Saturday, October 14, 2017


Lest anyone try to convince you otherwise, an anvil is any object onto which hot iron or steel can be hammered in order to forge those metals into different shapes.  There is no such thing as “an anvil shaped object” (ASO) as some have claimed since anvils have no particular shape other than a flat surface.  The accouterments added to anvils in the way of bicks, hardie holes, pritchel holes etc. are additions or orifices intended for either specialized forging processes or for accommodating tools, punches and the like.  Anvils come in all sorts of sizes and shapes and are made of many materials.  The earliest anvils were made of stone, and around the world many smiths still ply their trade using boulders of one shape or another as their anvil.  Anvils have been made of wrought iron, cast iron or steel or a combination.  Anvils were also made using soft alloys like bronze.  Therefore, any sort of condescension regarding anvils arrives from tunneled vision and not fact.  The physics behind anvils, however, is another matter entirely.  Let it suffice to say that the greater the mass beneath the flat surface onto which hot steel will be placed and then pounded the greater the opposing force that will drive back into the steel—recall Newton’s 3rd and 2nd Laws of Motion.  In a properly mounted anvil the opposing force becomes the earth itself which is a breathtaking thought to ponder.  Regardless, once smelting ore was discovered and the concept of an anvil was established humans set upon an endless quest to advance the technology.

We have no idea how many anvils were made of nothing more than wrought iron.  Later humans learned to manufacture steel and small steel plates were forge welded to the anvil surface to add strength and resistance.  Rowan Taylor has an excellent video of this process on his YouTube channel.  After watching Rowan’s video I wondered whether or not these small European anvils might’ve been part of the original bug-out bag contents.  With a suitable small hammer a craftsman could forge arrow points in the field or perhaps other small items as needed.  Refer to Rowan Taylor’s video on forging the hammer that compliments the little anvil.

I’ve stated that worldwide more anvils are made from salvaged materials than anything else.  The quintessential “anvil” that so many people equate with “an anvil” is conceptually modern but is not the one-and-only anvil shape.  I hope you’ve concluded that you don’t need to spend five hundred or a thousand or more dollars on an “anvil” when the local salvage yard or metal warehouse can provide you with all you’ll ever need in the way of anvils.  For years my two anvils were the underside of a railroad track (nice and flat) and the head of an old sledgehammer.  Even though I purchased a store-bought anvil a year ago I occasionally use my sledgehammer head and upside down railroad track rail to forge steel.

It was also about a year ago that two friends of mine decided to upgrade their anvils to something with a bit more mass.  Only one of my friends is a knifemaker; the other is a woodworker.  Both fellows are very talented and I cherish their friendship.  Gerald makes beautiful knives and Joseph makes just about anything related to wood you can think of.  Both of them are perfectionists.  Joseph had been using a railroad track anvil for tinkering with small bits of steel, and Gerald was using a four-inch diameter round bar sunk into a tub of concrete.

Below are photos of the two anvils each man recently fashioned.  We’re not sure what type of steel is used in these anvils.  I had mentioned to Joseph to buy six-inch diameter 1045 about 12 inches in length.  According to my calculations that chunk of steel would weigh 96 pounds which is more than enough to accomplish what either fellow might be looking to achieve.  The other advantage is that a round bar of that weight can be heat treated by small-shop blade-makers and hobbyists.  Anything bigger (and heavier) becomes difficult.  But Joseph, never much concerned with the details of science or physics, remembered my sermon about mass below the heated steel but little else, and when he was at the metal store he said, “I’m looking for a six-inch diameter round bar.”
          “What length?” asked one of the employees.
          “I need mass,” Joseph said.
          “How about two feet,” the employee said.
          “Great!  Arthur [that’s me] will be pleased.”
          Is it 1045 I wondered when he called me up and said, “I bought four-feet.  Two feet for me and two-feet for Gerald.”
          So Gerald picked up his two-feet of six-inch round bar and Joseph took home his two-feet of steel.  Note that a two-foot section of six-inch round bar weighs 192 pounds.  We’re talking some serious mass beneath the hot steel that probably equates to something like a 500 pound store-bought anvil.
          “Yeah,” you ask.  “But how are they going to heat treat those suckers?”
          To which I’ll nod and shrug my shoulders.
          Anyway, we’re not even sure if its 1045 steel or 1018 steel.  And please don’t say things like “spark test” or something similar.  Besides I wasn’t around when either fellow created his anvil and both of them seem content now with what they’ve got.  Lots of people are making anvils using mild steel these days and no one seems all that upset.  As one English fellow on YouTube says, “If you ding your anvil then just clean it up with an angle grinder.”

 Joseph's Anvil

Gerald's Anvil

So which of the two anvils do I prefer?  I’m not so much a post anvil aficionado as I am a stump anvil fan.  And like I said, I would not have gone with a 24-inch long round bar for the reasons noted above.  Yes, I purchased a beautiful anvil from Centaur Forge and I am extremely pleased with it.  In fact, it’s kind of become my baby.  My little shop is a lean-to bordering a barn on one side and within a few steps of a smaller barn at one corner.  But it is open on three sides so I prefer wrapping my more expensive tools with synthetic tarps when I’m not using them.  So the Kanca is cleaned and covered after an afternoon or evening of working.  Let me make it clear that if you want to buy a modern-type anvil and you’ve got the coins to do so then by all means go for it.  Some people find old anvils and restore them.  Restoring old anvils is something I applaud.

Okay, of the two large post anvils I think I prefer Gerald’s design because it seems more stable.  If Joseph were to anchor his anvil to the ground I would consider it a tie.  To my knowledge, Joseph’s anvil has not been used and probably won’t ever see much use.  Gerald’s anvil, on the other hand, has seen quite a bit of use.  They are presently working on a collaborative project that will be raffled off for a charity event.  I’ll post pics when the project is finished.  You will be amazed by their talents.


  1. I had to look up "post anvil" when you mentioned it in you last post (?).
    My minor hard surface needs have been met by a piece of steel I got from dad when he passed.

    1. It does get confusing. Lots of people do exactly as you’ve done. Just a hard chunk of steel.

  2. I've never seen steel post anvils like those pictures. As Arty Johnson used to say on that 60's Laugh-In show: Very Interesting !

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