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Chris Christenberry

Bladesmith Anvil Question

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If this question has already been asked/answered, I couldn't find it in a search.

 

Is there an "ideal" style of anvil for a bladesmith/blacksmith?  I know the old saw-tuner's anvils are often referred to as a bladesmiths anvil.  I've heard people say they have purchased TFS Farriers anvils and they work nicely.  Of course, there are those smiths (who have a ton of money) who use German style double-horn anvils like Refflinghaus.

 

I'm on the "search" that most blacksmith/bladesmiths start out on for a nice anvil.  Presently I have  a 50# Vulcan with about 65% rebound. Not what I want, but what I have.  So I've been on the journey everyone eventually makes, looking for an anvil.  Just missed out on a 132# anvil I really wanted, but the seller sold it out from under me the night before I was supposed to make a 10 hour drive to buy it.  That's life, I guess.  So the quest continues.

 

So does a farrier's anvil make a good one for a bladesmith, or would it be better to have a wider face than that for this kind of work?  (like a double-horn, German style)  If I buy new, I'm going to be pretty much limited to a 100 pound anvil because of available funds.  Is a 100# anvil "more than suitable" for a bladesmith or would heavier be better? I don't ever see myself forging blades larger than say a Camp knife for instance.    From what I've read and people I've talked with, I get the idea that something between 150 and 200 pounds is where I want to be looking. 

 

So can any of your more experienced bladesmiths make some suggestions?  Am I thinking correctly with the opinions I've stated, or am I way off?

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Thanks, Alan.  I've read that thread before.  Doesn't really answer my question of what is considered a bladesmith's anvil.  I've got the common rail-road rail "anvil".  Call me a snob, but all it's really good for is to straighten bent nails.  Of course, I have to admit what I did was have the top of the rail ground flat.  I've since learned I should have turned it on end and used the flat of the top rail as my anvil................but that's just an ASO.  Don't want an ASO, want an anvil.  Just don't have any idea what style works best for a bladesmith.  Some will say "any hard, flat surface" and others have serious opinions.  I'm seeking the latter.  My Vulcan will work for me until I find what I'm after.  Just wanting opinions.

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It is really going to come down to your personal preferences/style/technique.  Some swear by a square post.  Others like having a horn and/or hardy.  My anvil has a side shelf sticking off of it that I thought I would never use, and I use it often.  

 

More mass under your working face and a good rebound are the undisputed ideals.  Everything else are individual preferences.  

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Something like this is what I think is an ideal anvil shape for bladesmithing.  Lots of mass under the face short heal and horn and a tool slot for making all kinds of tooling that can be wedged in. Being able to wedge the tooling in makes it much more efficient to work over because the tool isn't bouncing back up at you.  With this tool wedged in I'm able to get near the same rebound as the anvil itself. Something you can't get with a hardy tool. 

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Hey Chris,

 

I've been using a N.C. 70# Farriers anvil for years making blades.   It's worked just fine.  Is it the best for bladesmithing ?  Couldn't tell you.  But I do know it's done everything I've persuaded it too.  Whats more important is having the anvil or block or rock, properly mounted.   I've used it for years on an uneven concrete floor with a bad 4 legged stand.   Highly inefficient and bouncy.   Once I finally learned something and made a proper wooden stand and bolted it to the floor, it started acting like an anvil twice it's size.   The working face of the anvil, and sweet spot with all the mass, is only about 3 x 3 inches, and it's worked well for blades short and long.  And the horn and hardy are always useful to have for other projects if not used on blades.  I have recently setup another more mobile anvil out of a 4x4x10 block of steel unknown.  It's lighter than my anvil, but actually has more mass under it so sometimes feels like it works better.  But at the same time, sometimes it feels like the 4x4 face of it is a little too large for smaller work.  Still getting used to it though.  Proper  mounting is way more important than the anvil itself sometimes.  Any bloc of steel will work somewhat, and you can weld/cut a spot for hardies, or make several horns to add on as tools or permanent fixtures.   More a matter of what you intend to do.  If you only ever make straight blades from pre-sized steel, and never need to do any bends or real drawing of the steel, then the horn won't be so useful to you.  The  Japanese as far as I've seen in videos mostly just use a rectangle block to make all their knives as far as I can tell.  So that must work fine for that style.   Maybe not so much if you want to make a bunch of flameberge's.

 

All depends on what you intend to do.

Hope that helps.

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1 hour ago, Jerrod Miller said:

It is really going to come down to your personal preferences/style/technique. 

