Slab to Stab
A Jim Winn Tutorial
By Custom Imprints by Lee Parker firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2004 Jim Winn
December 27, 2003 The following text describes the method I used to produce a large blade from a slab of obsidian. I took a series of 24 photos in sequence showing the process of making the blade from start to finish. The photos are named P01 thru P24. There are many strategy’s that can be used to work a slab into a blade. The normal approach is to create convexity on both faces after removing the square edges. This works well on smaller slabs. On large wide slabs, however, it can be a problem to remove the saw marks on the center of the faces when using pressure flaking. If the slab is ¾” or thicker, I normally use percussion to remove the saw marks and create a bi-face. On thinner large slabs, however, there is too great of a risk of breaking the slab using percussion to remove the saw marks. This is when the Ishi stick can be used very effectively. But, instead of creating convexity first, I try to remove all traces of the saw marks on the first pressure flaking pass, and then create the convexity on the 2nd pressure flaking pass. The reason for this is that flakes travel further on a flat surface than on curved surface for a given amount of applied force. As the convexity is increased (the curvature of the face), the distance the flake will travel becomes less. This assumes that nothing is in contact with the flake as it is being released. Some knappers have good success using a soft leather pad to increase flake travel over a curved surface, but I have never mastered that technique. When trying to remove saw marks after convexity has been created, it is easy to leave islands of saw marks that can be really frustrating to reach. OK, here we go….
The slab is 12” X 4” by 9/16” thick. Also included in the pic are the various tools used to make the blade.P1 This pic shows the slab of obsidian I started with. Above are 2 Ishi sticks used for the pressure flaking. Also a piece of leather used below the pad to provide further protection from cuts. Below are the hand pads used to support the blade.
. It was one of many large chunks discarded by Needles miners. On the left are 2 solid copper bars used for percussion flaking the edge. On the right is part of a grinding wheel used to abrade the platforms. The piece came from the Needles pit at Davis creek California and was collected last September . I used an 18” gravity feed saw to cut the slab in roughly 15 minutes.
Be extra careful when working the ends or the slab may break. The Ishi stick works great for this. The pic shows the correct area to strike.P2 The square edges of the slab need to be removed to create a workable platform for further pressure flaking. so long as the edge is roughly square. Pass over areas with sharper edges.
. This allows the shock to be absorbed by the leg and reduces the risk of breaking the slab. Switch to using an Ishi stick for alternate beveling whenever there is concern of breakage. Grinding is not needed at this stage. The slab is then flipped over and another flake struck on the edge just produced by the previous flake. A flake is removed by striking gently almost straight down and a bit forward. and continue when the edge becomes square. This continues around the entire slab. The slab is held on the padded leg with the area to be struck in firm contact with the leg. This pic demonstrates alternate beveling using a small solid copper bar for percussion flaking the square edge. just takes more time.
Note how the small diameter bar fits nicely against the edge of the previous flake.
.P3 Another photo showing the point of contact from a different perspective. but there is greater risk of breakage. Larger diameter copper can be used for this.
.P4 This pic shows how to deal with edges that are not square. and then continued with alternate flaking again. The edge angle here is about 45 degrees. so I just removed about 3 flakes in a row on the same face until the edge angle returned to a square edge.
I did not edge the right end as this will be done when shaping. The edge angle varies but is roughly 40-80 degrees and within 1/8” or so of the center plane.P5 Edging is now complete.
and additional flakes are removed. Then I strike these edges with the side of the copper bar while sliding the bar downward along the slab edge.
. the slab edge is abraded with the edge of the copper bar again. Sort of abrading and flaking at the same time. The first step is to determine which edges of the slab need to be trimmed. If more needs to be trimmed off. Then the slab is flipped over and short flakes are struck off to bring the edge in to provide symmetry. This is kind of hard to explain.P6 The next step is to roughly shape the blade and create symmetry before attempting to pressure flake the faces. but what happens is that very small flakes are removed which brings the edge of the platform closer to the face that is seen in the pic. Its just a quick way to raise the platform edge closer to the face. flipped over. This is done rapidly and repeatedly along the edge to prepare platforms.
P7 The slab has now been roughly shaped.
. To get the flakes to travel the greatest distance over this face and remove as much of the saw marks as possible the platform needs to be about 1/8” below the face of this slab. the pressure flake will be too thin and will often break in a small step before traveling very far. If the platform is deeper (closer to the center plane). The next step is to create a good solid platform along the entire edge to prepare it for pressure flaking. the pressure flakes will require too much force to initiate fracture and typically they will not travel as far. If the platform is too shallow (1/16” or less). The face shown is the face that will be pressure flaked first (face A).
