More Resources


Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools by John C. Whittaker

University of Iowa

The art of flintknapping

The Knapper's Corner

Neolithics Flintknapping Supply House


The Metalsmiths by Percy Knauth and the editors of Time-Life Books.

The Backyard Blacksmith: Traditional Techniques for the Modern Smith by Lorelei Sims.

History of Metallurgy

Ancient Ironworking

Welding and Metalwork through History Miller Welding Co. (PDF)

How a blast furnace works

Schools and Programs

Directory of schools

Blacksmithing I Class video
Wheelwrighting Class
Tillers International

How to make an "S" Hook

Other Skills

Basic Knots Guide

Making a Bow and Arrow

Make a Bow with PVC pipe

Various primitive skills
Compiled by Mike Beckett

More primitive living skills
Articles and links from Thomas J. Elpel

How to make a beeswax candle

How to dye material naturally

Primitive Technology and Native Arts

Continued from Page 2


When the Paleolithic tribes set out on hunting expeditions 20,000 years ago, they couldn't have brought down those wooly mammoths without the obsidian, cretaceous chert and other rocks they cleaved into sharp arrowheads. This ancient art has been around for millions of years, however, and flintknapping is still practiced by hobbyists around the world. It begins with banging a rock down on a hard surface in order to roughly shape it into a tool, whether an axe head, projectile head (i.e. spearpoint), arrowhead or knife. The next step is to chip away at it with another sharply-edged stone, bone or antler. (A geologist's hammer will also do the trick.) This process is called knapping.

Chert, flint, chalcedony, quartzite, jasper, and obsidian are ideal for flintknapping because these rocks flake (or cleave) easily. Chert and flint are silica-rich rocks found in limestone and dolomite deposits. Closer to volcanoes you'll find obsidian, which looks like black glass and was considered a prized commodity throughout the Neolithic era.

If you check the internet, you'll find clubs and newsletters, books and even e-commerce sites dedicated to the art of flintknapping. While you can purchase obsidian and other rocks by the pound, it's better to go out on a prospecting expedition and gather the raw material yourself.


Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Before knapping any rocks, heat treating (aka tempering) over a fire or inside an oven will make the rock tougher and more durable, as well as being easier to knap. This only works with small and medium-sized ores, so you may have to break down larger rocks before you get started. Slowly increase the heat to a high temperature. The color and luster of the rock will change, while it's texture becomes smoother and less grainy. As in the case of pottery, the rock ore should be completely dry before being heated, since water can cause it to explode.


In addition to cutting sharp points in the rock, a craftsperson learns how to cut in a flute so the stone tool can be easily attached and secured to a pole, arrow or handle. An axe blade can be wedged through a tight opening cut through the center a wood handle, then secured with any available cordage. To protect from cuts and scrapes, a leather sheet is typically spread out across the knapper's lap.


Since antiquity, man has smelted copper and iron to make knives, swords, plowshares, hardware, soup pots and nails, among other things. Smelting is the process of separating metal from a rock ore using heat. Softer metals like gold and silver can be shaped with very little (if any) heat, but they don't have the toughness of other metals. Copper has a tendency to become porous when heated, but when mixed with tin (3 to 25 percent) this alloy produces a long-lasting, resilient material known as bronze.

Since iron ore is more plentiful in the Earth's crust than copper, modern society uses a lot more of that metal than any other. It's also stronger material, especially when some of the carbon is removed to produce steel. Unfortunately, iron requires so much heat to smelt and forge, much of the planet's forests have been felled through the centuries in order to produce it. At any rate, the science of transforming ores into metals, and then altering a material's properties to achieve specific characteristics, is called metallurgy.

A forge or blast furnace pumps oxygen back into molten wrought iron, removing some of the carbon. As the iron cooks, the oxygen atoms pair up with the carbon atoms, creating carbon dioxide, which departs into the atmosphere. That produces an iron that's more ductile, which makes it easier to form.

The Aristotle Furnace is a specialized re-melting hearth used to modify carbon content for soft "bloomery" iron. It's not, however, related to the blast furnace process. Creating steel is extremely difficult without modern technology, hence you don't see it much prior to the industrial age. Photo: Darrell Markewitz. More info:

Long before the industrial age, a "blast" furnace consisted of a long straw-like pipe called a tuyere. And the oxygen supply was provided by a pair of human lungs. Later, the mechanical bellows was invented.

Photo: Ron Kizer

Undoubtedly, in the aftermath of a technological collapse those versed in the skills of a metalsmith (gold, silver, bronze, copper etc.) will inevitably fill a central role in rebuilding society. A blacksmith deals exclusively with iron and steel. Although steel is the most popular work material nowadays, in a non-industrial culture wrought and cast irons will surely rule the day.

In ancient times, a smelting furnace was built out of ceramic bricks, lined with clay, and placed atop a hillside, where a steady draft of air could stoke the heat of a wood or coal fire. In the absence of wind, bellows of goatskin, with a clay nozzle, could be continually squeezed by hand to move oxygen to the charcoal. Iron (or another metal) would detach from the other materials in the rock and sink to the bottom of the furnace. If a plug hole was created, the nonmetal impurities, called slag, could then be drained out the side of the furnace.

diagram of a modern-day blast furnace

After the iron is extracted from the crushed rock, it can move into to the casting phase of the operation. Casting is the process of liquefying metal inside a container called a crucible. Iron requires a high temperature of 2800 degrees farenheit in order to melt. (By contrast, tin melts at 450, copper at 2000.) A wood fire generally doesn't burn hot enough for iron-making, so charcoal or coke (i.e. cooked coal) are used for fuel. Limestone is commonly added as a flux, which means the melting point of the metal is reduced.

Once melted down, the slag on top (more impurities) was skimmed off before the moten metal was poured into stone molds. As it cooled, the metal would contract, making it easier to remove from the mold. Sand is also commonly spread around molds to help prevent sticking. To make steel, the iron would require the additional step of being cooked in a blast furnace, which removes some of the carbon. Steel is less brittle and porous than iron, but the energy-intensive processing will likely be impractical in the future. A blacksmith working with iron has to pound the material and work with it in other ways in order to fabricate a strong, long-lasting product.

Pouring molten metal from crucible to mold

Sheets, plates, bars, pipes, tubes and billets are among the shapes produced in the casting process. To make a specific tool or other product, the blacksmith takes one of the pre-cast objects, reheats it in his forge to soften it up (a process called annealing), then shapes the metal on an anvil with the help of varioused sized hammers, chisels, punches and tongs. Stamps and cutting tools can also be used to shape or emboss on the metal while it's still hot. In sword-making, the finished product is reheated, then quenched to make the metal even tougher, which is called tempering. (Check out the History Channel documentary Axes, Knives and Swords to see a demonstration of the technique.)

Daily Mail, UK

Today you'll find that the most accessible (and least energy-intensive) sources of iron, steel and other alloys are landfills and junkyards. Thus, in your post-apocalyptic travels, always be on the lookout for these recyclable materials.

Remember to keep your distance and use lots of ventilation whenever you're smelting or heating any metals. Some, like lead, zinc, chromium and maganese give off toxic fumes, so proper ventilation is crucial.

Copper ore also poses a danger, since the ore is frequently found in combination with arsenic. Copper vessels and pipes should be given time to oxidize naturally before being used to handling food or drinking water. The oxidized layer that forms on the pipework provides a shield against any arsenic that might seep out of the copper, so it's important not to polish the metal.


Continued on Page 3


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