Monday, December 22, 2008

Novaculite Chert

You know, I have a really great job. Every year the plant shuts down for a couple weeks over the Christmas and New Years holidays. This has given me a chance to slow down and do some of the things I breaking rock. Lately, I've been knapping some novaculite. Heat-treated it has a nice glossy shine when you flake away the surface. Novaculite is a type of microscopic crystallized quartz found in the Ouachita Mountains (pronounced: Wa-cha-taw) of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Every area seems to have its own distinct type of stone suited to knapping. The color can vary from white to grey-black. Since prehistoric times this stone has been mined to make points and tools, and in historic periods as whetstones for sharpening steel implements. The word novaculite comes from the Latin word 'novacula', which translates as 'razor', or 'sharp knife'. This was a term formerly used in England for certain stones that served as whetstones. Pictured is a knife I just finished today, a novaculite chert blade hafted with sinew and pitch mixture to an elk antler handle.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Finished Hafted Stone Heads

I had a gentleman who wanted me to haft a couple of modern made stone replica heads to handles. These were pictured a couple posts back. The top was a full groove axe head which was set into a hardwood handle, wrapped with rawhides, that when dry had shrank to hold tight. The handle was stained with boiled walnut hulls and burnished with a deer leg bone to give a polished, or varnished look. To burnish all you do is vigorously rub a bone across the wood. It compresses and smooths the outer fibers to give a polished look. The bottom is representative of a plains war club. It was made in a similar way, except that deer hide was stretched and sew over the entire handle. Warriors would decorate their personal weapons with fringes, fur, scalp locks, etc. as they felt inclined. There were several varieties of war clubs utilized. One, like the pictured pecked and grooved double pointed head. Another was a common rounded rock, pecked and grooved, hafted. A unique style was a rounded rock, wrapped with a loose section of hide and attached to a handle - similar to the medevil mace with the ball and chain on a handle. These war clubs were used in combat, and longer-handled ones from horseback. As I did some research on war clubs, I found a good number of double pointed heads fashioned from alabaster, a carving stone used for sculptures. So, I located a source and will try my hand fashioning some double pointed club heads, as well as banner stones for atlatls.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

In a previous post, Rocks and the Great Spirit, dated Nov. 7, 2008...I had included a picture of a Keokuk burlington stone blade I knapped for a tomahawk. I thought I would show what it ended up looking like. The blade is fit into a hardwood handle, with deer hide sewn on, and wrapped with rawhide. Boiled walnut hulls make a stain used to add coloring. Decoration is arctic coyote fur, bufallo toe bone, turkey feather, and seed beads.
Captain John Smith (1612), of the Plymouth Colony, was the first to mention this tool using the name "tomahack" The term "tomahawk" is derived from the Algonquian Indian words "tamahak" or "tamahakan". The earliest definitions of these words applied to stone-headed implements used as tools and weapons. Basically, it was a lightweight axe with a head of stone or bone attached to a handle that the Indians of North America used as a tool for chopping, as a weapon in combat, and in ceremony. After the Europeans arrived in America, the Indians traded with them for iron tomahawk heads. Some people think the expression bury the hatchet came from an Indian custom of burying a tomahawk to pledge peace. However, many scholars doubt that the Indians ever had such a custom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pecking & Grinding

Sometime during the early part of the Archaic Period (8000 BC - 1000 BC) it was discovered that fine-grained hardstones and slates, that could not normally be chipped, could be formed into durable tools by a process of pecking and grinding. Using a simple hammerstone, repeated blows would pulverize the surface of the new tool to dust. This often required many hours...and days, of monotonous repetition. After the new tool was generally shaped it was ground with an abrasive stone that smoothed the pitted surface. Finally, it was polished with animal fat and hide. In this way adze blades, axes and celts, bannerstones and pendants were manufactured.

