My memory is that you’re in Oz somewhere? Conversations with others
have led me to believe that anvils aren’t as common down under as
they are in the States. If so, hang on to it, or find someone
crazier than you to refinish it, if you decide not to. Putting it
out in the garden would be a sin, unless it was so far gone as to be
There is a really good book on anvils, both how they’re made, as
well as how to ID them, called “Anvils in America” by Richard
Postman. In looking at Amazon just now, I see truly insane prices.
Check around, it should be available for about $50 USD if you dig.
Lots of about the technical and historical aspects of
anvils and their manufacture.
The real questions are these:
(A) how big is it?
(B) who made it? (this leads to ‘when’ but that isn’t quite as
important, as long as it dates to before WW2)
© how chewed up is it really?
The things to watch out for are hollow faces, swaybacked faces, or
chipped and broken edges. It’s critically important that the face of
the anvil be flat, or at absolute worst, very slightly convex. If
it’s concave at all, you’ll tie yourself in knots trying to work on
it. Over time, anvils compress in the middle, or at least some of
the older ones do, if they’ve been used hard. So you’ll sometimes
see them with either a hollow spot in the middle, or just an
entirely swaybacked face. If the swayback is more than about 3/16"
deep, it’s a doorstop. More on larger anvils.
The reason why the depth matters is that the whole anvil isn’t hard
steel. Most anvils are either wrought or cast iron, with a hard
steel face welded on during final production. If you’d end up
grinding through the hard face plate to get the divot out, or
grinding it down to almost nothing, then there’s no point in
starting. On most anvils, you can see how thick the plate is by
looking at the side of the anvil. There’s usually a line on the
side, parallel to the top face of the table, about half an inch down
the side. That’s the plate. They’re usually about 1/2" thick. If
you’d have to grind through most of the plate, however thick it is,
to get the damage out, don’t bother. A very good welder can build up
limited damage with hardfacing rod, but you need to find a welder
who’s experienced in fixing anvils. (Consult local blacksmiths) The
guy around the corner, even if he’s a good normal welder, probably
doesn’t know how to fix an anvil. It’s trickier than most think. (If
your welder thinks it’s easy, you’re talking to the wrong guy.)
The horn can be ground down easily, unless it’s totally trashed by
horsheshoes. Don’t worry about the horn so much, it’s the face
that’s the hard part.
The next question is: What do I think I’m going to do with it? I
suppose it would surprise nobody to learn that I have five anvils,
all for different purposes.
A baby 40 pounder for shows, a 120 pound Peter Wright that I had
surface ground for goldsmithing, as well as a generic 150 for
blacksmithing, and “Mongo, the anvil of Doom” (Read the story on my
website, www.alberic.net) a 400 pound monster that I used back when
I was doing swords.
The reason for several is that not every anvil is good for every
job. I wouldn’t do blacksmithing on the finely polished goldsmithing
anvil, it’d tear up the polish. Equally, the two big blacksmithing
anvils aren’t polished enough for gold and silver, and the giant
anvil is just too heavy to schlep around with me, which is why it’s
been in storage for 15 years. The little guy is too small,
generally, but I keep it out of sentimental value. (First anvil,
bought from someone who became a good friend.) (For those who’ve
been keeping track, the fifth anvil is a 120 Hay Budden that I
picked up at a garage sale in wretched shape. Eventually, I’ll clean
it up, and either use it, or sell it. Haven’t had time to worry
about it since I bought it.)
Whether it’s worth it to you to clean up is a function of what kind
of work you do, how big it is, and whether or not you think it’ll
help you make your work.
Personally, I can’t imagine not having one around, but I do a lot of
forged work, and of a larger scale than most commercial goldsmiths.
If all you do is rings and earrings, it may not be that big a deal
to you, especially if it’s above 100 pounds. I’ve always found
100-125(ish) pounds to be about right for silversmithing scale work,
if a little light for blacksmithing. Good news is that 125# anvils
are the most common size. They were easiest to make and transport,
and heavy enough for most things. If you do rings, and it’s a 400
pounder, then no, it’s probably not worth cleaning up. It would be
worth trading to a blacksmith who needs it, in exchange for either
an anvil more to your size needs, or enough money to get a really
nice modern one. (there are some, they’re just expensive.)
