AskDefine | Define anvil

Dictionary Definition



1 a heavy block of iron or steel on which hot metals are shaped by hammering
2 the ossicle between the malleus and the stapes [syn: incus]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A heavy iron block used in the blacksmithing trade as a surface upon which metal can be struck and shaped.
  2. An incus bone in the inner ear.


block used in blacksmithing
bone in inner ear


* 1794, William Blake, The Tyger, lines 15-16 (for syntax)
  • What the anvil? what dread grasp
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

Extensive Definition

An anvil is a manufacturing tool, made of a hard and massive block of stone or metal used as a support for chiseling and hammering other objects, such as in forging iron and steel items.


Anvils have been used since early Bronze Age times by smiths of all kinds for metal work, although the tool was also used in much earlier epochs for stone and flint work.
There are many references to anvils in ancient Greek and Egyptian writing, including Homer's works. The anvil was perfected during the Middle Ages when iron working was commonplace.
Anvils have recently lost their former commonness, as mechanized production requires more specialized components for forging. They are still used by blacksmiths producing custom work, and by farriers.


The primary work surface of the anvil is known as the face. It is generally made of hardened steel and should be flat and smooth with rounded edges for most work. Any marks on the face will be transferred to the work. Also, sharp edges tend to cut into the metal being worked and may cause cracks to form in the workpiece. The face is hardened and tempered to resist the blows of the smiths hammer so the anvil face does not deform under repeated use. A hard anvil face also reduces the amount of force lost in each hammer blow. Hammers should never directly strike the anvil face as they may damage it.
The horn of the anvil is a conical projection used to form various round shapes, and is generally unhardened steel or iron. The horn is used mostly in bending operations. It also is used by some smiths as an aid in drawing out stock, "making it longer and thinner". Some anvils, mainly European, are made with two horns, one square and one round. Also, some anvils were made with side horns or clips for specialized work.
The step or pad, commonly referred to as the table, of the anvil is used for cutting, to prevent damaging the face by conducting such operations there, although most professional smiths shun this practice, as it can damage the anvil.
The hardy hole is a square hole into which specialized forming and cutting tools are placed. It is also used in punching and bending operations.
The pritchel hole is a small round hole that is present on most modern anvils. Some anvils have more than one. It is used mostly for punching. At times smiths will fit a second tool to this hole to allow the smith more flexibility when using more than one anvil tools.

Types of anvil

There are many designs for anvils, which are often tailored for a specific purpose or to meet the needs of a particular smith.
The common blacksmith's anvil is made of either forged or cast steel, tool steel, or wrought iron (cast iron anvils are generally shunned, as they are too brittle for repeated use, and do not return the energy of a hammer blow like steel). Historically, some anvils have been made with a smooth top working face of hardened steel welded to a cast iron body, though this manufacturing method is no longer in use. It has at one end a projecting conical bick (beak, horn) used for hammering curved work pieces. The other end is typically called the heel. Occasionally the other end is also provided with a bick, partly rectangular in section. Most anvils made since the late 1700s also have a hardy hole and a pritchel hole where various tools, such as the anvil-cutter or hot chisel, can be inserted and held by the anvil. Some anvils have several hardy and pritchel holes, to accommodate a wider variety of hardy tools and pritchels. An anvil may also have a softer pad for chisel work.
An anvil for a power hammer is usually supported on a massive anvil block, sometimes weighing over 800 tons for a 12-ton hammer, and this again rests on a strong foundation of timber and masonry or concrete.
An anvil may have a marking indicating its weight, the marking consisting of three numbers, indicating hundredweight, quarter hundredweight and pounds. For example, a 3-1-5, if such an anvil existed, would be 3x112 lb + 1x28 lb + 5 lb = 369 lb ~= 168 kg.
Cheap anvils made from inferior steel which are unsuitable for serious use are derisively referred to as "ASOs", or "Anvil Shaped Objects". Some amateur smiths have used a piece of railroad track as a makeshift anvil.
Some modern anvils are made mostly from concrete. While the face is steel, the horn is not and can be easily damaged. These anvils can be hard to recognize because the gray paint used is the same shade as the steel face. They tend to weight about half as much as a comparable steel anvil.
A metalworking vise may have a small anvil integrated in its design.


