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 are 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 tool.
There are many designs for anvils, which are often tailored for a specific purpose or to meet the needs of a particular smith or which originated in diverse geographic locations.
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 or wrought 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, manufacturer, or place of origin. American made anvils were often marked in pounds. European anvils are sometimes marked in kilograms. English anvils were often marked in hundredweight, 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 or cast iron 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.
Top quality modern anvils are made of cast or forged tool steel and are heat treated for optimum hardness and toughness. 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.