Blacksmithing is both a hobby and a useful skill. I initially planned to forge knives, but smaller projects are easier when first learning.
Why Does a Blacksmith Anvil Matter?
A good anvil is critical to be able to produce quality work. A good anvil will also make learning how to blacksmith easier, as the results will be better. However, a truly great smith will be able to work with lower quality tools and still put out decent work. So, if all you have is an iron anvil, have at it. At least you won't ruin a nice antique steel anvil. Work with what you have in order to develop your skills. You will be able to appreciate a good or even great anvil once you've developed enough to appreciate quality tools.
Choosing Your First Anvil
At a minimum, your anvil should:
- Have a steel face
- Have a flat surface
Nice to have on your first anvil:
- Hardy hole
- Pritchel hole
- Round horn
- All steel
Minimum Requirements of a Blacksmith Anvil
If you are going to go out of your way to purchase an anvil, the minimum requirements should be a steel face and a flat surface. Everything else is negotiable, or able to be added later.
Do not purchase the 55 lb "Harbor Freight Special." While this is shaped like an anvil, it will not function well as a blacksmith's anvil. This is sometimes referred to as an "anvil-shaped object" or ASO. It looks like an anvil, but it just doesn't hold up as an anvil should. The ASO will rapidly become battered up from repeat pounding of your harder steel tools. I know, because I had one given to me to start out. I dressed it very nicely and radiused the edges. It lasted two sessions before it would have needed to be dressed again.
Things to Look for in a Blacksmith's Anvil
A good anvil doesn't have to be pretty. It might be downright ugly, but that just means it has seen a lot of work. Rust can be removed as long as it is just surface rust. Look for damage on the edges and pitting on the face and horn. A damaged anvil can be fixed, but it takes knowledge, time, and skill to do so. Check for a hardy hole and a pritchel hole, which will become useful very quickly. Vulcan anvils frequently have a steel face, but an iron body. Depending on how much damage to the face there is, this may make the anvil unsalvageable without considerable work. Tap the anvil with a hammer to listen for a ring versus a thud. Steel anvils will ring, but iron anvils do not ring.
The Ball Bearing Test
Doing the "Ball Bearing Test" on an anvil is a great way to identify a potential purchase. This will help you determine if the anvil is steel and how much rebound it produces. From about 10 inches, drop a ball bearing onto the face of an anvil to see how high it bounces. Even my 30-kilo acciaio anvil had about 75% rebound. This means that from 10 inches, the ball bearing bounced about 7.5 inches back up after striking the anvil face. This should also cause the anvil to ring, indicating it is steel.
Your Blacksmithing Anvil Doesn't Have to Look Like an Anvil
Notice that the minimum requirements for an anvil are only:
- Be steel
- Be flat
Nowhere does it say that your anvil needs to be shaped like a traditional anvil. Choosing an "anvil-like object" (ALO) is an inexpensive way to get started. An ALO is a much better choice than an "anvil-shaped object" (ASO). A large round or square of 4140, mounted vertically, would make a fine anvil. Surround it with some 4x4s or sink it into a stump to hold it in place. A usable ASO can be had from eBay for $20 and up, with the larger/heavier ones becoming more expensive.
Railroad track anvils are also quite popular and very functional. They are frequently cut and ground to be shaped more like a traditional anvil. They may have holes in the base to make mounting much easier.
The Amazon Acciaio Anvil
My current anvil is a 30 kilo commonly available on Amazon and eBay for about $150. There are smaller and larger sizes. It comes in blue or black, but you are not able to choose which color you get. The description is frequently incorrect. It is a cast steel anvil (not iron, not forged). It very likely has some voids from when it was cast, which were filled and then painted over to hide. I had a significant number of voids on the underside of my horn. Dressing your anvil for use will take some time. I highly recommend the video below. I used it to help me dress my anvil for work.
Aside from the occasional shoddy casting job, you definitely get your money's worth with this anvil. For $150 you could do a lot worse. It will not be a perfect anvil by any means, but it will work fairly well. My main criticism of this anvil is that the pritchel hole isn't very functional. A pritchel hole is used for punching holes in metal. Due to the fact that much of the pritchel is not supported, punching it is likely to damage your piece. Use the hardy instead.