Blacksmithing Without an Anvil-Top 6 Alternatives


Nowadays, a good-quality blacksmithing anvil is getting harder and harder to find. This is due to a variety of reasons, such as lack of producing companies, shipping complications, costs, manufacturing concerns, etc. You can find used anvils for 4-5$/lb whereas new ones usually cost around 10$/lb, but don’t let that discourages you from starting blacksmithing.

The question remains, is it possible to do blacksmithing without an anvil? Although not ideal, blacksmithing can still be done without using the common type of anvil. Because of its hardness and shape, the anvil is preferred blacksmithing tool, but there are plenty of anvil alternatives that can serve you as well.

It is important to note that today’s term „anvil“ is used mostly for London pattern anvil. Actually, an anvil can be anything on which can put on your hot piece of material.

Next, we will discuss possible substitutes for the anvil and when they should be used. At the end of the article, we will also answer the related question on this topic.

What Makes a Great Anvil?

Before we analyze anvil alternatives, we have to discuss the important anvil characteristics in order to make a proper decision. Some of the most crucial ones are hardness, stability, material, size, portability, and shape.

Hardness is probably the most important factor of all. It should be able to endure constant hammering without breaking. The face of the anvil should be the hardest as it will take the most beating. Always check for dents, cracks, chips before usage.  When it comes to anvils, steel is a better material than iron. Early anvils were made from wrought iron, but after some time they were slowly disappearing from the market as they are not hard as steel is.

Stability is a very important factor to consider before choosing any substitute for an anvil. The larger and heavier the piece is, the more stable it is. This is why it is recommended to have a large piece. The more massive it is, the less it will move under the hammer striking. On the other hand, if it is small, make sure you do proper anchoring. Keep in mind that there are different ways of anchoring, so pick the most convenient method for you.

Material is also an extremely important characteristic. For example, cast iron is a terrible choice while cast steel is excellent. In case you are using iron, make sure it is wrought iron. Cast iron has been melted and cooled down afterwards while wrought iron has been heated up to high temperatures and then worked with tools. Wrought iron anvils (affiliate link) are much stronger than ones made out of cast iron. After every heat-treating process, it becomes a little harder. Because of its strength, it is a better choice for an anvil.

Differently, steel is an alloy that primarily consists of carbon and iron. Iron occurs naturally as an element, whereas steel consists of many different elements that aren’t found naturally on the earth. The carbon component is what differentiates the two. Though it only contains about 2% of carbon content, it makes significant physical changes. Steel is stronger and harder than iron, thus it is the best material for an anvil.

When choosing an anvil substitute, keep in mind that size is a great factor. Size should be proportional to the project and the hammer size. For average blacksmithing work, the ideal weight ratio of the hammer to anvil is about 50:1. For example, a 3-pound hammer and 150-pound anvil are excellent matches. Although not ideal, large anvils can be used for small projects, however, it is impossible to use large projects on small anvils.

Except for size, the related factor is portability. Do you need to move your anvil frequently? This is also a very important question you have to ask yourself when choosing a proper anvil for your needs. The largest convenient portable anvils are those between 100 to 150lb (45 to 68kg), anything heavier than that will be harder and inconvenient to move.

What Can You Use Instead of an Anvil?

There are many different alternatives when it comes to anvils. In this article, we decided to show you the most common ones.

  • ASO (Anvil Shaped Object)
  • Railroad Track
  • Piece of Scrap Steel
  • Old Truck Axle
  • Stone

ASO (Anvil Shaped Object)

Availability: Easy to find
Alternative Quality: Good
Cost: 50$ (Average price)
Recommended for: Beginners and medium-size projects

ASO is usually made of cast iron, which is the lowest quality material for an anvil. This is a popular blacksmithing term for „Anvil Shaped Object“. Basically, anything that looks like an anvil but in most cases is badly manufactured. As we said earlier, cast iron is not ideal for anvils due to its brittleness.

In case you are an aspiring blacksmith and have some money to spend, ASO is a good starting point. It will serve you well. The problem with „real“ anvils is that they are getting more difficult to find and also their prices are higher than ever. So, for starting purposes, spending about 50$ (or less) is not a bad idea. Note that as you are getting advanced and work longer hours, you will need to get yourself a steel anvil (affiliate link) due to its durability and quality.

Railroad Track

Availability: Easy to find
Alternative Quality: Good
Cost: Mostly free
Recommended for: Beginners and medium-size projects

Railroad Tracks are the most common anvil alternatives used by blacksmiths. They are usually made form medium steel but that does not always have to be the case. Because of their hardness and strength, they are the most popular choice.

Keep in mind that they are not always easily available. Do not try to find them on railroad property because you can get yourself into legal issues. You can find them at state sales, auctions, maintenance yards, scrap yards, auto repair shops or can ask somebody that may have it. Dressing it can sometimes be a problem, so if you find some readily available, use it.

To cut a railroad track, we recommend using a cutting torch or cutoff wheel. A cutting torch is more effective but if you don’t have it, feel free to use a cutoff wheel.

