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Returning an Old Wrought Iron Anvil to Serviceability


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Folks,

I am hoping to have my anvil repaired. It's been sitting around the shop on a trolley for a lot of years - certainly not the full century plus it can lay claim to, but as I have nearly finished it's mating Post Vyce, I thought I should bring it back to a usable condition. 

I understand that this anvil is essentially a tool. It has been constructed so that it too can be used to create tools. As such it must be serviceable. In its present state it leaves unfortunate "imperfections" and stress raisers on components made on it. A blacksmith's hammer is the partner to the anvil and it too must have almost a mirror finish to its striking surface, and so I have to repair the table of this old fella so that it can carry out its function effectively.

This anvil is nearly 150 years old, made in Great Britain, and transported probably as ships ballast. Plainly I bought it second hand, and with my post vice (which is used everyday) it cost A$700.

My intention is to have the table and working surfaces refurbished for work, but for the patina on the rest of the anvil to remain untouched. It has been badly used in places, but better than many I have seen. I have no intention of confining it to the garden for decorative purposes, or cashing in the iron with the scrappies. It's a tool, much like the hammer I forged in the Everleigh Railway Blacksmiths Shop at Redfern in Sydney some years ago.

I'm a trained Aircraft Maintenance Engineer but I understand that all tools come from a common source – that being the Blacksmith's Forge, Anvil, and Hammer - all coordinated by a Master Blacksmith. I'm simply searching to master the roots of all engineering trades.

It really needs just the edges of the table to be restored - I'd probably leave the Hardie and Pritchel holes unaltered - they'll do their job as they are, and there is a 3/16" deep hole in the middle of the steel table surface. With those repairs done, I would seek to have the table surface ground to make it flat and straight.


I have "tested" the steel top with a large hammer and she responds with a nice ring and a satisfying rebound. There is one awkward section that exposes a little more of the steel table than I am comfortable with but none of the damage extends into the wrought iron base structure. The worst damage, the small hole in the middle of the table is 3/16" deep, and that is the deepest scar. So what I had as a Plan B was to radius the damaged edge, either hit the 3/16" hole with a spot of weld and grind it back, and/or have the surface ground (it won't take much off) as I think this will give me a decent surface, and simply avoid using the area with the hole, this has a very big table so that approach is distinctly possible.

Cheers, Ted

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Hi Ted, welcome to the forum.

If you havent yet, please check out the READ THIS FIRST! thread.

Most importantly, add your location to your profile. This helps people provide advice tailored to your location, and you might even get lucky and find an expert close to where you live.

 

As for your anvil...... I can almost guarantee you'll be advised not to attempt to "repair" it unless you have a lot of experience doing so, or can find someone who is an expert in anvil repair.

Generally, attempting to repair the anvils results in more harm than good. Welding can damage the hardness of the original face, and grinding is guaranteed to reduce the life of the anvil as you are removing the hardened layer rapidly.

 

More often than not, even a battered old anvil is perfectly useable as-is as for most forging you are only using a very small area at a time (the area underneath your hammer!).

The advice is often to use the anvil in-earnest for at least a year before considering making any alterations (2000hrs of forging!).

 

If you have some pictures, that will help others give more specific advice to your case.

 

All I can say is.... don't do anything drastic and put the grinder down till you weighed up all the options!

 

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It's your anvil and you can do what you want with it.  I am fine with folks who want to grind or mill an anvil's face clean and flat as long as they FIRST do the same to their face removing the same amount.

The current "gold standard" of anvil repair is the Gunther Schuler method which can be found online.  I know of a considerable number of anvils repaired this way and heavily used for years without problems.

Be wary of highly trained machinists and welders that want to re-do your anvil as many if not most don't understand the construction and uses of an anvil.  I have seen two that were milled down and the machinist didn't consider that the old ones were free-handed under water or steam hammers and so the face and base were not parallel!  They milled through the entire face and into the soft wrought iron ruining a perfectly usable anvil.  (If you must mill, mill the bast parallel to the face FIRST and then flip it over and kiss the face as lightly as possible.)

And remember that noting leaves stress risers in you work like having sharp edges on the face of the anvil---they should be rounded at least a little bit!

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Photos of the anvil would help us understand the current condition of the anvil and why it needed repaired.

One thing you did not mention was how you were going to heat treat the repaired anvil.  

 

 

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!!!!!!!

It looks pretty good to me! I'd kill for a nice anvil like that.

A few chips here and there but plenty of workable surface and plenty of intact lengths of edge for setting down etc.

 

Have you forged much on this anvil yet Ted? I don't know what your experience level is so hard to say what you need from an anvil.

 

Where is your desire to "repair" this Anvil coming from?:

- "Tool Performance"? Looking at the pictures I'd be very surprised if that Anvil wont do anything that a beginner or intermediate blacksmith needed. If you were a full time professional blacksmith/bladesmith then maybe you'd want to upgrade.... but in that case just invest in a new or better condition anvil!

