Aside from owning a computer that seems to have come down with dementia, I’ve been quite busy here in the woods working on a couple of construction projects: One, an extension to my shop, and two a carport for our vehicles. Leaving our trucks parked under the porous shade of mesquite trees will help little if an aberrant hailstorm comes to visit. Nonetheless, I’ve also been busy rearranging my little shop to accommodate its latest member, a 50 kilogram (110 pounds) Kanka anvil purchased from Centaur Forge. I’ve been pounding on the new anvil for nearly a month now and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. What prompted me to buy an anvil can be summarized into three parts. First, I needed a solid platform to make my large chopping knives as well as engage in other metal-shaping projects. Second, I was having difficulty keeping these larger knives flat and straight using the sledgehammer head that, though an excellent small anvil, did not help much in the larger project arena. And third, I wanted to expand my work to incorporate tasks that are easier done using the anvil’s horn or bik. The good news is that my Kanka anvil accomplishes all three tasks nicely. Let me make it clear, however, that for those of you who have chosen to use other solid platforms to perform artistic blacksmithing or to forge knives, there exists no better anvil than a 20 pound sledgehammer head turned on its end and buried into a stump. Likewise, a round or square chunk of medium carbon steel (4140, 1040, 1045) measuring about six inches across and weighing in the area of 80 to 100 pounds (and also buried on its end into a stump) makes for an anvil that rivals the heaviest anvil-looking-anvils. By the way, I’ve fashioned a number of railroad track anvils and have found them all wanting. They have too much bounce and are simply too light in weight to be used on anything other than dainty projects like making jewelry or little knives. The other day, in fact, I was talking to a coppersmith and she uses a railroad track anvil for her work. She also suggested that railroad track anvils lack to necessary mass to function adequately on larger projects. Therefore, the maker, or perhaps more accurately said, the individual who forges larger things will do much better with a sledgehammer or steel-bar anvil than with any piece of railroad track.
New anvils aren’t cheap; and there are always those who go around proselytizing about buying older used anvils. There are also those who comment in the various knife-making and blacksmithing forums about running into a little old lady who was in possession of a 200 pound anvil in near mint shape manufactured in 1900 or 1864 or 1923 etc., who for one reason or another sold said anvil for a hundred bucks. Congratulations to those folks but truth be told, most used (antique) anvils sell for a lot more than currently manufactured anvils. To compound the issue, old anvils are problematic in that they may have tiny fractures that won’t show up until further use, plus they also come with numerous injuries from past employment. For example, just a few miles from this deepwoods enclave sits a 150 pound anvil of decent manufacture that was owned by a man who recently passed away. Today the anvil sits rusting and deteriorating and despite the fact that I tried to purchase the anvil if for no other reason than to give it some respect and clean it up, I was told that it ain’t for sale. Now the old man who owned the anvil hadn’t forged anything for perhaps twenty years or thereabouts. He was a nice man but unfortunately age had crippled him severely. To make things worse, he had loaned the anvil to a relative who lives a few miles away and the relative had apparently used a large sledgehammer to beat the hell out of some improperly heated steel. The results are an anvil with its edges severely mangled. It reminds me of a WWII aircraft carrier that’s just been hit by a Kamikaze plane: A mass of twisted steel ripped and gutted and heading for the ocean floor. What shocks me is that anyone who uses someone else’s anvil would have so little respect for the owner or the tool that he would (even as he saw it was being destroyed) continue defacing the anvil to the point of near ruin. Long story short: That old anvil is now flaking into oblivion and won’t be saved. Furthermore, I’m not inclined to let others take a whack to my anvil with the exception of my sons who will receive a lengthy tutorial on proper anvil treatment. Let’s face it; most neophytes go at anvils as if they were suddenly in bar fight hitting the opponent with everything they’ve got. I think I’ll just be rude (as they might see it) and say, “No.”
Now the Kanca anvil is made in Turkey using a method that is quickly becoming as rare as are bodies of unpolluted water, clear skies and places without human-produced noise. In fact, to my knowledge only the Turkish Kanca and the German-made Peddinghaus anvils are drop forged. All other anvils are produced using various forms of casting. Mind you that the technology of casting has improved greatly and assuming that the casts are made from high-grade alloy steel and not iron then the anvils are of excellent quality. Regardless, I wanted a drop-forged anvil and the Kanca is less expensive (but not lesser quality) than the Peddinghaus.
The Kanca anvil arrived in a wooden crate with two layers of clear wrap enveloping it. With the help of my son, Matthew, we’d constructed a stand on which to set the anvil. My son, Ethan, helped me uncrate the anvil and he set it on the stand. I drove over to the local feed, seed and ranch supply store in the tiny hamlet about five miles away and looked around until I found four box handles that I modified to hold the anvil in place. Several lag bolts later and I was ready to start forging. Of course, the first thing to do on any new anvil is to make a pair of tongs. Its tradition and anything less is probably sacrilegious. Besides, I love forging tongs. There’s something transcendental about taking two round or square bars and without the use of anything else other than a hot fire, a good hammer, a hot punch and a rivet and then fashioning a set of tongs. It’s like magic.
Since I bought my Kanca anvil I’ve made three of my large choppers that have already been spoken for by some young woodsmen who come by dressed in green and packing side arms and who enjoy visiting and discussing things like knives and bows and hunting and woods roaming and all things related to topics the old man knows a thing or two about.
So how does the Kanca perform? The ring is musical. The feedback is superb. The mass is mostly directly beneath the face thus making it a true blacksmith’s anvil. That’s not to say that a farrier’s anvil won’t serve the purpose when making small knives or especially artistic endeavors, but the true blacksmith anvil is—for those who for whatever reason are enamored with the chemistry of metals and the shaping of hot steel and the fulfillment of creating objects of art (to which I include handmade knives)—well, the blacksmith anvil is the very epicenter of that triad and, for this old man at least, a conduit into the world of total immersion into a craft that ironically I grew up around but never really embraced until decades later.