Flint Knapping

As essential skills go, I’m sure you’ll agree that Flint Knapping is up there with the rest. Byakhee Rich invited me along to a Flint Knapping course arranged for today. He had little idea of what to expect, and I had none. But you just have to do this sort of thing !

We drove down to Aylburton in Gloucestershire near the Forest of Dean where we were given our Flint Knapping worksop, run by Karl Lee one of the few experts in the subject. There was just the two of us so we had Karl’s total attention.

It’s a hands-on workshop, and we got to bring home our own flint tools we had created, and Rich got the examples Karl created to demonstrate the skills. We soon appreciated that the skills and technology used to create flint tools are anything but “primitive”. I’d expected a lot of H&S, and we needed none. You’re always striking the flint away from you and counter-intuitively, you hit the flint on one side with the aim of knocking shards of it off of the side pointing away from you.

We started off with the creation of a basic tool to scrape animal skins clean – in this case the aim was NOT to create a tool that had sharp edges that would cut the skin itself, but a tool robust enough to scrape off flesh, sinew and gristle from the animal skin.

The second task was to use a flint ‘core’ and knap the flint to create sharp blades for use on arrows, butcher’s tools and knives. This was really difficult. This was used to create the firing flints in flintlocks, and apparently, British flints were amongst the best at producing the spark needed to fire the weapon.

Next up was the creation of our own flint hand axes – so don’t annoy me too much ! The flint hand axes are extremely sharp, serrated and I would not like to be on the receiving end of one. We’ve been set the challenge to use them to cut up our next steak meat.

Finally, having mastered basic skills we were introduced to pressure flaking flint knapping, as used to create the flint arrow heads. This was far more difficult to master, but after much effort both Rich and I brought home our own flint leaf arrow heads. Karl also showed us some bows he was constructing from Yew and Ash that would have been used to shoot said arrows.

At all stages Karl was able to provide additional information on how our ancestors would have been using these implements.

Here’s Rich’s haul of flint tools:

Items on the left are Karl’s produce.

Richard’s produce:

Middle top, the long shard was turned into a Burin, the tool used to inscribe bones.

Its a bit difficult to photograph these items, as the flint is very dark grey/black. However, the edges are really sharp.

Here’s some of my haul:

My flint core (top left), on its side, so you knock the flint shards off of the sides top down, using the flat top of the core. The shards would serve as blades or arrow barbs.

My hand axe. It’s shaped a bit like a very large pasty (not scary unless you are Chancellor of the Exchequer)…only the crimped serrated edge is a razor sharp edge of flint (very scary). I may go buy some steak tomorrow and chop it up with this item and post the pictures.

Finally my leaf head arrow tip. Again it just looks like a black leaf, but the tip and edges are razor sharp.

I commented in the morning, some of the skills were similar to those we use for painting our wargaming figures, but in other ways they were diametrically opposed to them. I found I was tensing up when knapping the flint much as I do when painting (so my painting is accurate and not wobbly). Karl commented many people with similar skills came along and were good at knapping, which later turned out to be true for Rich and I. The hardest to master was the skill at pressure flaking which really required a lot of concentration. Karl made it look easy, but confirmed practice makes perfect.

Karl’s large flint axe head. Ideal for carving up the carcass of cattle, boar,or other ancient mega fauna. Weighed a lot, sharp all round and about 8-10 inches long.

We had a good time, and if you ever have the chance to do this, its a very good day !

One Response to Flint Knapping

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