How to Choose and Use a Farrier’s Anvil

The anvil is one of the most important tools used by the farrier. Chances are you will only choose your anvil once. Its choice should be a matter of study as it will affect your work as much as any other tool.  Its use and location should determine your selection.

 Types, Makes, and Weights of Anvils.

Anvil design is different depending on the use of the tool. The earliest anvils were flat blocks of iron without a horn. A London pattern blacksmith anvil has a round horn and a thick heel. A Continental pattern anvil has a round horn and a pointed heel. A farrier’s anvil is lighter, has a swelled horn, and a longer thinner heel than a blacksmith’s anvil. In addition, the farrier’s anvil may have two pritchel holes or a pritcheling groove and a clip horn.

 Some of the best farrier anvils were made a hundred years ago. Many had a wrought iron base and a tool steel face. This was thought to provide more hammer rebound. Popular makes were Hay-Budden, Trenton, Columbia, and Peter Wright from England. Older anvils may be beat up and not possess sharp edges. However, the edges can be built up with a special welding rod and made sharp by grinding down.

 There are several good anvil makers in America. Most modern anvils are cast in one piece from high quality alloy steel. Popular American makes of anvils are NC Tool, Cliff Carroll, Delta Future, JHM, Emerson and Centaur. Others are AP, GE, Multi-Product, Southern Steel, and Mankel. Brooks anvils come from England and Kohlswa from Sweden. There are several anvil makers on the Continent in Europe. The Delta Future anvil is made of cast steel joined to a cast aluminum base.  

 Shop anvils should be heavy and mounted on a heavy base such as a stump so they are stationary. A heavy anvil will provide a better rebound for your hammer, and a wider face makes it easier to hold the work. A heavier anvil is required when a sledge hammer is to be used. Weights of 150 to 250 pounds are common for shop anvils.

 Farrier anvils should be portable and most are used on a portable stand. They often have turning cams to make cold shaping easier. The heel is tapered and thin again to allow ease in cold shaping. Weights of 70 to 100 pounds are common for portable farrier anvils.

 Position and Height of Anvils.

The curvature of the pointed horn makes it necessary to position the anvil with the horn opposite of the hammer hand so a person can stand in one place with the off side of the horn perpendicular to the hammer handle.

The height of the anvil is determined by the type of work done. In some countries it’s customary to work with the anvil on the ground. Most people prefer to work with the anvil about waist high. For heavy work, such as draft horse shoes, and when using a sledge hammer, the anvil should be lower. A good rule for most work is about knuckle high when your arms hang at your sides, and a little lower for heavy work. Having the anvil too high will cause elbow pain, too low will cause back pain.

 The anvil should be mounted on a solid stand. A metal stand with four legs works okay on a level floor but is unsatisfactory on uneven ground. A three-legged stand works best on unlevel ground. The third leg should be under the horn. A log stand is too heavy to be easily potable and works best in a shop. There should be nothing under the anvil horn to allow room for the tongs to work. A separate tool stand works best when placed under the anvil heel. When the tool stand and anvil are together, the vibration from the anvil may cause the tools to fall off the stand. A vise can be mounted on a separate stand, mounted to the truck, or to a work bench.

 Stance and Safety at the Anvil.

When standing at the anvil your weight should be evenly distributed over your feet and your knees slightly bent. Your entire arm and body should be used when swinging the hammer.

 Always wear an apron at the anvil as a hot piece of metal could slip from the tongs and burn through clothing quickly. Wear cotton clothing. Protect your hearing with ear plugs. Anvils give off enough decibels to permanently damage your hearing. Always wear safety glasses when working at the anvil. Round the edges of your hammer faces and tools struck with the hammer to prevent chipping. Hit the anvil flat to avoid marking the anvil face or chipping the hammer.

 How to Use the Parts of the Anvil.

Many farriers do not use the anvil horn to advantage. Use of the horn requires the shoe be hot and the tongs be in the right position. All shoe shaping should start with the toe. A small space should be between the horn and the shoe. The shoe should be rotated as the toe is formed. The tongs are used to pull the shoe against the horn when straightening a branch. The horn acts as a fulcrum when making shoe bends.

 The heel is used mostly for flattening the quarters when cold fitting hind shoes and must be narrow with have rounded edges. Rotate the shoe so that the toe is as close to the corner as possible.

 The hardy hole or turning cams can be used to turn in the heels or when making other major alterations cold. Holding the shoe in the proper place prevents shock and injuries to the hand.

 The clip horn is sometimes used as an aid in making clips. Many farriers use the edge of the anvil to start and draw clips.

 The pritchel hole(s) are used to make or clean out nail holes. A groove in the anvil face is useful for opening or pritcheling out holes when there are clips on the shoe.

 Anvil Substitutes.

A piece of railroad track iron has been used as an anvil substitute. It is difficult to get a shoe level on one of these.

 A stall jack is a small portable anvil used to shape racing plates in a stall or shed row. It is usually driven into the ground after the foot is picked up so that the shoe can be shaped at the horse. It is unsatisfactory for shaping heavy shoes.

A Pocket Anvil is a tool that uses leverage to shape shoes instead of a hammer. It is convenient, especially when packing into the wilderness, but it is difficult to get a flat shoe without a hammer and an anvil or leveling block.

 Selection of an anvil to work on is one of the most important decisions you will make as you start in the farrier business. Consider what you will use it for, where you will use it, and the features that you consider the most important before purchase.

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