Down'n'dirty Blacksmithing/Constructing a Down'n'dirty Anvil

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This guide will show you how to construct a makeshift anvil out of nothing but scrap steel.

Objective[edit | edit source]

Set up the anvil for use.

Setting up the anvil[edit | edit source]

If you are working with the guidelines of simplicity and have found a 6" square by 2-3' piece of mild steel or an equivalent, the set up is fairly easy: lay it on the ground about 6' or so from the fire pot.

This will be adequate for the first several exercises.

This will give you a rectangular anvil with a face about 6" x 2-3" (15 cm x 5–8 cm).

Alternatively you can dig another hole a foot or two in depth, depending on the length of your "anvil" and set it in the hole upright and pack the dirt around it leaving about a foot exposed. This will give you a smaller work surface but one that is more than adequate for our purposes.

If the ends of the "anvil" are rough cut you will want to lie it on the ground and use the longer face.

Positioning[edit | edit source]

Over time you will find a place for the anvil that ideally suits your work. And you may find that you need to move it to suit different kinds of work.

To start we recommend one of two positions.

Many prefer the anvil "in line" with the forge. That is where as you're facing the forge the anvil is immediately behind you and a step or two back. The idea being that when the metal is at the right temperature the smith simply turns 180 degrees and takes a step and is at the anvil ready to work wasting no time and effort to get there and into the work at hand.

If you are working on the ground as this guide suggests you may find that the anvil is better at about 90 degrees to the "front" of the forge. If you're working on your knees, it's difficult to turn about safely with hot metal. Therefore, place the anvil before you such that the forge is on the side of your non-dominant hand. This may not work well for larger work, but for most of the projects in this course it will be fine.

Assuming a right handed smith, the forge would be roughly on the left and in reach, the anvil before. Hammer and tools to the right. The hot steel can be brought to the anvil quickly for work, the tools are ready to the dominant hand.

Reverse everything for the left handed.

Why the concern for placement? Despite the fact that steel at an orange-yellow heat is very hot (over 1200 degrees fahrenheit) it will cool rapidly in the open air. There is little time to work the hot metal while it is at a malleable temperature. Smiths work hard to make the most of the time that the metal is at working temperature. So anvil and forge are placed such that the least amount of time is lost between the fire and the anvil, maximizing the working time.

Further an experienced smith makes certain that the tools that will be needed for the next operation are ready and immediately available. If a particular hammer is needed, for example, that hammer will be on or adjacent to the anvil, ready to grasp. If a hot cut is to be done, chisel or set, hammer, quench cup will all be laid out.

The ideal is to accomplish the task in as few "heats" as necessary. A heat being the term for bringing the metal to working temperature. A rough gauge of skill and experience is how many heats a smith requires to finish a particular operation. For example a given smith might be making S hooks. To do this requires pointing either end of a rod, dressing the end and bending each end. An inexperienced smith might need many heats to accomplish this. A better smith might need four: one heat for dressing another to fashion the hook and two more for the other end of the S. A still better smith might accomplish all in two heats: one for each end. That smith is working efficiently enough that dressing and bending are accomplished in the same heat.

While this particular project in our example is not immediately contemplated it should illustrate a couple of key points:

1) Visualization: before you have the hot metal in hand have a clear idea of what shape you want it to be when you're done. 2) Planning: having visualized what is to be accomplished, plan the tools and arrangement of tools and yourself before you take the hot metal from the fire to work it.

This is one interpretation of the adage: "Blacksmithing is 90% preparation and 10% persperation."

Alternatives[edit | edit source]

As with the forge, you may have problems with working that close to the ground. If that is the case you have a few alternatives:

  • Using scrap wood build a wooden frame that leaves a square in the middle to hold the steel upright and at a height were the uppermost face of the "anvil" is at the height your knuckles will brush when you're standing next to it.
  • If you prefer the larger work surface build a frame that will hold the "anvil" horizontally with the uppermost face at the same height as in the previous paragraph.
  • If you have a spare 5 gallon paint bucket you can set the "anvil" upright in the bucket and fill the bucket with concrete. Once this has set up it will act as the "stump" for the anvil.
  • If you have access to raw wood use a part of a tree trunk. If the diameter is large enough it will stand stable, if not you have to sink a part of it into the ground to keep it from toppling over.

Improvements[edit | edit source]

The first improvement you might want to make is to flatten one of the narrow ends if the "anvil" has come to you with rough torch cut ends. The easiest way to accomplish this is at a steel yard where they might have a steel cutting band saw. You might have to grind and polish, but the end will be smoother than the rough surface torch cutting leaves.

Less easy but practical if you have access to a side grinder is to grind the end relatively flat.

Much more work, but doable with the tools at hand would be to hammer at the end until it's relatively flat.

Another improvement, especially if you have access to a side grinder is to make sure that one edge has a fairly sharp edge to it and the others are rounded. You'll do most of your work on or around the rounded edges. The sharp edge can be used as a cut off hardie for hot cutting.

An advanced improvement would be to add a square hole about 3/4" across (a "Hardy Hole) or a round hole about 1/2" diameter (a Pritchel Hole) in whichever face you decide to use as the top. These are useful when punching or dimpling. You can also use them to attach accessories to your anvil. If you are fortunate enough to acquire hardy tools or pritchel tools within your budget, size the holes to match whatever tools you have. If not, choose sizes compatible with the size stock you'll have available when you want to make some accessory tools. Hardy tools should fit a bit tight, so they don't wiggle around; pritchel tools are generally allowed to rotate, so should fit a bit loose.

Once you get your anvil cut, holed, and smoothed to your liking, consider hardening it, so it'll stay that way.

Next Chapter: Basic Blacksmithing Techniques