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An anvil is just a solid lump of steel. It's a complicated bit of steel but in essence just a bit lump of metal that has sufficient mass to take a blow from a hammer - and is harder than the soft (hot) metal you're hitting.  

 
Now we also know that edges come in handy for numerous tasks but they are not the be all and end all of a useable tool. 
 
 
Why then are do beginners seem to be under the impression that anything other than a sharp 90 degree edge is inferior and must be welded up immediately before use? I believe that just about any anvil is perfectly good for a beginner...
 
I really don't understand what is the seemingly American obsession with perfect edges??
 
Is it just a misconception that new smiths are under? Is there a breed of keyboard cowboy smiths?  It seems to me that anyone that's done a bit of reading knows you can get a hardy tool if you really need a sharp edge. 
 
 
Rant off
 
Andy

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I wonder if some of what you are seeing isn't a perceived stress on edges. I see that same sort of emphasis in other things when new guys ask a question about a tool for something they are new at.

 

A new smith doesn't know a good anvil from a bad one. While it's true having something is better than nothing ( most times), part of the replies are usually to help educate the buyer who doesn't know yet what to look at and judge. An anvil with "bad" edges might be a decent deal at say $150, but it's not if someone is asking $500 instead for an anvil worth $250. The new guy has no reference to judge and make decisions with. He's counting on those with more knowledge and experience to help point him in the right direction when spending his hard earned money. 

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Watched too many Road runner cartoons, in which the coyote would always unbox a spanking new Ajax or Acme with crisp sharp edges and so expect the same, having no other reference available. 

 

Generally a sharp edge is a good starting point for a cold shut, though were one to truly a such an edge a hardy block is simple to construct. 

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So what do you see as the ideal radius for an anvil edge for general work? I'm not obsessive about edges but there's somewhere between razor sharp and something resembling a hog's back. I have a post anvil if I really need a sharp edge, but I don't use it that much.
I seem to aim most of my work on the edge of the anvil that would be about the same profile as a standard pencil.

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Andy,

 

The obsession you mention is likely based on the belief that form follows function, i.e., if I have a perfectly shaped anvil, then I will automatically produce better work.  It is related to "I must have a larger anvil" philosophy.  Although some people forge work that requires a large anvil, the vast majority of people don't need one.  Ditto on power hammers - a smith finds a 25 lb. LG, then he wants a 100 lb. Beaudry, then he wants a 500 lb. Bradley, etc. - when in fact, he never forges anything larger than an inch thick.  Sometimes, worshiping the tool(s) becomes more important than producing the work.

 

Hollis

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So what do you see as the ideal radius for an anvil edge for general work? I'm not obsessive about edges but there's somewhere between razor sharp and something resembling a hog's back. I have a post anvil if I really need a sharp edge, but I don't use it that much.I seem to aim most of my work on the edge of the anvil that would be about the same profile as a standard pencil.

  

I couldn't put a name on it in degrees but I suspect that it would vary from smith to smith. I don't have any sharp edges on my anvil but they're approximately the radius of say your average ball point pen body.

I guess you could say that is relatively sharp but I've found it to be good for most things. I've got a hardy edging tool for the times where I do need a sharper angle.


Andy,
 
The obsession you mention is likely based on the belief that form follows function, i.e., if I have a perfectly shaped anvil, then I will automatically produce better work.  It is related to "I must have a larger anvil" philosophy.  Although some people forge work that requires a large anvil, the vast majority of people don't need one.  Ditto on power hammers - a smith finds a 25 lb. LG, then he wants a 100 lb. Beaudry, then he wants a 500 lb. Bradley, etc. - when in fact, he never forges anything larger than an inch thick.  Sometimes, worshiping the tool(s) becomes more important than producing the work.
 
Hollis


That is another fair point. When I started, any anvil would do - I just needed an anvil no matter what it looked like.

I'm all for education, but all too often you see people (particularly on Facebook groups) preaching welding up edges as gospel rather than a potential option.

Andy

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I prefer my tools new, so with that comes "perfect" edges. I then can shape them to however I would like and what suites me best. I don't want to buy someone's problems if there are any with the tool. Why buy something a little cheaper that is beat up if you have the ability to spend a little more something new? If you buy something that is used that requires some repairs, well that money on repairs could of went towards new.

