One of the first tools that you must acquire as a beginning blacksmith is the anvil. Anvils come in many styles and shapes and price ranges, but all need to be mounted on a sturdy support to work.
Traditionally the anvil was mounted on a large heavy stump, typically of elm or maple wood. This provided a platform that raised the anvil to working height and would endure the pounding of the steel with heavy hammers. In old pictures and paintings you can find many variations of this mounting on a stump. You will often find tools arranged around the stump for easy access.
Today we have more options when it comes to mounting an anvil. Height is just as important as what it is mounted on. I have worked on anvils too short and ones too tall. The actual height can make a dramatic difference in amount of work you can get done and the rate that you fatigue at. The old rule of thumb for anvil height was to stand straight and make a fist and the distance from the floor to your knuckles is the height to the top of the anvil.
If you look at this height from the side you will see that with a hammer in your hand and a piece of steel on the face of the anvil your elbow will have a slight bend to it. This bend is actually a shock absorber. If you have a straight arm at the end of your hammer swing you will stress your elbow joint and the tendon inside. This can be very painful and can limit your blacksmithing severely. I prefer to err a little more on the side of caution and have set my primary anvil at wrist height when I am standing beside it.
This gives me a little more cushion on the impact. Another consideration is the type of work that you will be doing on the anvil. Small light work, we tend to bend over to look closely at the detail as we are hammering it. This places a strain on the low back. Heavy work, we tend to be more upright allowing more power to be provided. Usually on large bars accuracy is not required until we get to the refining stage.
If you work constantly on large bars your anvil could be set a bit lower. If you work on small delicate details then a slightly higher anvil can make a huge difference.
The actual mounting system of the anvil is very important and often over looked. If you go into an old traditional blacksmith shop, the anvil is often just sitting on top of the stump and not even tied down. This is the worst scenario. The anvil will move around with each hammer blow and eventually you have to reposition it to keep it from falling off the stump.
Some smiths have used bent steel as staples driven around the feet of the anvil. This will keep it on the stump but the staples eventually loosen and it rattles around.
The best solution is to bolt the anvil as tight as possible to the stand or stump. Although not traditional I have seen heavy metal 3 legged stands work very well for blacksmith anvil bases. The point of bolting the anvil down is that you are effectively adding the mass of the stump or the stand to the weight of the anvil. In general the heavier the anvil the better as more of the force of the hammer stroke goes into the bar instead of moving the anvil. So if our stump weighs a 100 lbs and it is bolted tightly to the anvil we are effectively adding a 100 lbs to our anvil. Of course it should be a good anvil to start with.
What I have used effectively is a thin strip of steel front and back of the anvil. Flat bar ¼ inch thick by 1 inch wide works well. These strips are lag bolted with heavy lag bolts into the stump. In the middle of the strip there is a regular bolt and nut. I have a chain going around the waist of the anvil and over laps at these bolts. I can tighten the nuts until I have tremendous pressure pulling the chain down around the anvil holding it secure on top of the wood. This has worked well for me for many years. There is an added benefit that it will dampen down the noise of the anvil if yours happens to ring a bit loudly.
Another idea for mounting an anvil is to make a plywood box that is the right height for the anvil. Then fill it with concrete and 8 bolts welded together to a frame. The bolts will need to stick out of the concrete so that you can position your anvil between them and then bolt it down with straps over top of the feet. Make sure your concrete is level and you should have a completely secure base. Be cautious with this because you may never be able to move your anvil due to the weight.
Some people have suggested a plywood box but filled with sand. I have never liked this idea since as you work on the anvil it tends to move around and you are constantly leveling it again. The other problem is there is no effective way of bolting the anvil down to the mass of the sand.
With a little foresight in constructing your anvil stand and using a height of about wrist height and bolting the blacksmiths anvil tightly to its base you will be able to use your anvil to its full potential. Make sure that is level and that the base is heavy.