Pictured is a full-groove axe, meaning that a groove was formed around the full diameter, and a plains-style war club head. The groove facilitates hafting by allowing rawhide bindings a more secure fit around the stone. Last weekend I worked an area gun show displaying and selling stone knives. A gentleman approached me asking if I would put a handle on these modern replicas. I'll post some pics of that when I finish. Hey, an interesting feather in my hat...I was approached by a representative with the History Channel, who had seen some axes I made on another site, about replicating a pre-Columbian Mayan axe for a show. It was flattering to be considered but I knew someone better qualified for the job, and probably had the makings on hand, and recommended Larry Kinsella. Check out his Megalithics website at:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Burlington Chert

One of the most popular and widespread lithic resources in the central US is burlinton chert. Artifacts of the material have been found throughout the midwest. The colors can vary light in shade with white, cream, tan, and light pink predominating. Outcroppings occur primarily in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa, but are found in other areas. One source said the chert was named after the city Burlington, Iowa..? According to John Stade, "some 320 million years ago much of Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois were covered by a large, warm, shallow sea which teemed with life. The primary life form was the crinoid, uncommon today though some are found in trenches of the deepest parts of the oceans. Crinoids were actually an animal but look like a plant. In the 320 million years since these creatures lived, died, and fell to the sea floor - the bottom became covered with many feet of sediment and compressed into limestone. Dissolved silica in the water helped to form large masses of chert" that we know today as burlington chert. This stone was prized by the Native peoples and utlilized for making their many stone tool forms - points, scrapers, drills, gravers, etc. ( Pictured is burlington chert samples and latest knife.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fluting Technology

It is a curious thing that some of the oldest cultural point styles in North America are also the most technically complex dating back 12,000 years.

The Clovis point was a lanceolate blade about 4 to 5-inches long, with flutes on both sides running half way up the point, and presumably used on a thrusting spear because of its size. It was given this name because of the find made at Clovis, NM, in 1932. These points have been found from Alaska to Mexico, California to Nova Scotia. Bob Patten, in his book: "Old Tools, New Eyes", remarked that..."Clovis projectiles paradoxically are too advanced to be the earliest technology in the Americas, but they have no apparent predecessors."

Around 10,000 years ago the American plains gave rise to the Folsom culture. Named so because of their point style found among the bones of an extinct giant bison that roamed the plains 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, found near Folsom, NM, in 1925. Folsom points were thin, around 2-inches long, with flutes running up both sides nearly the the entire length of the point. It is logical to presume that Folsom fluting technology evolved from the Clovis fluting technic. Some speculate that these points were used on a new hunting weapon that was emerging-the dart and atlatl. It is interesting that after reaching, what some consider an apex of flintknapping, this fluting technology disappeared.

What makes these points so curious is the parallel fluting. Most likely it facilitated hafting to the foreshaft. Modern knappers replicating these points have devised various methods to drive these flutes from direct percussion to various types of jigs. It is a challenging process and breakage rates can be high. In any case it is still a mystery how these complex points emerged so long ago in comparison to the following styles.
(Casts by Peter A. Bostrom/Lithic Casting Lab. Check his site out at: )

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Foreshaft Technology

I was planning putting a couple of light spears together this weekend that I had made some stone points for. One consideration was whether to attach the spearhead to the shaft directly, or with a foreshaft. That got me thinking...(uh, oh,).

What an ingenious innovation the foreshaft. 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, when Paleo Indians were walking the North American continent, some were using spears and atlatl darts with tapering wooden 'foreshafts', to which stone points were hafted. Instead of carrying many spears during a hunt, their composite weapon was more versatile. As the opportunity presented itself they could strike with the thrusting spear, pull back leaving the point and foreshaft in the beast, and "reload" in effect. Making a kill, the foreshaft could be dislodged from the shaft and utilized as a butchering blade. Repairs, and replacements, were easier since you were only working with the smaller foreshaft and point. Decades ago, early man was sometimes portrayed as a dull-witted opportunist, but scientists have have shown they were far from it in their ability to "adapt, improvise, and overcome" in their sometimes hostile environment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fireboard with a Chopper

The sleet was coming down as I decided to put the large Keokuk spall, from the previous post, to work. I had mentioned that my first impression was that it would make a good chopper. It fit in the hand well and tapered to a nice edge.

I couldn't locate my fireboard so I decided to make one from a thick cottonwood tree root. I couldn't split it so I used this quicky technic. With the chopper I cut half way thru the root.

Bracing one end of the root on a log, with the chopped out notch facing the ground, I stomped the limb in two. The 'notch' caused a section to split off length-wise, thinning the limb down for a fireboard. I bored a depression and used the choppers edge to saw a notch into the depression.