 

People have different preferences, and like different things.

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It's really common for folk getting into almost any new craft to think perfect tools are necessary. Gals just getting into spinning want a pristine Lundrum or whatever make wheel, knitters want perfect needles, weavers a perfect loom. New shooters save up for the perfect .357 Win mag before going on their first hunt. On and on.

 

I believe it's human nature to believe it's the tool that does the work and not the clever monkey with the thumbs that does it all, from making the tools to using them. I fall into the same thinking, if it hadn't been for my Father teaching me different at every turn it'd be easy to think it's the tool, not the person's skill.

 

Virtually every new comer to the Smith's craft wants the perfect anvil, forge, hammer, top/bottom tools. Where is the surprise? Is the OP a new comer?

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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One way I see it, if you buy crappy tools, you will have crappy experiences and won't enjoy it and will lose interest. If you spend more on something you are less likely to walk away from it because you don't want to of wasted that money.

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No newcomer should think buying an anvil with non-perfect edges is a "crappy tool" by any means.
You can still have a top notch anvil without perfect edges and it will not be a waste of money at all.
If you have a need for sharp edges in your forging (I do at times), a simple hardy block with pristine edges easily solves that.

And odds are the a newcomer is more likely to have errant blows which could mess up those perfect edges anyway.....

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It's interesting to hear both sides.  My experience in smithing and other hobbies such as welding & automotive has been to work with what I have available, borrowing tools when possible to keep costs down.  Had I waited to start until I could afford to buy new tools, I'd still be waiting with lighter pockets and less experience to show for it.

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I have learned some from this post already. I am new to the craft and like new tools. The more I read all the post the more I learn, I still have my opinions and you all have yours. Reading these post and thinking about it, I may be more open to some used tools. If I have the ability to buy new, I probably still will, but I will remember that used may not be as bad as option as I may think. 

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I totally agree that just because an anvil has rounded corners should be considered "junk" or poor purchase. Obviously depending on the price of the anvil
I do on the other side of the coin, caution buyers on anvils that have been repaired by welding... Because if the proper procedure in repairing and or welding has not been followed, even though it may "look nice "could cause considerable problems in the performance of the anvil, having cracking, and chipping on the anvil face if it hasn't been repaired properly.

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Here's an easy way to have perfect edges on any anvil.
I found a 3"x3"x5" block of steel from the salvage yard.
Only cost me a few bucks and probably weighs 15 pounds.

I flap wheeled one long edge with varying amounts of radius.
I left the other side as a perfect, sharp, square edge.
I welded a square shank to fit my anvil hardy hole and I love this thing.
I can turn it 90 degrees so it is perpendicular to the anvil face, or install it so that it runs parallel.
Flip it around so that the desired side is near or far to my work.
I use it for the different edges as needed, as well as a "backstop" on my anvil.
It has nice mass, and along with a nice shank fit it does not bounce around.

block.jpg

As long as the anvil has decent rebound and face work area, something like this solves your problems of needing pristine edges.

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Perhaps it's just me, I'm very much a function over form kind of guy in general. If it does it's job then I don't need to pay the extra cash just to have it looking shiny.


Here's a picture I took from Facebook. You can see a great example of different edges...

image.jpg

The anvil on the right is rather badly beaten up. The face does seem to be flat on the whole so it's still a useable tool. It would indeed be a good candidate for a repair if the price was right. If the seller was asking $500 I'd pass. (It's very relative)

That said, if I could get that for dirt cheap and I was looking for my first anvil there's no reason why you should pass it up. There is still enough of the face to be able to do useful work. You could easily make enough items to sell on to pay for a better anvil or for the repair of this one. Add in a hardy tool and you're sorted.

The saw doctors anvil is pristine as they often are, but take the two other large anvils on the left hand side. They are in generally good condition - They're flat, not missing any significant parts of the face plate and assuming there's no obvious cracks anywhere then any smith should be happy to own and work on them. - however this is the kind of condition that people deem as inferior and require welding up immediately before any use.
This to me is just plain wrong. Those anvils are fine and in much better condition than the anvil I learnt on, let alone the first anvil I had for many years.

I can understand the idea that better tools yield better results and to a certain extent this is true. - a lesson I am learning right now with a cheap screw driver set I bought recently.
But let's say you owned that saw doctors anvil - would a brand new anvil give you better results than that? (Ignoring the horn/ hardy hole etc) the face is still in mint condition, the edges are the same?