Piece of Scrap Steel

Availability: Easy to find
Alternative Quality: Good
Cost: Mostly free or very cheap
Recommended for: Beginners and medium-size projects

Piece of Scrap steel (affiliate link) is probably the simplest alternative you can use for an anvil. You can easily find them at local businesses, construction sites, scrapyards, dumpsters, etc. As you can see, you can find it in many different places. For some blacksmiths is a better option than railroad track due to its weight. Namely, it is much heavier than railroad truck, sometimes even 2x heavier.

You can easily find a way to anchor it on a stump. It is also possible to build up a holding block. Scrap steel piece makes a plenty of space form any small projects if you place it on a larger side. Unfortunately, it doesnt have a horn but there are ways around as well. 

It is important to know the kinds of scrap metal you use so you can find out what you can do and what you cant do with your anvil. There are many different types of metal, but these are mostly found in scrap metal:

  • Aluminum
  • Carbide
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Titanium

Aluminum is one of the most commonly found in scrap metals. It can be found in food wrap soils, storm windows, soda cans, and many other places.

Carbine is another metal that you can find in various scrap metals. It is also commonly found in drill bits or tool bits so if you have some of that, make sure you recycle them instead of throwing them away.

Copper is known to be highly valuable. It is the third most common metal in manufacturing and construction. It is found in kitchen sinks, electronic wiring, etc.

Iron is found in pans, swings, cast iron pots and a lot of outdoor furniture.

Titanium is one of the most valuable metals due to its versatility. It is commonly found in just about everything. It is also very corrosion-resistant.

Stump Anvil

Availability: Not easily available
Alternative Quality: Good
Cost: Usually between 15 to 100$
Recommended for: Jewelry work and small size projects

Stump Anvils (affiliate link) for heavy projects are almost impossible to find anymore. Instead, small variations are available. You can mount them on a stake plate or bench socket. For light projects, they can also be supported in a vice. Stump anvils usually weigh about 20 pounds.

Because of its size and shape, they are mostly used for jewelry work or some small blacksmithing projects. Keep in mind that you should limit your hammer size to the weight of the stump anvil. Don’t use a hammer which weighs more than 1/10 of the weight of the anvil.

Old Truck Axle

Availability: Not easily available
Alternative Quality: Decent
Cost: Mostly free or very cheap
Recommended for: Beginners and small/medium size projects

Believe it or not, an old truck axle can also serve as an anvil. It is heavy and solid, so if you can anchor it on a big stump or set it in concrete, it would be a nice piece to work on. In case you have two truck axles, another one you can anchor it sideways, it can serve as a substitute for anvil horn. Good thing is that it has holes which can be used for punching but all overall is not a great anvil alternative, mainly because of its odd shape.

Stone

Availability: Easily available
Alternative Quality: Bad
Cost: Free
Recommended for: Beginners and medium/large size projects

Stone is the oldest known anvil in history, so for a very long time, blacksmith’s only choice was a stone anvil. There is no much what can be said about stone. Simply, try to find one massive piece of stone with an even surface. Use this method if nothing from previously mentioned is available for you.

How Can You Tell If an Anvil Is Good?

You have many different methods for establishing the quality of an anvil. Some of the most popular are:

  • Rebound Hammer Test
  • The Steel Ball Test

Rebound Hammer Test

To accomplish this test you will need a 3 pound (or less) ball peen or smithing hammer, and anvil. Now, hold a hammer over the center of the face of the anvil. The handle should be parallel to the face. Be sure to use the hammer’s face, not the peen. Simply drop the head and see observe the height of the rebound. A good result is anything above 30% of the initial distance. Cast iron usually bounce around 10% of the initial distance. Note that you should never strike the anvil with a hammer because it won’t produce quality results.

The Steel Ball Test

For this test, you will need a 1 inch (2.5cm) hard steel ball, ruler and an anvil. First, put the ruler on the face of the anvil vertically. Now, place a ball at around 10 inches high and drop it down. It is best to perform this test on a couple of different places and take the average result. Results will vary depending on the ball’s hardness, the mass of the anvil, and the surface of the anvil’s face.

Keep in mind that the steel ball test is rather good than a perfect indicator of hardness. Be careful not to throw the ball at the anvil. That will tell you nothing about the quality of the anvil. If you throw the ball, it will bounce much higher due to the increased energy. Basically, it is a pointless test if done improperly.

Related Questions

Why Are Anvils so Expensive?

Anvils are expensive mainly due to the lack of manufacturers and shipping costs. Simply, demand is not high enough to open more of the producing companies. Also, shipping is not so easy to do, primarily because of the weight of the anvil.

Why Do Blacksmiths Wrap Chain Around Anvil?

Blacksmiths primarily wrap the chain around the anvil to silence it, especially on smaller ones. Also, chains add weight to the anvil so much better stabilization is achieved.

What Tools Are Needed for Blacksmithing?

You can find all this information here:
Blacksmithing Tools For Beginners (2021)
7 Knife Making Power Tools for Maximum Productivity
The Definite List of Knife Making Tools for Beginners

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