Friday, July 10, 2015

Quickie Stone Tools - Useful, Satisfying and Easier Than You Think

I recently learned that the oldest known designed tool is the stone hand axe. The keyword being designed. While interesting, it does beg the question: what came before designed tools? Apparently, before we were finely crafting hand axes we used an even more basic technique: bashing two rocks together. That's right, when you're using the right rocks, just hitting one against the other can produce a flake and often times these flakes can be both sharp and tool shaped.

I'd heard about flaking rocks in the past to make tools, but it was always in the context of flint knapping. This technique, as the name suggests, requires two things I lacked: pieces of flint and the precise skill of knapping.

Thanks to this video and ones like it on YouTube, I've learned that I've been over-thinking this whole process. Yes, to create a sexy looking tool you need flint or some other specific rock and much skill. However, to create a simple rock cutting tool all you need is a healthy selection of rocks (a typical stream bed will do) and a few minutes of time. The recipe boils down to this:

  1. Find big 'ol flat rock you can use as an anvil stone
  2. Find a hefty, yet comfortable rock to use as a hammer stone
  3. Put a piece of quartz, or really any rock, on the anvil stone and bash it with the hammer stone
  4. Examine the results. If you're lucky, you'll get a flake that's both sharp and in a useful shape
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as you like

So easy, even a caveman can do it, right? Actually, that's an insult to cavemen. They would look at the above recipe and laugh at my beyond primitive technique.

How, in all my years of Scouting and hanging out in the outdoors had I never learned that: (a) quartz is functionally equivalent to flint (though, hardly ideal for fine knapping tasks), and (b) a basic cutting tool is a smash away, is beyond me.

So last night, while on a jogging along 4 Mile Run, I couldn't help but give my new rock bashing technique a try.

Here was my very first attempt:

The rock split in two with a satisfying thunk. I'm telling you, bashing rocks felt primordial. Even if I got no usable tools out of it, it just felt good. Anyway, in the above photo you can see my hammer stone off to right side of the frame and the anvil stone in the background. The rock itself, was a complete bust. It was, if I had to guess, sandstone and didn't flake. I bashed it a couple more times to be sure, but I just ended up with sandy dust.

I spent another couple of minutes looking around and found myself, what I believed to be, quartz:

There you can see my target stone with the hammer stone sitting next to it. I bashed away, and to my shock, I got something resembling flakes. Of the small pieces I created, this one was actually somewhat usable:

I repeated the process a few more times and jogged away with two small cutting tools. The whole process took about 10 minutes, and that was with being totally clueless. Had I known what I was looking for, I'm sure I could have cut the process down to a minute or two.

At first I was a little disappointed that my tools weren't as razor sharp as those created on YouTube. But then I realized that I'd performed that bit of magic that humans have been doing for millennia: I'd created a tool that allowed me to accomplish something that I couldn't do with body alone. If I wanted to cut or scrape something, what options did I have? My teeth? My finger nails? As primitive as the tools I created were, they would indeed allow me to accomplish these very tasks with relative ease (especially compared to having no tools). For a brief moment, I felt as one with our caveman ancestors!

This is definitely a skill (if you can call bashing a rock with another rock, a skill) that's worth knowing. I could totally see enhancing my outdoor kit with a couple of these on-the-fly rock tools. Watch the videos below to learn more. Happy bashing!

View Video

View Video

Update: I really can't emphasize how cool these quickie stone tools are. While doing some gardening, I noticed that there was a hefty piece of quartz in a pile of discarded stones in our back yard. I bashed it with a nearby rock and broke off a flake that I then used to cut various lengths of bank line. The flake wasn't scalpel sharp, nor did it look especially impressive, but it cut the bank line with almost no effort. Something that would have been very tricky, if not impossible, to do without any tools at all. Later in the weekend we were on a hike and I came across numerous large chunks of quartz. Heck, one was boulder size. It would have made for all sorts of interesting tools had I needed them. Like my recent fungi interest, it's terrific to see the outdoors in a fresh new light.

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