Flintknapping & Primitive Skills Learning Center
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Flintknapping Tools and Stone Buyer's Guide
Learning to chip arrowheads can be immensely rewarding with the correct equipment, instruction, and a healthy dose of patience. Beginners routinely run into a few common problems on their road to stone point and blade making success. We have created this page to share some tips on tool and stone selection and general outlines for learning the craft in an effort to save you time, money, and frustration.
The Art of Flint Knapping: Simplified
Flint knapping is a process of stone reduction. The reduction techniques are performed by repeating a series of steps that target flake removal until a stone core is thin and useful. There are two main methods of flake removal: percussion and pressure.
Percussion techniques utilize a domed hammer (billet) that a knapper uses to swing and strike broad, flat flakes from a stone piece. The primary reason for percussion flaking is to reduce a stone spall to a manageable thickness. Creating thin points and blades is a learned skill, using geometry similar to playing pool.
Pressure flaking techniques are used for small fine flakes, final edge shape, serrations, and notching. Creating these detailed flakes require a fine pointed tool that is seated on a stone edge (platform). A knapper applies inward and then downward pressure with this tool, causing a flake to sheer off of the stone core.
Typically, a large raw block or nodule of knappable stone is reduced into more manageable spalls using heavy solid metal hammers or hammer-stones. Stone spalls are then percussion knapped with a large billet to thin the piece, then a smaller billet follows to provide more precise and finer flaking. Pressure flaking techniques are then used to clean up the edges and control the profile shape of the core. Finally, notching (also done with a pressure flaker) provides grooves to aid in hafting the piece to a knife handle or shaft.
The steps of each reduction method used by flintknappers are relatively simple and easy to memorize. The challenging parts of the process are the variables in the application of each step. Questions such as 'what angle should my billet strike this platform' and 'what intensity should I apply this pressure' vary uniquely with each flake that has to be removed. Having the correct answers to questions like these mark the difference between a novice and veteran knapper.
Everyone has heard the saying; “the right tool for the right job”, and “you are only as good as your tools”. These sayings are very true when it comes to the choice and correct use of the flint knapping tools. Knappers of all skill levels usually agree that modern copper tools are overall the easiest to use for learning the basic principles of knapping. Traditional abo tools (antler) are a close second and great for historical accuracy and demonstration but tend to be expensive and require maintenance often.
There is no requirement for a beginner to start off with 10 different sizes of the more costly solid copper billets and a dozen configurations of a pressure flaker. That can over complicate the process and waste money that would be better spent on practice stone.
There are many modern designs of the copper billet to choose from these days. To start with, we recommend the inexpensive, copper cap/lead core, style of copper billet to learn with on most types of material that is spalled and in the 2-8” range. These types of billets are referred to as 'Copper Boppers'. The lead core provides a soft, more forgiving nature to each strike compared to solid metal billets. These copper bopper billets do wear out similar to all knapping tools but are low-cost enough to have a replacement handy. We suggest experimenting with the more expensive abo and/or solid copper tools after you get a firm grasp of the techniques.
If you are working medium to large 3-6 inch stone spalls, we suggest to start out with one large copper bopper billet for primary thinning (1 ¼ inch head), and one medium copper bopper billet for thinning and finishing (1 inch head). If you are working smaller (2-4 inch) stone material, then one medium copper bopper billet alone would work fine to start getting a grasp of percussion techniques. Working stone spalls in the 6-9 inch ranch will need an extra-large copper bopper or solid copper billet. Raw nodules and blocks will first require reduction with 2-3 lb hammers made of copper, brass, or steel – depending on the material. It is recommended that beginners start with the 3-6 inch spalled material that is ready to go.
Choices of modern pressure flakers are between the disposable wood handled copper tipped flaker or the re-usable delrin handled pressure flaker. Both flakers can be re-sharpened by hammering the copper tip into an elongated cube, or blunt tipped pyramid (a fine needle point has a hard time seating on a stone edge). The wood handled flaker only has about a 1/3 inch of usable copper whereas the delrin plastic flaker has set screws to replace or move the copper nail as needed. I personally choose to have multiple disposable wood flakers at my side to avoid having to stop and hammer my flaker tip mid arrowhead.
