There are a few pieces of equipment that every blacksmith needs to have, no matter what. Besides a forge, a hammer, as well as some blacksmithing tools, you’re also going to need to have an anvil if you want to make something.
For hundreds, if not thousands of years, blacksmiths have been using anvils to make all sorts of blacksmithing projects. While earlier versions of anvils were just simple pieces of stone, they evolved over time into more complicated versions made out of iron and steel.
While it might surprise some beginner blacksmiths out there, the reality is that anvils are surprisingly more complicated than what most people would expect. There’s a reason why they come in a specific size and shape, as they allow blacksmiths to do all sorts of things with them besides using them as a surface to strike metals with.
Let’s go over exactly why you need an anvil, what are the different types, and which anvils I recommend for beginner blacksmiths looking to get started.
Are Anvils Absolutely Necessary?
In short, yes.
The long answer, however, is that it’s a little complicated. You can’t simply use a wooden workbench to hammer away at your metal; you’re going to need something that’s strong and sturdy.
Now, if you happen to have a steel or iron workbench that you think can take a pounding, then by all means, you’re welcome to skip buying an anvil. However, for the vast majority of people, buying an anvil of some kind is a necessity.
With that out of the way, the next question blacksmiths often ask is where to go about buying a good anvil? Often times, you can find a decent, used anvil from websites like eBay or Craigslist. While this might be a good idea if you’re willing to accept a second-hand, used anvil, you’d be surprised at just how cheap even new anvils have become.
The good news is that no matter where you go buying your anvil from, they’re all designed so that they can last a very long time. Most blacksmiths hardly ever end up replacing their anvils. As such, getting a used anvil likely isn’t much of a big deal. However, I’d always recommend buying a new one, unless you specifically want to get a more used one if you’re going for a more ‘traditional’ look, per se.
What’s in an Anvil?
While you might think the anvil is a relatively simple object – and to some extent, it is – a fair deal of thought went into the design. Over hundreds of years, blacksmiths have been slowly but steadily improving the shape and design of their anvils. As such, every part of it has a deliberate function in mind.
The largest part of the anvil is called the face. This is the long, flat section at the top of the anvil, which is used as a platform to strike metal. Although you’re not going to be actually hitting this part of the anvil with your hammer (it’s your metal that will be getting hit), it’s still designed so that it can sustain a serious pounding if needed.
The next part of the anvil is a small area between the face of the anvil and the horn, which is the part that’s strutting from the side of the anvil. The table is quite small, not really useful for hammering your stock like the face is. It’s a bit higher than the horn but lower than the face, with some blacksmiths using the table to cut and bend metal on its edge.
That side portion that’s jutting out of the anvil is called the horn. This corn-shaped part is specifically designed to help blacksmiths shape metal pieces into rounded and curved shapes. By putting a hot piece of metal on this area, blacksmiths can use the horn to bend what they’re working with to whatever shape they want. While anvils tend to be around the same strength overall, sometimes designers make the horn a little bit weaker than the face. This is because the horn is used for bending, rather than hammering.
On the opposite side of your anvil, you’re going to see a couple of holes. The smallest of these holes is a relatively tiny, circular hole that’s called the pritchel hole. The purpose of this part is when you’re trying to punch round holes into your metal, you can put a chisel or another tool on there and use it to put a hole into your metal that will be hammered in from above.
The other hole is a larger, more rectangular hole that’s used by blacksmiths to hold various tools, such as swages or chisels. Similar to the pritchel hole, the hardy hole lets blacksmiths hold other types of tools onto the anvil as well. These types of tools are sometimes known as hardy tools (or just anvil tools or bottom tools), which can be securely attached directly to the anvil via this hole.
What Should You Look For in an Anvil?
You might think that all anvils are generally the same. In a sense, that’s true. However, there can be some differences that make some anvils superior to other ones. Different anvils, depending on the brand or the manufacturer, can have different features as well. Knowing what to look for can be important so you don’t end up regretting your purchase.
Size and Weight
Perhaps the most obvious thing that will come to your mind is the size and the shape of the anvil. As a beginner blacksmith, you’ll want to ask yourself exactly what you plan to be making in the future. Are you looking to focus on knife forging and making other bladed objects, or do you plan to work on larger projects in the future as well?
For most beginners, having a smaller anvil is most appropriate. Smaller anvils are less heavy, which makes it easier to move if you’re on the go. They also take up less space in your forging area, making your workspace less cluttered.
Believe it or not, not all anvils are made from the same material. This can make a major difference when you’re trying to work on a project. Most anvils these days are made either from steel or iron, although there are some more exotic options as well. Cast iron anvils tend to be inferior to their steel counterparts since iron can be a little bit more brittle. At the same time, iron anvils tend to have a lot of rebound when you hit them with a hammer or other instrument.
Steel, on the other hand, has less of a rebound when you strike it. At the same time, steel has become pretty much the go-to anvil material for most blacksmiths. As such, you’re going to have the most variety when it comes to choosing steel anvils since most manufacturers are going to have at least one type of steel anvil available to choose from, if not more.
There are also some more exotic options out there. Stone or bronze anvils can be bought as well, although you’re going to have to look quite a bit to find them. However, for beginner blacksmiths, I generally recommend you avoid these types until you’re more experienced. While its fun to use something a bit more exotic, especially since it gives a different vibe, sticking to something simpler is what I’d recommend while you’re just getting started.
