Tuesday, March 29

Setting the Stump

Before I started digging today, I got out the rotary mower and rake and cleared the area I chose for my open air shop.

I'm fortunate to have a couple of uncles who live on a nice piece of wooded land. They happened to have some downed shagbark hickories back in the back. So, I eyeballed and cut a 5'6'' piece from one of them with my chain saw (which is not necessary, but extremely useful for this step). With my uncles' help I put it in the back of the truck.

I chose a piece of wood that turned out to be a bit less in diameter than my anvil. Ideally, you want the diameter to match or be greater than the longest part of the anvil base. However, this was found wood and it will do the job just fine.

Blacksmiths throughout history have used green (just downed or recently downed) hardwood stumps for anvil mounts. Hickory is a good choice because of its weight and density. It takes the blows sent from the hammer through the anvil well. If hickory is not available, other hardwoods will do: oak, maple, poplar, walnut, etc.

Traditionally, the blacksmith would set the stump between four and five feet into the ground after doing some careful measurement to make sure the height matched his own. For our purposes, we won't be sinking it that far.

The general rule for anvil height is to have the face of your anvil meet the knuckles of your clenched fist when it's held at your side. This prevents you from putting undue strain on your body while hammering. My measurement is about 33". Accounting for the 6.25" height of my piece of railroad track and the foot or so going in the ground, I had to cut my piece of hickory down some. A bow saw or any of the varieties of cross-cut can do the job just fine. Just remember, the ending height with the anvil resting on the stump needs to equal your knuckle to ground measurement.

Now I'm ready for the hole. I've already dug a perimeter down to mineral soil for my 7' x 8' working area. This is a fire precaution and also helps in visualizing where everything will go. Later, I'll be placing stone to act as an extra barrier to the potential spread of fire.

Using a post-hole digger and a shovel, I dug a hole a little over a foot down (over one-third of the total length of my stump for stability). The diameter of the hole is larger than the stump diameter (9.5") to allow for tamping after the stump is set.

Now that hole is done and I've saved the dirt from it for refill, I put the stump into it. The piece of hickory was much lighter after cutting it to size.
 After dropping it into the hole, I used a level to get a nice, flat working surface. I then used the dirt I set aside to secure the leveled stump, tamping and filling in stages.
There's no need for a tamping bar when you already have a shovel. The handle works like a charm for tamping.
And here it is:

To review:

-Clear off an area large enough for you, the forge, the anvil and a vise, if you'll be using one, that also allows you to reach everything within one step.
-Measure from your knuckles to the ground to get the height for your anvil. Cut the stump to size allowing for how far you want to sink it into the ground.
-Dig the hole.
-Drop the stump in. Tamp it.

Tools (If you don't have these tools, ask a neighbor or a friend. Blacksmithing is about community):
-Saw (power or otherwise)
-Tape Measure
-Shovel (this can be used instead of a post hole digger, they're just easier)
-A buddy to help you lift (blacksmithing seems like a solitary vocation, but an extra set of hands is ALMOST always useful)

NEXT UP: A simple, yet clever way to mount the anvil.

Looking for more? There's plenty of it in my
DIY Blacksmithing Guides:


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