180 LB. Vulcan Anvil: “The Restoration”

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One of the many things that I’ve always wanted to have around the shop is an anvil. Recently I stepped up my search for a decent “beater”, and missed out on a couple of local deals. I suppose I could have just taken a ride down to the Harbor Fright store and bought one of their Russian “anvil shaped objects”, but I have this thing for Authentic American Iron, and have learned that I’m better off spending more money for quality tools in the long run.

 

 

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One of the trends I’ve noticed in the past few years is that a week or two before the CAMS Annual Yard Sale guys will start listing stuff that they won’t be bringing to the sale (too big or bulky). I’ve gotten some really good “side deals” on stuff that wasn’t going to make the trip. I mentioned that I was looking for an anvil to the guys on the listserve, and this showed up in my mailbox. Val (the welding Guru) had one for a little over 2$ a pound that sounded like it was in pretty good shape. He said it had been purchased new by a Vocational School in the 60s (?) in Maryland. This is the sight that greeted me after a 58 mile drive.

 

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After a couple of treatments of aircraft stripper and some Easy-Off oven cleaner I was able to get at the markings. The telltale arm and hammer indicate it is a Vulcan anvil. There was a company called Arm & Hammer that used a stamped arm and hammer for their logo, but the raised logo is from Vulcan. The parent company is: The Illinois Iron & Bolt Company in Carpentersville, Illinois.

 

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I found a raised marking on the heel end of the base: H*42*H. I haven’t been able to determine what this is, because it doesn’t seem to match what English anvils use as a “hundred weight” indicator. Date stamp maybe? Vulcan produced anvils from 1875 to 1969, so this doesn’t jive with the condition and history. Unlike some of the “valuable, rare” anvils that I have looked at, I can’t trace it’s ancestry back to Thomas Jefferson, so I will have to be happy just to have it in my shop (without the “provenance”).

 

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This raised “18” is on the horn end of the anvil, indicating the “ten weight” (my term), putting its weight at 180 lbs (three pounds lighter than the weight Val quoted). no other markings were found.

 

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Here it is after a wipe down with an oily rag. This (in my opinion) is how an anvil should look. I don’t see any need for paint on a working anvil (or vise for that matter). There are a couple of chips in the edges of the face. I have learned that this is common on Vulcan anvils, as they are cast iron anvils with tool steel faces that are welded to the bases during the casting/forging process. The common term for this type of anvil back in the day was “city anvil” (I would assume this was NOT a compliment). This tends to make the edges of the face (or table) brittle at the edges. Being that this tools origin was a teaching college, it should come as no surprise that there are some flaws in the working surface. The heel and the horn are perfect, however.

 

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Heres a shot of it from the other side.

 

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And a shot from underneath the heel end. The square hole is the bottom of the Hardy hole (NOT to be confused with a “mouse hole” on other makers anvils). The round hole is the Pritchel hole; used for punching holes in a workpiece.

 

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I got a few Hardy tools in the deal. They hadn’t been a huge priority for me, but I’m starting to see the advantage to having them. I suspect that there may be a few others that I might want to get at a later date. A bending fork seems like it would be a handy tool to have. I have a length of 1″ square stock that might be used to make a few tools for the Hardy hole.

 

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I was curious as to how flat the table was. Most of the anvils you see for sale are sway backed mules, some with close to an inch of drop on the center of the face. This one as you can see is dead flat. In researching Vulcan anvils through some of the Blacksmithing forums, I get the impression that Vulcans are sneered at by serious iron workers due to their construction.   Some believe that a truly “good” anvil must “ring”, which would indicate it is forged steel. Some prefer the cast/welded plate anvils for their “quieter” action. I don’t have enough experience to know better, but am happy to have this Vulcan as a new addition to my shop; it sure beats the piece of railroad rail that I have been using. My next step is to find a nice hardwood stump to make a stable stand for this anvil, and start using it.

 

More later……………………………………..

 

I mentioned to a buddy at work who cuts alot of trees that I was looking for a nice hardwood stump for my new toy. He says he will get me a nice piece of cherry that was hit by lightning in the next few weeks. While I’m waiting for the stump, the anvil sits on my workbench and is not usable at that height. I took the opportunity to give the thing a good inspection. I hadn’t planned any major renovations or anything, but there is always a little something that needs a tweak. In my case it was the tip of the horn; it looked like some Yutz had given it a couple of whacks on the tip, and displaced some of the tip to one side (very minor damage). I just whacked it back in place, and rounded the tip with a file to smooth it out. I probably shouldn’t have done that; I feel myself sliding down a very slippery slope…………………

 

 

 

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One thing leads to another, and I started dragging the file a little farther back with each stroke. Now I’m kinda committed. By starting to clean the surface I have highlighted every flaw on the horn. I’m not trying to make a showpiece here, but every mark on the horn will transfer to whatever workpiece I forge on the anvil. The main casting of the anvil was roughly “smoothed” by grinding, and could use some help. The top of the horn was “used” by someone that was less than careful. It is covered with some pretty good divots and it looks like the student used the top of the horn for cutting with a chisel. The flat cutting table at the front of the main face is the area that is used for cutting. That table looks as though it has been used for hot forging. I have a little repair work to do to make this thing right.