With in a few minutes had a smolder ember.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Flintknapping 101: Reading Rock

This is a continuation of the Flintknapping 101 series, if you look back thru past posts. I am trying to explain some of the strategies that come into play as you determine how to proceed at the stage of a large spall-using percussion, or a flake-using pressure. I am just trying to present some basic concepts, without writting a textbook...of which there are those much better qualified.

This spall is about 4-inches by 6-inches, and 1 3/4-inch thick. It had already been worked on when I recieved it. You can see where a large expanding flake had been struck off (Pic 1).

One of the side views (Pic 2) shows we have thick areas, top and bottom, to thin out. These slope to a thin sharp edge, seen at the lower left half. My initial thought picking it up was that it would make a nice chopper, fit in the hand well. The right hand side shows a squared edge, with a little cortex, that will have to be removed.

One of the principles is that- energy follows ridges (Pic 3). Look at any of the pictures, where ever you have a nice prominent ridge leading into the stone, this is a good place to intiate a fracture that will take off a nice flake-thinning the stone. A good strategy is to intially look for any ridges that lead to the high thick points of the spall first, to start thinning these areas first.

(Pic 4) Another concept that will become clearer as we go along is: centerline. This affects us in two ways. 1. As you work the piece, you want to move the edges of the rock up, or down, to the centerline. Hold an arrowhead on edge and you see that the edge follows a straight line back to tip...this is the centerline. 2. You can best strike, or push, flakes off of a stone from platforms that lie BELOW the centerline. The three "x" show possible platforms to use. If the edge lies above the centerline, as in edges to the upper right - flip the stone over. Now these lie below the centerline. Note: you are removing flakes off the bottom side of the stone while knapping.
(Pic 5) We have a squared edge on one side. To remove that we will use a process of alternate flaking. On the right hand side I will strike straight down (1). If you refer back to the post where we discussed the Hertzian Cone...rock fractures with a cone of approximately 100-degree angle. I will flip the rock over, and strike the angle left (2) from the first strike. Flip the rock and strike (3), repeating this process till my squared-edge is gone. In its place will be "zig-zag" edge. I'll show these actions in later posts.

Basically, this is a few of the mental exercises you automatically go thru when you pick up a potential piece and evaluate it. Probably another very important one would be: Begin with the end in mind. What do you want to make. With this piece I will initially make a preform. Basically, keeping the 6-inches length intact and eliminating about 1 1/2-inches of thickness in areas. It will look like a long ovoid thinning down to the edges. Early flintknappers would often make preforms at the quarry sites. They were lighter and easier to carry and could be modified, as needed, to spearpoints, knife blades, scrapers, adze blades, etc.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rocks and the Great Spirit

The UPS truck stopped out front with a couple of packages... wheeee! They were full of hand-sized spalls of novaculite chert and keokuk burlington. One of the knapping suppliers had written a tantalizing advertisement for their rock... "Knaps like butter, Chips to a Glossy Finish!" A month later, and $100 poorer I was the proud owner of a couple dozen spalls of quality knapping stone.
I know this sounds funny to many to spend a hundred dollars for stone. (I've spent much more at times.) This was an adjustment for my wife. But, business-wise, all I need to do is make 2 or 3 items and sell them at an event and the cost is covered. Despite the cool, no cold, weather I was anxious to break some rock. One spall spoke to me and revealed that it would like to be a tomahawk blade...and so it became. You know that is one thing I have learned to trust while instincts, or inner voice. Particularly as you are doing some delicate work the voice will tell you, "Put it down, you are going to break it with your next strike." It's just a whisper. If I ignore it, sure enough, I suffer the consequenses. After awhile you learn to trust in that still small voice...the Great Spirit?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rumaging around I came across my deer leg bone drill extension for the bowdrill. Kennie Sherron presented this idea, which John McPherson introduced in his booklets. Sometimes you can't always find nice long staight drill material, or the ones you have are worn down from use. I notice in my supply of yucca stalks, only a small portion are good for drills. But, I have plenty of bit-size pieces. To make the drill extension-a lower deer leg bone has been scored, and the top and bottom ends removed. Sinew, and a little hide glue, is wrapped around both ends to prevent splitting. A pointy hardwood 'cap' is carved and glued into the top end, that will spin in the handheld socket (...actually a hardwood stick simply forced into the top would have been simpler.) The bits are shaved to snuggly form fit into the lower end. The square-ish shape of the bone rides well in the bow string with no slippage. As Mr. Sherron describes it..."for the Indian who has it all."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two-Stick Fireboard II

