How to Clean (Pickle?) an Anvil Using a Vinegar Bath




This instructable describes the process I used to clean my blacksmith anvil. PLEASE NOTE: It should be obvious that I have no idea if this cleaning method will work for your application, and that I take ZERO responsibility should you attempt this process and screw something up; drop the anvil on your dog; or burn your house down; etc. You proceed at your own risk. You have been warned. So there.

For those who don't want to read the whole thing, it's really very simple:

What you will need: Something like an engine hoist (HIGHLY recommended); Large plastic tub with lid; several gallon-size bottles of vinegar; wire hand brush; large amount of baking soda; hand grinder with wire brush wheel; BLO (Boiled Linseed Oil - NOTE: Dispose of rags with BLO properly. BLO is one of those products that can self-combust!!)

The list of steps:

1. Get a large plastic tub with a lid.

2. Buy several bottles of vinegar.

3. Put the anvil into the tub (you might want to use an engine hoist, etc.).

4. Ensure the anvil (or whatever you are cleaning) is completely covered by vinegar.

5. Let it soak with the lid on for 48 hours.

6. After 48 hours - Remove the lid, and scrub by hand with a wire brush. Rotate anvil and clean all sides. Use the engine hoist! The anvil will be very slippery!

7. Bail out the vinegar and dispose of it properly

8. Rinse out the tub with a hose.

9. Soak anvil in water with lots of baking soda to neutralize the acid in the vinegar. Rub it with a clean rag while soaking. Soak for several minutes.

10. Rinse with clean water

11. IMMEDIATELY dry the anvil very well and apply Boiled Linseed Oil to protect the surface of the metal. (I painted mine with a clear-coat Rustolium, and only used BLO on the top striking surfaces of the face, shelf, and horn.)

12. If you are too slow (like I was), a fine surface rust will develop. Use the grinder and wire brush to remove the rust, and then apply the Boiled Linseed Oil.

13. Dispose of rags with BLO properly. NOTE that BLO is one of those products that can self-combust.

Step 1: Before You Begin - Make Sure You Have the Right Tools for the Job!

Anvils are typically heavy (Duh!). Mine weighs 232 pounds (208 in anvil weight). Needless to say, a wet anvil will be slippery - especially if it's wet with vinegar, as it will be loosening all the crud and oil that the anvil has accumulated over the years. My anvil has over 150 years of this accumulation. I wasn't about to try and lift this thing by myself, and trying to lift it by hand was out of the question because it would be slippery. I decided that I needed to use an engine hoist to do it safely.

I was about to go buy an engine hoist from Harbor Freight, when I find out that my brother had just bought one the week before, and so he let me borrow his! <SCORE!>

Step 2: Time for the Vinegar Bath!

After laying the anvil in the tub (on its side), I filled in the vinegar. I bought all of the one-gallon jugs that my local grocery store had on stock (9 gallons), and it still wasn't enough. Note that half of the bottles are apple cider vinegar - not sure it matters. I took empty plastic bottles, filled them with water and closed them tight, and put these in the tub as well to artificially raise the level of the vinegar in the tub. There were only a couple inches of the base sticking out, so I took some rags, saturated them with vinegar, and laid them on the exposed edges. Worked fine.

Step 3: Rotate If Desired After 24 Hours, Scrub After 48 Hours, Then Neutralize the Acid

I checked on the anvil after 24 hours, and thought about flipping it over. I decided not to (in retrospect though, I probably should have), as the rags soaked in vinegar seemed to be doing OK. I did a little test scrubbing and was satisfied with the progress. Another 24 hours and it should be good to go. I re-saturated the rags and put them back on the exposed metal, then put the lid back on the tub for another 24 hours. After 48 hours, I scrubbed the anvil using a soft wire brush and long rubber gloves. The engine hoist really came in handy here for lifting and rotating the anvil, and then setting it back down in the tub again. Also - Gloves are important. If you have any cuts in your skin, the vinegar will let you know. Another thing to think about is a fume-grade respirator that has some charcoal in it. Highly recommended. A good ten minutes scrub on each side for about an hour total and you're good to go. Bail out the vinegar and dispose of it properly. Rinse the tub out. Then let the anvil soak in a highly concentrated baking soda solution to neutralize the acid in the vinegar. Soak and scrub it with rags for several minutes. After the baking soda soak, rinse it with clean water and dry it off immediately. Your anvil is now totally unprotected from the elements.