This platform was made using the solid copper bar by removing small flakes along the edge as needed to bring the edge up to within 1/8” or so of the face. This platform is actually not as straight as it should have been I would have been better off straightening it a bit with the Ishi stick. It was then abraded with the grinding stone.
.P8 This shows the platform ready for pressure flaking.
P9 This pic shows the flakes to be removed with the Ishi stick on face A. Then another long flake. short flake. long flake. short flake. then a short flake to straighten the ridge for the next long flake to follow. all the way to the base. I started at the tip and worked backward toward the base. followed by another short flake to straighten the next ridge and so on.
. Long flake. The idea is to remove a long flake.
P10 This pic shows the first 7 long flakes that were removed with the Ishi stick on face A.
. Note: between each of these flakes a small flake was removed sequentially.
Thinner copper may bend. in other words more than straight in.P11 This pic shows the tip of the Ishi stick in the proper position and at the proper contact point to initiate the next long flake.
. You can get carbon fiber at any hobby shop. and again a short flake may result. One last note is that my Ishi sticks are re-inforced with carbon fiber and epoxy which keeps the ends from splitting. If the tip of the pressure flaker is pointing straight in the flake may release too soon and not travel as far as intended. It the tip is filed too sharp. Note that the tip of the pressure flaker is actually pointing toward the back face a little. the flake may release before sufficient pressure is built up. This allows a maximum amount of force to be built up before the flake releases. Also note that the tip of the pressure flaker in not too sharp and that it is 5/16” diameter copper.
This shows the typical holding position using the Ishi stick.
It the flake releases where it makes contact with the pad it will terminate at that spot in a small step. Once I have reached the maximum amount of force I am capable of. Again. I give everything a slight jerk to further increase the amount of applied force and release the flake. my left hand rotates just slightly allowing the force of the tip to be directed more straight in.P13 A closer pic showing the Ishi stick ready to remove a long flake. notice how the tip of the stick is pointing slightly toward the back of the slab face. The flake must release directly below the notch in the rubber hand pad. My right hand holding the Ishi stick changes the direction of applied force slightly toward the face to be flaked. thus initiating the flake release.
. At the same moment.
The main difference is that the platform is prepared on one side only. This is similar to the guide flakes used to prepare nipple platforms on Clovis performs.P14 This pic explains the importance of removing a small flake after each large flake to straighten the ridge for the next flake to follow.
This makes the job of removing the remaining saw marks much easier when flaking the opposite edge. However. Most of the flakes traveled more than half way to the opposite edge.P15 This face has now been flaked along one entire side of the face (face A). I prefer to pressure flake the opposite edge of the opposite face (face B). prior to pressure flaking the opposite edge.
This is mainly the result of poor platform preparation.P16 Face B has been pressure flaked along one entire edge. Note that I got a little sloppy here and some of the flakes did not travel to the mid point of the face. This will make things more difficult later on!
I took a little greater care in preparing this platform to insure that the flakes travel well.P17 Another platform has been created to remove pressure flakes from the opposite edge on face A. I used an Ishi stick to get it as straight as possible and ground it well.
. No saw marks remain.P18 This is face A with one set of pressure flakes removed along both edges. So far.
P19 Another platform has been prepared to pressure flake the opposite edge of face B. Some of these flakes are going to have to travel a long distance to remove all the saw marks!
. almost made it! One small Island of saw marks remains on face B near the center. Bummer! This will require that the right side edge be beveled back toward face A to remove a 2nd set of flakes along this edge and attempt to remove the island.
Also. Face A. which previously was very flat.P21 Success! The 2nd pass undercut the island and also added additional convexity on face B.
. the blade needs minor adjustment in shaping. These flakes on average are traveling only about 1” or so and the hand flaker gives more control than the Ishi stick. The blade is finished by removing a series of pressure flakes along both edges of face A using an ordinary hand pressure flaker. Face B has a good flaking pattern and good symmetry and needs no further attention. The goal is to provide a nice sharp edge that is straight and add some curvature to the face as well. Finishing up the blade is now easy. however. is still too flat.
This pic shows the completed blade. face B.
This pic shows the completed blade.
. face A.
The finished blade is 11 ¼” long. by 2 ¾” wide.Jim Winn
.P24 This pic shows the completed blade as viewed from the edge. Hope this is of some help…. Total time to make the blade: About 3 hours (not counting the time to take the pics). by 7/16” thick.