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The Gunsmith's Anvil
Gun Anvil
or Gun Swage

Decorated Pennsylvania Swage Block

From Swage Block Types
Gun Anvils or "Gunsmith's Anvil"
Several authors have called blocks used by gun smiths to forge rifle barrels "gunsmith's anvils". These are standard swage blocks with a half octagon impression the right size for forge welding and shaping an old fashioned octagon rifle barrel. Most are simply general purpose blocks. Often the impression was hand filed from a hex or half round. In this case a well worn impression would indicate that a gunsmith or gun barrel maker had used it. Blocks with the octagon impression are no more specialized for gunsmithing than for any other craft.

Response to a query about obtaining a gunsmiths swage block:

RE: Black Powder gun barrels

Various writers on gunsmithing and tools such as John Rice Irwin of the Museum of Appalachia have called swage blocks with octagon grooves a "gunsmith's anvil" but they were not made specifically for this purpose. They were merely a general purpose block with octagon grooves. Unless of course a gunsmith made his own personal pattern and had it cast. Then this would be a "personal block" not a general type. See Unusual Block Features.htm

That said, since making barrels by hand stopped being a commercial business, general purpose blocks no longer have octagon grooves. This change occurred a very long time ago so very few existing blocks have octagon grooves (none in our photo collection show them as of this date). Blocks now have hexagonal grooves because bolt making was a much more important smithing enterprise for a very long time.

So, to have a "gunsmith's anvil" (technically a swage block) today you would need to make one or be VERY lucky finding a very old antique block in good enough condition to use. You would also need to be lucky enough to find a mating top smage to fit. A very rare pair indeed.

Converting a half hex groove into a half octagon groove is not too difficult and I suspect that due to the necessary fits that most of these grooves were made by the gunsmith, as well as the matching top swage. Anyone with the skills to make a barrel by hand should be able to convert an existing groove into a bottom octagon swage using a chisel and files as all such things were done prior to precision machine tools. Alternately a modern smith can have one machined for much less cost in time/effort. I suspect that historically more were made by hand or at least sized by hand than used as-cast.

When I made my swage block patterns back in the 1980's one had an octagon groove just for historical sake. I have nevery used it. They are probably the most difficult shape to hand carve in wood and equally difficult to get a clean casting from. I think my target at the time was 13/16" wide. Today I know a lot more about forging, swaging and dies. Several grooves are needed for barrel making OR one progressively shaped groove starting at nearly round (for the twisted method) and ending near the finished shape + 1/32" for a short section on the far side of the die (for about 1.5". For flat welded barrels the lead in would be square and only oversized a little. An 18th century gunsmith would use the standard grooves in a block for welding and roughing and the octagon OR most likely the anvil top for finishing.


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