Step 4: A Very Fine Surface Rust May Develop. Clean It Off With an Angle Grinder and Wire Wheel.

A very fine surface rust may develop. Clean it off with an angle grinder and wire wheel.

Step 5: Nice and Clean, and Now It's Protected. You Can Even Read the Markings!

I used a clear-coat Rustolium on the bottom and sides of the anvil to protect it from the elements. The top striking surfaces of the face, table and horn were later treated with Boiled Linseed Oil (in these pictures, these surfaces are currently masked off with blue painter's tape). If you look closely, you can see the anvil's weight markings 2-0-8 (this equates to 232 pounds); and you can also see the manufacturer's marks as well: PETER WRIGHT - PATENT ENGLAND.

Step 6: The Last Step Is to Mount the Anvil to a Suitable Anvil Stand! :-)

The last step is to mount the anvil to a suitable anvil stand! :-)

This is a stand that I made. Watch for another instructable to see how I made it.



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    8 Discussions

    Finding a good anvil is a lot like searching for a good job. It's primarily a time and effort issue. Unfortunately for me, it seems like the farther WEST you are, the fewer anvils there are to be found (which equates to more time and effort needed). I of course live on the west coast, in San Diego, California... Lots of Sun and Fun, but very few anvils! I presume that you live in the USA... what part of the country are you in?

    In my opinion, Craigslist is a great source for stuff (anything, really). You just have to check it religiously every day, if not multiple times a day. You need to be ready to jump on that anvil offer when it gets listed. The listings are local to you, so you can just drive by and pick things up without spending a lot on shipping (and anvils are HEAVY). Yep. I love Craigslist. I picked up my Post Vise off Craigslist, as well as a 20 gallon air tank that I plan on converting into a propane gas forge later on. I have also picked up several (free) treadmills that I have salvaged the motors and metal from for various shop tool projects. Craigslist RULES!

    Another good idea is to attend a "Blacksmith Conference" or a "Hammer-In" in your area. They often have "Tailgate Sales" where you can buy anything and everything that is related to blacksmithing. Good prices too. Get involved with your local blacksmithing community. Get to know people, and ask if they know anyone who might have an anvil to sell.

    I got my anvil thru contacts I made via one of the "Blacksmithing" Facebook Groups that I am a member of. I actually picked up my anvil at a local Blacksmithing Conference. The conference rocked! I only wish that I had more time to attend all 4 days of the event.

    Lastly, hit the yard sales, garage sales, and swap meets. Ask EVERY seller if they have an anvil or anything else related to blacksmithing for sale. If they don't, your second question is to ask them if they know anyone else who might. You never know what you will find.

    Again, it's a Time and Effort issue. If you are not willing to invest the necessary time and effort you will either not find a very good anvil, and/or you will pay too much for whatever you buy.

    Best of luck! Let me know what you find! :-)


    I live in the mid-west. I have never seen an anvil on craigslist. But we do have a revolutionary war era festival every year. I will have to talk to some of the metal workers there.

    DIY Hacks and How Tostoddmc451

    Reply 6 months ago

    Unfortunately I am in the middle of moving. So all projects will be on hold for a while.

    Join the Blacksmithing groups on Facebook. Talk to these people and let them know where you are located. SOMEONE near you will know of someone selling anvils. I highly recommend that you also join the Blacksmiths Association in your state (I am a member of the California Blacksmiths Association; as well as the ABANA (Artist Blacksmith Association of North America); and the Rocky Mountain Smiths (they have a great library). You will make great contacts that way as well. :-)


    Reply 1 year ago

    True, there are places that sell NEW anvils, like Centaur Forge; Ridgid; Pieh Tool Company... several others. I almost bought a new anvil from Centaur Forge myself. But for less than what a 150 pound single horn anvil would have cost me (plus shipping), I was able to buy a much larger 232 pound Peter Wright from the mid to late 1800's. I am very happy that I kept looking. :-)