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When do you need more weight?

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I'm still very new to this, but I am now hooked enough that I am starting to consider a legitimate anvil. I'm currently using a piece of railroad track that someone previously ground to the shape of an anvil. It only weighs about 20 lbs, and I have since learned that the piece of track would have likely been better left alone and set on end. It was a whopping $30 though and fit the bill for when I was investing the bare minimum just to figure out if this was something I would enjoy doing or not. I haven't noticed that the small size or improper configuration has held me back considerably, but I have nothing to compare to. I don't know if my projects are just so small it doesn't matter, or if life would be easier with something bigger and I just don't know it. I've tried reading all the various posts about the weight's impact on the efficiency of blows, but I sort of get the feeling it's one of those things you understand once you've used something sizable and compared. My current desire for a next level anvil isn't directly tied to more size. I'm currently very jealous of various hardy tools I've seen in the tools section, so I'd like an anvil with a hardy hole which mine does not. Also, I started out in the pursuit of bladesmithing knives, but in monkeying around with making little tomahawks I've also become intrigued with the notion of small axe making. When making the little hawks I keep wanting to be able to use the horn in ways that I've seen folks do on youtube videos to shape the blade. The horn on my current anvil was ground in to make it look like an anvil, but it isn't really usable. I'd like an anvil with some actual beef in the horn section.

I've been trying to do my research by reading through stickies and lots of old posts. A common refrain is "get the heaviest one you can." What I haven't been able to discern is where you hit the limits at a given weight anvil. Whether that's size of stock that can be worked or weight of hammer it can take, and where those limits fall. I have a couple of reasons to not want just the most honking anvil possible. One is budget. This is a hobby for me, and my return on investment for at least as far as I can see in the future is smiles not dollars. This purchase needs to fall into my "I can justify this as fun" category. Second issue is I don't have an actual shop. I need something I can move in and out of cover in the back yard to actually use, at least until the point I'm into this enough that setting up a shed etc. falls into my justify for fun category. Looking around locally and semi locally for second hand options the common weight available falls into the 100-150lbs range. The asking prices start around $350 and go up from there to the grand range. Anything under $500 has some flaw from a life of use whether its chipped edges, sway, or someone has done something silly like cut across the heel with a torch. I've been researching which flaws are a bigger concern than others with the notion of trying to find one that could be haggled into the $300-$400 range and be generally worth it. In my researching around I've also found a few options for brand new anvils that could be had in the same price range. Removing the factor of my inability to judge the quality of an anvil or the level of a flaw from the equation has some appeal. Those anvils are a little lighter though, generally 70 lbs, and they all look to be designed for farriers. In reading old posts about farrier anvils I understand they aren't as ideal for general blacksmithing because of the lower weight and the thinner waist (less mass directly under the hammer). Due to my inexperience and knowing blacksmithing encompasses a lot of different size work, what I don't know is at what point would such an anvil show its limitations. There are also some bells and whistles to some of these farrier anvils that are initially appealing to me, but I'd appreciate insight from anyone more experienced if these would actually work/help as I envision. The NC anvils for example have a large 1.25" "turning hole" in the heel that seems like it would be a great place to run a punch and drift through. The Cliff Caroll anvils have a flat on one side of the horn that seems like it would be great for shaping an axe where the back side could be on the flat and the blade wrap around the curve. Various farrier anvils have little rounding knobs or other various shaped bits that look like they might be handy for shaping a beard on an axe or tweaking a tomahawk spike straight. I don't know if these things would actually help as I think, or if there are just better ways to do these things that I don't know about yet. So that's a very long winded way of asking will I hit a point where a new farrier anvil isn't up to the task and I should have gotten a "flawed" used general blacksmith anvil? For context, here is what I currently do and hope to do in the future:

Railroad spike things shaped roughly like blades (small "knives" and "tomahawks")
Small to Medium knives from lawnmower blades and files (6" blade range)

Would like to do in the future:
Slightly larger knives (things in the bowie knife range)
Work up to better/slightly larger stock (coil springs, leaf springs, purchased known steel)
Small axes (hatchets, camp axes)

Pipe dreams (as in things I know might not be possible by a single person with hand tools or I might never be skilled enough to do):
Make my own hammer
Historical recreation axes
A big sword! (Come on I had to say it, haha, but I know this one is unlikely to happen)

One important thing I left off the would like to do list is making tools to make the rest of the list: tongs, hardy tools, drifts.

