Machine an Anvil?
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    Machine an Anvil?

    Ok, not sure if this fits better here or in the workshop forum but...

    I'm looking at buying an anvil (used) and doing a little blacksmithing work as another hobby. I expected these htings to be pricey and they are but... the price drops quite a bit with anvils that have gotten beat up. You pay out the whazzoo for a nice clean/crisp edge. But I've run across a couple that are dinged up and could save quite a bit by buying one of these.

    The question is, if I did, could I take that anvil to a machine shop and have it re-faced to clean it up? Is there anything "special" about anvils (we're talking older anvils in the 150-200lbs range here) that would prevent it from being re-faced? Could something like this be refaced?

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    Superglidesport's Avatar
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    If it's steel I'm sure you could fill in any low spots by welding, possibly using hard facing rod, then grind smooth. A machine shop could possibly resurface it with a Blanchard grinder.
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    56FordGuy's Avatar
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    Lots of folks new to forging get way too worried about an anvil. London pattern anvils (what you have a photo of) are a fairly 'modern' anvil, only having been around for a couple hundred years.

    Good quality anvils are made of a cast steel body with a tool steel face forge welded on. Forge welding consists of heating both pieces of metal, then forging them together. The entire anvil body would've been heated, the face placed on top and the two hammered together and then tempered as one unit. While you can machine one flat or build it up with rod, it's generally not recommended. Machining thins the steel surface, and welding is essentially just putting bondo on it. It won't stay long term and can damage the tempering. The only proper fix is to forge weld on a new face plate, which is a multi person process that requires a lot of skill, and a fire hose to retemper it.

    From a practical standpoint, don't worry about having a perfectly flat surface. A little sway will be useful for straightening pieces, because you have to go a little past straight to end up there. Nice clean edges are good, but you can do a lot without them. You can get a piece of angle or channel that fits over the top of your anvil when you need a sharp edge.

    Be cautious anvil shopping, lots of folks don't know what they have but think it's worth a mint. When you tap the face of an anvil it should ring- unless it's a Fisher or Vulcan brand. Those are cast iron anvils with tool steel faces. Fishers are considered one of the nicest anvils ever made, and Vulcans are a solid 'entry level' anvil. Avoid brand new anvils from places like Northern Tool, those are solid cast iron and will break down quickly when hammering hot steel on them. They're referred to as "ASOs", or anvil shaped objects. When you tap on a good anvil, the hammer should also rebound back a bit. The more the better, but consistency is key. You don't want dead spots, that's a sign of the forge weld beneath the face failing.

    What I recommend for most new folks is to go down to your local steel yard and get a thick chunk of steel. Something 2" thick or better, then make a stand to hold it where you can work along the edge. What you want is mass under the hammer, and you can't work any more of the metal that what your hammer covers to start with. I have a roughly 9x11x2" chunk that I've done a lot of forging on, and I made a post a few years ago where another smith and I forged a hammer on a similar block. It's cheap compared to a London pattern anvil, and more effective than the junk sold at Northern or HF. Good brand new anvils are out there, but they're wither fairly light farrier's anvils (the people that shoe horses) or pretty big shop anvils that can cost a couple of thousand dollars. The key is to anchor the anvil properly. You only impart so much energy with each hammer blow, and if the anvil is moving that energy is being wasted instead of being directed into your work. I have my HayBudden mounted on a steel stand with 4x4x1/2" thick legs that are filled with sand and oil, then the whole thing bolts to the floor. When you hit it, nothing moves and all the energy is spent moving metal instead of dancing the anvil around.

    If you have any questions, ask. I love forging, but due to the move had to close up my shop almost two years ago and haven't set anything back up yet. It's a lot of fun, and once people find out you're doing it you can stay as busy as you want to be. When I closed my business I was picking and choosing the jobs I wanted to do, in the shop 20-30 hours most weeks and still referring customers to other smiths. At first a lot of your time will be spent making tools so you can make other things, which is fun it itself. Find a local blacksmithing group and see what they offer, it's far easier to learn in person than it is online. The group I was with in TN hosted beginner classes two nights a week in our shop at the fairgrounds, everything was provided for students and it really helped introduce a lot of people to the art. Cost basically just covered the materials (steel, coal, etc) used and you got to keep everything you made. It's a great opportunity to meet folks who are also interested, and a lot of times someone knew someone with equipment for sale.
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    Well now that is some AWESOME info! THANK YOU!

    I didn't realize that these anvils were two pieces forged together.

    I have about 130' of railroad track coming my way and was planning on making an anvil out of a small section of that when I get it. They're replacing a bunch of track in town and one of the guys told me I could have as many base plates and spikes as I can carry away. The 130' of rail is from sections that they are replacing with new. (Still haven't figured out how I'm getting that home yet...) So I should have plenty of good steel to play with.

