Blacksmith's anvil hold-down tool

Blacksmithing | Repousse & Chasing | | |

For some time now I've faced an ongoing annoyance with my raditional anvil hold-downs - youknow, you get the piece one the anvil, set the hold-down and go to work, only to have the work come loose on the second blow.  By the time you get it clamped again, you've lost the heat and have to start over.  This issue cropped up mostly when I was doing chasing or chiseling work, where the work was hit a number of times in rapid succession.  The traditional figure 7 style hold-down just didn't hold tight enough against repetitive blows or much side pressure.  Clearly, I needed a better solution.

The big advantages of the traditional hold-down are that it is quick to set and it accomodates a fairly wide range of work thicknesses.  I needed any different design to do the same, as well as hold securely regardless of the enthusiasm of my pounding. 

My "solution" to this problem was to design and construct a hold-down that used a cam to lock the tool against the work very securely, yet could be adjustable pretty easily to handle differing work thicknesses.  Naturally, this wasn't going to be a twenty minute forging project like a triditional hold-down, but I felt it would be worth the additional effort.  Besides, just about my favorite activity is making tools.  :-)

Anvil hold-down toolAnvil hold-down tool

 You can see that, as with many of my tools, the thing is by no means a quickie to make.  Still, it works amazingly well, holding work securely enough that I can chisel it with an air hammer or set rivets, whatever, and the work never moves.  That alone is worth all the effort for me to make it.  As I work alone all the time, a really effective hold-down is an absolute necessity.


In use, the piece you see on the left handThe bottom anchor pieceThe bottom anchor piece end is placed at the bottom of the anvil's hardy hole and the stub on the side of it goes into a conveniently-located handling hole in the anvil.  This particular configuration fits my 450# Nimba Gladiator.   My other anvils will require a slightly different configuration.  In order for the clamping head of the tool to be pushed up by the spring when the cam is released, the bottom piece must stay put.  On my Fisher anvil, for instance, I'll probably have to drill and tap a hole under the heel for a small clip to hold that piece in place.  (As I view an anvil as a tool rather than a collector's item, I have no problem drilling holes in them if it serves my needs.) 

Hold-down in placeHold-down in place

Once the bottom anchor is in place, the rest of the tool is dropped down the hardy hole and screwed into the anchor.  It is then adjusted for clamping height by screwing the cam handle around to set the distance.  The spring keeps the hold-down open until the cam lever is actuated.  I made the cam with the axle offset from center a bit over 1/4" so the total travel of the cam, from fully open to fully closed, is about 5/8".  The tool can accept workpieces varying in thickness from nothing at all to about two inches in its present configuration.  Adding more length to the threaded portion of the main shaft could easily increase that to as much as four inches, if needed.

Hold-down in actionHold-down in action

When the tool is locked down with the cam lever, it holds the work extremely securely.  The amount of clamping force is adjusted by how the screw is set.  A half-turn, more or less, makes a reasonable significant difference in clamping pressure, using the 5/8-11 threaded rod that I had to work with.  A finer pitch thread would make the adjustment even more precise, but would slow down changing the thickness setting.  The way it is now seems to be satisfactory.

The "Gazinta"The "Gazinta"

One feature that I included in my design is a receiver socket for additional hold-down arms.  This "gazinta", as I call it (because stuff gazinta it) allows me to use auxilliary arms for special situations.  One I particularly wanted was a hold-down arm with split feet to hold plate for chasing.  With the two feet split apart four or five inches, they can hold a larger piece of plate much more securely than a single foot can, and the cam action of this hold-down has plenty of clamping power to handle such a configuration.  The gazinta will accept tooling with 1/2" square shanks.  Since the whole tool can be indexed in the hardy hole in any of four positions, the pressure foot can be located almost anywhere on the anvil face that is convenient.

All in all, I'm really pleased with the success of this concept.  It was certainly a hell of a lot more work than just forging a quick traditional figure-7, but it does a lot more for me, too.  Definitely worth the effort.


eligius1427's picture

Really great idea Rich. I

Really great idea Rich. I feel your pain about needing clamps and such due to working solo. I'm not nearly as efficient at forging as you, so lost time chasing down pieces that wiggle their way off of the anvil set's me back tremendously. I'll definitely give making one of these a shot. Is the main shaft 1" sqr tubing(11ga maybe)? Also, how did you end up determining what size/strength of spring to get?

