Hi! I was wondering if anyone has any ideas on how to restore an
old anvil. It is covered with rust and I’m not sure how to go about
polishing/sanding it. This was my grandfather’s anvil that he used
to make horseshoes so it really hasn’t been used in a long time! I
would love to be able to “resurrect” it and use it for
jewelry-making. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
CS, I would start with either a medium to coarse grade of emery paper
(called wet or dry sand paper), or if you have a drill motor use a
stainless steel wire brush and it will quickly remove all of the
rust. If the working parts of the anvil are pitted from rust then
you will need to use a flat file on the flat parts and even on the
rounded horn and carefully restore the surface to a smooth even
working surface. You could try grinding stones, but the chance of
gouging the surface is too great. Elbow grease and time are probably
going to produce the most satisfactory results. There is a
jelly-like substance called “naval jelly” which removes rust very
quickly, if it is badly rusted you might want to use that first, but
it smells awful and should only be used in a well ventilated area.
Read the directions on the bottle for other safety instructions.
If it is really badly beaten up you might think about taking it to a
blacksmith who could weld some new metal into the pits and then
finish and polish it for you. If all else fails I would be glad to
take it off your hands and treat it with extra fine care.
By the way, after you have gotten all the pits and whatnot out of
the surface and have gotten to the point where it looks usable you
can polish the working surfaces using finer and finer grades of emery
and I think once you have gotten to about a 600 grit it should be
smooth enough for iron work. If you want to work silver or gold on
it you will have to take it out a few more steps with tripoli and
whatnot until you are no longer seeing any scratches on the surface.
Good luck & g’day
I would get a big can of WD-40 and spray the entire anvil with a
thick coat and leave it overnight. Then using a wire brush and more
WD-40 begin to scrub away the rust. Be sure to use safety glasses
and a dust mask. Not sure what breathing rust dust could do but it’s
probably not good for you. Keep working at the rust with the wire
brush and WD-40 and rags. Then start using steel wool or scotch
bright pads to complete the rust removal. If the horn and the face
(top work surface) are in bad shape you may need to rent a surface
grinder to clean them up. Then polish with varying grades of emery
paper. An orbital sander would work well here.
The idea is to remove and control the rust and restore the anvil
into a working condition. You really don’t want it to look brand new
as it is sort of a family hereloom. I have many hand tools that were
my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s and they are a pleasure to
have and use.
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Colorado Springs, Colorado
First off, make sure it’s still a viable anvil. To do this, take a
normal flat-faced hammer (a 16oz household hammer will work just
fine) and strike the flat surface of the anvil with light force. If
the anvil is still good, it will make a ringing noise. If you do not
get a crisp ring from the anvil but hear only a dull noise, then the
anvil is damaged or cracked in some way.
If you’ve still got a good anvil, then you can have it sand-blasted
to remove the rust. Then take it to a good machine shop and have them
mill the striking (flat) surface just enough to smooth it out. If you
have it milled too aggressively, you will remove the hardened surface
and be left with a damaged anvil.
I’ve restored a few in my day. If it’s not too deeply swayed in the
middle, you can clean it up with a 9 inch horizontal grinder with an
attachment for sanding disks, but you need a good eye and a nice
steel straight edge. You can also take it to a machinist and have a
“Madison” finish put on it. Take it up to a mirror finish if you
want, but there’s not much point in going beyond a 220 grit finish
for working iron and steel. But you mustn’t remove too much of the
hardened steel face. If you look at the side of the anvil, if it’s a
good one, you’ll see that 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the “face” is a layer of
steel forge welded onto the body of the anvil. (You won’t see this
on the newer all cast steel anvils) If it needs to be built up,
because of sways or badly battered edges or deep pitting, that
involves a little more technology. Don’t take the amateur advice of
using an arc welder and 70/18 rod. The best I’ve seen is an arc rod
called “frog alloy”, used to rebuilt the “frogs” on railroad tracks.
The frogs are the places where one line splices into another to
switch the train from one set of rails to another. The welding must
be done in small sections at a time, allowing it to cool between
welds, to prevent too much expansion and contraction, which will lift
the steel face and damage the weld. It also requires a welder that
will provide DC current. The anvil also must be preheated to around
350 degrees Fahrenheit or when the alloy cools, it will shrink enough
to pop off. You’ll need to peen the weld as it is cooling, to
further compensate for it’s shrinking. Some will tell you that the
peening is enough and you don’t need to preheat, but that’s not been
my experience in 30 plus years of blacksmithing and as SIU’s shop
tech in charge of the smithy. Essentially what you need is a work
hardening, compression resistant alloy used to build up worn dies and
the like, and there are other choices, but you’ll want the advice of
an experience welding supplier. If you prowl around the Artist
Blacksmith’s Association of North America’s web site,
http://www.abana.org you may find some documentation on rebuilding
and resurfacing anvils. If not, get on the alt.crafts.blacksmithing
newsgroup and ask. I’m sure you’ll get lots of professional advice
there. You might even find someone in the ABANA links or the
newsgroup who will do the job for you for a reasonable price. A nice
anvil is one of the most remarkably simple yet versatile tools you’ll
ever own, and a thing of beauty in and of itself.
David L. Huffman
The best way would be to firstly wire brush the whole thing with a
bit of diesel which will help loosen the rust and then find a local
engineering works which has a large surface grinder and get them to
grind the top face flat. There is no real way you can flatten the
working face effectively at home.
Ian W. Wright
You can take it to a machine shop and have the flat surface ground
down. However, the new surface may be a bit pitted. Mine was when I
did this. You can clean up the horn with an abrasive wheel on a hand
drill or with files followed by emery paper. How smooth you need it
depends on the work you are going to do. God luck. Jan
This is not really a good test. The true quality of the anvil is
whether it will “return the hammer to your hand” that is will it
provide some rebound from the hammer blow or is it “dead” and just
absorbs all the energy of the blow. There are several good anvils
that do not ring. Bouncing the hammer off the face of the anvil will
tell you a lot, compare it to a piece of mild steel or cast iron
and see if it provides some rebound or is it “dead” more like the
mild steel or cast iron.
Seems there are few tests for anvils. I was always taught to do a
ball bearing test. Take a good size ball bearing 3/8" or 1/2" and
hold about 2 foot above the anvil. Let it drop and if it bounces back
to your hand, good rebound = good anvil.
Rule of thumb is that the ball bearing should bounce back to the
height that it was dropped from.