Got home today and immediately grabbed a mullein stalk and split it in three sections..."hello" kiss from the wife would have to wait. One part became my drill, the other two I tied together with some cord. In my area there is alot of mullein. I was curious how well this would work with the two-stick fireboard technic. Mullein has a styrofoam-like, soft pithy core, surrounded by a tough woody exterior. In the past, using a stalk as a handdrill I often drilled thru the fireboard before getting a coal...because of the hard woody sheath. I've learned though, you need to shave down the lower half-inch to thin the exterior wall for better results. My first 30-second attempt yeilded some smoke and brown powder in the groove. I re-shaved the lower end. The second attempt, with a little more determination, nearly drilled thru the two sticks of the fireboard. But, I had a smoldering coal for my efforts. It was small and needed some extra coaxing. Also, I recognize that a previously tried hole, with a little char to it, forms a coal easier than a fresh one. All in all, it answered my question of how well it would perform using this fireboard method. I sort of came to the conclusion, that for the time & ease of making the drill & hearth from a single stalk, I preferred this technic over splitting the stalk, forming the hole, and cutting the notch. And as for the "hello" kiss from the wife...I think I burned that bridge from the

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Two-Stick Fireboard

I had been thinking about trying this technic with a mullein today. When I came home the first thing I came across was an 3-foot long yucca stalk. Worms had infested it, but had since burrowed out, and departed. I scored it and snapped it into three sections. The straightest became my drill. The other two sections I simply tied together with some buckskin thongs. This is the two-stick fireboard method. You need to brace the drill against your foot when you start, so it won't travel up and down the groove. After a few strokes it will burn into the two stalks and settle can move your foot a little to the side now. It only took about 10 seconds and I had two smoldering hot coals, one on each side of the drill. The groove formed by the two ajoining sticks forms a notch for the powder to accumulate, till it is hot enough to form an ember. Simply drop the coals into a tinder and blow to flame. Another cool thing about this technic is that you can untie the pieces, rotate the stalks, re-tie, and have a new area to work with.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Naked into the Wilderness

John McPherson introduced the theme of "Naked into the Wilderness" in his primitive skills series. I've seen myself naked. I'm not that pretty or gung-ho. But, I have been intrigued and challenged for decades with answering the question- how I would cope, skills-wise, stepping off the beaten path. Out of habit I survey new surroundings with that question in mind. Is there wood and leaves/brush for insulation to construct a debris shelter? Rocks to make simple cutting blades, to help construct a bowdrill, to make fire? Fire to coal burn a wood bowl to purify water with hot rocks? What's for supper, and how do get it? I recognize that I 'play' at primitive skills. I have a j.o.b., and a family, and a mortgage to support. But, it makes my imaginaition soar. I meet interesting new friends. I have acculmulated a lot of 'stuff' in the process. It's not the stuff I care about so's the skills, or know be able to start a fire by "rubbing two sticks together". To be able to make a cutting blade from a quartzite cobble, to cut the notch in a bowdrill fireboard. To make a poultice from plantain leaves to stem the flow of blood from a bad cut...( which I received while cutting the notch with the the sharp edge of the quarzite cobble while making a bowdrill to make Oh well, tomorrow is another day. Perhaps I will not feel as melancholy. Hmmm...I wonder what time Survivor Man comes on t.v.?

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Asphaltum was one of natures resouces used anciently as an adhesive and waterproofing for hafting, baskets, and canoes. Found where crude oil seeps to the surface, the light fraction of oil evaporates, leaving a heavy sticky tar. Most notably, the La Brea tar pits of California, was used for thousands of years by the local Native inhabitants. Knife artifacts, hafted with asphaltum, have been found originating from seeps in California and Texas.

