils.com/anvils/index.html

Blu Anvils

Euroanvils

Hoffman Anvils

Ernst Refflinghaus Anvils

 

{This is not an exhaustive list, please add more}

 

Old anvils

 

Vintage anvils are out there, and most of them still have some life left. Some common brands are:

Brooks

Hay Budden

Peter Wright

Fisher

http://www.anvilsinamerica.com/trademarks.htm

 

{This is not an exhaustive list, please add more}

 

Anvils by brand

 

I like Fisher anvils, the first anvil I ever bought was a 200# Fisher, which I still own. Fishers were made with a welded waist and a welded face. By design, Fishers don't ring, which, in the hold of a ship or a small shop, is very nice. They don't have quite the rebound of one of the other top grade anvils, but they are still some of the best American made anvils. My Fisher also has closed cleats on the foot, which makes bolting to a block easy.

 

{We need reviews of other brands here}

 

Can I repair this anvil?

 

It depends on what you mean. Small chips and dents can be worked out or around. Cracks, and delaminations, probably not. It is very difficult to get a modern welder (stick, MIG, or TIG) to penetrate deep enough to re-weld a top plate or to weld a whole new plate to an old body. Heat treating a new plate is also going to be an issue. Most repairs fail.

 

he first way they fail is an insufficient bond between the top plate (the hard part) and the body. This causes vibration between the hard plate and the killing the rebound.

 

The second type of failure is leaving the top plate soft. The welding process heats the steel past the tempering of the steel. The plate is left soft and the all important re-bound is deadened. This has happened to anvils that have undergone a shop fire.

 

You could re-harden an anvil, in theory, but in practice, it's quite difficult to do. First, you have to heat an anvil up to quenching temperature (around 1500 degrees F). Second, you need to be able to move the 1500 degree anvil to your quench medium. Third, you need to be able to cool it fast enough to make the top steel hard, without the heat in the mass of the anvil drawing the anvil into a soft state. Fisher anvils were quenched in an artificial waterfall pouring thousands of gallons of water over the anvils. It's very hard to do on a small scale.

 

I've been told that there is a particular welding rod that is deposited as hard material. This requires the body of the anvil to be pre-heated to 400F and then pass after pass of hard rod laid down and then machined to shape. It would be very time consuming to do (think many dollars).

 

Can I build my own anvil?

 

It has been done. At least one person on the board has cast a custom anvil, but he works for a company that does this kind of thing as a business. It's expensive and time consuming. I have seen a post elsewhere of a maker who found a slab of 4 inch thick steel and cut out an anvil shape, machined all of the surfaces and hard surfaced the piece. I don't think he saved any money doing it, I think it probably cost more than simply buying an anvil.

 

 

Anvil substitutes

 

This is the question we hear most often. I can't find (or I can't afford) a “real” anvil. What should I do?

 

If we deconstruct an anvil, what do we have?

 

  1. A hammering surface.

  2. A horn

  3. A Hardy hole

  4. A pritchel hole

 

Those are the things that jump out, but there are a few others

 

  1. A step

  2. Edges, some sharp some radiused

  3. The heel

  4. Some known lengths and measurements.

  5. Mass

 

As a bladesmith, not all of these are as useful as others. I rarely use the horn for my work. A Hardy is useful for holding all sorts of tools, but I don't punch holes all that much.

 

What I have done for my own work is to build a thing that has most of the aspects that I need, but in separate piece. What I have is:

IMG_9382 (427x640).jpg

 

  1. A block anvil. Mine is about 5 x 6.5 x 29. I got lucky, but you don't need all of the length that I have.

  2. A second block, set on it's side that I use to hold different sorts of tooling. Primarily guillotine tools.

  3. A swage block. It sits on it's side most of the time. I use the holes as a Hardy, various cut off and bending tools fit it. With help (I need to build a small crane) I can set it on edge to use the forming shapes.

  4. All of this sits on a piece of 1 inch plate, so it can be moved as a piece. I can get a pinch bar under it and put it on rollers,

  5. Down the center is a hammer rack, so my most used tools are right where I need them.

 

That's what I have done, what you do depends on what you can find, and how you work.

 

For instance, as we have discussed, a piece of RR rail makes a poor anvil, though many people have made many things on one over the years. Just because it's not ideal, doesn't mean it can't or won't work. But here is an idea for a distributed anvil made from RR steel.

Take a piece of RR track, smooth off one end and bolt the rail to a stump, on end. The end of the rail is your anvil, get a piece of plate to put under the other end, you can weld that together if the plate is small.

 

Sharpen the web, now you have an integral cutoff tool.

 

Take a second piece of track and bolt that to your stump to use as a drawing surface.

 

Weld a receiver to the foot of the track. A piece of square tube will do, though you could build something better supported and bigger. You can then build some tools that will fit in the receiver and reach over to your anvil to act as third hand tools.

 

That is most of the functionality of an anvil, add a tool rack to the stump and you've got a nice “portable” work station.

homemade-anvil-35.jpg

 

Old World Anvils (see above) sells a 4 x 4, 4140 block with a spike on it. For a lot of bladesmithing it is all you need. I'm told that they will cut a longer version on request. Replace the vertical with this on a post of the right height in the setup I talked about above, and you've got everything you need. Many knives and swords were made on setups not much different than that.

