I finally turned this giant log into an anvil stand, and it only took me six years to do it
So I’ve had this giant log in my garage since 2014.
The goal was to use it as a base for an anvil for blacksmithing. At the time, I wanted to learn smithing to open up some capabilities in the workshop, like making tools and heavier-duty metal hardware. Think chisels, not swords.
But first, I needed an anvil. Lucky for me, I knew a guy who was really into trains: My friend’s Dad, Pat. A chunk of old railroad track can work as an anvil in a pinch, though it’s not as easy to find as it used to be. Not for Pat, though! He got me two.
Second, I needed an anvil stand. A thick log can work great. But before I could begin a search in earnest, what do you know: My mom had already tracked one down for me, from a guy she worked with named Ed. (I had barely even mentioned that I was looking! She just is a kind woman who knows people.) A short time later, I had loaded that giant log in the back of my Rav4.
One bit of hasty strapping and a harrowing ride home later (doubt it would have been good to get rear-ended with a 4-foot chunk of wood in the back seat) and I had that giant log unloaded and in my garage. Next, I needed to cut it down to size that would work with the height of my anvil. But I knew that was going to be a challenge; I didn’t have a chain saw, and I didn’t know what height to cut it even if I did. So I figured I’d tackle a couple of other things first.
Well, like I frequently say here, then life got in the way.
Fast forward five years. Essential Craftsman, one heck of an accessible maker YouTube channel, released a blacksmithing course online. “Maybe this is the year I’ll finally get back to this!” I told myself.
So I signed up for the class. I got an actual anvil; it came in a cardboard box, which was a huge surprise. (The railroad track served me well, but Scott Wadsworth, the main guy behind Essential Craftsman, advised that beginning blacksmithing would be more likely to succeed with a high-quality anvil, which has more rebound than a makeshift, such as a railroad track. But no worries! I have plans for the original tracks…)
And I got a forge for heating the metal. I was tempted to make my own, but the price for supplies appeared to be comparable to buying one outright, not to mention the added perception of safety of getting one from someone who knows more about what they’re doing.
… Then life got in the way — again. Such is life. Come on, life!
Fast forward one more time, to 2020. My wife and son got me some blanks from Ken’s Custom Iron to make my own blacksmithing tongs for Father’s Day. Tongs are used to pull hot steel out of a forge. Normally, they can cost upwards of $50 for one pair, and you need different pairs for gripping different types of metal. With the Ken’s set, you get five pairs for the same price! (You do have to forge them to final shape yourself, but this process actually alleviates some of the guilt born of buying them instead of making them from scratch.) It’d be rude to let such a present sit unused, so back to the blacksmithing I went!
First I needed to level off the top of the log. I used an electric hand planer for this that I tuned up per Tips from a Shipwright’s… tips… and it worked great.
Now that I had a flat reference surface to measure from, I next needed to cut it to rough size. Further research on this confirmed that there are multiple “ideal” heights for an anvil stand. The method I decided on: The top of the anvil should be at about knuckle height. This is supposed to help you by making the face of the hammer line up with the anvil. I think the idea is that since you are doing so much hammering, you want to make each blow as efficient and easy on your body as possible. So I measured the height I wanted in several places around the log, pounded in some nails on those marks, hooked a chalk string around the log guided by those nails, and snapped a line.
With the mark in place, I could start cutting. While I still don’t have a chainsaw, my father-in-law was kind enough to loan me his. Of course, it’s not some monster machine meant for blasting through giant logs; it’s a practical-sized saw with a shorter bar, meaning I had to move around quite a bit to cut all the way through the log. Those cuts didn’t all line up for me in the end, but I gave myself some padding when I marked the cut line, so it was no big deal to just flatten the bottom with the electric hand planer again.
With the top and bottom now flat, I tried throwing the anvil on there. The anvil didn’t rock much, so the top was fine. But there still was a decent wobble on the bottom.
A few blacksmithing sources I found on the internet mentioned making feet on the bottom at this point. That is supposed to reduce the wobbliness. So I gave that a try with a router. The final result wasn’t as good as burying your stump in the ground, like some books recommend, but it still was an improvement.
Now I could start securing the anvil to the log. I went with a method recommended by Wadsworth of Essential Craftsman, which he appears to have based on a design attributed to “H.R.H.” in the book Practical Blacksmithing. This includes drilling holes from the face of the log to the sides and tightening the anvil down with threaded rod and various pieces of 5/8 steel bar. The EC video inspiring my work here doesn’t actually show the process of making it, more the benefits of it, so the task was intimidating at first. But it proved to be a straightforward and enjoyable task.
With the anvil secure, I started working on a lip to go around the top of the log, again recommended by Wadsworth. The idea is that this turns the top into kind of a tray for holding rivets or whatnot. Then I fired up the forge for the first time to make some tool holders. It was totally not necessary to use the forge for this kind of a shape, but what was I supposed to do? Not use it?
Next I got out the Eastwood MIG welder, which is always a good time, and welded that rebar to the brackets.
Lastly, I attached some retractable wheels. I originally planned to make some sort of a custom wheel option, but these things are dirt cheap these days, and I already took enough time working on this anvil stand, so I caved and took the easy route. And they worked great.
So after years of procrastination, it obviously felt awesome to have this thing done. I still have a ton of more urgent projects to work on for now, so it’ll be a while before I can spend a bunch of time on this. But at least now it’s ready for when I do have time!
We’ll see if life has anything to say about that…
Wisconsinite Andy Reuter writes and creates films about whatever DIY project is holding his attention at the time. For more, follow him on Instagram, find him on Twitter, or subscribe to his channel on YouTube. Find early access to videos and behind-the-scenes stories by becoming a member on Patreon.
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