Your Anvil is a Great Tool
Helpful Hints on How to Make it More Efficient

© Robb Gunter

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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