PS. Sorry for the overly long post. My hope is being thorough about what exactly I'm trying to accomplish is more respectful of folks time in trying to answer rather than just saying "how big is big enough?" Here's my current little anvil bolted down to four scrap pieces of 4x4 PT I lashed together with decking screws:


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Efficiency of work wanted depends a lot on the person and has some correlation to age.  If I had to hit something 100 times to make it when I was in my 20's I find I'm much happier if I can get it done with 50 blows in my 60's.  Now when is too small?  When you can't get the job done!  One of the advantages of a RR rail anvil is that you can "over work" it with little fear of it breaking apart---Weygers mentioned this in "The Complete Blacksmith" they they worked their rail anvils as if they were much larger ones!

One way to get around the size issue is to create a "striking anvil" for doing the heavy work on, a scrapped fork lift tine or large chunk of steel, well mounted and you can do the sledging with good effect.  Also is your RR rail anvil has a heel---why don't you make a hardy hole!  Cut a slot in the heel and then weld a stout piece of steel across it, (Preheat and post slow cool of course!) and you have a hardy hole.  Or you can make a detached hardy hole---snowplow wear plates generally have square holes in them, a couple of worn out ones stacked to align the holes and welded and you have several ones to work with. (Shoot get in with the guy who works on plows and he might even do the work for you!)

Funny when I was younger I was always chasing large anvils and having got a couple and being older I now like the smaller ones---100# to 150# as I travel when I teach.  Have you read up on the TPAAAT on finding anvils that are not on the open market and so may be less expensive?

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TP has some very good suggestions for homemade anvils, now i'll see if i can give some advice for manufactured anvils.

First off,you probably know this, but never ever ever buy a cast iron "anvil''!! cast steel is fine cast iron is not. the prices you named are way high for our area but may be normal for yours. you can always drive through rural neighborhoods and ask around, but this is a hit or miss way of finding one. also try auctions, estate sales, and online auctions. As far as farriers anvils go, they are designed for farriers, not for blacksmiths. All the feature you named are designed for the shaping of horseshoes. Can they be used by blacksmiths? Definitely yes. would it be a big improvement over what you have now? definitely yes, but a blacksmith anvil would be better still.

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Thank you gents.

Mr. Powers, I'm in my 30s. I can do whatever I could in my 20s, but now I know I did it the next day. I figure in another decade I might be wise enough to think about doing those things before doing them. I did look at some of the TPAAAT posts. Sounds like a smart way to get a deal. It may or may not work in my area. One challenge for me would be finding the opportunity to get out and about to poke and check with folk. I sneak forging in the couple hours a weekend between getting done the house chores and shuttling the kids to various things and end up researching blacksmith things and hunting online classifieds sitting in the waiting room while my girls are in ballet class. I'd need to give up my forging time for hunting for gear time, and I'd rather be forging. I appreciate the alternative approach suggestions. I'll research those some more to see if I can come up with some attainable solutions. Any creative ways to approximate a real horn? I like the idea of a separate striking anvil. Theoretically more obtainable at size, and smashing a piece of scrap steel with a sledge instead of a nice anvil is smart ;) I'm curious why RR anvils can be worked harder. Is it just a factor of softer more flexible alloy?