Tonights project was hafting some stone blades in deer leg phallanges. The phallanges were drilled out to receive a stemmed point. Dried asphaltum (left) was heated over hot coals in soapstone bowl and applied to the bone and point. When it cools it forms a fairly solid haft. More so, it was used to waterproof the bindings hafting the blade to the shaft.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cattail Handdrill Attempt

I had read that other primtive skill practitioners had used cattail stalk for handdrill fire making. Having worked with the handdrill for years, I recognized how limited my choices were for appropriate material to make it with in my area. Mullein grows wild along the roadsides. Yucca is more of an ornamental plant here, but grows in the sandhills in northcentral Nebraska. Cattail is an easily recognizable plant, that to my knowledge, grows in moist areas and is available everywhere I've seen. I went out a couple weeks ago and cut half a dozen stalks, and stripped them down, to dry. Over the past couple of days I've been attempting to make a hot coal with a cattail stalk on a yucca fireboard. So, far I have smoke, but no hot coal. Some observations: The stalks are fragile higher up, denser lower. If I squeeze too hard I compress the stalk, and buckle them. Some of the stalks have a styrofoam-like inner pith, like mullein. Others are fibrous. Maybe I need to study out where this changes in the stalk. In my enthusiasm to try this, I harvested these stalks before the seed head were mature. I will gather some later in the season. The powder that forms in the notch in brown. I am not getting enough heat, from friction, to form the black powder and combust it into a hot coal. Also, the stalks outer portion is sturdy enough to drill through the yucca fireboard, perhaps a harder fireboard like cottonwood. Well, primitive skills is just that...skills. Right now I am just embarking on the learning curve with this new material. But, what a great plant if I can make fire with it. Cattails are food, cordage, medicine, insulation, shelter, tinder, torches, etc.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

One Mans Trash

One man's trash, is another man's treasure...or something like that. I got the urge to start cleaning out the Paleolithic Shop of shed where I stash my projects & possibilities. It has gotten away from me in the past year or so that I could not even get in it. Well, I started sorting...and shoveling it out. A friend of mine said years ago, "You can't do something, if you don't have something to do it with." Boy, I must have taken that to heart. Making the first dent I've found buffalo ribs, deer jaws and leg bones for making knife handles, needles, awls, and bone flakers. I was saving spalls of soapstone to make more fat lamps and bowls for processing pitch and asphaltum. Stalks of yucca, mullein, and cottonwood are tucked away for friction fire sets. Chunks of rotted wood and chaga fungus make great coal extenders. Some of the dried rivercane shafts are made into atlatl darts. Half made points, flakes, scrapers, and cores of obsidian, nehawka, keokuk, novaculite, and English flint liter the wooden floor. Deer hides, buckets of dried clay, elk rawhide, sinew, pine pitch are heaped in piles and buried in boxes and buckets. I've got the stuff, now all I time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Earlier this month I attended the Nebraska Mineral & Gem Show and met a vendor who was eager to unload some mahogany obsidian slabs. This is the first knife, from those slabs, next to a cleaned slab. They are laying on a couple sawn slabs. Knappers will use sawn slabs to conserve good stone. The knife is 10-inches long, in a elk antler handle, wrapped with sinew.
This blade has already tasted blood...cut my finger handling it...>ouch<.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stone Knives III

Completed another series of knives. About once a month I get a spurt of ambition and haft some antler and stone.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Memory Lane

I was cleaning out my book shelf and came across an old picture of my first 'primitive skills' set up at a local event in 199?. Finally decided to step out do something publicly. No one had done something quite like it, in the area, so it was well received. I cringe now looking at it, and so did the buckskinners I was next to,...with my big green plastic tarp, posters taped to cardboard panels, laying out a ga-zillion pieces. The take down after the event was & tired after several days you had to pick it up and pack it away. I finally evolved into a more efficient display set up. Though, I do not know if I really saved any time & effort, because now I am hauling around a large canvas fly tent. Now I roll up a large tub with wheels (wheels are good) and set out 6-8 'trays' of display and instructional material: area stone & points, stone & bone tools, flintknapping tools & process examples, primitive hafting, deer leg 'tool kit', friction fire making, etc. Of course, this is only the instructional part. Have a buffalo 'trade blanket' of stone knives, spears, tomahawks, etc., and the tent 'decorative accessories.' But, when the day is done I can retreive the tub (with the wheels), and pick up the display in minutes...wheeee. That way I have more time to drop poles, pull stakes, fold the tent,