It's a really nice looking tool, nice work.


Jake Balcom
Mettle Design
Lincoln, NE

B.J. Severtson's picture

hold down tool

Rich Great concept. If I'm not confused the cam lever wouldn't have to be inline with the anvil but could be adjusted to either side for greater user control? It pivots, Right? I like the goesinta feature. Any ideas on holding tapered stock? BJ

Rob Sigafoos's picture

Very cool idea, Rich!

Very cool idea, Rich! Thanks for sharing.

Rich Waugh's picture

Okay guys, thanks for the

Okay guys, thanks for the compliments. I'm glad you like the concept as much as I do, since I think it is going to really improve my efficiency at the anvil. I hope it can do the same for you all. To answer the questions:

The tubing, in this case, is in fact 1" about 11 gauge, Jake. Scrounged mounting bracket from something from the dumpster. (I am nothing if not thrifty.) The hardy hole on my Nimba is a froghair under an inch so I forged it down until it dropped into the hardy hole easily. The main actuator shaft is 5/8" roundbar welded to some threaded rod, because I was too damn lazy to chase a threading die that far down a bar that size.

The spring is sized based on what I could find at the poorly-stocked local hardware. It's actually three springs stacked end to end and is a bit weak. I need to take the time to find a better spring or wind/temper my own. Until that happens (unlikely), I'll use what I have. :-)

The cam assembly is free to pivot radially, in fact that's how you adjust the clamping clearance. There is just enough spring in the clamping foot to give a good half-turn or more of choice as to which way you have the handle drop when clamping. Fore-and-aft, side-to-side, doesn't matter to the cam. Nor does it matter to the clamping foot. It can point any of the four directions just as well.

I did make a circular bearing plate for the cam lobes to ride on, since I figured the edges of the tubing could only take so much pressure before they began upsetting. I gave that a quick heat, some Kasenit and a quench to make it surface hard, same as I did the cam lobes. Should last a lifetime, I hope.

I expect you cold take a DeStaCo toggle clamp and modify it to go in a hardy hole and accomplish much the same thing; I just didn't have any to mess with and really prefer to make things from scratch. Did I mention I love making tools even more than making money or art? (GRIN)

Now get busy and make your own - I want to see some improvements to the design, too. Maybe a wedge-clamp concept for the bottom ppiece so the whole assembly can be dropped down the hardy hole in one piece and lock in place when it is tightened? There's always room for improvements, right?


Rich Waugh's picture

Geez, replying to my own

Geez, replying to my own post, that's a first for me. Probably the first sign of some impending mental crisis. Comes from working alone all the time, probably. :-)

I neglected to address you question about holding tapered stock, Brad. That's a tough one, as you know. Blasted tapers just want to slip out from under a clamp - unless you stop them somehow. One way is to use a pointed or cleated foot for the clamp, so it bites into the stock. Deforms the stock, though. That's usually a bad thing.

If you can set a stop for the stock opposite the clamp, it has no where it can go. For certian pieces, I suppose you could make a complex clamping foot that had an outboard arm that came down and acted as the stop. That wouldn't work in many situations, though. In the past, I've used a stop made from a piece of angle with a pin to drop in the pritchel hole, bu that only works on the Nimba, which has the pritchel hole at the other end of the face from the hardy. On my other anvils I've used a bar clamp across the face.

For mild tapers, say less than 1:8 or so, a clamping foot with an integral toggle pad like a Vise-Grip C-clamp would work fairly well. That will still slip loose under much force, though. The only really solid solution I've so far found to the problem is to tack weld a sacrificial piece on the taper to giveme a parallel surface for clamping and then cut it off after the work is done.

If any of you can come up with a good solution to this one, you can probably patent it and make some serious money. Just remember me when you're rich and famous, hey?


warren's picture

cool tool

Rich, really cool tool. You do put some craftsmanship in it. Heck I can not even get the time to make a 7 shape tool.

www Metalrecipes -- heat and beat to the desired shape, repeat as necessary.

