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I am totally new to anvils, so be gentle. I have always wanted to get into blacksmithing and general metalworking, but it hasn't happened yet. I have been doing some reading on anvils, and there is a question that I don't understand.

I have heard guys talking about cheap vs. quality anvils, and I understand that differences in iron/steel quality makes a huge difference in a lot of tools, especially those that need to be hardened. I have heard guys talking about hitting an anvil with a hammer to see if it rings and is made from a good quality material.

Where I am confused is this: It seems to me (in my admitted inexperience) that all an anvil does is to provide a large, heavy, stable surface to pound hot steel on. Why does it matter what quality the material is, as long as it doesn't deform or break under the pounding?

Thanks in advance for the education.

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Several methods have been used to make anvils historically.  One of the most common was to forge weld a high carbon face onto a low carbon body---even as late as the American Civil War high carbon steel could cost 6 times as much as low carbon so you could save a LOT doing it that way.  One problem is that the face can delaminate from the body due to abuse, welding issues, etc.  When this starts the anvil that used to ring when tapped and not fastened down or bedded will stop ringing.  So this test is a good general one---like when buying a used car you might look at the exhaust to see if the engine is smoking.

Cast iron anvil shaped objects don't ring so another sorting test.  HOWEVER certain anvils don't ring but are still good anvils: Fisher and Vulcan anvils for example; they have a steel face but a cast iron body.  my main shop anvil is a massive Fisher and it works very well indeed and so very quietly!   This is why we advise the ball bearing test to check for the hardness of the face---you can have an excellent brand of anvils but it could have been through a fire and lost it's hardening and so no longer a great anvil and now be at the lower end of usable anvils. (Cost of rehardening an anvil can be large and danger of damage while doing so also a possibility).

So if it's a "ringing anvil" check for ring; if it's not then don't. Check *ALL ANVILS* for rebound!

As for quality: why buy a mercedes when a yugo might get you from place to place?  Higher quality anvils have hard thick faces that maximize the amount of energy transferred into deforming your work piece---meaning your work goes faster and with less effort.

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The energy transfer was something I didn't realize. I guess checking for rebound is one of the main issues. Take a ball bearing with me when I go to look at an anvil?

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Ball bearing and tape measure so you can quantify what the rebound really is--without a tape, it's really easy to "guild the lily" and see more rebound than there really is.  Even small balls will work but it's nice to have something big enough to see well, especially if it goes flying because it hit a rough patch on the face.

Test the face in more than one place just to feel better about it.

How much rebound is good?  You'll get a lot of different answers on that one.  There are people who are perfectly happy with 60% if the anvil is priced well.  There are others who consider it on the mediocre side if you don't hit near 90%.  My take is to keep looking when you are down toward that low end unless it's a steal.  If you are currently working on a piece of rusty scrap, even a poor anvil might be the cat's meow to you just to have one.  

I made myself curious to hear what is the best rebound forum members have ever seen from an anvil with the ball test--any takers?  Mine hits at only 80-85% with a 1/4" ball so I know it gets better...

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Anvilfire  has a listing of reported results from the rebound test. under the 21st century link on their pull down menu

20 entries ranging from a Peddinghaus to red oak end grain...

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So when you say percentage of rebound, I guess you mean that if I drop a ball bearing from 10" and it bounces back 5" that is 50% rebound?

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5 hours ago, RossA said:

Why does it matter what quality the material is, as long as it doesn't deform or break under the pounding?

that's the thing, it has to be good quality steel so that it wont deform (and properly heat treated).

                                                                                             Littleblacksmith

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take care, thick rust and paint on the face could fake the rebound test. when I bought my little Trenton I tested it with the steel ball and the ball was barely bouncing off the face, but the face was painted and I knew that this heavily affects the rebound and I was pretty confident that the anvil was good. after removing the paint and the rust bellow the paint, I have 80%+ rebound. there is another test that I was using for anvils which I haven't seen it advised around too often - the file test - you take a file and try filing the edges, it has to skate rather than bite into. the hardness may differ from anvil to anvil and the range could be quiet wide, from the low 50'sHRC to well over 60HRC, but still in the good/excellent anvil category, so it takes a bit of experience to evaluate the hardness this way, but still a good and relevant test. it only doesn't tell you if you have a delaminated face or a crack which could be detected with a hammer or a steel ball. I used the file test when buying that Trenton, just to check if I was right about the hardness - the file was skating like on glass.

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Good information. I have a lot to learn, but I am excited to learn and get started.

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Mosey over to the local public library and ask to ILL "Anvils in America"; it will give you the background that most of us are working from.

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Thanks. I may just decide to buy a copy for my own reference as I go along. I get the feeling that anvils are one of those things where once you get one, you eventually get another.

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1 hour ago, RossA said:

Thanks. I may just decide to buy a copy for my own reference as I go along. I get the feeling that anvils are one of those things where once you get one, you eventually get another.

I've come to the conclusion that anvils are herd animals:  They tend to gather in herds when you provide the right accommodations for them to be happy.  Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out what those accommodations which grow a herd actually are.  From what I've seen of others, many have developed a magic pheromone which seems to make an existing herd attract more iron livestock.  I guess anvil herders just have skills.

Those of us who haven't developed the skills call it "luck" so we can feel better about ourselves.

 

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2 hours ago, matei campan said:

the most difficult to find was the first one, then the second one, after that, they started to breed...

True, it took 4 1/2 years to find my first.  Since then I've purchased 3 more. 

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16 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

Mosey over to the local public library and ask to ILL "Anvils in America";

Thomas,    You must have a better Library than I do, most everything of real value has been replaced with Fiction or computers. 

Loved your comment on the Yugo, the year they were introduced the NADA show was in New Orleans and Yugo gave the police there a bunch of Yugos to drive for the week, everyone broke down and had to  be towed  before the week was over. 

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Notownkid, he means Inter-Library Loan (ILL). Even at a community college, I can go the the desk and request any title from any library in the state, and if they have it, I get it for 3 weeks, no cost. I have gotten obscure, out of print metallurgy and welding tomes from UNC-Chapel Hill and Wilmington.

Even in this digital age, a library card is useful for something besides scraping frost off of your windshield.

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Library card? I think I had one of those somewhere in the distant past. Might be a good time to get another one and see what I've been missing.

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Hey Ross,

All these replies are spot on and is exactly what I have been recently taught. Rebound is the key as it was explained to me that when your hammering on a hot iron your anvil should be hammering the underside just as much as you are on the top side. As far as testing when your on the hunt and looking for a new candidate in someones barn/shop/basement if you don't have a good size ball bearing handy grab a hammer (a good one) hit the anvil holding the hammer lightly you should be able to gauge the rebound buy the amount of stroke you put in to the stroke it puts out... The Ball bearing test is drop the bearing from your hand at 12 inches above the anvil it should come right back up to your hand....the big caution on this is don't move your hand to catch the ball! 

Anvil breeding so that's whats going on and why they are so hard to find the bigger ones... Dang trophy hunters must be to blame!

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This might be a stupid question, but I am new so I expect I will ask a few of those.

Is there any optimal size ball bearing to use? Since I will need to find one at a hardware store, steel supply or someplace, I might as well get the right one.

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The smaller the ball bearing the more surface conditions will modify the bounce  And if you use 10" rather than 12 then the % is just the number of inches it bounced back. You will not get a true 100%  rebound from a *dropped* ball in this universe!  (You can't win, you can't tie, and you gotta play the game!)  So in general I use a convenient pocket size and keep one in my pickup for "finds"; I think mine is 1/2".  A quick wire brush on a face can help reduce rust/paint/oil issues

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