Now that we have taken the guess work out of selecting billets and flakers, you will now need an abrader stone to lightly hand grind your stone edge platforms before applying pressure or percussion. This platform prep is required in both percussion and pressure flaking techniques. The primary function of grinding platforms is to create a suitable area on the stone edge that can withstand the transfer of energy from your billet or flaker into the stone core. The more controlled energy you can direct into the stone spall via the billet on the platform, the larger the thinning flakes tend to be. Course grit silicon carbide abraders are about the best around as far as modern abrasives go for this task; traditionalists will want to use a sandstone abrader.
Leg pads are essential and serve multiple functions. They provide a bit of needed padding from repeated billet strikes during percussion flaking and they also protect your clothes and leg from sharp flakes. Leather hand pads are used mostly for elevated pressure flaking, or to stack on the leg for pressure flaking on the leg. Grooved rubber hand pads are also useful, but not essential like leg pads. Leather is an ideal traditional material for these pads, most knappers stack two large pads for comfortable layered protection. Thick rubber pads are also becoming popular. We find that a large leather leg pad on top of a rubber leg pad is the best of both worlds.
At GoKnapping, we carry 5 different all-inclusive flint knapping kits to accommodate a varying level of wanted introduction into flint knapping. Any one of these kits can get you started knapping and at the minimum include a percussion billet, pressure flaker, abrader stone, protective leg pad, basic instructions and some stone to help get you started. There are also kits with traditional tools, multiple billets, books, DVDs, and larger amounts of stone. Prices vary depending on components, and range between $25 and $100.
All of our flintknapping kits include a stone mix graded to match the size of the tools included in the kit. That means that if you get a kit with only one size billet, you will receive stone that only requires one size of billet. To purchase extra stone similar to what is in most of the kits, you may want a few pounds of the Small Spalls and Flakes Mix. If you are lucky enough to have knapping material locally available and simply want a set of tools, we also offer multiple variations to accommodate your needs.
There are numerous flint knapping books and DVDs on the market today. Two instructional aides that we recommend to every beginner are the illustrated book "The Art of Flintknapping" by DC and Valerie Waldorf, and "Basic Flintknapping Techniques" by Joe Collins. Both are produced by master knappers with decades in the craft. An active visual aid either in person or on an instructional DVD goes a long way to show proper technique and is well worth the money. These instructional materials are not required to learn flintknapping; however, they can shave a massive amount of time off of your learning curve and save you a lot in wasted practice stone.
Tips on buying Stone
We offer most of our flint knapping stone in multiple sizes, grades, and measured by the approximate pound to better suite our customers’ needs. One pound of 3-6 inch material is usually about two individual 3-4 inch pieces of knapp-able stone (spalls). To get spalls toward the larger sizes of the 3-6 inch range you must order multiple pounds. One 6-7 inch spall can easily weigh 2+ pounds by itself. If you would like more pieces per pound than the 3-6 inch material provides, we suggest getting smaller stone in the 2-4 inch range. For instance, the 2-4 inch Georgetown Flint product or the Small Spalls and Flakes Mix product is perfect for use with the medium bopper billet and will give you 3-5 pieces per pound.
Small, one to ten pound orders are great for sampling any particular stone type and can be purchased by the pound. For orders of quantities over 10 pounds we suggest purchasing one of our USPS domestic flat rate boxes of rock since the expense of shipping tends to be cost prohibitive with some carriers.
All of the stone we offer is sharp right out of the box. A good pair of well-fitting gloves along with some protective safety glasses is a requirement for flint knapping. Even with gloves, extreme caution must be exercised since some glass like material such as obsidian can easily cut through fabric and leather. A slight graze of a fresh obsidian edge with an unprotected hand or leg can create a very large cut that may require emergency attention. Even the most experienced knapper will bleed from obsidian on occasion so it is best to be prepared.
After receiving your order, we suggest you look over everything before working it. Was anything damaged during shipment? Are there any major defects that are visible? Please contact us if there are any problems with an order BEFORE using it, otherwise we will have a hard time determining the cause of any issue.
