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The Smith's Tools--Anvil Tools

by Fred Holder

The anvil tools consist of a wide variety of aids for the blacksmith. Most of them fit into the Hardy Hole on the anvil. They come with a square tang that fits into the Hardy Hole and holds the tool in position while the blacksmith works his/her magic. These tools fall into several general categories:

Hardy Chisels, Fullers, and Swages

Cutting Plates

Bickerns and Forks

Hold Downs

Beginning smiths may not be familiar with anything more sophisticated than the Hardy chisel they use for cutting steel or the Hardy fuller they use in drawing out or forming a piece of steel. As you dig into the tools for use on the anvil, there are almost as many as there are ideas. When a smith must make a fairly large quantity of a particular product or piece for a large fabrication, it doesn't take too long for the smith to become inventive. A jig is produced to help shape the object. Sometimes that jig is mounted on a separate table or stand, sometimes it is clamped in the vice, and just as many times it is set up to pop into the Hardy Hole. When the smith is ready for that jig, it is a simple matter to drop it into the Hardy Hole and perform the necessary task, then remove it to clear the anvil for other tasks. Basically, we will only address the normal tools here, but keep in mind the Hardy Hole was put there to hold tools to simplify your task.

The Hardy Chisel

The Hardy Chisel is the one tool that a smith must have. This chisel mounts in the Hardy Hole and provides a quick and easy way to cut lengths of steel or to cut off excess steel. I would go so far as to say this tool is indispensable for a blacksmith. There are two basic forms of the Hardy chisel: one for cutting steel cold and one for hot cutting. The cold cutting Hardy chisel has a much steeper angle to the cutting edge and is much heavier is structure. It must stand up to heavy blows and cut into cold hard steel. The hot cut on the other hand has a very long angle to the cutting edge and is designed to cut rapidly into hot iron or steel. Figure 1 shows samples of these two Hardy chisels.


The Hardy Fuller

Figure 1. The Hardy Chisels: cold cut on the left and hot cut on the right.

The Hardy Fuller is very similar to a Hardy Chisel except that it has a very blunt and rounded cutting edge. It is not designed to cut at all, but to dent the hot metal for such purposes as forming a shoulder, drawing out, or other tasks where an indention is required in the workpiece. Fullers come in various general shapes and with different radius edges. Often, if you are lucky, a fuller will come with a matching top fuller which is sort of a handled chisel with a blunt cutting edge that matches the Hardy fuller. The fuller may not be as important as the Hardy Chisel, but it runs a close second. A fuller is shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2. The Hardy Fuller.

bottom fuller

The Hardy Swage

Figure 3. The typical Hardy Swage for rounding rods.

A swage is a tool with a shaped recess into which the hot iron or steel can be driven to cause it to take the shape of the recess. The most common Hardy Swage is the half-round swage which often comes with a matching top swage sporting a handle. When a top and bottom swage are used, a workpiece can be made very round simply by hammering. Swages come in various standard sizes and even without the top swage can do a great job of rounding a piece of steel. Generally, the swage is approximately one half of a hole of a particular diameter and the corners are rounded off so that no sharp edges are presented to the workpiece. Even a swage that is larger than the diameter with which you are working will be a great help in rounding a piece of steel. Figure 3 shows a typical bottom swage.

One final tool that fits into the swage category is the heading tool. These tools are used for making bolts and nails. A different size tool is required for each size of bolt or nail. With a nail heading tool, the hole through the tool is generally square to fit the requirements for making square nails. Also, the not of the nail header is quite often slightly rounded. The bolt header is generally flat on top to help give the best shoulder between the bolt shaft and the head. The hole through the holt header is round. The hole through each of these headers is punched with a taper punch from the bottom side. A typical header is illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Typical heading tool. With the round hole this header would be designed to head bolts.

Cutting Plates

A good smith never cuts directly on the anvil face and probably never on the cutting table of the anvil. An accidental cut through can damage to face of the anvil or the edge of the tool. The tool edge can be resharpened. The anvil face is much more difficult to fix. One of the best cutting plates is designed with a Hardy tang so that it can be popped into the Hardy Hole and will be held firmly in place while the cutting operation is underway. Such a plate should be at least 1/4 inch thick and should be of soft steel or brass or copper. The object is to have it soft enough that it will not dull the chisel as it cuts through the hot steel. It helps if the cutting plate is easily replaceable after it becomes considerably marred by the chisel.

A second choice of cutting plate is one that is bent into a reverse "U" shape that just fits over the face of the anvil and is held in place by the legs of the "U". I used one of these made out of 1/8 inch steel for many years. I've even used cutting plates made out of even lighter weight steel with good results, but feel that 1/8 inch is perhaps a minimum advisable. Figure 5 illustrates a typical cutting plate.

soft cutting plate Figure 5. Cutting Plate.

