Taking Inventory: Anvil
Forged in fire!
Do you name your tools? I do. At the time of writing, I have a shovel called Doug, a pick called Michael, an axe called Nancy, and a sword called Courvoisier Choppathon III. If you want to name yours too and keep it repaired at the same time, you’ll need our item of the week – the anvil.
Anvils became a part of the Minecraft universe in the Pretty Scary Update, way back in October 2012, alongside witches, carrots, carrots on sticks, flowerpots, and pumpkin pie. Originally they were crafted from six iron blocks and one iron ingot, but that was pretty expensive so we made them a bit cheaper. Today they’re made from just three iron blocks and four ingots. You’re welcome.
There are five basic things you can do with an anvil. First, you can rename items, which initially costs one level of XP, but does get more expensive over time due to the “prior work penalty” that applies to all anvil activity. The maths is a bit complicated, but put simply, the more times you rework an item, the more expensive it gets. So it’s best to rename items at the same time as repairing or enchanting them.
Second, you can repair items – which is done with one of the raw ingredients used to create the tool in the first place – an iron ingot for an iron pickaxe, for example. In case you’re wondering, elytra are repaired with phantom membranes, turtle shells are repaired with scutes, and chainmail is repaired with iron ingots. Each item will repair 25% durability.
Third, you can combine two items together. They have to be exactly the same item (i.e. you can’t combine a wooden pickaxe with an iron one). Combining two items will add their durability scores together (plus a little bit more as a bonus), and merges the enchantments. Pro tip – repairing tools by combining them is often cheaper than doing it with individual items. For example, a diamond shovel requires four diamonds to repair to full – but it can be repaired completely by combining it with a fresh diamond shovel, which only costs one diamond to craft.
Fourth, you can enchant tools with enchanted books to add the book’s enchantment to the tool. This costs much less XP than combining two enchanted tools together, though it’s still not going to be cheap when working with high-level enchantments.
Finally, and best of all, you can drop anvils on people and things. Anvils fall when there isn’t a block underneath them, just like sand and gravel, dealing damage to whatever’s underneath depending on fall distance – up to a maximum of 40 blocks (20 hearts of damage). It’ll also crush any items underneath it, so be careful what you leave lying around. Want to guard yourself against falling anvils? A helmet cuts the damage dealt by 25%.
One more thing to note here – every time you use an anvil, it has a 12% chance to get damaged. An anvil can be damaged three times before it’s destroyed - and you can see that damage on the anvil itself. On average, you’ll be able to use an anvil about 25 times before it’s destroyed, but it can be much more or much less depending on how lucky you are. Anvils, unfortunately, cannot be repaired – what would you repair one in anyway?
Anvils have been around longer than humans. Lots of tool-using animals, like chimpanzees and even some fish and birds, use hard surfaces as an anvil to crack nuts and shells.
As such, the first anvils were made of stone – but as metalworking developed, so too did bronze, and later wrought iron anvils – which were plated with steel once that was invented. Today, anvils are mostly just made of solid steel.
Anvils evolved their characteristic shape over many centuries, starting as just a big solid lump and going through lots of different styles depending on the tasks they were used for. The “London pattern” is most common today, which has holes on one end for tools, a flat face along the top with a rounded edge, a step, and then a horn for making curved pieces.
My favourite real-world fact about them is the practice of “anvil firing” – where anvils are shot into the air with gunpowder. Especially popular in the United States, this tradition was often used when cannons were unavailable – in British Columbia, on Victoria Day in 1860, a 21 anvil salute replaced the traditional 21 gun salute, after the town’s cannons were taken away. Anvils were also traditionally fired on St. Clement's Day, the patron saint of blacksmiths and metalworkers.
Anvil firing isn’t available in Minecraft (yet!). So may I suggest fireworks as an alternative for your next celebration? Rather safer than having anvils falling everywhere anyway...