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rock Show

Woke up this morning, with a start, vaguely remembering today was the Nebraska Mineral & Gem Club's annual show in Omaha, NE. Told my kids I was going to a rock show, and realized by their expressions, 'rock show' meant different things to Hurried and got on the road, realizing I forgot to shave, and drove the 31 miles. My purpose was two-fold. One - you can sometimes score some knappable material, which I did, picking up a boulders worth of mahogany obsidian slabs and chuncks at a great price.

My second objective was to meet up with retired physics teacher, Dennis Beckman. I met him briefly years ago, at another rock show, when he was starting knapping. He has progressed nicely and had a table of some of his handiwork-points, flutes, beading, bow & arrows. He says on his website..."So, how did this all get started for me? A few years back, I began knapping. Made some of the ugliest little points, but I thought they were nice and it was a lot of fun. As time passed the quality got better and I decided the points should be put on the end of a stick. So I started making arrows and atlatls. And, if you have arrows, you must have a bow, etc …" Check out his Native Crafts website at:

Friday, October 3, 2008

Flintknappng 101: Platform, Cone & Ridge

Flintknapping is a process of reduction. You have a large nodule. You fracture off a spall or flake. The thick parts of that flake are thinned out with percussion, then pressure flaked into a point.
I am going to try to explain a few basic concepts behind striking 'predictable' flakes off of a core with a hammerstone. Your intial core needs a flat striking surface...this is called the 'platform.' Some oval nodules would need to be broken in half, or one end knocked off, if necessary to produce a flat platform.

The angle between the striking platform and the adjacent face should be 90-degrees, or less, to successfully strike flakes off. An obtuse angle of more than 90-degrees will not work. The obsidian core pictured has a platform, and adjacent side, at slightly less than 90-degrees as an example.
The next concept is important.

If you have ever seen a BB hit a glass produces a cone of about 100-degrees. This is called the 'Hertzian cone.' It is consistant. The picture shows an obsidian core which has been struck, with insufficient force to crack the core, that left evidence of the force generated into the rock- forming the hertzian cone. Cool, huh? Early man was intelligent and took note of cause and effect to be able to develop stone working skills to high levels.

Now, in order to strike thin predictable flakes off the core, and not just make gravel, I mentally apply this concept of the hertzian cone. I judge what angle I need to strike a glancing blow, that one edge of the cone of force will intersect into the edge of the rock face. I prepare my platform, grind it some with the hammerstone, to make it more abrasive, so that it make grip a little when I make contact.

There is one more principle I can apply - energy follows ridges. You can see some of the ridges formed by the removed flakes on the next pic. My flakes will be longer if there is a ridge to follow. If there is no ridge, the flake may end up somewhat clam shell shaped. Depends on what you want. Aborigninal man at times took great care in the preparation of the core to remove specialized flakes, as in the European Levallois and Mousterian technics.

Here is a top shot of the removed flake. You can see ridges left behind, which set up for more long flake removal.

Here are several flakes, about 3 inches long, 2 inches wide. The one on the right struck a pebble and lost a section when it detached. This is how butchering flakes were made - basically one blow stone tools. The edges are very sharp. The middle and right flakes have a curled base edge. This could be retouched a little, and sides dulled, to make hide scrapers. The one on the right could have the top retouched to make a perforator/awl for making holes in a hide to run lacing.
By judiciously striking somewhat thin flakes off of the core - I have less work to thin the flake for a point, and I can remove more usable flakes and blades per pound of material (stone age economics).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Stick and Stones and Bones

Finished off a few knives today. Have some more work on the ceremonial tomahawk. Needs embellishments like a scalp lock of hair, some fringes and seed beads. I am not sure what it is, but I find utter fascination sitting at a rock pile striking off cutting edges, squared scraping edges for wood, chisel-like edges for graving bone. John & Geri McPherson created the "Naked into the Wilderness" series - great info. If I wrote something, it would have to be "Into the Wilderness with the Clothes on Your Back". I've seen myself naked in the's not Knapping can be dangerous enough, even taking safety precautions, without exposing other vulnerable assets. Ok, that's enough...I'm tired and HUNGRY...probably got some low blood sugar thang going.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

War Clubs

I came across this picture taken at a Lewis & Clark event a couple years ago. They were displaying various tools representative of the Native Americans. This is some my pieces I made years ago! From the left, a buffalo jaw bone war club. A stone tomahawk and club next to that. The longer war club, with the triagular blade was like an artifact I was shown once. There is a feather fan next to that, not mine, and then a deer toe rattle, mine. It was a nice surprise.

