Jewelry Tools: Exploring Endless Possibilities with the Swanstrom Forming Anvil

|Sponsored| Years ago, I suddenly became interested in forming metal on something other than a flat bench block. This sudden interest hit on a weekend with no store nearby that sold jewelry tools. So I went to a local hardware store and asked to see an anvil. I was shown to a shelf of little boxes about the size of a brick. I opened a box and found the smallest anvil I’d ever seen.

At the register, the gentleman behind the counter said, “Are you going to use this to make your little crafts?” Hmph. Bless his heart.

Swanstrom Forming Anvil mandrels jewelry tools

This Swanstrom Forming Anvil is an endlessly versatile jewelry tool, with dozens of mandrels, top plates, and other add-ons to help it work better for you. Photo courtesy Rio Grande.

When I went to the hardware store that day, something like the Swanstrom Multi-Purpose Forming Anvil from Rio Grande is more like what I had in mind for my “little crafts.” Big crafts, too, like hammering metal into submission and forming organic, fluid shapes that look more like fabric than metal.

What I didn’t have in mind, because I hadn’t even imagined it in order to want it, was an anvil with interchangeable mandrels. Whee! I knew Rio was sharing an anvil for review recently, but I didn’t know it had so much versatility and possibility until I took it out of the box and saw the attachments. Attachments! For an anvil! Opening the Rio box was a much different experience than when I opened the little box at the hardware store. I literally said, “Oh wow, attachments!” I knew right away this anvil was going to help make my “little crafts” amazing.

Jewelry Tool Review: Swanstrom Bench Anvil from Rio Grande

We love attachments in our jewelry tools, don’t we? But before I get to those, let me tell you about the basic anvil itself.

Most anvils are cast, but casting doesn’t create a very hard surface for hammering. This anvil combines the best of two worlds: a cast body with “heat-treated, through-hardened horns and top plate that are made out of S7 alloy tool steel.” To me, that means that Swanstrom has thoughtfully created this jewelry tool using the most appropriate material for the best performance in each part.

I was surprised to read the base dimensions on Rio’s product page: 3-1/2″L x 3″W x 3-3/4″H. It doesn’t look, seem, or feel that small when you’re hammering away! This little jewelry tool performs beyond its dimensions, for sure. And, it’s made in the USA.

Swanstrom forming anvil basic mandrels

Now, About Those Attachments…

The Swanstrom Multi-Purpose Anvil comes with two tapered mandrels (or horns) for creating concave and convex curves, spirals, and drops, plus two stepped mandrels ideal for making rings and bracelets. You can easily change the mandrels with a simple Allen wrench (included). You loosen one screw with the Allen wrench, swap out the horn, and tighten the screw—that’s it!

In the same easy one-screw process, you can also swap out the flat striking surface with Swanstrom concave or convex top plates (sold separately), making this little anvil your base for a huge variety of metal-forming tasks. Speaking of your base—this anvil is portable for taking to shows or classes, but you can also mount it on your bench, making it the workhorse center of your studio.

Adapters are also available that allow you to attach other small forming tools, like Fretz forming mandrels and stakes. You can learn more specifics about these attachments on the anvil product page.

Swanstrom Multi-Purpose Forming Anvil attachments mandrels horns

All of the mandrels and other attachments currently available for the Swanstrom Forming Anvil. Photo courtesy of RioGrande.com

Speaking of Other Attachments

I was browsing RioGrande.com to confirm a detail for you about this anvil when I discovered the other available attachments. Oval-, teardrop-, triangle-, square-, hexagon-, octagon-, and pentagon-shaped mandrels are available for use with metal sheet, strip, and wire. Six individual round mandrels are available, ranging in size from 1/4″ to 1-1/2″. Plus, there’s a U-groove top plate attachment with five grooves in 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″ sizes. Imagine using the round mandrels with the coordinating grooves . . .

Including the adapters, all the mandrels, and top plates, there are 23 attachments for the forming anvil. Plus, those two adapters allow you to add other attachments. I have to say it—the possibilities seem endless.

Play Time with Hammers and Other Jewelry Tools

When I want to play in the studio but am blocked creatively or have nothing particular to make, I do two things until something sparks. I ball up silver scrap or ball-end head pins, or I hammer metal (sometimes unusually shaped leftover pieces) until it blossoms into something l like that encourages me to keep working it. This anvil is perfect for the latter.

After hammering on the top plate and around the mandrels awhile, I found myself looking through my scrap to find more ways to use this tool. And not just because I wanted to give you a broad idea of what it can do, but also because it was just fun to see what else I could do with it.

The mandrels made me want to turn the metal this way and that as I hammered, to create a good texture. You can also use the top plate as a surface for metal stamping and as a simple bench block.

forming metal cone Swanstrom forming anvil

I wanted to try to form a piece of metal closely around the pointed mandrel to create a cone—which I’ve never done before. But this anvil made me want to try, so I did! And it was fun. Cones like this are perfect for making ever-popular tassel necklace designs.

Swanstrom forming anvil rings bezels coils spirals

And rings! Oh friends. Rings are probably my favorite piece of jewelry to make, and certainly to collect and wear. But beyond finger rings, think of all the rings, wire loops, and other types of circles and rings you use in your designs.

The two stepped mandrels have a total of 12 steps or sizes, allowing you to create rings up to size 15+ and loops from about 9mm to 25mm. The slim tapered forming mandrel goes even smaller–from 7.8mm to 2.7mm for extra detailed work. I slipped a ring sizer onto one stepped mandrel to find the right ring size and got to work.

Swanstrom forming anvil ring sizer stepped sizes

Here’s a bonus the stepped mandrel mounted “up in the air” in the anvil has over a standard ring mandrel: I was able to re-round or re-form a finished ring from the back without harming the bezel-set Roman glass on the other side.

ring forming on Swanstrom forming anvil protects bezel

I call these attachments mandrels, but some call them horns. That gave me the idea of forming an actual metal horn on one of the attachments. Maybe I’ve seen too many unicorn horns on headbands lately—I seem to have horns on the brain!

Swanstrom forming anvil spiral horn metal

The Little Jewelry Tool That Can

Whether you have “little crafts” or amazing feats of metal forming in your future, I know you’ll enjoy using the Swanstrom Multi-Purpose Forming Anvil as much as I have. I’m not aware of any other jewelry tool that offers so much opportunity and possibility for forming metal. It will encourage you to find more and more ways to use it—and who doesn’t appreciate a creative push in the studio? With this anvil, you can make spirals, curves, coils, and cones, like the shaped bezels and other designs below, all day long. And they’re just so interesting in your designs. Let us know how you’d use this mighty little anvil in the comments below.

coiled curved spiral jewelry ideas

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