Selecting an Anvil

Which is right for you?

Jock Dempsey -

To the uninitiated all anvils look alike. Just a big lump of iron with pointed ends. In fact they are a deceivingly sophisticated tool that are made in many styles, materials and sizes.

The best anvils are made of selectively hardened tool steel with a well balanced attractive shape and various useful working surfaces. It has taken centuries to develop the shapes of anvils and similar to the violin some anvil styles were perfected long ago and will probably never change.

Type by Weight Range - Min. - Max.
Pounds Type Kilos
75 - 500 Forging 35 - 230
50 - 150 Farrier 23 - 70
5 - 100 Stake 2.3 - 45
5 - 50 Bench 2.3 - 23
0.3 - 5 Jewelers 0.14 - 2.3
There are five basic types of anvil, forging, shoeing (farrier's), sheet metal, bench and jewelers. These types are different in both size and style. As with most tools there is a lot of overlap in application. A forging anvil or general shop anvil can also be used for making horse shoes and light forging can be done on a farrier's anvil. A heavy sheet metal stake can be used for light forging and bench work. Small bench work anvils can be used for jewelry but are clumsy for delicate work. However it is impossible to forge anything larger than fine wire on a little 5 oz. (150g) jewelers anvil and difficult to use a large 200 pound (90kg) forging anvil for jewelry work. Each task is best performed using the proper size tool.

The size of the anvil should be proportional to the work and the hammer used to perform that work. For forging an average hand hammer to anvil ratio of about 50:1 is normal. Example, a heavy 4 pound (1800g) hammer and a 200 pound (90kg) anvil are a good match.

Peddinghaus anvil photo (c) 2003 Jock Dempsey Forging anvils are also known as blacksmiths or general shop anvils. These range in weight from about 75 pounds to 500 pounds. They differ from farrier's anvils in that there is more mass in the body directly under the face and less distributed in the horn and heel. Due to the prevalence of horse drawn transportation in the early part of the 20th century most popular anvils were a combination of farrier's and forging anvil. Today the Peddinghaus, Vaughans, Euro and Nimba are typical forging anvils. These are designed for heavy forging and have all the standard features of a blacksmiths anvil.

The first decision to make when selecting a forging anvil is the size or weight. In general you want the heaviest anvil you can afford but there are other factors. Do you need portability? Do you need to move your anvil to the job or from storage to work space? 100 to 150 pound (45 to 70 kg) anvils are the most commonly found old anvil because they are the largest convenient portable size. The scale of your work is also a factor. If you know that most of your work is going to be light forging of 1/2" (13mm) stock or less or heavy sheet metal then a small anvil between 75 and 125 pounds is a good choice. A few smiths like the narrow face of smaller anvils. If you plan on doing lots of architectural work professionally or sculpture then a 200 pound (90 kg) anvil is normally considered the minimum general shop anvil. Those that do heavy work need as heavy of an anvil over 200 pounds as they can afford up to 500 pounds. Smiths that work on heavy anvils will tell you they can feel the difference in ease of work between a 200 and 300 pound (90 and 135 kg) anvil.

Quality Ranking by Construction
1 Forged Tool Steel
2 Steel Plate on Wrought Body*
3 Cast Tool Steel
4 Steel Plate on Cast Iron*
5 Hardened Ductile Iron
6 Chilled Cast Iron*
7 Cast Iron (ASO**)
* Historical manufacturing method no longer used.
** ASO, Anvil Shaped Object AKA door stop.
The next decision is largely economic and that is the quality or material of the anvil. Today you have two choices in anvils, forged or cast. Forged anvils and tools have been regarded as the most durable for centuries and are still considered the best. They are also more expensive than cast tools. In North America the only forged anvil available is the Ridgid Tool Co. Peddinghaus. After that is the cast tool steel anvil. The best heat treated cast steel anvils are almost indistinguishable from the best forged. However, there are some low quality cast steel anvils. To avoid these it is best to purchase a recognized brand name or from a knowledgeable dealer that you can trust.

Cast iron anvils are popularly called an ASO for "Anvil Shaped Object". These "anvils" are cheap junk largely being imported from China. They are soft, brittle and will chip or break under normal use. They are not suitable for any extended use other than as a door stop.

Style varies somewhat among different brands of forging anvil. The difference between single horned with a wide rectangular heel and double horn with a tapering square is largely a matter of taste or what you are used to. The short waistless Italian style Nimba and Texas Farrier Supply anvils look odd to many but are good forging anvil designs.

The common features of most anvils are the same, flat face, round horn, large square hardie hole, small round punching or pritchell hole. Features that vary on forging anvils are, square or rectangular heel, a step between face and horn, upsetting block, side shelf, multiple punching holes.

typical American style farriers anvil Farriers anvils may look like any other anvil to the neophyte but they are a highly specialized type of anvil. Modern farriers anvils put a high proportion of the mass in the horn and often have just enough in the heel to balance the anvil. The base has negligible mass. Because the majority of modern farriers travel to the horse, most farrier's anvils are made in the portability range of 100 to 150 pounds (45 to 70kg). Modern farrier's anvils also have special features such as "clip horns" for forming toe clips and turning cams for ease of adjusting a shoe. Due to their very narrow waist most farrier's anvils are too springy for general forging work and should be avoided by non-farriers. All the currently available farriers anvils are cast steel or hardened ductile iron.

Stake anvil - Peddinghaus catalog image Stake anvils for heavy use are largely out of style and no longer available. Small stake anvils are available from Peddinghaus and several manufacturers make the types designed for sheet metal and artistic iron work. Modern sheet metal stakes are designed to be supported in a stake plate or bench socket. However, they can be supported in a vice for light work or stump mounted like the old fashioned stake anvils. Stake anvils for sheet metal work are rarely very heavy the largest weighing 15 or 20 pounds. There are dozens of shapes available. Beakhorn Stake photo (c) Jock Dempsey The "blowhorn" stake is the most common having a large steep half cone on one side and a long tapered round on the other. A "beakhorn" stake is similar except the long arm is rectangular. There are many others named for their original purpose such as "needle case" and "candle mold". The "blowhorn" was made for making musical brass horns. Then there are others named for their shape such as mushroom, ball, hatchet or grooving stakes. Stake anvils are not suitable for forging but can be used for bench and heavier jewelry work.

Bench anvils made from RR-rail photo (c) Jock Dempsey Bench anvils are small anvils that range in size from 5 to 50 pounds. Generally the only definition of a bench anvil is that it is used on a bench for supporting work to be hammered. Styles vary from the familiar London pattern, European double horned or the classic double horned jewelers anvil with long slender bicks (horns). They can also simply be a convenient block of steel. English locksmith's bench anvils have a working end of 8 or 10" (200-250 mm) long and leg that goes to the floor. Many bench anvils have been made of structural steel and rail road rail. Others are special small anvils made for hardware suppliers. Ocassionaly a small forging anvil is used for a bench anvil.

antique jewelers anvil photo (c) 1999 Jock Dempsey Jewelers anvils are made in an old style that has not changed for 300 years or more. They have a squarish body and long slender bicks. Some have stakes to embed in a bench and others a large base. Jewelers anvils are made of forged or cast tool steel and finely finished all over. Weights range from a few ounces to a few pounds. Jewelers anvils were also sold as silversmiths, watch and clockmakers anvils.

Written for the Centaur Forge catalog by Jock Dempsey,

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