The word "anvil" derives from Anglo-Saxon anfilt or onfilti, either that on which something is "welded" or "folded," cf. German falzen, to fold, or connected with other Teutonic forms of the word, cf. German amboss, in which case the final syllable is from "beat,", and the meaning is "that on which something is beaten" and has likely influenced the English word "emboss".


"On the anvil" means any thing in the making, being created, in production etc.

Anvils in art and entertainment

Television and film

A typical metalworker's anvil, with horn at one end and flat face at the other, is a standard prop for animated cartoon gags, as the epitome of a heavy and clumsy object that is perfect for dropping onto the villain of the story. This visual metaphor was quite common in Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts, such as those featuring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. It was widely used in other animated features, possibly influenced by them.
In the Broadway musical (and later film) The Music Man, by Meredith Willson, the character Charlie Cowell, the "bad guy" of the play, is an anvil salesman. "It takes a real salesman, I can tell you that," he says. "Anvils have a limited appeal, you know." Later, he drops his sample case ("Gibraltar Anvil Co."), to comedic effect.

Musical instruments

Anvils have been used as percussion instruments in several famous musical compositions, including:
The Beatles song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" makes prominent use of the anvil. Beatles road manager Mal Evans played the anvil on the track.
The Kansas track "On the Other Side" featured some use of the anvil. Kansas violinist Robby Steinhardt played the anvil on the track.


The Norwegian municipality of Hol has three anvils in its coat-of-arms.
The arms of Finnish municipality of Nurmo are Vert, an anvil, surmounted by four padlocks Argent



  • New Edge of the Anvil
  • The Complete Bladesmith: Forging Your Way to Perfection
anvil in Asturian: Xunque
anvil in Catalan: Enclusa
anvil in Czech: Kovadlina
anvil in Danish: Ambolt
anvil in German: Amboss
anvil in Spanish: Yunque
anvil in Esperanto: Amboso
anvil in French: Enclume (outil)
anvil in Icelandic: Steðji
anvil in Italian: Incudine (tecnologia)
anvil in Georgian: გრდემლი
anvil in Latin: Incus (instrumentum)
anvil in Luxembourgish: Amboss
anvil in Lingala: Etúleli
anvil in Malayalam: അടയിരുമ്പ്
anvil in Dutch: Aambeeld (gereedschap)
anvil in Dutch Low Saxon: Ambeeld (gereedschap)
anvil in Japanese: 金床
anvil in Norwegian: Ambolt (verktøy)
anvil in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ambolt
anvil in Low German: Ambolt
anvil in Polish: Kowadło
anvil in Portuguese: Bigorna
anvil in Russian: Наковальня
anvil in Simple English: Anvil
anvil in Serbian: Наковањ
anvil in Serbo-Croatian: Nakovanj
anvil in Finnish: Alasin
anvil in Swedish: Städ

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Eustachian tube, alembic, auditory apparatus, auditory canal, auditory meatus, auditory nerve, auditory ossicles, auditory tube, auricle, basilar membrane, bony labyrinth, caldron, cauliflower ear, cochlea, conch, concha, crucible, drumhead, ear, ear lobe, eardrum, endolymph, engine, external ear, hammer, incus, inner ear, lathe, lobe, lobule, lug, machine, malleus, mastoid process, melting pot, middle ear, mortar, motor, organ of Corti, outer ear, oval window, perilymph, pinna, retort, round window, secondary eardrum, semicircular canals, shell, stapes, stirrup, test tube, transducer, transformer, tympanic cavity, tympanic membrane, tympanum, vestibule
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