 

Well, Jerrod, at this stage of my learning experience, I don't have personal preferences/style/technique. :D  I've only had 6 evenings at an anvil and none of them forging blades.  The wood carving knives I presently make are "stock removal".  Which is why I'm asking questions.

 

53 minutes ago, Jeremy Blohm said:

I think is an ideal anvil shape for bladesmithing.  Lots of mass under the face short heal and horn and a tool slot for making all kinds of tooling that can be wedged in.

 

Now THAT looks like a Hoss.  I like the mass under the top like that.  Sure don't see many anvils like that.

 

11 minutes ago, Bruno said:

Whats more important is having the anvil or block or rock, properly mounted. 

 

Well, my anvil is mounted on a 20" diameter stump and recessed 3/4" into the top.  There's a lot of mass there.  And there's no walking or bouncing involved.  I'm happy with the setup, just wishing for a much larger anvil.

 

p3624002563-3.jpg

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I've just been offered a 149# Mouse Hole that looks to be in pretty good shape.  Is that a good anvil for bladesmithing?

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Any anvil can be used for bladesmithing.  just make sure the face and corners are dressed properly. grab any anvil you can get and go for it.

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Bigger is better, in general, when it comes to anvils.  That said, anything that works is better than no anvil at all.  If you've been offered a Mousehole, jump on it.  Even if you don't like it, you can probably trade it for something you do like.

 

I work in a 5" x 6.5" post anvil.  Even though it's not very hard, all of the mass is under the hammering face.  I don't think there is one, holy grail of bladesmithing anvil.  You said you have an anvil (it looks like a smallish Arm and Hammer, 50-75 lbs).  What is it that you think a bigger anvil will do that this one doesn't?

 

geoff

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Personally I find horns a nuisance,  which are terribly in the way. So an old style hornless anvil or a large size square stake anvil I find ideal for bladesmithing, preferably with a lot of mass right below the edges, the heavier the better. A hardy hole on one side can be quite helpful. At least there should be two sides at a right angle without anything in the way like a horn or a hardy hole, which is where I do all of the beveling etc. 

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Mass under the face is more important than overall weight.  As the others have said, there is no ideal anvil.  The modern patterns arose as a sort of all-in-one multitool, with horn and pritchel for farriers and long unsupported heel for bending stuff double.  In general, farrier's patterns have the least mass under the face and ring like a tuning fork.  They are quite aerodynamic, though. :lol:

Jeremy's toolmaker's anvil is great.  I have a 100Kg Refflinghaus (#58 pattern) and it is too soft, with not as much rebound as I'd like.  I used to have a 143 lb Peter Wright that was far more lively and an all-around better anvil.  Live and learn...

Some time ago we actually designed a "Cutler's anvil" for Jerrod to cast, but nobody wanted to pony up the cash.  

So, mass under the face and rebound.  Anything else is secondary.  I use the horn more than some because I am a general smith, not just a bladesmith.  You might like a square block better, only you can decide.  Join your local blacksmiths guild and try out assorted styles.

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10 hours ago, Bruno said:

Any anvil can be used for bladesmithing.  just make sure the face and corners are dressed properly. grab any anvil you can get and go for it.

 

Please explain dressing of the anvil, Bruno.  I know to dress hammers (and have done all of mine) but have always been told not to touch the top of the anvil with a file or any other cutting tool.

7 hours ago, Geoff Keyes said:

you can probably trade it for something you do like

 

The price on this is so reasonable it comes with the caveat of "if you ever decide to sell it, I want first chance"...........so I would feel like some kind of "heel" if I tried to profit from it selling it back to him.  So it sounds like the anvil wouldn't increase in value as time went by.  Not sure how I feel about that scenario.

 

Zeroen, I'm so new to this that some of the things you mention are things I'd not thought about.  I want to primarily make blades...............but general smithing goes along with it, so I'll need a horn of some sort, I think.

1 hour ago, Alan Longmire said:

Join your local blacksmiths guild and try out assorted styles.

 

Thanks, Alan.  I'm a member of Saltfork Craftsman ........a sub-division of ABANA.  Initially, I was participating in an "open forge" on Thursday evenings.  Did that for about 6 weeks and then the fellow who was offering his shop to all of us shut it down.  He'd been doing it for so long he was worn out and doing that and all the duties he had in the local association had pushed him to his limit.  He shut it down and I've no place to keep learning until I get my "gasser" up and running and can work in my own facility.  That's kind of the reason I've been so pressured into getting a better anvil.  All of his anvils are really good ones, unlike my measely little Vulcan.