You could indeed buy a brand new anvil, and I think if we could afford it many of us would. If you can afford that then go for it. But frankly unless you're a professional I don't see the point. (Unless you're really really stuck for finding one) - In the UK we can get pristine anvils for less than £300 so why would I then pay £2000 for a new one? I've fitted out my whole shop for considerably less.

I'm sure I'll get the "a new tool is an investment" response to that one.

Apologies gents I appear to be ranting and going off on a tangent as per usual.

To summarise -
1. unless the anvil is beaten to   XXXX  and the face is missing, any anvil will serve a beginner well enough.
2. Perfect edges are not required. If they are you can use a hardy tool.
3. Perfect anvils do not make for perfect work.

Andy

 

 

Profane language edited as per ToS

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One way I see it, if you buy crappy tools, you will have crappy experiences and won't enjoy it and will lose interest. If you spend more on something you are less likely to walk away from it because you don't want to of wasted that money.

 

And, I have seen some "smiths" turn out some crappy work with new tools as well...

 

The tools don't determine how the work will come out, the person with the hammer will do that.

 

My first tongs consisted of an old pair of slip-joint pliers with rods welded on for reins.  Pretty crappy, I'd say, but they worked marvelously until I got other tongs...not new, but used.  They worked fine, too.

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having worked on anvils from swaybacked with broken out parts of the face all the way up to razor edged and glass smooth

i will skill the glass smooth but man i like having an anvil with a sharp edge on at least part of it and then i nice gradual radius so that i can find the edge i need when i need it yes a hardy tool can do all than and make you a bowl of popcorn as well

i am lucky enough to have a 305lb pw that has had a hard life but still very serviceable a little dip in one part of the face is handy and there is plenty to flat face for when i need it the edges are rough the "sharpest part is blunter than my pointer finger

this is no big deal as i have second lighter anvil to one side that is nice and flat with crips edges that i have dressed to suet my needs

this lets me work with what i need by pivoting to my left or right as i take work out of the forge i have found this saves me time and keep the face of the anvil free of tooling when ever possible

i guess what i am driving at is yes you can use a hardy tool for good edges but having an anvil with at least some good edges sure is nice

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One of my 100+ year old smithing books reminds folks that the first thing to do when buying a new anvil is to ROUND THE EDGES so they don't leave cold shuts in the work.  Traditionally tools were often "delivered" in a form where the *USER* was expected to dress them to suit their needs and methods of work---European hammers are still sometimes found this way.

 

 The big question is why folks think there is only *one* correct design and that they should modify their hand/arm/back to use whatever the manufacturer produces (which tends to be the cheapest design they can get away with).

 

We come from a million+ years of tool making hominids---make your tools to suit yourself!

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One of my 100+ year old smithing books reminds folks that the first thing to do when buying a new anvil is to ROUND THE EDGES so they don't leave cold shuts in the work.  Traditionally tools were often "delivered" in a form where the *USER* was expected to dress them to suit their needs and methods of work---European hammers are still sometimes found this way.

 

 The big question is why folks think there is only *one* correct design and that they should modify their hand/arm/back to use whatever the manufacturer produces (which tends to be the cheapest design they can get away with).

 

We come from a million+ years of tool making hominids---make your tools to suit yourself!

 

Good post Thomas. Sometimes it gets tiring, trying to explain the obvious. 

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I sometimes want to ask folks if they *never* fill the gas tank in their car as that was the way it was delivered to the dealership and so filling it with gas is changing how it was *originally*!

We're fast becoming a culture where we don't want to do setup or maintenance on our stuff---no break in period, sharpening, cleaning and oiling, etc is expected for many of out using items. Till you get to the *expert* users who expect to set the bevel they want on their cooking knives; break in their race car engines gently; etc.

We have all probably met people that *had* to have the best/newest stuff; but examination of it shows they never "set it up" correctly to take advantage of it's features, (blinking time on VCRs was a prime example; of the folks who never reset the factory default combo's on safes).

As smiths our motto should be "I have opposable thumbs and I know how to use them!"

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Personally I blame that Jack Andrews…. :)

 

The worst anvil I ever tried to work on was a brand new Kohlswa (spelling?) at an Art school.