What am I paying for when buying knapping stone?
Silica (stone) is available at about 3 cents per pound in the form of gravel and up to 1500 dollars per pound in the form of semiprecious stone. knappable silica is somewhere between these two figures in value. Someone who offers you knapping stone for less than a dollar a pound is probably offering what most flintknappers would consider gravel with significant amounts of waste and is usually not worth the cost of shipping.
We recommend learning to flint knap with the best material you can acquire first, then move on to experimenting with lower grade materials. You will most likely be more successful at grasping the basics this way, and save money in the long run.
Beginners typically learn faster with consistent stone such as novaculite, Georgetown flint, and Keokuk chert. Experienced knappers who demonstrate look extremely competent when using cleaned and graded spalls as opposed to less consistent materials in raw form. Heat treatment improves flake-ability with some materials, while others chip fine raw. We perform heat treatment here at our shop on any stone type that requires it, so every bit of knapping stone we send out is prime and ready to knap.
In a nut shell, heat treatment in regards to knapping stone refers to a process first used by our pre historic ancestors to make some stone material easier to knap. Material that tends to be a bit chalky or grainy takes on a smooth and glossy nature when treated correctly, and with the use of modern kilns and digital controllers instead of burying spalls in sand underneath wood fires, modern man has come a long way in producing consistent prime heat treated knapping stone. Of course, there are many materials that can be knapped raw without being heat treated, however there is a tremendous difference in material that CAN be worked raw and material that can EASILY be worked raw.
Most of our stone is sold in graded spalls for good reason, primarily customer satisfaction. Raw material cannot be graded as well as processed material, and much of the time is a risky buy with significant waste. Knapping material sold as a ten pound, six inch block for a dollar a pound might not make even a single 4 inch spall. But if you buy #1 graded spalled material with the size listed you will know what you are getting. Two pounds of $5.00 per pound material could very easily yield you more usable stone than 10 or 12 pounds of blocks of poorly graded stone.
Our experiences have taught us that properly graded and cleaned Georgetown flint is a near perfect stone for the beginning flintknapper for a number of reasons. This particular type of Texas flint is less brittle than volcanic glass and is much safer to use. It is far more consistent than most cherts in the USA, can be reliably heated to knap-ability if required (the highest quality does not require heat treatment), and is consistently available in larger high grade pieces than most other forms of silica.
The rule of thumb for knapping stone value goes basically as follows:
RAW quality stone is generally worth one to two dollars per pound.
SPALLING the stone into prime spalls adds about a dollar a pound to the value.
HEATING the stone adds another dollar or so to the value of the stone.
CLEANING and BIFACING the stone reduces waste and rapidly adds to the value.
Getting the most from your material
To get the most learning experience out of each pound of rock, we recommend new knappers take their time and study each individual piece as they go through the knapping process. A flawless spall can be destroyed with one misplaced strike and be gone in seconds, while the same spall could have been a prime opportunity to map out strategy and gain some real insight on where an aspect of a skill needs to be worked on more. Could a more heavily abraded platform have possibly prevented that step fracture? Was my angle of strike too aggressive for this brittle material? These types of reflections during the process are what leads to the most productive skill building and can drastically shorten the learning curve. The slow and steady approach will save you some real money.
To prevent frustration, we like to caution beginners to keep their expectations of what they produce from material in line with their experience level. A spall may not yield a masterpiece, but the practice and lessons it provides can contribute greatly to the next success. Knapping will test your patience, and any seasoned knapper can relate to that. If you are trying a 'new to you' material, go ahead and cut yourself some slack and count the first few pounds as learning stone. Master knappers create gravel and snap blades just like everyone else. Laughing it off and getting back on the horse seems to be the best approach across the board.
We would like for you to have the most pleasant learning experience possible and welcome questions if you are unsure of what you need to get started. Feel free to drop us a line using our contact form or email us at email@example.com. If you would like to speak with someone on the phone, please email us your number and a good time to reach you.
We have a simple goal when it comes to business, provide quality products and treat customers how we would like to be treated. Please take a look around the site and thank you for checking us out. – Elliot Collins