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Posted (edited)
27 minutes ago, Chris Christenberry said:

 

Please explain dressing of the anvil, Bruno.  I know to dress hammers (and have done all of mine) but have always been told not to touch the top of the anvil with a file or any other cutting tool.

 

This refers to the edges of the anvil. through time and use, anvils have rounded edges to prevent making cold shuts while working half on half off blows.  In blacksmiths there is very very little use of anything 90 degress weather it's a corner shoulder bend, tool etc.  There are ways to achieve a 90 degree corner but they are avoided as it introduces a stress riser, or chance of cold shut.  To add, normally you see anvils with a pretty crowned surface at the front near the horn on a London pattern which tapers into a sharper radius near the tail.

 

All anvils work for their intended purpose. It will come down to what you feel like you work better with.  I talk with a guy that loves hay budden to death - but as he got his hands on some double horn anvils he is really pleased with their design over the London pattern we are all used to seeing.  And not to mention that the South German style double horns have a chance of the horn/bick being faced with steel. 

 

If anyone were to offer me an anvil without a horn, I would pass it up.  The horn of the anvil is such a useful tool.  You can draw out faster with relative control, bend anything you want.  A block of steel works, but I no longer use it because I needed a horn/bick to work. 

Edited by Daniel W

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Posted (edited)

The ideal anvil for you depends entirely on your work, as others have said.

 

I use the horn of my Fisher maybe 5% of the time spent forging, but in that 5% of the time, the horn is super helpful! Could make due without it, but I love having it when I need it.

 

Even when I'm using it, it's only for very specific things like scroll work on a guard, or getting consistent radiuses on bent quillions. If you dont do this kind if work, and say only make hunting and kitchen knives, the horn is damn near useless for you. 

 

My point is that those square stake anvils are awesome (and i want one!) and they will likely do 95% of what you need it to do as a bladesmith. The rest is just quality of life features.

 

3 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

They are quite aerodynamic, though. :lol:

 

I wonder what the ballistic coefficient of an anvil is :P

Edited by Will W.

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3 hours ago, Will W. said:

I wonder what the ballistic coefficient of an anvil is :P

 

Not too great, but it makes up for it in the terminal ballistics.  Just ask the coyote!  

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5 hours ago, Chris Christenberry said:

Please explain dressing of the anvil,

 

I think Daniel has covered that pretty well.  The cleaner the face and edge of your anvil, the better your forgings will look, generally.  And no,  you really don't want to file, grind, weld an anvil face unless you really know what you are doing.    My anvil is fairly soft faced compared to some of my hammers, so a misplaced blow leaves dings.  However my anvil also had lots of abuse before I ever got to it.   So I was able to clean up a lot of dings by just hammering them down.   Then I went over it with a grinder with a sanding disk on it.   And then you gotta be really really careful.    It's something that requires a lot of study and care before attempting.    And even then, you should be scared :)

 

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What Bruno said.  The really nice old anvils, like the Mousehole you're considering, are only fully hardened about 1/8" deep (if that) on the face.  I've seen too many that have been milled flat, leaving a dead soft anvil-shaped object.  It's that thin VERY hard face that gives them their rebound.  Oh, and the fact that they're wrought iron with a steel face means the face can pop off completely if you try to arc-weld on the face.  The different coefficients of expansion plus the fact that wrought really hates arc welding make for a messy and potentially damaging job, which is why it's almost never recommended to try to "fix" old anvils.

 

The following picture, while graphic, shows what can happen when you try to arc weld a forge weld: 

 

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This Hay-Budden has an all-steel top half that was forge-welded to the base at the waist.  Since this weld was visible, a previous owner decided to run a bead of arc weld around the seam.  The differential expansion and contraction put the joint in such stress that when the current owner was using it one day, this happened.  You can tell by the rusted surfaces that the arc weld caused the forge weld to break as it cooled.  It lasted just over a month in use until the rather poor arc welds gave out.  The moral of the story is, do not arc weld (or MIG, TIG, etc.) on an anvil unless you know exactly what you are doing, and that does not mean if you are a professional welder or not.  It means if you know the hows and whys of anvils.

 

That's too bad to hear about the open forge nights.  It happens, though.  