 

Perfectly flat so that there was nowhere you could overcome spring-back if you wanted to straighten a bar, all the edges cut the bar rather than fullered it if you tried to shoulder/offset, and the hardy hole edge was like a razor so you could not dish in it, awful thing. 

 

My favourite anvil is hollow and every edge is rounded with differing radii and there are nicks and bits out all over the place, virtually every one of the blemishes has proved useful for one job or another. You get to know their personality with use,  their individual strengths and weaknesses. Think positively of the glitches as hard won patina.

 

I was once told that when you move into a new house and garden that you should live in it for a year before you cut any trees down, experience all the seasons. I think it is a bit like that with old tools, especially anvils use it for a while before you start welding up edges...

 

Alan

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Alan, that's one awesome post, but remember people 'like' different things, sometimes because they know better and sometimes because they don't!

Just think of food as an example, personally in different parts of the world I have eaten some incredibly ugly fish and they tasted good, I've eaten cat, dog, rat, deep fried spiders, locusts and camel some good and some not so much. However I just could not eat tripe when I was offered some . Funny old world!

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I think the fascination with sharp edges on anvils partly stems from the collector mentality. Many of us enjoy both forging as well as collecting old tools. A collector will pay more for an anvil in mint condition with clean edges. Old anvils are rare in this condition as they were used/abused and dressed as needed. That may influence what beginners and even more experienced smiths think. There is a greater perceived value in something that looks clean and new.

 

I wholeheartedly agree that an anvil with a variety of radii is much more useful. I have a clean Fisher anvil that I seldom use as its face is dead flat and edges sharp. It does come in handy once in awhile. Mostly, I use a larger Peter Wright with crowned face and varying radii. There is something more comfortable about an anvil with softer edges.

 

Dan

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Here is my take, you can laugh at me if you want.

 

Anvils that have sharp edges, to me they are just awesome to look at and touch. When I see a clean and beautiful anvil that is pristine I can't help myself but to go over and experience it. The first thing I do is to run my hand across the face and edges just to feel the smoothness of the cool steel. And as my hand slides across the face of that anvil I say wow under my breath. During that utterance, I imagine everything that went into the creation of that anvil. I imagine the hard work and physical effort needed to persuade this large chunk of iron from whatever it was, into what it is now. I think about the working conditions that employees had to endure to make this piece of history happen. I imagine the risks of just working in one of the early foundries. I wonder how many folks were hurt, maimed, or killed making these things during a time period when the employers were not required to ensure safe working conditions. Remember, OSHA, employee healthcare, or workers compensation did not exist when most of these anvils were produced. I think about the extreme temperatures that the fellows had to endure when dealing with over a hundred pounds of blazing hot metal, burns had to be a commonplace. As you can probably tell I cannot get over what it took to bring one of these functional works of art into existence. I do not work in a steel mill or foundry, but I do I teach wood and metal manufacturing at both the high school and college levels. To me a pristine anvil is the pinnacle of human skill-based manufacturing and I will forever respect anvils and the men who manufactured them.

 

However, that being said, anvils with crisp corners cause me a bit of angst when actually using them, -especially if they are not mine. I have a beautiful 150 Peter Wright with nice edges in my shed. I love it and as you can guess I baby it. I never do anything to abuse those corners and I cringe whenever a friend comes over to use my tools. I have not chipped one yet but I am always worried that I might miss when drawing down and chip an edge. To alleviate my anxiety I have three anvils. It is a little bit of overkill, but hey there are cheap 'round these parts. I keep a good working anvil, my PW, and a NC Big Face. I use the working anvil, one with a swayed back, marred face, a bit of pits, and some dents for general forging. I use it for what it is and I love it. If I miss and strike the face with an errant blow (I am hoping we all do that some times and it is not just me), I do not worry. I just keep on forging, no pausing to see if I damaged the face, no worries. If it is something that I want really smooth and straight I then finish it on the PW. If I want a hard corner I use the NC anvil to establish and the PW to refine. I also use the NC for demos as it travels nice with the stand.

 

Anyway that is my take on the edges. My wife jokes with me and says she does not have to worry about me looking at other women, just anvils ;)

 

Has anybody chipped an anvil edge? I have seen some pretty badly chipped edges and I have always wondered what has to happen to chip off an edge.

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