Making Arrowheads: The Art of Flint Knapping

By Jason Knight

Flint knapping is the age-old art of making arrowheads and other edged stone tools. Hunter-gatherers relied upon this key wilderness survival skill to create important tools and hunting implements. Many people continue to practice the skill today, including traditional bowyers, experimental archaeologists, and primitive skills enthusiasts. At its most basic level, flint knapping consists of: breaking open a piece of parent material (called a core); striking flakes off of that core; and then shaping those flakes into the intended tool. In general, the process of making arrowheads includes the following primary concepts: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Safety and Ethics Choosing the Proper Materials Percussion Flaking Pressure Flaking Notching

Safety and Ethics Because flint knapping includes breaking apart rocks with force, where sharp flakes can fly off in any direction, it is very important to wear safety glasses. Gloves, shoes, and sturdy pants are also highly recommended. It is also important to flint-knap in a place where you can easily catch the sharp flakes that will fall to the ground (so that they are not accidentally stepped-on). You can put down a tarp or sweep up afterwards. Also, use a well-ventilated area, so not to breathe the dust created by breaking rocks. When it comes to the ethics of flint knapping, the primary concern is to be mindful of the archaeological record. To an archaeologist, piles of flaked stone (debitage) can indicate the presence of an ancient village or camp. To prevent your work from being confused as archaeological evidence, always add a penny or two to your pile of debitage and be sure to sign and date your completed work with a diamond-tipped pen. Choosing the Proper Materials The best stones for making arrowheads include flint, chert, obsidian, jasper, quartzite and other stones that are somewhat brittle and have a fine-grained,

fissures. Glass and porcelain can also be used. soft metal. or very hard wood. bone. You can also tap the stone and listen to the pitch. This is called a Hertzian Cone (see figure 1). soft stone.uniform texture that is free of cracks. Figure 1 If your parent material (also called a core) has rounded edges. and fractures. In a uniform material. Percussion Flaking Percussion flaking is the act of striking your material to break it apart in a controlled manner. the force from a strike moves out from the point of impact in a cone shape that is roughly 100 degrees wide. The goal is to create platform edges that are less than 90 degrees (see figure 2). Understanding this concept of how forces move through stone allows you to angle your stone to break it apart in an intentional way. Stones that produce a higher pitch when tapped are generally better for knapping. The best pressure flaking tools are made with an antler or copper tip. To break apart and shape your material you will be using some simple tools for percussion and pressure flaking. . the first step is to break it apart so that you have good edges to work with. These tools can be made out of antler. This can be done by using a large hammering tool.

Figure 2 The next step is to strike flakes off of your core using smaller striking tools. It is these flakes that you will be further shaping into implements such as arrowheads (see figure 3). Figure 3 Pressure Flaking .

To pressure flake. . Figure 4 Notching Notching is the final step in making arrowheads. The notches are made using a combination of pressure flaking and abrading to carve out the gaps that allow the arrowhead to be bound to an arrow shaft (see figure 5).Pressure flaking is the act of using a pressure flaking tool (such as an antler) to load significant pressure against an edge and then popping off a long thinning flake. which is a point on the edge that sits below the centerline of your flake. Pressure flaking allows a flake to be carefully shaped down into the finished tool. A platform is then picked out. The pressure flaking tool is then pushed onto the platform with significant force and a small thin flake is popped off of the piece (see figure 4). an edge often needs to be strengthened by abrading it to remove thin weak pieces.

Waldorf. C. Here is a great article on making arrowheads from beer bottles.Figure 5 You now have a completed arrowhead. For detailed information on flintknapping. Primitive Stone Tools Making Primitive Stone Tools for Wilderness Survival Situations . You can haft it onto an arrow shaft and begin working on another. It allows you to practice and learn the concepts before spending money on expensive stones. Happy knapping! A great material to start working with is beer bottle bottoms. Making arrowheads and other stone tools is taught as part of our Wilderness Certification Program. we recommend The Art of Flint Knapping by D.

If you were to find yourself without a knife. The first step to creating useful primitive stone tools is selecting the best-suited material. as this is the least controlled and therefore most hazardous technique. Look for:  fine grained stones with a consistent texture  rocks that have the highest pitch when tapped  stones that do not have existing cracks or fissures There are numerous techniques for shaping stone into useful working edges (blades). Three common methods are illustrated below: Rock Bash Rock bash is the rough technique of striking one rock into another with great force and seeing what kind of edges/blades might break off. Be careful. a stone cutting tool can be created from rocks. This can be a good way to make your first break into a stone. . A riverbed or creek can be a great place to search for the proper stones.By Jason Knight One of the most important implements in a survival situation is a good cutting tool. so that finer work can then be done with other methods such as percussion flaking.

This oftentimes splits the subject material in half. Small shards can . IMPORTANT: Please exercise caution when breaking stones apart. cherts. Many rocks are difficult to effectively percussion flake because they are either too brittle or dense. This is a controlled method for shaping an edge on a stone.Bi-Polar Percussion Bi-polar percussion consists of carefully striking a hammer stone directly on top of your subject material while it is placed on an anvil stone. and glass. “Skipping stones”. rocks that are flat with rounded edges. producing two usable edges. obsidians. Percussion Flaking Percussion flaking consists of using a hammer stone (or heavy billet) to strike the edge of the subject material to break off flakes. This is a very efficient way to create a quick stone tool. The best materials to percussion flake are flints. are easiest to break apart using bipolar percussion.

By utilizing the above techniques. Happy rock-breaking! To learn more about making stone tools. read our article on Making Arrowheads . Long-sleeve shirts. and gloves are also recommended.project out in any direction. pants. you can quickly create a primitive stone tool to aid in a wilderness survival situation. Eye protection is essential.

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