Ever wonder why chains adorn many anvils? Are they intended to make these symbols of the art of metalsmithing look cool, like gold chains around rappers’ necks? We asked smithing experts about their significance.
Blacksmiths wrap chains around anvils to reduce the noise and vibration these tools make. Other reasons are to secure the anvil so it won’t slide or fall over, to set a place for hanging tools, and to make the anvil look smashing.
Read on to understand the intricacies involved in anvil-chain setups and to discover other ways of reducing the noise anvils make.
Chained to the Waist
When metalsmiths talk about “church bells” or “rings,” they mean the sound given off by anvils while these are in use.
By “waist,” smiths mean the middle part of the anvil that they can hold to lift or move it. This is where they wrap the chains. These are the reasons why metal workers use them on anvils:
They Contribute to a Quieter Work Environment
The main reason chains are wrapped around anvils is for noise reduction. Depending on their make and quality, many produce a lot of noise when struck.
The sound is similar to the clanging of a church bell or high-pitched ringing—hence, the terms.
Chains work by dampening the vibration the iron makes while in use. Magnets work the same way. Silicone does it even better.
Many blacksmiths swear using chains on anvils is effective in deadening the ring or eliminating it totally. Some say the practice is hogwash.
Others, like Jason Fleck, wanted to prove the theory, so they tested their anvil-chain setups on video. (Check the video below).
John Switzer, the proprietor of Black Bear Forge, showcased his anvil mounting and silencing system on the video below.
One smith wrapped a big chain around the waist of his anvil and also ran it down to its mount using turnbuckles. (A turnbuckle is a device for connecting parts, like two rods, to regulate their length or tension.) With some adjustment, he was able to kill nearly all of the noise.
Despite presentations and testimonies, others still debate on whether putting chains on anvils really has an effect.
Experts say it depends on the anvil type. Wrapping chains around some brands offer significant noise reduction but isn’t as effective on others.
Sometimes, the efficacy of the practice depends on the anvil’s weight. It works better on small anvils weighing around 70 or 80 pounds (32 or 36kg). Not so much on larger anvils of 150 pounds (68kg) or more.
In cases where no other structures are securing anvils, heavy chains are necessary for adding extra weight to hold them in place.
Blacksmiths also use chains to fasten anvils to stands to prevent them from moving while they’re working. They certainly don’t want their anvils sliding off while they’re handling smoldering metal.
Chains can also act as tool holders or utility belts in the absence of adjacent workstations.
Non-metal workers collect anvils and antiques like to decorate them. They are the ones who use various types of chains on anvils purely for aesthetic reasons. Movies and TV shows provide chained anvil fodder for these collectors.
Where to Buy Cheap Chains
Chains need not be new, though. Old rusty ones work too. What’s more important is their weight and breadth. A 2.25” x 0.5” chain costs around $1.50 per pound.
Reese’s Towpower 72” safety chain (Amazon affiliate link) has a 5,000-pound.
eBay sells new and used heavy-duty chains, but these are considerably more expensive, from $65 to $400.
For better deals on used chains, follow industries that use heavy-duty chains, such as boating, logging, towing, and metal supply stores.
Also, check sites like Craigslist for people nearby selling their used chains.
Are Anvils Loud Enough to Merit Chains?
It depends on the make of the anvil and how well it’s secured: cheap, low-quality anvils, and those improperly bolted down ring louder.
Making an effort to reduce their noise isn’t just for your benefit; it’s also common courtesy toward people living or working nearby. So, loud anvils don’t just warrant chains; they also require ear protection.
What Anvil Is the Quietest?
Keyes stresses that Fisher anvils are valued more for their quality than their silence. They’re made with a tool steel plate welded to a cast-iron body.
Some models even have steel welded to their waists. The steel top provides a tough working surface with a sufficient rebound. The junction between the face and the body kills the ring.
Some Fisher anvils have cleats in their feet that are useful for bolting down the anvils—supposedly a feature no other brands have.
Longmire praises Fisher’s patented process because it’s very difficult to make a cast-iron anvil with a steel face.
Vulcans are made the same way, but they tend to be a bit brittle. He recommends their 200-pound anvils, even though their rebound is a bit less than that of a cast steel or steel-faced wrought iron anvil.
Other Ways of Silencing an Anvil
I’ve compiled methodologies employed by several expert blacksmiths. Here are some of them.
Secure the Anvil
Many smiths use wooden stumps as anvil mounts, but some experts claim that wood causes extra vibration.
A steel stand is a better bet. If you insist, however, on using wood, use metal bars to secure the anvil’s feet to the mount. This cuts down up to 80% of the ring.
Blacksmith Paul Krzyszkowski preferred metal for his anvil stand, which he built himself. For its legs, he used 2” of tubing filled with sawdust and oil. He claims this combination is what kills the ringing.
Magnets greatly reduce anvil vibration and noise. Small ones from dollar stores work well, but for maximum impact, use big welding magnets.
For a significant difference, stick a bar magnet on the center of an anvil’s side, plus one each underneath its horn and tail.
The reason for this placement is that resonance mostly comes from these parts. The magnets act like shock absorbers that eat up the vibrations caused by the hammer’s blow.
Be prepared, however, for scale buildup. Magnets attract iron particles. Dust them off with a metal brush.
Expert blacksmiths believe sandwiching special materials between anvils and their stands will reduce or eliminate noise.
These absorb or change the frequency of vibrations. In the old days, before people discovered lead is poisonous, blacksmiths placed lead sheets under anvils.
An alternative is to place a 0.39” layer of industrial adhesive or silicone caulk between the anvil and its mount. Pure silicone caulk is melt-proof up to nearly 800ºF (427ºC) and won’t burn.
A tube of silicone (the kind applied with a caulking gun) costs $3. Some smiths prefer the type used in bathrooms.
Longmire suggests waiting for the silicone to get semisolid before setting the anvil.
He adds that tightly bolting a noisy anvil down when the caulk has fully cured will quiet it down to the level of a Fisher.
A silicone equivalent is rubber underlayment for cork flooring tiles. Cut a piece to the shape of your anvil’s base and put it underneath the anvil before mounting it.
Alternatives to caulking are rubber strips. One metalsmith wedged folded tractor tire tubing between his anvil and its stand.
Bladesmith Christopher Makin put a double layer of bubble wrap under his anvil before lag-bolting it to a large cottonwood stump using angle iron sections.
Another smith buried the base of his anvil 0.5” deep in a sand-filled stump and used wooden bars to hold the anvil’s feet in place. This leveled the anvil, held it tight yet made it easy to move, and deadened its ring.
Now that you know why chains are wrapped around anvils, you may choose to quiet down your existing noisy anvil with a chain-magnet combination.
If you don’t already have an anvil, consider one that weighs less than 100 pounds (45kg) if you anticipate noise and intend to use chains on it.
If your metalsmithing requirements dictate a heavier anvil and you happen to acquire a noisy one, then look into the alternative ways of silencing anvils mentioned above.
I hope this article was helpful. Thanks for reading and good luck with your future blacksmithing projects!
Cheers, tools owners!