 

Edited by Geoff Keyes
More text and pics

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You should say what the sweet spot of an anvil is: The area of the face that is directly over the base.

 

Also, if you really want to get scientific with it: Hammers will not rebound on anvil surfaces that are not hard. Soft steel is more susceptible to plastic deformation, which means the atoms can slide around each other very easily. When the hammer strikes soft steel, the hammer's kinetic energy is absorbed by the soft steel atoms deforming, creating heat (which is the exact same process when hammering hot steel). Hard steel does not deform as easily, so instead of the anvil face deforming, making the hammer lose kinetic energy, there is no other place for the energy to go but back to the hammer. Having both the hammer face and anvil face hard makes forging more efficient due to these properties.

  • Like 1

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I was going to say that Vulcans are much like Fishers in that they are the cast iron body with the steel face welded on, and so they will thunk much like a Fisher will.

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Wes added what I would have. Fishers and Vulcans are indeed cast iron with a steel face welded in the mold. The face on Fishers is about 3/4 of an inch thick, the face on Vulcans is more like 3/8 inch. Thus the reputation for chippiness Vulcans possess. Also, on Fishers the top and point of the horn is part of the steel faceplate. I don't think Vulcans have that.

 

THE source for information on anvils is Anvils in America by Richard Postman. It's around 450 pages, so I'll refrain from quoting it. ;) I don't know if you want to get into dates, and which ones are wrought iron with a steel face, mild steel with a steel top half, or solid cast steel, but that's all in the book except for a few newer ones you already mentioned. Many of the newer ones are cast ductile iron heat treated to be almost the equal of cast steel. I have worked on a TFS made that way and they are not bad at all.

 

I like the section on alternative anvils.

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I am currently using the 4x4 stump anvil from old world which has worked well for me up to this point. Although at this juncture I would really like to begin shopping for a more traditional style anvil with a horn, so thanks to all the information being contributed it is something I need more research on before spending the money and this thread has already helped. What are people's thoughts on incorporating the upsetting block is it worth the additional cost? Thanks

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If you do a lot of upsetting on long-ish stock the upsetting block is handy. I have one and rarely use it. It does add mass to the anvil base, but not where it does much good for general forging.

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I feel this thread would be the best spot to ask about ductile anvil's. There is one for sale in my area. It is in great condition but I have read mixed things on them on other forums. It is listed as a Scott's. I feel the price is a bit steep but was wondering the thoughtsof some of the experts here.  Thanks 

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I've never worked on one (to my knowledge), but if they have a hardened face, and if farriers are using them, they are probably just fine.  New they are nearly $8 a pound, which is Nimba territory.  If you put enough weight under them (as in a big block) they will work a lot better.

 

Geoff

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As I said a few posts up, I have only worked on one, a TFS 100-lb blacksmith pattern.  It was fine.  Maybe a hair less rebound than steel, and that will depend entirely on the heat treatment.  I am not familiar with the brand you mentioned.

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On 24 June 2017 at 8:47 PM, ScottWright said:

I feel this thread would be the best spot to ask about ductile anvil's. There is one for sale in my area. It is in great condition but I have read mixed things on them on other forums. It is listed as a Scott's. I feel the price is a bit steep but was wondering the thoughtsof some of the experts here.  Thanks 

It may be that not all ductile iron anvils are equal, but those I've worked on have all fully complied with specification Sh1-T.

Edited by Dan P.

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I'd like to add some miscellaneous information to the original post. Some information about the anatomy of an anvil, some advice on how to properly set up your anvil, and a bit of safety advice. 

Firstly, to help enlighten folks on the correct terminology used to refer to the various parts of an anvil, here is a diagram taken from page 66 of "The Art of Blacksmithing" by Alex W. Bealer. (the revised edition).

IMG_0824[1].JPG

Another topic discussed in "The Art of Blacksmithing", is the recommended height at which to set your anvil. It is advised that the face of the anvil should sit at about the same height as your knuckles when your arms are resting at your sides. The reason why this is a good height is because it allows you to make the most use of gravity when swinging your hammer. It also allows your off hand to sit at a comfortable height while holding onto your work with a pair of tongs. Of course this is only a recommended height, and you may prefer your anvil to sit slightly higher or slightly lower. 

Lastly, on the topic of safety, and of general efficiency. If for whatever reason you find yourself in need of the assistance of a striker ( a second person wielding a sledge hammer, allowing you to hold the work and direct their blows) it is highly recommended that you do not use a normal hard faced anvil. Instead, you should probably use a striking anvil. I'll let Alec Steele explain to you why that is. 

That's about all I have to offer at the moment. If I think of anything else, I'll be sure to chime back in. :) 

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Thanks for the addition to the post.  All of the striking I have done has been done on a standard anvil, at standard heights.  It is my understanding that dedicated striking anvils are often a bit lower, so you can get a bit more travel on the hammer.  Most smiths I know either don't need a striker often enough to have a special anvil for it, have a press or power hammer, or can't afford to have a second anvil.  I like a knuckle height for general smithing, but my main knife anvil is about 4 inches higher.

Geoff

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