Cwilliams's picture


Now thats s super nice tool, you should market that. I bet it would do well with the blacksmith crowd.
Chris Williams

Rich Waugh's picture

Thanks, Chris. The real

Thanks, Chris. The real stumbling block to marketing that tool is that it is highly "anvil specific"; that is, that one will only fit a Nimba Gladiator properly, and would have to be made slightly differently to fit another anvil. I'm planning, as I said, to make another one to fit my 250# Fisher anvil, but it will require drilling and tapping a small hole in the Fisher to make the anchor function correctly. I don't know how many blacksmiths would be willing to do that to their anvils. Those who would, I imagine, would just go ahead and make the whole tool themselves. Good for them!

I share these things so that others can benefit from them and, hopefully, improve upon them.

One of the things that I really appreciate about the blacksmithing community is the willingness to share information and ideas very freely. We all benefit from that openness, I believe. I've been given many great ideas from other smiths and I try to "pay it forward" by sharing my ideas with others.

I think that most all of us here at ArtMetal subscribe to the concept of freely sharing information, and that's a big part of what makes this community so rewarding. I know for a fact that that is one of the key concepts that this site's founder, Enrique Vega, had in mind when he brought it into existence, and I'm delighted to contribute in some small way to perpetuating that.


Rich Waugh's picture

Today I made some further

Today I made some further progress on this tool by making a couple of the auxillilary holding arms that I planned for.  As I mentioned above, the "gazintra" socket will accept 1/2" square-shanked tooling.

For these two arms, I started with 5/8" square bar so as to have a little more "meat" to work with.  The arms could just as well have been made by starting with 1/2" square and building them by welding and fabricating, but I always look to forging as my first avenue.  Hey, I'm a blacksmith and that's what we do, right?  :-)

I used my vertical bandsaw to split one piece longitudinally about 3-1/2" and then forged the two legs to shape.  With the legs forged and bent to the required contour, I then set down a shoulder and drew out the 1/2" square shank to fit the socket.Split-foot hold down armSplit-foot hold down arm  A bit of cleaning up on the belt grinder and it's ready to use.

You can see the arm holding a piece of light plate, ready for chiseling or chasing work.  The split feet give a more stable and secure hold while allowing better access to the working area than a single foot in the middle would.  This also avoids the problem of having a single foot that might mar previously done work.  In a few rare instances, there might be a piece that had a protrusion in the middle that would preclude the use of a single-foot hold down, too.

Round or square bar V-style hold down armRound or square bar V-style hold down arm

 This arm is for holding round or square bar or tubing, as well as angle iron.  The foot is essentially an upside-down V-block, so it holds either round or square equally well.  It holds so well, in fact, that square bar can be slit and drifted without the need of a V-block beneath the bar.  This is a real boon to us one-man shops where we often either spend way too much time either making jigs to hold stock or chasing pieces off the anvil. 

The arm was made by upsetting the end of a piece of 5/8" square bar to get sufficient mass to make the "V."  With the end jumped up, I clamped it in the vise and split it with a chisel and them opened it up and swaged to shape using a triangular power hammer tool I usually use for making V-blocks.  After that, I tapered the neck and set down and forged the 1/2" square shank.  A bit of bending and a quick pass over the belt grinder and it's done. 

There are a couple other arms I still want to make, too.  One will be an arm with a single foot that is like a small horseshoe.  This will be for setting rivets. The rivet is placed through the two pieces of stock and then the foot clamps them down against the anvil face with the horns of the horseshoe around the rivet, leaving just enough room to get a rivet setting tool in there.  This way you get a very tightly riveted joint without having to juggle clamps, bucking bars and headers all at once.

This tool is certainly proving to be worth every minute of the time and effort it took to design and make.  I predict that it will easily save me at least ten times that amount of time over the next six months, to say nothing of eliminating a lot of aggravation and messed-up work.

When I get a little time, I'll be drawing up a set of "plans" for building this tool, with notes on how to adapt it to almost any anvil.  I'll make the plans available here on ArtMetal and probably submitt them to ABANA for inclusion in either Ther Anvil's Ring or The Hammer's Blow.  I imagine, though, that most of you could easily build one from nothing more than the pictures.


Cwilliams's picture

Cool tool

Excellent tool I love it, definitely submit it to the ABANA people they would get a real kick out of it I am sure. I get the ABANA newsletter here and I always take my newsletters down to the workshop to recreate the cool tools and this is by far one of the best I have seen.

Chris Williams