Tubalcain2, I assume the issue with price here is supply. There just aren't lots of people in Vermont so there isn't lots of used stuff. Finding good second hand options can be a challenge regardless of what type of "thing" you seek. I also don't know if Vermont has the same blacksmithing tradition as other regions might. It's a plenty rural state. The traditional living here was dairy farming. I assume blacksmithing was needed to support that at a period of time, but I don't know if it hung on as much as further south down the Appalachian chain. There are also a fair number of tourists and other folks who like to buy up old things because they are antique not because they have any intent to use them. I figure that also drives up prices. I had read to stay away from cast iron, but don't mind the extra warning. Of what I've found local the most common has been Trenton. From what I can find those are iron with a welded on steel face. I also came across a 100lb champion that the seller says is cast steel, but I struggle to find info on those (I keep finding stuff about champion blowers instead of anvils). I haven't quite discerned what's better between cast steel and welded on steel plate. The new options appear mostly to be cast steel. I found one new maker called Kanca that says theirs is drop forged. That one raises another interesting question. It's lighter (44lbs) but it has a double horn shape that appears to center the mass more. Is a lighter but more centered anvil better or worse than a little bit heavier but more distributed anvil? Or does it just not make that big of a difference at this size?

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11 hours ago, lanternnate said:

There just aren't lots of people in Vermont so there isn't lots of used stuff. Finding good second hand options can be a challenge regardless of what type of "thing" you seek. I also don't know if Vermont has the same blacksmithing tradition as other regions might. It's a plenty rural state. 

lanternnate, if you haven't yet connected with the New England Blacksmiths Association, you definitely should. IFI members notownkid and Judson Yaggy  are both Vermonters active in that organization; they live in South Woodstock and Bristol, respectively. They can give you a lot of help on this and other questions as well.

Getting back to the original question, one thing that often gets left out of discussions about anvil weight is the weight of the stand. Remember, you are not just hitting the anvil itself; you are hitting the entire system made up of the anvil, the base, and the connection between the two.

I have a 148# anvil that I used to have mounted with spikes on an ash stump.  It was OK, but it tended to move around as I was forging. About a year ago, I salvaged some 4x8 I-beam, built a heavy stand, and bedded the anvil down on it with silicone. (You can read about the whole saga of designing and building the stand on this thread.)  The difference was like night and day. The rebound of the anvil hasn't increased, but because of the whole system is now about 300 pounds (basically twice as heavy), I can hit it a lot harder, the anvil doesn't move around, and that force goes into moving the metal.

 I experienced something similar when I built my portable hole. The weight as-build was a little more than 40 pounds, which was much too light. With the addition of some chain, hunks of rock, and a lot of scrap steel piled under the base, the whole thing became much more stable, and I was able to do some serious sledgehammering without it moving around appreciably. 

 All of this is a long way of saying that you may not need to change your railroad track anvil as much as you think you do, if you just build yourself a really, really heavy stand. As noted above, you can always add a hardy hole or build a portable hole; check out some of the other threads on IFI about "striking anvils" as well. 

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So when was the last time you talked to everyone in the ballet waiting room about being a smith and hunting an anvil?  When you were in line waiting to pay for your gas?   In the Dr's waiting room?  (Kids = Dr Visits!) I've found 2 nice ones just talking to folks during coffee hour after church and these were churches where 30 people was a good turnout!  The idea is to not take time away from your smithing but add in hunting while doing your normal daily rounds.

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JHCC, thanks. I tracked down the New England Blacksmiths Association and just joined. Sounds like there is more going on around me than I thought/knew. Not having a welder (or the knowledge of how to use one) means I'll need to find someone to help if I want to try some of these alterations. That or get a simple flux core welder and learn how to use it. Which might in the long run be a better investment of the fun budget potentially, I guess something for me to consider at least.

Mr. Powers, there just hasn't been a great opening in the ballet studio to turn the conversation to blacksmithing :) I get the point though. The idea is to try to bring it up in every day life to just see what might turn up. I'll need to start looking for opportunities to give it a try.

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Sitting in the waiting room reading "The Backyard Blacksmith" Lorelei Sims would be a passive  start....

As a non-welder an old lincoln tombstone welder might be a better beginning than fluxcore for working heavy sections.  Mine ran US$40 but I see them on Craigslist under $200 all the time.  They are pretty bullet proof compared to MIG---few moving parts...

Do you have your smithing cards made up yet?    Vistaprint is cheap.  Mine says Recycled Ranch (shop name); Thomas Powers; Blacksmith, General Location, Phone Number, e-mail address.   Easy to hand out or to write looking for an anvil on the back...

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