Stone tools! I love stone tools, and what started with an obsession with making pretty arrows heads has turned into a life long journey to understand how to make and use effective tools that can be used to meet my wilderness living needs. Sure I have cases of pretty rocks knapped with love and patience and some of them are good for killing animals or as knives. But truth be told I’d rather a big raw hunk of flint and a stone to hit it with than any of the finely knapped tools in my cases.
So as I teach stone tools, I do my best to make it clear that although knapping is indeed a challenge, the most useful knapping is the easiest. Basic flaking with a percussor and pressure flaker are all you need to learn in order to make all the tools needed to meet your most basic needs of building shelter, collecting and purifying water, building friction fire kits, harvesting and processing wild edibles, and making basic traps and weapons to meet your need for fat and protein, skin and bone.
If you can make a good flake, then you are in business. That flake is your straight edge for carving and slicing, and with it you can make a saw which is that same edge with a bunch of little flakes off it, a hide or rough wood scraper which is that same flake with a bunch of really little flakes taken off all in one direction, a drill, or finally, an arrowhead. So that is what I recommend new students to focus on. Take good flakes! If your flakes are not coming off cleanly, then slow down and stop smashing the poor rocks and return to your basic understandings of knapping.
Questions I subconsciously ask before every strike that beginner knappers should ask every time they take a flake (or attempt to):
1. What am I trying to remove? How long and thick a flake do I need? Just because you can take mass does not mean you should take mass.
2. Is the platform (place I am going to hit it) the correct angle for the flake I am taking? 80-89 degrees for spalling and blade cores, around 60 degrees for medium and long flakes while shaping and thinning, below 45-50 short flakes only (edge you are hitting angled to the ground), above 90 degrees don’t hit it.
3. Is the platform strong enough? Do I need to abraid it? Is the impact point of my percussor a solid place to hit that will transfer energy cleanly? Is it too strong or dull so my percussor will just bounce and I need to hit it with a shorty from the other direction?
4. Is the area I am about to flake into convex? Is it too flat or concave? Does it have a hinge I cannot shoot under? I can only flake through convex areas.
5. Is the edge I am hitting closer to the upper surface or the bottom surface of the stone? In other words, is the platform high, med, or low? Short flakes from any edge, med flakes from centered or low edges, and long flakes from low edges.
6. Given a strike straight down what angle do I need to hold the stone so that the cone cuts through it where I want it to? For short flakes which only effect the outer margin of the rock: edge you are hitting angled to the ground. Medium flakes that will travel to center of the stone: edge should be horizontal to the ground. Long flakes that travel past the center of the rock angle the edge slightly up. Imagine the 110-120 degree cone cutting out from your impact point.
7. How hard and with what percussor? Just hard enough and with the right one for each job….
8. Do I want to trap or pull this flake?
9. Am I sure about the above questions cause you can’t take it back once you smack it.