- "Preserving Heritage" I understand the desire to want to preserve old tools and keep them in service for many years but.... in many ways you will actually ruin the heritage of this anvil by repairing it, especially if the repair goes wrong or has some undesireable side effects!

-"Perfectionism" Do you just want to see a nice clean anvil with sharp edges, a mirrored face, no flaws?..... thats just not what most anvils look like and not necessarily what a blacksmith would even want. Often, the flaws can actually be used by an experience smith as tools. Sag in a small section of anvil can be used to flatten objects or fix bends. Chipped edges (tidied up to be safe) can provide a range of radiuses along the edge of an anvil. A rougher surface anvil is sometimes desireable (as with rougher hammers) as it stops the material skating around. The surface will polish up under hot metal anyway.

 

I wouldnt touch that anvil with a welder or grinder and would happily get decades of forging out of it. I hope I'm lucky enough to be able to afford one similar at some point!

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Looks great to me; certainly a lot better than the anvil I've been using for well over a year now, which is missing its entire heel and has several chunks missing from the edges. It still works for nearly everything though, especially with a few work-around tools I've made.

You even have an intact hardy hole on yours, so all you need if you want perfect polished edges is to make an edge block to go into your anvil. That way you can have four different edges to use, each with a different radii ground into it.

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Hi Ted ... welcome. You I believe are the second Sydneysider here. 

What brand is your anvil and what is the weight? 

Old English anvils are common in Australia, and they have a soft body and brittle edges unfortunately. Any repair you do to it even if done properly (not easy) will not give the edges strength nor will it make the body harder. 

You have a Landcruiser J20 1955. Don't try to make it into a Range Rover 2019, it will not happen and you may ruin her in the process. 

Keep it as it is. Polish all the sides with a wire wheel, I don't believe in the value of "patina", only in the value of the anvil,  oil it, and save money for a Refflinghaus.  :)

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Actually looking at the third photo you have provided, it looks like someone may have already attempted to do some welding on the edges of this anvil.  It is hard to tell for sure from the photo, but the discoloration and linear cracks on the near side adjacent to the shelf look to me like HAZ zones from welding done without correct preheat or with incompatible wire.  Could be completely off base, but it looks to me like an example of why not to go after an anvil with a welder unless you follow recommended procedures.  The spall mark near the hardy could be a relic of just such a weld popping off...

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I saw that too and was wondering about the colour differences also common when folks botch an anvil repair with high Ni rod.  Inadequate preheat allows for self quenching forming a brittle layer in the HAZ that hammering on can spall off as an even bigger chunk of the edge than the original issue someone was trying to fix.

Usually when folks get to agonizing over wanting everything *perfect*; I tell them to drop blacksmithing and take up machining where such goals are laudable.

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Well, you blokes have certainly put the cat among the pigeons in terms of my expectations. All in a good way.

I don't do a lot of forging at the moment but have previously spent 12 months (1 night per week) working with

the Caretaker Blacksmith one Guido Gouverneur at the historic Railway Workshops in Redfern, Sydney. They

closed them down officially in 1975, but the bloke who took over as caretaker, had a family history of smithing,

grandfather, father, and himself. He taught me a lot - toolmaking through to decorative work. Me? I just wanted

to do it. The most frightening part of the whole experience was using a 20 ton hammer to drive a double tapered

hole, for a hammer handle, through a 100 x 50 x 50 mm "slightly warm" hammer head. I hit the punch just a little

off centre, and all I could hear was the PING PING PING as it disappeared into the darkness bouncing off the

machinery as it progressed  through the shop - no one was hurt, no one was even hit - favourable outcome.

I have built myself a LP Gas forge, and have forged tongs and hammers, but keep getting distracted with other

stuff until I decided what to do with the anvil. You have all basically offered the same sage advice, which I will

follow. I'll dress the edges, and wire brush the table.

I can't decipher the manufacturers name yet and the weight markings show 2 on the left extremity and 24 on the

right - so 2 cwt, ? qtrs, and 24 lbs - so it could be ... 248 lbs, or 276 lbs, or 304 lbs, or even 332 lbs. I'll get to that

face with a wire wheel and see if I can answer those questions. Unfortunately that face has been used to test

cutting tools or chisels.

Ted.

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I reckon you’ll quickly find the spots on this large anvil that will do the trick for whatever forging you are doing. It’s a nice big anvil and one of the things about big anvils is you have that wide choice of particular spots that work for you.  Within a short while you’ll be doing that without consciously thinking about it.  I’m lucky, I have a big anvil too, and it has even more chips on the edges, but I don't even notice them any more, just ignore them.   Looks like this has been repaired, maybe not well, on one side, so just spin it and use the other side. I wouldn't worry at all about the dings on the face.  

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