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Tool sources

Where can I find tools in Orange County, CA? Irvine is the closest
city. The art stores nearby don’t carry such things as planishing
hammers, ring clamps, tumblers, etc.

I was working on the anvil part of my bench vise, and now it show
hammer marks–surely, a jewelry anvil should be undentable. What do
I look for in an anvil or hammering surface–is there a hardness
number or grade?


I was working on the anvil part of my bench vise, and now it show
hammer marks--surely, a jewelry anvil should be undentable.

I’m sorry Janet, I can’t help you with finding local stores though I
can highly recommend Frei & Borel in Oakland(?). They’ve got a great
mail order service, quite knowledgeable staff and one of the best US
sources of high and professional grade jewellery making tools. Their
tools URL is I’d recommend getting their catalog. Very
educational and a great selection! Also good, though sometimes a bit
odd to deal with, is Progress Tools in LA. They’re at

As to the anvil question. I’m sure you’re going to get a wide range
of responses to this one but my experience has been that it’s a lot
harder to get a good anvil than you might think. The usual hammering
surface for jewellery making is the bench block: a square chunk of
metal that sits on your bench and is typically between .5 and 1 inch
thick. These are seldom “undentable”, far from it. There is
presumably a good reason for this. I think the theory is that if
you’re good enough to not hit the surface of the block with your
hammer then it won’t get dented. If you’re not that good with a
hammer then it’s better to dent the block than it is to dent the

Since I’m self-taught I’d dented both hammer and anvil quite
liberally over the years and have learned to treat them with a lot
more care than you’d imagine necessary. Good technique is much easier
on both tools and you have to force yourself to improve to the point
where the dents go into the workpiece and not the tools. If you’re
like me you’ll spend a lot of hours refinishing your hammers and/or
your bench block while you’re learning to treat them with the respect
they demand.

That said I have finally found a real, high grade, hardened steel,
mirror polished bench block and I must say I love it. It cost about
5 times what a normal bench block costs but in my opinion it was
money well spent. It rings like a bell when you strike it! I only use
it on special occasions and I have to be really careful. It’s
noticeably harder than most of my hammers so if I slip up I’ll be
back refinishing my hammers again.

Aside from bench blocks there are, of course, a variety of other
hammering surfaces you’ll hear of. Most of them are of the
"dentable" variety. These include pieces of railroad ties (ok, but
usually poorly finished), small “shop” anvils (often too crude to
bother with), silversmithing stakes (a good variety of shapes),
miniature anvil shaped things that sit on your bench (personally I
find them doinky), and last but not least a real, goldsmith’s anvil
that has a stake in the bottom so you can shove it into a stump (the
best option), hole in your bench, whatever.

I’ve been happiest with the latter, the goldsmith’s anvil. It costs
a lot, approx US$75, but it’s a beautiful tool. It has a square
pointy arm on one side and a rounded one on the other, is about 6
inches from tip to tip and weighs about 3 pounds. Highly finished,
very well hardened (though not quite “undentable”), and an
inspiration to work with care and quality. I think Frei & Borel
carries something like this but most of the other big sources in the
US (Rio Grande, Gesswein, Contenti) don’t seem to. I ordered mine
from Karl Fischer in Germany ( If you want
to talk beautiful tools, these guys are the place to go (much of the
Frei & Borel stock seems to come from the pages of the Fischer
catalog). FWIW, Fischer is also the place I got the hardened steel
"undentable" bench block I mentioned.

Whichever way you go I’d advise keeping an open mind. It took me
quite a while to find the tools I liked and develop the techniques I
aspired to. I love forging and forming metals but have learned that
it’s much more of an organic thing that I imagined when I started.
And, somewhat unexpectedly, it all seems to come back to the hammer
and the anvil, the relationship between the two and my relationship
to them.

Oy, enough already!

Trevor F.

Janet, You should make a trip to the ‘big city.’ Here in downtown Los
Angeles there are DOZENS of jewelry supply businesses. If you
establish a relationship with one or more of them, and get a catalog,
I’m sure that you can have them ship anything you need, so that you
don’t have to make the drive. Most of them are open on Saturdays,
too, when traffic isn’t bad. If you do come downtown, please be sure
to call me first, and come to visit. I love meeting Orchidians. David
Barzilay, Lord of the Rings. 213-488-9157

David Barzilay
Lord of the Rings
607 S Hill St Ste 850
Los Angeles, CA 90014-1718