Speaking as someone who’s cleaned up more than my share of anvils,
the way I’d go about it is this:
(A) figure out what the goal is. Blacksmithing or goldsmithing. If
gold, final finish matters much more than iron.
(B) figure out what I’ve got for tools. Back in the beginning, I did
it all with right-angle grinders. Can be done, but tedious. 4.5"
grinders can do it, but a 9" grinder will make much shorter work of
it. (And you too, if you screw up. If you’ve never used a
right-angle grinder before, use the 4.5")
(You WILL wear ear protection and a face shield and dust mask
while you do this. I figure a good chunk of my hearing damage is the
product youthful stupidity with angle grinders and power hammers.)
I use cup wheels. They cut a little more slowly than grinding disks,
but if you use them flat on the surface, they do a much better job
of keeping the surface of the anvil flat, which is critical. Many
anvils have a sort of step between the flat face of the anvil, and
the horn. Frequently, those are totally shredded. Ignore them.
They’re intended to be a soft iron area for cutting into with
chisels and whatnot. They’re supposed to get shredded. No point in
cleaning them up, just use them yourself. The horn can be cleaned up
with sanding disks. A worn-out 120 disk does a pretty good job of
blacksmithing grade polish.
For true sneaky-ness, take a rough file and spin just the plastic
backup pad of for the sanding disks against the file, (held in a
vise) so that it removes the outer inch or so of the disk. That’ll
leave the outer inch of the disk unsupported, which makes it much
easier to feather out your grind marks.
I’m talking about the ones that are just a flat disk of sandpaper,
not the ones that are made up of flaps of sandpaper. Those are
great, but not so good for feathering, and they don’t wear out like
the solid ones, so they don’t polish.
Just keep at it until the anvil is the way you want it. The only
critical part is that the face is flat. (Or at least not concave.)
Lots of anvils have chewed up edges. You can radius the edges if its
not bad. If it’s really bad, just ignore it, there’s nothing you can
On my anvils, I tend to deliberately radius the edges. Saves them
breaking, and is also useful. Starts out at the tail with no radius,
slowly increasing as I get towards the horn. I leave the last 2-3
inches at the horn square and sharp, assuming there’s room, and no
damage. That way I can forge things with radiused internal corners
(very handy for non-ferris forging) or sharp corners, depending on
These days, if I’m going to clean up an anvil, I throw it on a
milling machine and rough it out there first. But I have that sort
of gear. Surprisingly, the first thing I do for that, is to flip the
anvil upside down, and mill the bottom of the foot to make it flat.
They mostly aren’t, and having a truly flat foot is critical for
clamping it up to accurately mill the top, and especially important
if you want to have it surface ground. The reason for flipping it
upside down is to set yourself up to mill the foot parallel to the
bulk of the top. Saves milling away most of the top to bring it into
parallel with a bottom that doesn’t really matter.
Surface grinders have magnetic clamps, so they have very little
tolerance for things that aren’t flat. If you plan on having your
anvil surface ground, you’ll save yourself lots of money by milling
it first. (Yourself, if you can.) Most especially by milling the
foot flat, and getting the face more-or-less parallel to the foot.
(which is what the surface grinder will grab.)
For what that’s worth.
PS. > For those within range of the SF Bay area, I do know where
there’s a barn full of big, clean anvils. Lots of them. In good
The only problem is that the guy who has them knows exactly what
they’ll fetch on the blacksmithing circuit, and is holding out for
the very highest end of the scale. I’ve never paid more than
$2/pound, and normally less than 1. He’s asking 6-7/pound. (so a 250
will go for $1500 USD)
Put it this way: a student of mine took me out there, and I was
standing in front of him with cash in my pocket. Didn’t even bother
starting to haggle. And he had a 450 pound Peter Wright with the
original shipping tag still on it. Unused. (Wanted 3-4K for it, as I
recall.) If you’re really interested, drop me a line, but I think the
smallest thing he’s got will go for north of $600 USD.