Why Are Anvils Shaped The Way They Are? Are there different types of anvils? The anvil shape most people are familiar with is called a “london style” anvil. These have a very peculiar shape, very few other objects come close to the look and feel of the london style anvil.
So why is it shaped that way? I’ll go through each section of the anvil through the questions below:
Why Do Anvils have Horns?
The horn of the anvil is used when creating round objects. Most anvil horns have a bit of a taper, this taper allows the smith to create round objects of varying circumferences. To use the horn of an anvil, simply place the heated stock on the horn, and beat the stock with your hammer until it is the shape of the horn.
Narrow round stock is generally easy to bend around the horn. On the other hand, flat bar stock is trickier, as it is often too wide. If you bend it on the anvil horn, you won’t get a perfect circle as the taper will cause an uneven bend.
While the anvil horn is an incredibly handy tool for creating circular objects, it is sometimes just not the right tool for the job. Luckily, blacksmiths have a number of alternatives. These include:
- Hardy Bick
- Hardy Mandrel
- Floor Mandrel
All of these tools can be used for bending metal. The hardy bick is kind of like a portable horn that fits into the hardy hole. The hardy mandrel is a cone shaped object that fits into the hardy hole. Both of these tools may be setup to be perpendicular or parallel to the anvil.
Again, as with many things in blacksmithing, it comes down to the smiths individual preferences. The ability to make your own tools means that many blacksmith shops have tools that don’t even have a name!
Why Do Anvils Have A Hardy Hole?
A hardie hole on a modern anvil is a square 1 inch hole that is used to fit hardy tools. Hardy tools are tools with a 1 inch shank that fit into the hardy hole. Hardy holes and hardy tools provide a number of benefits:
- The anvil provides a sturdy base to wedge the Hardy tools into
- Hardy tools are easy to switch out, meaning the smith wastes less time.
- Hardy tools are small and easy to make by hand
In addition to hosting hardy tools, the hardy hole can also be used to cut or bend metal.
Why Do Anvils Have A Pritchel Hole?
The pritchel hole is a small circular hole on the anvil face. Pritchel holes are used in punching operations, as they allow the punch to go through the material cleanly. It’s also possible to make tools with round shanks that fit into the pritchel hole. This works in a similar fashion to the hardy tools above, but the shank is a different shape.
Pritchel holes get their name from the pritchel punch, which is often used when making nail holes in horseshoes.
Why Do Some Anvils Have A Portal Hole?
Some anvils have a small “porter hole” in the waist of the anvil. They do not differ from other anvils in any other significant way. So why do some older anvils have porter holes?
Back when anvils were manufactured by forge welding multiple large pieces together, the manufacturer needed a way to move the body of the anvil while it was red hot. The porter holes provided that way, as they could put a rod through the hole and then maneuver the anvil via the rod.
They can of course be used for the same purpose while cold as well.
Many modern anvils are made from casting steel, and are not welded together in the same fashion that they once were, so they do not need a porter hole. However, some people like the aesthetic, so it’s still possible to get new anvils that have the classic porter hole.
Why Do Anvils Have A Steel Plate Face?
Many anvils have a steel plate face because it’s the best material(utility/cost) available for absorbing impacts. The fact of the matter is that even the most skilled smith will occasionally miss his stock and hit his anvil.
If the anvil face was made of wrought iron, this impact would leave a noticeable dent. In times past, when wrought iron anvils were the norm, smiths had to fix and resurface their anvil face on a periodic basis. All those miss hits add up over time, and very soon the soft wrought iron surface would be uneven.
If the anvil face were made of cast iron, it would have a good chance of cracking upon hammer impact. Cast iron is hard, but it’s VERY brittle. Once a cast iron anvil cracks, it’s very hard to repair. This is why cast iron anvils often have a steel face welded on top. This brittleness is also why many smiths distrust and dislike cast iron anvils.
Why Do Some Anvils Have A Step Between The Horn And The Face?
I’ll be honest, I don’t know why this exists. I have read that it can be useful for cutting, but I kinda doubt that, as there are WAY better tools for the job.
My hunch is that the step is a relic from days past. I can see it being a part of the design because it makes it easier to manufacture in some way. It’s not like it’s a huge deal, it’s aesthetically pleasing, and provides a nice transition between the face and the horn.
Why do anvils narrow at the waist?
This question is the simplest, this shape saves on material costs!
Are There Other Anvil Patterns Besides The London Style?
Yes, these include:
- German pattern anvil
- Austrian pattern anvil
- Double horned anvil
- Hornless anvil
- Swage Blocks
- And many more unnamed, people have been smithing for thousands of years!
Hopefully I have helped shed some light on why anvils look the way they do. The horn is used for bending, the face for striking, the waist to save material, and the feet for keeping the anvil stable.
If you are a new smith looking for an anvil, check out my guide to buying your first anvil.
If you are interest in other blacksmithing tools, check out my comprehensive guide to blacksmithing tools.