Flintknapping 101: Safety

A word on safety. Flintknapping - you will get cuts, probably get a flake in your eye, or jam a chip or flaker into your hand...been there, done that. Take precautions to avoid injury. Wear goggles to protect your eyes. Use leather gloves when handling sharp nodules and spalls. Use a good hand pad. Do not rush as you knap. Put it down if you are tired or mentally unfocused...this is the time when you can get hurt or simply snap the piece you are working on. Work in a well ventilated area. Fracturing silica rock produces dust that is like tiny razor blades. Breathed in, they damage the lungs and produce scar tissue, in extreme cases leading to siliosis. This was the ailment of the workmen who produced strikers for flintlock guns, working long hours in closed up shops with dust filled air.

Flintknappng 101: Tools

Flintknapping is a process of reduction, and different tools are needed at different stages. Hammerstones are used with large nodules of stone to fracture off spalls, or smaller flakes. They have a coarse surface and ideally are egg-shaped. The spalls can further be thinned down with hammerstones, or billets. Billets are antler of deer, moose, or elk - where the antler joins the skull. The material is denser there. Modern knappers use copper headed billets. Antler and copper are used because they give a little on impact, not putting as much shock into the stone.

Spalls and flakes are thinned down with billets till they are considered thin enough to procede to the next stage which is pressure flaking. Again, pressure flakers can be of antler or copper. In my opinion, antler might be too slick for beginners and might slip more easily leading to injury. This is usually the stage most people are introduced to flintknapping, chipping small flakes into arrowheads. Also needed are an abrading stone to grind the edges of the piece you are working. This can be a broken grinding wheel, or a stone with an abrasive surface. Edges are abraded throughout the stages to strengthen the area worked on. This strengthens the edge to be able to take more pressure, or impact, and remove better flakes. Thin weak edges crumble. During the process of knapping you will want to protect your hand, and leg during percussion, with a leather pad to avoid injury. You can find and make your own tools, or purchase them from a flintknapping supplier. The small picture is some of the tools Rick Hamilton uses to demonstrate traditional knapping - hammerstones, abrading stones, antler billets and flakers. Also, pictured is a box of bandaids. We'll talk about that next.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Knapping Glass

Hmmm... here I am side tracked already. In the last post I mentioned that some knappers chip some nice points out of glass. Pictured is a drop point blade of colored glass made by Scott R. - a much better knapper than I. He does some beautiful controlled flaking. At one point, when I was first interested in flintknapping, I read in the newspaper a knapper would be demonstrating at the Ash Fall Fossil Beds, in northeastern Nebraska. I drove the hundred-plus miles to see David N. flaking some points out of pieces of red glass panels he had recovered from a filling station that was being torn down. I've done my share of dumpster diving too, at window glass shops, salvaging the thicker pieces (5/16" thick and up), when I was learning to pressure flake. And...I've tried my hand at flaking beer bottle bottoms into arrowheads, check out this site:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Flintknapping 101: Material