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My 50# Vulcan came from my business.  It's been around, as far as I know, since about 1965......................don't know exactly.  Our employees completely abused it.  It would be an embarrassment to even show a picture of it here on the forum.  Let put it this way.  If I saw a For Sale sign on it, I'd walk right by while looking the other way.  :D  But even though the top is level, it has hammer dings, bolt dings............and God knows what other kind of dings.  The only thing I've done to it is to lay an 1/8" plate of mild steel on it and beat the tar out of it.  It's helped smooth it out a lot and I imagine as soon as I start putting hot steel on it, it'll smooth out a lot more.  It will hold me until I can get a "proper" anvil.  Besides, I'm not going to ask it to do any serious work.  I'll just make leaf key chain fobs,  fire-pit pokers, coal rakes, and the like.  Nothing like trying to make nice knives.

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40 minutes ago, Alan Longmire said:

The following picture, while graphic, shows what can happen when you try to arc weld a forge weld

 

 Oh the humanity! I thought this was a family  forum! :o:blink::excl:

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Posted (edited)
19 minutes ago, Chris Christenberry said:

Nothing like trying to make nice knives

 

 

You can use a big rock as an anvil.  No reason your dinged vulcan won't make a nice knife.  Many a knife have been made using a railroad track stood on end.  or sledge hammer heads.  Look on youtube at blacksmiths that make parangs and such in they're home countries.  you don't need much to get far.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_uPuGygAqc

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ra3TRxdQBkc

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93gNrgAqahI

 

Edited by Bruno

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49 minutes ago, Bruno said:

 

 Oh the humanity! I thought this was a family  forum! :o:blink::excl:

 

Hey, I said it was graphic!  I suppose I could have been a little more emphatic that it involved harm to an anvil, sorry. :unsure:

 

And Chris, you really don't need a totally flat surface to forge good knives.  I  actually prefer a moderately rough surface on the anvil. A polished face tends to be more difficult to use,  as the work keeps sliding around when you hit it. 

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And I've found my perfectly flat Fisher to be a bit of a pain when it comes time to straighten stuff. I have a william foster with a dip in the middle that I like for that, but the rebound isnt as good. I had a 200 (ish) lb moushole (heal broken off at the hardy) I got it in Lexington for $50. That thing just shot the hammer back at you. but I gave it away to a kid who's mother allowed me to bring a 250 lb anvil back after I figured out its face had been welded on. A good dead, but I do miss it greatly. My favorite anvil i dont use anymore. It's a 100lb mousehole with no horn. I quit using it because it means a lot to me. It was a gift from my grandfather. I might mount that thing in another stump and use it again though. I wont tear it up that bad. 

 

If you get something you like; keep it! 

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I've watched a lot of those "primitive" blacksmith videos.  Amazing what those fellows can do, indeed.

 

Here's what the top of my anvil looked like after I first cleaned it up.  Hadn't touched the top yet. Please don't comment on the edges..............it's a Vulcan after all. :lol:

 

p3642486032-4.jpg

 

And after all the hammering on the cold plate.  I think it looks a lot better.   And yes, I realize I can make a knife blade on it.  It's just so much more rewarding to play a Vivaldi concerto on a fabulous old French violin than it is a cheap Chinese rental instrument.  I'll work with what I have until I can buy what I want.  I"m sure there are people in the world who would consider this old Vulcan a real treasure, so I shouldn't put it down, I guess.

 

p3642486013-4.jpg

 

 

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In all honesty- some great blades are made with post anvils- google Sea Robin, Post Anvil  and browse a bit... as for functionality- I would encourage you to watch "Lewis Razors" on YouTube about his anvil- Although technically razors, not knives...  Some very fine edges and shapes come from his post anvil.

 

You are correct that your Vulcan would be a treasure in many shops.  (Mine included)

 

One thing you may consider is offering to rent/lease an anvil or shop time from the fellow who previously hosted the forge. In my experience folks show up- use your stuff and leave... They leave a mess, a bunch of paperwork, and generally take your time for themselves as it is offered. The ones who offer to help, clean up, and respect or offer to come in off days to clean or pitch in are the ones who build the relationships and foster the recharging of the "battery" that makes the shop space tick and work for all. Potentially offer to be a broom-slave for a day, bring coffee, learn through fellowship and be up front you are looking for shop time and will be glad to help out... you have nothing to lose. And a friendship/fellowship to gain.

 

Maybe a different perspective would change your consideration- work out the "how" to afford a new anvil using what you already have. I certainly am all for you getting exactly what you want- but for now what you "need" is the more pressing issue (Shop space)... concentrate your efforts on the search for what you like in an anvil. But get a space first!

 

I personally started on a "Silversmiths" anvil- a solid 23 pound tapered block with one curved edge and radiused edges for making flatware. This was driven into a pithy pine stump (NOT the best of bases- but it worked)

 

Hope this finds you safe well and at peace- best of luck in your search. 

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