Monday, February 2, 2009

Uncle Red's Anvil

You never know what you’ve got, until you take a close look at it. Like with a magnifying glass.

A few years back, after my great-uncle Red passed away, his son began to sell off all his tools and farm equipment. Which to me was sacrilege. Tools are something that are useful forever, until you either wear them out or break them. Sell the tools that have been in the family, keeping things working, generating income, feeding your face? No way.

Terry offered me first shot at his stuff. Red had been a well known mechanic around these parts. If he couldn’t fix it, it was broke forever. Junk it and move on. Looking over his tools, I passed on most of them, I had a lot of the same tools already, except for the anvil.

I’ve never had an anvil. Always wanted one. Great for hammering out metal into whatever shape you can imagine. For years I used an old piece of railroad track rail, a cut-off piece I found beside a track. OK for small stuff, but not a real anvil.

A real one is massive. Rather hard to move around though. You don’t just snatch it up and toss it into the back of the car or pick-up truck. If it’s a good anvil, it’s a two men and a boy job.

Being about 6 foot 4, Terry is no puppy, I took the light end of the anvil. We maneuvered it into the back of my truck, I took it to the shop. It’s easy to unload something when all you have to do is lower it to the ground. Then I dragged it into the tractor shed.

Where it has sat for the past couple of years, on the shop floor, under a workbench. One of those ‘get around to it’ jobs. I either needed to weld up a stand or find a nice tree stump, like from an oak or walnut tree, to make a stand for the anvil. Get it up in the air where it would be at a good working height.

About a year ago, I cut down a red oak, pretty good sized tree. As I was chain-sawing it into firewood, I realized it would make a good anvil stand. The firewood was stacked and the stump was forgotten about, other projects to do at the time.

While working on a painting project a few weeks ago, I ‘found’ the old anvil, which reminded me about the stump. With some heavy metal projects coming up, I decided I had wasted enough time working without a real anvil. The red oak stump was trued up, cut parallel and then a section was cut off, at the right height for me.

The anvil was dragged to the center of the shop floor. Where I slowly raised it to the height of the oak anvil stand by levering it up on stacks of wood., adding pieces until it was high enough for me to grab it and move it onto the stand. Which is when I found out that the anvil overhung the stand by an inch on every side! ARRGGGH!

Which is why you measure twice and cut once. The trusty ‘micrometer eye’, able to measure nanometers on the fly, had misjudged the size. Damn big anvil.

If I had cut the tree stump four inches lower, I would have been in good shape. I used the rest of the stump for a chopping block, so it’s too short for an anvil stand.

I looked it over once it was on the stand. That’s when I noticed all the marks on it. Casting marks, pin-punch indentations made by hand, the scars of hammer strikes from the metal worked on it. A faint casting mark that appears to read “100 LB”. Which wouldn’t surprise me. It felt like a ton moving it.

I’ve already used the anvil and it works great. When you hammer out something on it, it’s got a beautiful, bell-like ring to it. A tonal quality that can’t be expressed with words.

When the old man came down last week, I asked him about the anvil. Did he have any idea about where it came from? Was it off the old farm, from my great-grandfather? He didn’t know for sure, but thought that it might have come from this farm. Which means that it may have traveled full circle.

I’m gonna take some chalk and see if I can ’read’ those casting marks. They don’t make anvils like they used to and I would like to find out more about this one. It’ll be around for many more years.

You ever wear one out or break one, then you know you’ve done a helluva job. To do it would take more than a lifetime. Maybe a half-dozen.

Add a hammer and a piece of metal, you can make almost anything. With every strike of the hammer, the anvil sings a new song.

Real heavy metal music.

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