Early man searched far and wide for quality lithic (stone) material to make tools. We see evidence of its value in the extent they went to obtain it. Early archaeologists found nearly 300 excavated pits, to obtain the Nebraska nehawka flint sources, some over 10 feet deep. This was done with primitive digging implements! Good stone was a trade commodity, and carried hundreds of miles from its source. One of the qualities they looked for was that it would form a sharp edge when it fractured. Often the flake resembled a shell. We call this a 'discoidial fracture.' The dark dacite, upper left, shows where this type of flake was removed. Another aspect was that it is 'homogenious'. Basically, that it is uniformly the same material throughout. You can see this in the stone pictured. Clockwise from the upper left you have: dacite, nehawka flint, keokuk burlington, obsidian, Fort Payne chert, novaculite chert, and republican river jasper. Glass is a good example of the qualities you would like in knappable stone. In fact, some flintknappers regularly flake some fine points and blades from colored glass. Some lithic material is easier to work than others. An example of that would be obsidian, dacite, heat-treated novaculite and burlington. I mention heat treating. Some stone, to really be workable needs to be slowly heated. This changes the crystalline structure in some way as to make difficult stone glossier, fracture to a sharper edge, and require less force to knap. Early man may have done this periodically, by placing spalls in a layer of sand, under the camp fire. Nowadays kilns are used. Where can you find lithic material to knap? Probably, the easiest recommendation is to use an internet search for flintknapping suppliers, or possible upcoming Knap-In events. Vendors will have instruction material, tools, and appropriate rock. One vendor I like, in my personal opinion, is Craig Ratzat at . At local rock shops I would really only look for obsidian. If you are fortunate enough to live in area that has rock you may be able to locate outcroppings by internet searches, inquiring local rock clubs, or searching road cuts or ravines. Some archery clubs have members who knap their own stone points and would be sources of information and instruction.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Flintknapping 101: Introduction

I've decided to work on a tutorial overview of flintknapping. I almost regret it as I try to envision how to illustrate some principles. Hopefully, this can be done in about a dozen installments covering topics such as materials, tools, priniciples, strategies, etc., - to give a working understanding of how it is done. The name flintknapping is believed to have orginated in Germany, in the gun flint industry. "Knapp" meaning to crack, or pinch off, as in the manufacture of gun flints. In a broader sense, it refers to the making stone tools. When you mention flintknapping, people tend to think in terms of arrowheads and stone spear points. That is common, and some consider them to be man's first art form. But, that tool list also includes drills, scrapers, choppers, handaxes, adze blades, axeheads, cutting flakes, perforators, burins, ...and the list goes on. These are probably the real work horses of daily life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stone Drills

Before the advent of metals, stone was crucial to make the myriad of tools needed in daily life to pound, cut, scrape, abrade, pierce, and drill... Stone drills go back thousands of years and is evidenced by the artifacts of bored wood, stone, bone, and pottery. Simple drills consisted of a flake with a 'nippled' end that was twisted back and forth. Hafting a drill onto a shaft allowed the operator to spin the drill faster, increasing the efficiency. The Iroquois and Pueblo Indians were known to have used a 'pump' drill. A stone, wood, or pottery weight was attached to a shaft with a hafted drill. A wooden board, with a hole in the middle, is slid over the shaft and a cord attached at the ends of the board and top of the shaft. With this technic the operator could work the pump drill with one hand and have the other free to hold the item being worked on, spinning the drill with greater speed and less effort. This is a good example of the evolution of primitive technology. Primitive doesn't mean crude, but first...the base from which inovations grew.

Newpaper Pictures

I had the day off work and decided to do some deep cleaning behind furniture...what a good hubby I That's where everything goes when I lose it! Next time I misplace something I am going directly behind the old computer desk. Found some old newspaper articles from 2001 - 2004, and a small case of stone points I have been looking for a year >sheesh<. The top pic is from the August 2004 Lewis & Clark bicentennial event...making a stone knife. Middle pic is blowing a tinder nest to flame at 2001 city event, son Jacob in the background. The bottom pic is special. My wife, Joyce, is grinding clay to clean it for making pottery, a 2002 local event. What a good woman!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Stone knives and Bearskins"

"Don't get too used to the facilities here. Once you leave SAIL it's stone knives and bearskins as far as the eye can see." "Stone knives and bearskins" was a colorful phrase Mr. Spock used in the Star Trek episode-"The City on the Edge of Forever." He was referring to the 1930's technology he was forced to use to repair his tricorder. I've been under the weather, home sick from work the past few days, staring blankly at the tv...this phrase triggered this little knife of stone and wood and sinew.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Stone & Bone Saws

Harvesting sufficient amounts of cattail and bulrush for mats is tedious by hand. Some simple time tested tools speed the process along. Large stone flakes, with serrated edges, or deer jaws serve handily to cut the stalks. Over time the serrated edges and teeth become polished from use and resemble similar artifacts.