Flintknapping – The Lost Art

Flintknapping is an art that originated in ancient times for the purpose of making tools. It was used in the construction of knives, spears, arrowheads, scrapers, and other items used by prehistoric man. Later civilizations discovered its usefulness as a way to manufacture gun flints. All of these uses have value to those seeking wilderness skills and ways to further enhance a self-sufficient lifestyle.

The Best Materials to Use

Successful flintknapping calls for rocks and bone material that is finely grained and hard, such as jasper, chert, flint, or quartz. You can also use porcelain in a pinch, so don’t throw away those old fixtures, dishes, and other items made of this material, particularly if you’re a bow hunter interested in learning to make your own arrows. Thick glass from the bottom of wine bottles can be used also.
You can easily test the material to ensure that it will work for flintknapping by tapping it with a hard object and listening to the resulting pitch. Materials that produce higher pitches are more suitable for flintknapping than their low-pitched counterparts.

The Tools You’ll Need

You’ll need a hammer made of hard rock such as quartz or granite in order to break of the core material to create flakes. A hard hammer serves to break rocks apart in a conchoidal fracture. This type of fracture is lightly concave, features smooth surfaces, resembles the ripples in a mussel shell, and is essential to the art of successful flintknapping. A hard hammer works best to achieve this because it transfers most of its energy to the material being flaked while absorbing a minimal amount of force.

You’ll also need what’s referred to as a soft hammer if you’re going to be flaking extremely brittle material such as obsidian. These hammers are generally made from moose, elk, or deer antlers set in wooden handles. Many flintknappers use the hard hammer to break apart the core material and the soft hammer to further shape the resulting flakes into desired shapes and sizes.

Protective Clothing and Other Safety Measures

Due to the risk of injury involved with a flintknapping project, always wear protective gear. Eyes are particularly vulnerable, so protect them from tiny flying bits of sharp rock by wearing a sturdy, well-fitting pair of goggles. Guard against cuts and scrapes by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Your workspace should be free of distractions and should be situated in a well-ventilated area. You should wear a mask over your nose and mouth to cut down on the amount of dust you inhale. If you’re working indoors, consider using a fan to blow the air away from your face.

Curious children and domestic pets should not be allowed into the area with the exception of older children who are appropriately attired and there for the purpose of learning how to flintknapping. Always work over a sturdy cloth so that you can easily clean up the dust and shards once you’re finished working on your project for the day. Keep in mind that rock fragments unintentionally left on the floor or the ground are a safety hazard.

Learning to flintknapp takes significant time and patience, but it’s an extremely worthwhile skill to have for those who want to live as self-sufficiently as possible. Consider finding an experienced flintknapper to walk you thought the steps as you begin your journey with this remarkable primitive skill.

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