Jewelry Tools: The Curse of the Ringing Anvil and Bouncy Bench Block, Part 1

Does your mind wander when you are doing repetitive jewelry making tasks at the bench? Mine does. In fact, my mind recently wandered over to the computer, researching jewelry tools. By the time I was done, I knew why modern anvils don’t ring and why bench blocks bounce.

ABOVE: Parts of an anvil. From The Art of Blacksmithing by Alex W. Bealer

These anvil insights are courtesy of Cliff Carroll of Larkspur, Colorado. According to his website, he makes highly polished 70- and 125-pound anvils and other specialized equipment for farriers; he also makes a much-coveted anvil for use with jewelry tools.

When I learn this, I imagine Carroll and his three employees working in a blackened factory, pouring molten steel into molds as sparks shower onto the floor. But Carroll paints a vastly different picture when I get him on the phone. He orders anvils as cast iron castings made to his specifications, and then his company heat-treats, machines, polishes, and paints these into products for sale.

“It’s a tough job,” says Carroll, who shoed horses for 30 years. “There’s a lot of lifting and grinding on those horns, and the anvils have to be picked up and taken from machine to machine.”

Using a computerized system, specific surfaces of the anvil are heat treated to a temperature of around 1600 to 1700 degrees Fahrenheit to harden the cast iron, then quenched with water. That way, the anvil offers hard surfaces for forging and softer surfaces for cutting heated metal with a chisel, he says.

Jewelry Tools: Form = Function

Every curve and surface has a specific function, shaped by thousands of years of use and development. Flat areas are used for stretching and flattening metal; the horn for creating complex curves. The hardy (hardie) hole is designed to hold special jewelry tools like forming stakes. It can also be used for bending. The pritchel hole is there for punching holes in metal.

Even the two round dots on the side of Carroll’s anvils have a purpose and are called “turning cams.” In a pinch, you can use them to form the perfect angle to the end of a horseshoe, should the need ever arise in your studio.

The design of the anvil foot, base, and waist also are steeped in traditions. Among others, they function as a way to anchor the anvil to a sturdy base to prevent bouncing.

Since Carroll selectively heat treats his anvils, the base is softer. “You can drill thru the feet of our anvil, so you can attach it to a table,” he says.

jewelry tools: 70-pound anvil courtesy of CliffCarroll.com

70-pound anvil courtesy of CliffCarroll.com

Ah Ha!

It is at this moment that I realize my steel bench blocks are always bouncing around, pinching my fingers, even though I work with them on a hard maple stump. So, I ask him about this.

“When everything jumps around, you lose energy and accuracy,” says Carroll. One solution is to anchor the bench block down. Or use something with more mass—such as Carroll’s beautiful 35-pound jeweler’s anvil. Not to worry—it’s only 7-1/2 inches wide, by 6 inches deep by 6-1/2 inches high.

“We started making the 35-pound for handyman and leather workers in the 1990s, and it’s lightweight enough to put on a bench,” Carroll says. Although slow to catch on, jewelry instructors eventually got wind of its use for jewelry tools and created a whole new market for Carroll when they recommended the small, highly polished anvil to their students.

TIP: Carroll recommends that even the 35-pound anvil be anchored down.

Of course, when I think of the word “anvil,” I imagine that shipping a 35-pounder would cost a fortune. But Carroll is happy to look up the price for me from Colorado to my remote woods in Michigan. The cost? A little over $35 via UPS. Hmmm. I am sooooo tempted.

Jewelry Tools: Busting Some Myths

Carroll’s cast iron anvils do not make the classic ringing sound when you strike them. Once thought to be the hallmark of a great anvil, Carroll is happy to educate me.

“That just makes people deaf,” Carroll says. Especially if you are pounding on an anvil eight hours a day shoeing horses. “We won’t even take them in on a trade, because this thing makes people deaf.”

Here’s another myth: In the old days, experts preferred forged steel anvils to their cast iron cousins, claiming these were harder and better. But that’s not true either, Carroll says. When you use the proper formula for cast iron and do selective hardening, a cast anvil is the better performer and offers more versatility; it won’t shatter.

Jewelry Tools: Anvil Tips

  • You’ll find Carroll’s anvils at CliffCarroll.com.
  • The surfaces of a well-polished anvil are a great match for your jewelry tools for riveting, stamping, hallmarking, forming, shaping, bending, embossing, drilling or flattening metal.
  • Like with all jewelry tools, take good care of your anvil and protect the surface from damage and rust. Do not hit the surface of the anvil directly with your hammer or other jewelry tools. Or use hammers that are softer than the cast iron. Get more advice on anvil care.
  • Attach your anvil to a sturdy surface, like a hardwood stump.
  • Your anvil should be mounted at about the height of your knuckles when your arms hang loosely at your sides.
  • Want more minutia about anvils?

Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. You can reach her at betsylehndorff@gmail.com.


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