Schutt shows flint knappingOn Sunday, Aug. 7, local farmer Tom Schutt demonstrated the technique of flint knapping at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum. The process of shaping stone into tools is often associated with Native Americans but has actually been around since prehistoric times and was practiced by many cultures: the Egyptians, the Mayans and the Danish, to name a few.
On Sunday, Aug. 7, local farmer Tom Schutt demonstrated the technique of flint knapping at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum.
The process of shaping stone into tools is often associated with Native Americans but has actually been around since prehistoric times and was practiced by many cultures: the Egyptians, the Mayans and the Danish, to name a few.
Schutt used homemade tools to illustrate the various stages of his self-taught hobby of many years. He began with the direct percussion stage. For this first stage the Native Americans used a section of deer or elk horn. Modern knappers usually use a heavy tool made from copper.
Using a leather mitten to cushion his thigh, he repeatedly struck the raw piece of flint with the tool flaking off the square edges and roughly shaping the stone to the desired thickness and size for the next stage.
The process continues until the slab is of uniform thickness and is beginning to be of the desired shape. This involves what he called working the slab or making a platform — setting the tapered edge to work below a center line. Schutt used an abrading tool to dull the sharp edges of the flint.
The next stage is called pressure flaking. This is used to take off smaller and more precisely determined flakes. Schutt used a smaller copper tool for this stage and demonstrated how the Native Americans used a sharpened deer antler to flake the stone from the outside edges of the flint.
To refine the projectile point, Schutt holds the extremely sharp flint with an old leather mitten resting on his thigh which is covered by a piece of cowhide for protection. Although the antler is a more traditional tool for pressure flaking, Schutt prefers his homemade copper-tipped tool for that purpose, since it holds a point much longer. The smallest details of the arrowhead such as the notches at the base are created with a smaller flat tool that Schutt made for this detail work.
Schutt made the art of flint knapping look effortless, but there are many aspects to the art that take considerable practice: holding technique, striking angle, platform building, choice and knowledge of the chosen material, proper bracing and accuracy, among others.
Although the flint is very hard it is also brittle and can break during the knapping process usually because of some defect in the stone or a mistake by the knapper.
Schutt has made several arrowheads from Knife River flint, which is only found in western North Dakota, in the Missouri River area, but also had display cases containing colorful arrowheads made of obsidian (volcanic glass), chert and Brazilian agate (white with red streaks).
Glass can also be used as a material, some examples he displayed were colorful points made from a teal telephone insulator, a blue perfume bottle, the bottom of an old brown Hilex jug, and a red piece of glass he purchased for this purpose.
He said obsidian is easier to work with than flint but is much harder on the hands since it is five hundred times sharper than surgical steel and holds an edge seven times longer.
Schutt collects Native American artifacts and displays them at shows. He also attends meets where he learns and shares ideas about his hobby. He recommended the book: “The Art of Flint Knapping” by D.C. Waldorf to anyone wishing to learn more about the subject.
He said there is a demand for modern points, but he doesn’t sell his work because he wants it to stay a hobby not become “another job.”
There will be no Front Porch Chat next Sunday, but the public is invited to the annual Ice Cream Social from 2 to 4 p.m.
On Sunday, Aug. 21, Tim Burchill will speak on the history of Jewish settlements in North Dakota.