Saturday, January 17

Makeshift Anvils Part 2: The Hammerhead Anvil

A Word On Working Areas

A welder might tack something together. A carpenter will throw a piece of plywood on a couple sawhorses. A painter has an easel. Each craftsman has a work surface that suits their needs.

For blacksmiths, the main working area is the anvil. For better or worse, it's not as simple as putting plywood on sawhorses and it can cost a significant amount of money. 

Here at DIY Blacksmithing, we're generally interested in creating what we need before shelling out money. You may have read the first Makeshift Anvil post all about using a piece of railroad track when you're first starting out. They're lightweight, inexpensive ($30 or less usually), and offer a workable surface. 

In that same spirit, here's another option to consider when trying to forge on a budget. It all started with an estate sale... 

That's just an old pitted hammer. Or is it?

Where I Found It

To be fair, I didn't personally go to the estate sale. This hammer more or less fell into my lap when I got to work a few weeks ago. Since I have blacksmithing on my mind most every day, I spotted this beauty immediately. Free for the taking, it's the perfect price for our goals.

(A side note: I worked for The Nature Conservancy as a prescribed fire crew manager. The Conservancy does quite a bit of land acquisition in its efforts to protect and restore natural areas. Sometimes when that land is acquired, more stuff comes with the purchase. In this case, a whole bunch of old hardware and other odds and ends.)

Will It Work?

Yes, is the short answer. Blacksmiths around the world do amazing things with far less. For some perspective, imagine having only a carpenter's claw hammer and a hard rock for an anvil. 

Having a piece of forged iron to pound against is great. If it's wide enough to have a sweet spot, we're in the money. This large sledge has both. 

One option: The side of the hammer.
If you want to try this out, be sure to brace the head of the hammer so it won't move around. Here are a couple of options for bracing it if you're using the side of the head:

  1. If it has a handle, remove it. Center the head on your stump remembering that the top of your anvil should brush the knuckles of your hand held at your side. Using nails, pound them into the stump and bend them over the head and the peen to brace it. Screws might be a better option since they're easier to remove and reuse. 
  2. Use a similar method as we did in the Quick-Mount Anvil with the railroad track. With the handle removed, you now have an available hole to loop a piece of chain through. Anchor it on opposite sides of your stump with sturdy nails or screws. You'll also be using turnbuckles to adjust the tension.  
Option Two: The hammer's face.
Using the face of the hammer may present you with some trickier mounting due to the peen side of the hammer making it unstable in this position. However, it this position could yield more favorable results when you're ready to forge in terms of your makeshift anvil's sweet spot.

What's A Sweet Spot?

It's a surprisingly small area on an anvil, the end of a piece of railroad track, or in this case, the head of a larger hammer. It's generally the center of the anvil's face and where the majority of work is done. It withstands the force of the hammer and, in combination with a stand, distributes that force.

A Caveat About Anvils and Their Stand-ins

Nothing fully replaces a well-made anvil with the stability its hundreds of pounds provides. The anvil has been shaped and optimized to suit the needs of blacksmiths and farriers for centuries. The same goes for hammers. To our benefit, both were made to accommodate and concentrate intense forces. 

If you give this Hammerhead Anvil project a try and the results are mixed, you can always tweak the idea or come up with something new. That's the spirit of DIY. 

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