When most people think of stone knives they think of something like the one above with a classic blade that is flat on the top and a handle to make it easy to hold. The knife above has a buffalo jawbone handle.
Throughout prehistory, most cutting was probably done with a simple stone flake.
When a flake is struck from a piece of flint or obsidian it comes off as a nearly razor sharp blade with an edge that can hardly be improved upon with more chipping.
To really appreciate stone bladed knives and where they fit in man's history one really needs to appreciate flintknapping.
Flintknapping is the process of making stone tools by flaking or chipping the stone to the proper shape and sharpness. Flint, chert or obsidian (volcanic glass) are the stones most often used for flintknapping, and can be used to make arrowheads, knife blades, tomahawk heads, spearpoints, or any chipped stone tool.
Flintknapping is easy to learn (for some people) and there are some good instruction manuals available.
A flintknapper will use an antler baton or billet to do really fine work but even a round stone can be used to do basic flintknapping. For harder-to-chip materials many modern flintknappers use copper rods, even though the American Indian probably never used copper billets.
Today, there are a few people making incredibly fine stone knives. These range from the believably authentic aged antler and buffalo jawbone knives to exquisite parallel flaked art knives that only royalty would have had in ancient times.
You cannot pry and lever away with a stone bladed knife the way you would with a steel blade. Even a moderate twist can break a stone blade, especially if it is thin. You must hold the knife handle in such a way as the sharp edge is presented to the cutting project, not just thrust at it. A stone knife should be used as if it were a scalpel.
You cannot drop a stone knife on stone, on logs, on the ground, or on the floor and expect it to survive. That is why when the Native Americans had the oppportunity to convert to steel they did so quickly. So stone knives are best used for purposes of ceremony or demonstration. If you want to cut, use a large single flake. You can dress a deer easily with a single large flake, then if you want you can throw it away.
Making stone bladed knives is not hard, once you have a blade for your project:
1) Antler or wood handles are shaped with a file or a belt sander after being roughly sawed to shape. The old way would involve using stone flakes to score or weaken the handle stock, then sandstone abrasive to smooth it. Today you can use a table saw, belt sander, files and sandpaper to accomplish this in a fraction of the time.
2) The handle is cut to accept the blade. A tight fit is best. Antler, wood or bone can be slotted with a vertical saw cut, but jawbones and some other bones can be socketed in their naturally hollow portions.
3) Animal hide glue or other adhesive is prepared, then applied, to secure the handle. Socketed styles require only gluing, but slotted styles will additionally need some wraps of gut, rawhide or sinew to secure the glue job. If needed, these materials should be applied into the wet glue. Allow enough time for animal hide glue to dry thoroughly all the way through.
Animal hide glue used along with sinew, gut or rawhide will form a material a lot like fiberglass in it's strength - as long as you keep it dry.
4) The knife is sanded or steel wooled to smooth out the glue job. Pigments are applied in the form of paints or natural pigments in a thin hide glue base. Pigments are easy to use for antiquing or color accents. Use your imagination and color the knife perfectly whether you want an aged look or the look of a knife just made in ancient times.
A simple way to make a primitive knife for collecting, use or decorating is to purchase a knife kit that is already started. You can purchase fine stone knife blades already chipped and ready to mount.
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