Cost is another crucial factor to consider when you’re looking to buy your first anvil. Most anvils aren’t as expensive as you would imagine them to be, but they still can set you back quite a bit depending on the type you’re going for. Different materials have different prices, but smaller anvils will cost you around $3-$4 per pound, while larger anvils can set you back as much as $8 per pound (or more).
This is another reason why I recommend beginner blacksmiths to chose a smaller anvil when they are just starting off. If you buy a 50-pound anvil, this is going to set you back around $100-$150 for the most part. A larger, 100-pound anvil will instead cost you closer to $500, if not more. Considering that I recommend beginners pay around $200-$300 for their first forge, there’s no way I can recommend you forking out half a thousand dollars for just an anvil.
Understanding the Different Types of Anvils
With all that said, there’s still a lot more that needs to be mentioned about anvils before I’ll give you my top recommendation. Besides the different materials and sizes that different anvils can be, there are also tons of different types of anvils out there on the market as well.
Cast Iron Anvils
A cast-iron anvil is one of the most common anvils out there and is still a traditional stable for some of the older blacksmiths out there. While not as maybe nowadays in comparison to some other types of there, they are still quite respected by many older blacksmiths.
These types of anvils are made out of cast iron, which is a type of iron-carbon alloy that has significantly more carbon content in comparison to regular iron. Cast iron anvils also have the benefit of being cheaper than other anvils out there on the market and are an appealing choice for many blacksmiths out there.
However, this comes with a downside. Cast iron anvils tend to be a bit more brittle than other anvils out there. Besides having more of a rebound when you strike against it (as mentioned earlier in this article), brittle means that they are easier to chip or break off against consistent pressure.
While it’s hard to imagine that something like an anvil could chip and break, it does happen. As such, cast iron anvils tend to be considered a bit inferior to other, more expensive types on the market. While they can still get the job done, they’ve now fallen to the status of being a ‘lower-quality’ anvil type in comparison to the competition.
Another traditional anvil types out there is the farrier anvil. Unless you lived on a farm, you probably don’t know what a farrier is. In short, he’s a smith who focuses on making horseshoes and putting them on horses. Considering that these tradesmen tend to specialize their blacksmithing skills to this one area, it’s not surprising that the tools they’ve developed tend to be a bit more unique as well.
The farrier anvil still looks like a normal anvil but has a slightly distorted shape. That’s because farrier anvils have a different distribution of mass. In comparison to regular anvils, the farrier anvil has a smaller face and a much larger horn. This makes sense, since farriers need to curve their metal to make a horseshoe, hence the importance of the prominent horn.
Farrier anvils tend to be a bit lighter than their counterparts. Again, this makes sense. Farriers often needed to travel to their clients to install horseshoes and make adjustments, so their anvils needed to be easier to transport as well. Farrier anvils tend to be harder than cast iron anvils as well, usually made from a type of iron that has been hardened.
If you’ve seen a picture of a stereotypical anvil, then you’ve probably seen a forging anvil. These have now become the most common and most popular anvil type out there on the market. Unlike cast iron and farrier anvils, which have other, more specialized uses, forging anvils are specifically designed for heavy blacksmithing projects.
Most of the mass of a forging anvil is focused around the face, with this portion being larger and more prominent in comparison to the farrier anvil. This gives blacksmiths more space to hammer away at their stock, while the horn is still relatively large.
Unlike the other two anvils on this list, forging anvils tend to be made out of steel. This means they tend to be less brittle and are better able to absorb shocks and hammer blows. What this means for a beginner blacksmith is that forging anvils will have less rebound when you hit your metal against it. With less rebound, that means you can deliver hammer strokes more frequently while not tiring out your wrist, arm, and hand as much.
The other side of the equation is that forging anvils tend to be heavier and less portable. It’s not uncommon to find heavier anvils around 150 to 200 pounds. Considering that these hammers are designed for dedicated blacksmiths, which don’t need to go travelling around as much as farriers, for instance, it makes sense that they won’t need the same degree of portability.
The Anvil I Always Recommend
In my opinion, I recommend forging anvils for beginner blacksmiths looking to get started. While it might be tempting to opt for the cast iron anvil, especially since it’s cheaper, they aren’t designed to handle a dedicated pounding from your hammer. Over time, if you are frequently blacksmithing, you’re going to notice you cast iron anvil degrade over time.
While this might not be a problem if you’re just trying to get started, if you think you’re going to be blacksmithing for a long time, it just makes sense to go for a longer-lasting, higher-quality anvil.
I have a few that I recommend to friends and family to ask for my opinion (keep your eye out for an article on that topic soon), but my number one anvil that I’d recommend is the Happybuy Single Horn Anvil (I know, weird name).
This guy might not seem like much, but it’s actually quite perfect for beginner blacksmiths looking for something simple, cheap, light, and easier to work with. Coming in at a hefty 110 pounds, this is one of the higher quality anvils you can find out there without going overboard in price. Additionally, it costs around $350 in total, a little bit on the high end given its size, but still pretty cheap in comparison to most anvils out there on the market.
However, if you’re looking for something cheaper, there’s also a 65-pound Happybuy Anvil that costs less than half the price, around $150. If you’re looking for something lighter, cheaper, and easier to use, then I’d recommend using the less-expensive Happybuy anvil for yourself.
Best Blacksmithing Forges in 2021
Begin to Blacksmith is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.