Why Are Anvils Shaped The Way They Are? (Anvil Anatomy and Use)

In the blacksmith trade, perhaps the most important tool a blacksmith will use is an anvil; It is the core of forge welding. However, something many people wonder about anvils is the purpose of their odd shape.

Anvils are shaped the way they are because each part of the anvil has a specific purpose. The face is flat for hammering. The hardy and pritchel holes are hollow to punch holes into metal. The step is edged for cutting metal. The horn is curved to enable a forger to shape metal.

Why Are Anvils Shaped The Way They Are?

It is, however, important to understand in greater detail why this shape is so important. The following information in this article will cover a few topics related to this question. I will discuss what is an anvil and what is used for, why their shape is important, and how the way they are shaped affects the forge welding process.

What Is An Anvil and What Is Used For?

An anvil is a blacksmithing tool made off a solid block of metal (cast steel or forged) with a flattened top surface. A blacksmith is using the flat surface (or face) of an anvil to hammer the metal he is working with and shape it in different forms.

Anvils are used for making any tool or project that falls into the category of metalworking, such as knife blades, farming tools, brackets, chains, etc. – basically, any project that requires metal can be done on an anvil.

An anvil is essential to metalworking and forge welding, as the materials that they are made from are durable and can absorb multiple blows from a hammer, and can stand extremely high temperatures.

In order for an anvil to fulfill its purpose, however, it needs to be constructed properly and securely with the right type of material.

How Are Anvils Made?

The original source material used for an anvil was stone, or sometimes merely a rock slab. Later on, as the design developed, anvils began to be constructed of bronze, then wrought iron, and eventually were made of steel, which is now the choice material for the modern anvil.

Cheaper anvils can be found that are made of cast iron, though these are not generally used by professionals or blacksmiths by trade as this metal tends to bend and absorbs more of the blow from a hammer than steel.

When each part of the anvil is forged individually, each piece is then welded together to form the workspace.

Once it’s been constructed, it needs to be attached to a base made from an impact and fire-resistant material.

A loose anvil is very dangerous, so before being used, it must be securely fastened onto the base in order to keep it stable when being struck with a hammer.

Who Invented the Anvil?
Anvils are ancient tools that are still in common use today. They’re mentioned in ancient Egyptian and Greek texts and also in Mongol history. Some of the oldest anvils are pieces of meteorites that are extremely hard due to the fact they are made from iron. 

Now that the purpose and construction of an anvil have been firmly established, you may still be curious as to the reason for their constructed shape.

In order to gain a full picture of this, however, it is important to look at each piece of an anvil in greater detail.

Why Does the Shape of an Anvil Matter?

On the surface, the shape of an anvil may seem like it shouldn’t matter at large. After all, doesn’t it only need to be durable enough for hard-hitting blows and high temperatures?

No, in fact, the opposite is quite true. As mentioned at the outset of this article, anvils hold five main parts, which all play unique roles in the process of forging metal.

They are necessary to achieve a proper weld, as are the shapes that they are made in.

These pieces are called:

This modern type of anvil is usually referred to as The London Pattern, which has been the main type of anvil in use since the 1800s.

A London pattern anvil made in the mid 19th century

Southshoresmith / CC BY-SA

A London pattern anvil made in the mid 19th century

This design, therefore, is the cause of the odd look of an anvil. It is, however, important to analyze all of these parts and their roles in order to gain a full understanding of why each piece is needed on an anvil, and how they work.

What Does an Anvil Look Like? (An Anvil Anatomy)

Each of the below pieces to an anvil is what makes up the structure as a whole.

Listed are the function/ purpose of each piece, and how they contribute to the forge welding/ metalworking process:

1. The Horn

This is the front end of the anvil, which is the curved piece. This piece allows the blacksmith to hammer different curves into the metal piece they are forging.

They can get the precise curve, depending on how and what part of the horn they hold the piece on while they are hammering. Some anvils have more than one horn, that may vary in shape and size.

2. The Step

This piece is just below the face of the anvil and is right next to the horn. This is generally the cutting area. The edge of the step is used to cut while hammering at the same time.

It’s important to note that frequently cutting on the step can damage it, so if you are a blacksmith by trade, it is recommended that you use tools attached to the anvil for cutting.

This should not be a problem, however, if you are a hobbyist or if you forge part-time.

3. The Face

This is the main slab where the majority of the hammering will take place. It, unlike the step, has rounded edges so that they are prevented from cutting the metal being hammered.

This part of the anvil holds both the step and the horn.

4. The Hardy Hole

This is a square hole through the anvil that enables you to attach various tools to the anvil.

This piece can be used as a helper for hole punching and bending metal.

5. The Pritchel Hole

Similar to the hardy hole, this is a tool used to assist in punching holes through the metal being forged. It can also be used for holding tools. Overall, it is the rounded equivalent to the hardy hole.

If you are considering picking up blacksmithing as a trade or hobby, it is vital that you familiarize yourself with each part of the anvil, so that you will be able to get full use out of it.

As mentioned above, if you are planning to use an anvil on a regular basis, take advantage of using external tools when cutting your metal, so that the life of your anvil will be extended for further use.

The bottom line – each part of the anvil contributes to the quality of the metal piece being worked on.

Though technically anvils do not require these five functions, you are at a greater advantage as a blacksmith to use the London Pattern model, as it will guarantee a thorough and high quality welded piece.


Anvils are shaped the way they are because each piece of an anvil has its own separate purpose that, forged together on the anvil, makes up the odd shape called The London Pattern. These pieces are the horn, the step, the face, the hardy hole, and the pritchel hole.

The purpose of an anvil is to be the base workspace for forge welding and metalworking.

Because of the multiple steps required during blacksmithing, such as hammering, cutting, and shaping, the individual compartments of the modern anvil contribute to creating a more accurate and high-quality weld.

If you are planning to pick up blacksmithing as a trade or hobby, it is important to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the workings of an anvil, in order to get the most use out of it and satisfaction in learning the metalworking craft.

Hopefully, you’ve found this article to be both interesting and informative. Thanks for reading!

Cheer, tools owners!


Hi there! My name is Jack and I write for ToolsOwner. I have a passion for everything related to tools and DIY projects around the house. You often find me in my workshop working on new projects.