    Most of the anvils I see up for sale are either Fisher or Budden - both of which I was told were "safe" buys.
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    That is some really great info about anvils. Talking about them brings back memories 'cause I remember that my dad had one that he'd had since long before I was born. I remember how it would ring. He kept it till he finally moved to town and had no place to keep it, and tried to get me to take it. But I had nowhere to keep it either and no time for anything but my job at the time, so I'm not sure what ever happened to it. He probably gave it away. I've felt like kicking myself many times for not hanging on to it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimR View Post
    I have about 130' of railroad track coming my way and was planning on making an anvil out of a small section of that when I get it. They're replacing a bunch of track in town and one of the guys told me I could have as many base plates and spikes as I can carry away. The 130' of rail is from sections that they are replacing with new. (Still haven't figured out how I'm getting that home yet...) So I should have plenty of good steel to play with.

    Most of the anvils I see up for sale are either Fisher or Budden - both of which I was told were "safe" buys.
    The RR track will work, but I'd still try to hunt for a big chunk of steel. The biggest advantage of the track is the face (top) of it should be very hard, but you don't end up with much mass underneath the hammer because while hard, it's still an I beam shape. To use it as a 'main' anvil, you might want to mount it vertically. If it's free I wouldn't turn it down though, you can always use a couple of pieces for something. Due to the arched top, it makes a nice surface for drawing out metal.

    Fisher is considered one of the nicest anvils, and today are very sought after. Being good quality cast iron with a very good top, they're much quieter than most anvils. Hay Budden is another great anvil, along with Trenton and Peter Wright. With most being 100+ years old, the actual brand of an anvil can be tough to identify. Markings wear away over the years, and since most of these were in metal shops people who don't know better end up welding or grinding on them. The key is look for a fairly flat top and clean edges, but it's nothing to obsess over for a first anvil. The biggest key to getting started forging...is to start. For centuries people have forged on small chunks of metal, rocks, etc. Evaluating an anvil, make sure it rebounds the hammer consistently and there aren't any big cracks in the face. Don't be afraid of broken anvils, either. You may run across some that have the horn or tail busted off, but that's okay. The square hole on the anvil is a 'hardy' hole used for holding bottom tools, you can clamp those in a post vice if the anvil is broken. Those can usually be picked up pretty cheap compared to the same anvil that wasn't abused.

    You'll also want to hunt for a post vise. Unlike bench vises, post vises are designed to be hammered on. The fixed jaw is on a 'leg' that sits on the ground, and the moving jaw is attached to it by a pivot bolt. The screw and screwbox float in oversized holes, so none of the hammering impact is transferred to them.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 56FordGuy View Post
    I love forging, but due to the move had to close up my shop almost two years ago and haven't set anything back up yet. It's a lot of fun, and once people find out you're doing it you can stay as busy as you want to be. When I closed my business I was picking and choosing the jobs I wanted to do, in the shop 20-30 hours most weeks and still referring customers to other smiths.
    When I was a kid, we had two "for real" old time blacksmiths in the area, PaPa John (not the pizza guy) and Mr. Tex.
    All the farmers and ranchers used them.
    When they retired, no one took their places, really a shame.

    The closest you can come to them now days is a small local machine shop with two semi-retired old guys,
    but not really blacksmiths in the old sense.
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    Not wanting to highjack too much but I find it so funny Blake, that last year's Christmas gift thing I sent you that hand forged steak turner that a blacksmith friend of mine made only to find out you are a smith too. He made several for me for gifts and I use mine every time I grill.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carvel Loafer View Post
    Not wanting to highjack too much but I find it so funny Blake, that last year's Christmas gift thing I sent you that hand forged steak turner that a blacksmith friend of mine made only to find out you are a smith too. He made several for me for gifts and I use mine every time I grill.
    I thought you knew, and that's why you sent it!

    Pretty great either way.
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    Blake - Company I used to work for made shear blades for scrap metal cutting and baling shears. In the movies, Super Man is stuck in a car and the sides of the box close in around the car, crush it, and if the scene went on long enough, the compacted car would be pushed out and sheared with the guillotine shear into bales about 2-3 feet long. But Super Man always escapes. The company I worked for made the cutting shear blades for those machines.

    The shear blades were made with a special proprietary alloy of steel, cast into blanks and machined and heat-treated to 55-57 Rockwell C. HARD! Some blades weighed well over 100 pounds. Biggest reject I have weighs about 105#, Dad let one get away from him that weighed about 160#. The blades are Blanchard ground on four sides, ends are milled. Corners or edges are RAZOR sharp. Truck driver couldn't understand a sharp 90 degree edge being able to cut flesh, so slid his thumb along an edge and cut himself down to the bone.

    They make an EXCELLENT ANVIL. I actually worry about my hammer head shattering when I pound on my blade unless I have a piece of soft steel between the hammer and blade.

    The company I worked for is no longer making blades but Bowe Knives division of Bowe Machine is. Pronounced Bowie, like the knife. Located on State Street, Betterdorf, Iowa. I bet they would make new specialty anvils. They have all the machines.
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