Blasts from the Bloomery . . .
Your Anvil is a Great Tool
Helpful Hints on How to Make it More Efficient
© Robb Gunter, The Forgery School of Blacksmithing, Tijeras, NM
published in ANVIL Magazine, May 1998
Your anvil is probably the single most useful and versatile tool ever developed
by man. Its design has been developing for thousands of years.
The first anvils were large, flat rocks. Both the Egyptian and Viking cultures
used such stone anvils. Archaeologists have found meteorites that were used
as anvils in the Egyptian and Greek cultures, even though they were predominantly
Bronze Age cultures, and iron forging was somewhat rare.
The anvil design we now know reached its present level of development in
the mid-1700s in Western Europe. Further refinements into the London pattern
and farriers' anvils came along in the mid-1800s. There are numerous other
special variations in anvil design, such as: double bic, armor's anvil,
sawmakers' bridge anvil, jewelers' anvil and coopers' anvil, to name a few.
How "live" an anvil is, is very essential for efficient work and is usually
associated with its ring. Historically, anvils which didn't ring were considered
inferior. This is not always true. A good anvil responds by bouncing your
hammer upward after each blow, whether or not it rings. Typically, wrought
iron-base anvils ring more than cast iron or cast steel anvils. A dead anvil
(one which doesn't reciprocate your hammer) requires much more exertion and
effort from the smith. If your anvil rings to the point of distraction, try
bending a "U" of 3/8" round stock and dropping it through the pritchel hole.
It is easily removed when you need the hole for punching operations.
The height of your anvil is also critical. There seems to be an optimum height
for each individual smith. It must be low enough to allow your arm and hammer
to fully extend, yet high enough so that you don't work bent over. Most of
the students who come to my school find that an anvil adjusted to where the
top plate is wrist high, works best. An anvil stand which allows for adjustment
in height to suit the type work being done is worth considering. A 100-lb.
anvil is usually considered the minimum weight necessary for an adult. Having
your anvil securely mounted to its base so that it does not bounce around
is a must. Remember, in terms of what happens to the material you're forging,
there are two hammers working on it, the lower one is standing still.
The relationship of your anvil to your forge and leg vise should be carefully
planned for maximum efficiency. The anvil is best when mounted at 90°
to your forge and no more than two steps away. Your vise should be no more
than three steps from your forge. Some thought should also be given to the
placement of benches, tables and tong racks. Portable forge setups, typically
used by farriers, are usually carefully planned for efficiency.
There are unlimited numbers of anvil tools (hardy tools) that can make your
anvil a more efficient work place and usually the time spent making or
maintaining your anvil tools is well spent. If you have more than one anvil,
consider standardizing the hardy hole size by either having it machined to
make it larger or sleeve it to decrease the size so that all your anvil tooling
is interchangeable. Having a (mild steel) cutting plate that fills your anvil
is a must. Developing your proficiencies at cutting and splitting on the
top of your cutting plate as well as using the step or heel as a shearing
surface is very valuable.
Mounting a steel ruler or marking off measured 1/2" or 1/4" increments on
the back side of your anvil below the well-dressed edge is extremely valuable
for quick measurements on repeat forgings or when checking for accurate hole
or bending locations.
A properly dressed and ground tool plate is a must for peak performance out
of your anvil. Edges should be carefully ground and radiused for the type
of work you are doing.
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Table of Contents for May, 1998.