Bickerns and Forks

A Bickern or Bick is a small anvil horn that allows the smith to work on more delicate objects than could be shaped over the anvil horn. These generally are fitted with a Hardy shank so that they can be popped into the Hardy Hole. They should have a flange that sets down on the anvil face to take up much of the force of the blows. Too much force on the Hardy Hole could damage it or perhaps crack the anvil. Actually the Bickern is designed for working smaller stock and should never have to absorb the force of heavy blows. Many years ago, I made one out of a Marlin Spike that I picked up at a second hand store. The Marlin Spike had a long taper and the large end was somewhat greater in size than the Hardy Hole on my anvil. I squared the large end of the spike and sized it to fit the Hardy Hole comfortably. Then I bent it 90 degrees about two inches above the face of the anvil. This tool was very good for forging small rings, chain links, loops, etc.

It also did pretty good service when forming fork tines. Figure 6 illustrates a Bickern.

Bickern Figure 6. A typical Bickern.

In his book, Practical Blacksmithing, M. T. Richardson illustrates and describes how to make a saddle that is used for drawing out forked pieces. He states, "It will be found very handy in making wrenches and different kinds of clips, scaffing, dash irons, etc. In many cases is will be preferred to the little anvil, being much firmer on account of the extra leg." This tool is illustrated in Figure 7.

Forging saddle Figure 7. Saddle used for drawing out forked pieces.

Forks are generally made from a piece of stock that is slightly larger than the Hardy Hole on the anvil. They are forged to fit the Hardy Hole and then split and shaped to produce a fork similar to that shown in Figure 8. Such a fork is very handy for bending flat pieces and for making "T" pieces. A second type of fork. Figure 9, which has a tang to fit the anvil Hardy Hole, a piece of flat stock to lie on the anvil face, and two uprights made from round stock. This type of fork is very useful in bending scrolls. This latter type also has the advantage of being very easy to fabricate with different spacings between the uprights of the fork.

Bending Fork Figure 8. A fork shaped tool used for bending flat pieces.

Scrolling Fork Figure 9. A fork useful for making scrolls features.

Hold Downs and Supports

Any smith who works alone will need a "third hand" from time to time. There are some elaborate devices that have been made, but perhaps the simplest form is the hold down illustrated in Figure 10. This type of hold down is very effective. It is easy to apply and easy to release. Simply set it on the piece to be held down and tap it with the hammer. Another tap releases it. These types of hold downs are most useful for holding flat stock on the face of the anvil. They can be purchased through most woodworking supply houses since they are equally effective for holding wood or metal and there are many more woodworkers today than there are blacksmiths. The holddowns shown in Figure 10 are available from Woodcraft (1-800-225-1153 to order). A chain attached to the anvil stand and equipped with a weight on the other end can be a very effective hold down, especially for odd shaped pieces. My anvil is equipped with such a hold down device.

Holdfast Figure 10. A spring type hold down device.

When working with longer pieces of stock, the smith will have difficulty keeping the workpiece flat on the anvil face without some outside help. A device similar to that shown in Figure 11 can be quite helpful. This piece is easily made from a piece of pipe with a pipe flange to attach it to a footing of some sort. A hole is drilled in the pipe near the top. The hole is threaded for a bolt to use as a securing device. A rod that just fits inside the pipe has a "T" piece welded to its top. By sliding the rod up or down in the pipe, one can set the height of the stand as necessary to hold the piece flat on the anvil. Then securing the screw will lock the rod in place. In its fully retracted position, this device should be somewhat lower than the face of the anvil to compensate for odd shaped pieces that may need to be held in position from time to time.

We have only covered a few of the many tools that may be devised for use on the anvil. Hopefully, we have given you enough information to stimulate your imagination and allow you to create new tools to meet the various requirements of your own shop. As you visit other smiths' shops, take a look around at the various devices that they may have made to make their blacksmithing easier. Remember, a jig may cut the time to do a specific task by many minutes. If you have a lot of items that are the same or very similar, there is probably a jig that can save you time, or at lease make the job easier or of better final quality. If you are an artist and do only "One-of-a-Kind" items, you still may benefit from a number of anvil tools. Keep an eye open and your mind too!

Stock stand or Third Hand

Figure 11.
A "Third Hand" helps hold long pieces flat on the anvil face.

This article was originally published in Blacksmith's Gazette. It has been edited to fit the format of our Blacksmith's Gazette Internet Site.

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This page was last updated on April 30, 1996.