 

 

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Heres another view of the horn. No severe damage, but I would like to get this area smooth. I will try and dress all the corners and run a belt sander over it to get the entire surface smooth enough to do quality work.

 

 

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Here you can see the chisel marks on the top of the horn, and the hammer marks on the cutting table. Either the anvil wasn’t finished off properly, or the students that were using it didn’t understand the proper uses of the different parts of the anvil. Thats ancient history at this point, I’m just going to see about putting it right.

 

 

 

 

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There are a couple of chips on either side of the main face; accounting for maybe 10% on one side and 20% on the other. Easy enough to work around, but given the fact that this is a fairly new anvil, and they have a reputation for brittle edges; I will probably address this issue at a later date. I will need to do some research on this before I do anything, though.

 

 

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The other side. From what I have been able to learn; the anvil has a hardened face installed in the casting mold, and the iron is poured onto the face. Common sense tells me that the face has to be fairly thick, and looking through the hardy hole it appears to be at least 1/2″ thick or better. At the outer edges, it appears to be much thinner, but I think this is just because of the casting flaws. No way of knowing for sure.

 

 

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The Hardy hole and Pritchel hole are in good, basically unused condition.

 

 

 

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I’m not going to bother addressing the sides of the body; they can stay rough. I do want the horn and heel, face and cutting table to be smooth enough working surfaces to produce nice work. I don’t think this will be a major undertaking, and I should be able to accomplish this with simple hand tools, if I plug away at it a little bit at a time.

 

More later……………………………………

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9/23/14 UPDATE:

 

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I got a chance to work on the anvil tonight, while I was waiting on another project. I drug out a 4 1/2″ grinder, a disc grinder and a belt sander to see what would work best for me. I decided to work on the bottom of the horn , so that if I screwed up too bad; it wouldn’t show.

 

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Here it is after about three minutes with a belt grinder and 36 grit belt. Pretty fast work.

 

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Worked on the side for a couple of minutes. This seems to be the tool for the rough work.

 

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Heres the other side; same story; just hitting the rough stuff. So far about ten minutes in.

 

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Quick spin around the top. This will probably take a little more work, as I will be more picky about how this turns out.

 

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A little more work on the side.

 

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And the other………….

 

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This is after a few passes on the top. You can see that there are some chisel marks left, and it will take some more work to get this smooth.

 

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A little filing with a flat smooth faced bastard file.

 

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A little more work with  a rough file…………..

 

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OK, this file will work. Its an old rusty file that looked like it shoulda been thrown out. I cleaned it up, and now I’m in love with it.

 

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Here we are almost done. I’ll work on this some more later, but my arms are getting tired.

 

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Before I quit, I decided to pour some Evapo-Rust on the cutting table to clean it up a little (more curiosity than anything).

 

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Well, in for a penny; in for a pound. I figured that if I was going to have to wait a couple of hours to see if the Evapo-Rust would clean up the hardened surface of the anvil (doubtful), I might as well do it to the whole top. This stuff is cheap, and so is Speedy-Dri (otherwise I wouldn’t be using it, Right?). I’m going to let this stuff sleep tonight, and maybe give it another treatment in the morning, if it does anything. But like I said; I’m doubtful it will work on the hardened face of the anvil.

 

 

NEXT MORNING:

 

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Well, the Evapo-Rust didn’t make the impact I’d hoped for, so I threw the shop rags back on and put on some more. I’m not going to spend alot of time on this, but the wet rags are doing all the work. I plan on smoothing the (already smooth) table soon enough, but want to do some research before I  address the chips in the edges. I probably won’t touch the top until I decide which way to go on that.

 

 

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I’ll let this percolate for a while, and get some other work done…………………..

 

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A couple of hours later, and the results are less than stellar.  I decided to use some combinations of mechanical removal with the Evapo-Rust, and had better results. The residue on the table looked like a combination of rust and carbon (that would make sense), so I scraped at it for a while with a razor scraper and had pretty good luck. The surface is riddled with what appear to be chisel marks, and its slow going with a razor. Next I tried ER with some rough red Scotch-Bright, and had much better luck with this.

 

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Heres the results after about a half hour. About this time I realized that the instructor at the Vocational School must have told the students that the face of the anvil was to be used ONLY for cutting, and the cutting table was to be used ONLY for forging. When I got this, there was a fair sized white rectangle painted on the top (with very few marks on it) that marked the “sweet spot” between the webbing of the anvil. I’ve counted one hammer mark (outside the sweet spot, with the bulk of the damage being chisel marks. To the best of my recollection; I have never laid a hammer on an anvil, and I am embarrassed for the students that used this tool. At this point I am going to stop messing with the top of this anvil, and work on the horn and heel only. While the top is not badly damaged; I’m not going to be happy until all these marks are gone. If it gets buggered up; from this point on: it will be on me.

 

More later……………………

 

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