Making Some Stone Tools

When I was a kid I lived in Rapid City SD and had Lakota friends on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I learned the basics of arrowpoint-making (along with a bunch of other kids) from a guy who seemed to take a liking to the young wasichu.

So I thought I’d give it a try again now that I am cooped up here (until I can finally get those needles in the arm), and have obtained some suitable stone and chipped away at it for the past several days.

A few photos. Sorry—it’s hard to knap flint with two hands and still work a camera.  😉

A hammerstone. The most basic of tools. A river cobble of quartzite.
A large chunk of flint. I’m going to shape it into a handaxe by knocking off flakes with the hammerstone.
The flakes that this process produces are razorblade-sharp, and make very effective cutting tools all by themselves
The finished handaxe. For almost one and a half million years, this was the pinnacle of hominid technology. After a time, hominids learned to make better tools from the sharp flakes rather than the stone core.
The squared-off version of the handaxe is called a “cleaver”. 
Stone flakes. Since Florida has little stone that is suitable for knapping, I got mine the same way the Calusa and Tocobaga did—by trading for it. The Florida natives traded seashells and yaupon berries for volcanic stone. These flakes, of flint and dacite, came from Texas.
A good flake should be thin, flat and bigger than the size of the finished arrowpoint
The first step is to use the hammerstone to knock chips off to form the rough shape. Half done.
For finer shaping, I use a percussion flaker. This clamps behind my knee. By positioning the tip (I’m using copper) right where I want it and smacking the handle with a soft elk-antler hammer, I can knock off chips precisely, and shape my point to its final form.
By changing pressure and angles, I can take off smaller or larger chips. 
Notching is done with a narrow hand flaker. I’m using an iron tacking nail: natives would have used a thin sliver of antler.
Notches.  The placement of the notches was a matter of tribal tradition: there were side notches, corner notches, and base notches—and some tribes did not notch their points at all.
Oops. I broke the corner off this one while notching—a hazard that happens fairly often when knapping. (It’s pretty easy to break the tip off, too.) It means my arrowpoint just got quite a bit shorter.
Re-working my broken point to a smaller size
Finished arrowpoints.  Side-notched.
A stemmed arrowpoint
Un-notched arrowpoint made from beer bottle glass
Spear or lance points are made the same way, but are larger and thicker
Simple stone knives are usually dull on the top edge and sharp on the bottom edge.
A longer and thinner knife blade. Sharper, but also much more brittle.
Stone blade hafted to a wooden handle

5 thoughts on “Making Some Stone Tools”

  1. That’s pretty impressive! When I was a kid I very much wanted to learn to do this, but teachers in the skill were not readily available, and neither was the right kind of stone in the area where I lived. I did discover that even just shattering some rocks would produce quite sharp slivers, mind you.

    1. Yes, the flakes are very sharp, and are effective cutting tools by themselves. I suspect that ancient hominids making Olduwan choppers also used the flakes a lot more than they are given credit for.

      1. My guess would be that simple flakes would have been the first cutting tools, and such would not necessarily even be recognized as tools if we found them today.

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