I’m back, and I’m getting thinner

johnstone plan

Well not me, but my points. My knapping has been intermittent recently, partly because of fieldwork, and partly other projects. However, term has now started and so have our weekly experimental sessions. We have a nice small group of enthusiastic knappers, and quite quickly I have been able to let them get on with it whilst I focus a little more on my own practice. This week we ran out of bottles and so I introduced the group to the joy of Johnstone, or bathroom ceramic, of which we still have plenty. I really like it as a material and produced a couple of neat and tidy, but thick points.

johnstone thin

And so, they were sat on my desk and by about 4.30pm yesterday I needed a break from head based stuff and so decided to play with thinning them. Anyway, they both went really well. My learning outcome from this successful process: the antler needs to do all the bifacial thinning before pressure flaking starts. On a thinned piece the pressure flaking is easier. This Johnstone point is still around 5mm so not massively thin, and it undulates a bit, however it is fully bifacially worked.

recycled glass

And then, this morning at breakfast Karen knocked a recycled glass glass onto the floor and it broke. At 11.30am today I needed a break from the head based stuff already, and coincidentally I had brought the remains of the unfortunate recycled glass glass with me.

thinning with antler

I followed the same method and after clearing off the prominent shards with a hard hammer started to thin the remaining thick glass base with the antler. I got it bifacial pretty quickly, however because it was a thick piece to start with I carried on with the antler to approximately shape it, before using my soft iron nail pressure flaker to finally shape and thin it.

leaf shaped

Anyway, I am pleased with it, and I am pleased with the learning process. Like so many things, being away from it for a while has allowed particular aspects to peculate. Coming back to glass knapping afresh has allowed new insights to emerge, and the continued thinning process is what has emerged here for me. This leaf shaped point is 4mm thick which is great, and formally it is a homage to the artefact produced by John Lord here. This kind of thinning using the antler makes the flake scars less visually obvious. Consequently, subsequent pressure flaking removals tend not to travel as far because they can run into the previous scars. This means that the nice ripple flaking pattern that is possible on glass that has been predominantly pressure flaked (see here) is not present on this much flatter piece. Back to the head based stuff 😦

August 2018 Bronze Age arrowhead workshop: a short photo essay

This was the latest workshop at the brilliant Old Abbey Taphouse. I think we all had a lovely afternoon and I get the feeling these workshops have some mileage. In other words, it’s not just me who is interested in these things.

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Mark, Paul and Eve’s arrowheads in that order. These are all first attempts, but the main take home is not the arrowhead, but an understanding of the complexity of apparently primitive technologies. Next month is our Neolithic Day.

Neolithic leaf shaped arrowheads

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These two leaf shaped arrowheads are both made from the glass bottle bottoms found at Chorlton Ees. I started out aiming to produce Kimberley points, but ended up thinning the pieces with my antler hammer. I have an antler hammer that is the perfect tool for arrowheads and ended up doing most of the thinning and shaping with that. I like them both, but I used my metal pressure flaker to make them, so technologically they are not correct. However, yesterday my new antler pressure flaker arrived in the post.

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Today I had a go at making a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead using only stone and antler. This is another piece of period glass from Chorlton Ees…

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And this is today’s leaf shaped arrowhead. I am pleased with the end result and using the antler was interesting. It took a little getting used to, and I sharpened it to a nice point. This didn’t work as it just crushed as soon as I applied any real pressure. It needs to be rounded and it can then engage with the edge better. Although it is not obvious, each face has a little step fracture island in the centre. This illustrates my depth of pressure flaking with the new antler.

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I am meeting some friends at Chorlton Ees in an hour or so. Dog walk, forage, and then we are going for some food. Let’s see what we come back with.

Mancunian exotica

As is usual here in Manchester, the weather has been absolutely fantastic. Consequently I have been outdoors a lot and the dog and myself spent an hour or so having a root around Chorlton Ees. I am still amazed at the amount of treasure there is to find just lying on the surface.

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Some material has been unearthed by burrowing animals, and some has just been lying around for many decades. I was particularly pleased coming home with a carrier bag full of 1900s thick broken bottle bases. This glut of material reminded me that I am indebted to three people and I have not made any effort yet to repay their kindness. It would seem that now is the time.

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This Kimberley point, or more accurately Mancunian point is made from the flat piece of glass on the left. A scratch on the surface caused a little step fracturing but ultimately it was no problem.

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I am really loving flint knapping at the moment and I have lots of material to play with. The sun coming out is just the icing on the cake and if it stays like this I can look forward to getting the other two done in the next day or so. In the meantime I will enjoy posting this one off tomorrow morning.

 

 

Bronze Age arrowhead workshop: the sequel

Rachel at The Old Abbey Taphouse has been kind enough to give me the space to run a second workshop with them. Drawing upon my Pop Up Business School experience, videos attract more attention than posts with just photos, or text only. Consequently, here is my promotional video.

My friend Brian Madden edited this video for me, and pointed out how about half way through (1.09 seconds) one of my neighbours shouts out “I can’t find the chocolate“. Soon after (1.23 seconds) I can be seen eating some chocolate. Who said subliminal advertising doesn’t work.

Material worlds again

I have been a little obsessed by knapping both yesterday and today. I made another hard hammer handaxe, which then became a Middle Palaeolithic Leafpoint, before ending up as a non period specific spear point. Hard hammer and soft hammer with a little pressure flaking. What is good as well is that I can identify the technology that produced each removal, not because I remember, but because of the shape and form of the scar.

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Next up is a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead. The following example is from the museum at Whitby, and I have tried to reproduce it before with little success.

Neolithic leaf point

It was obviously still on my mind as this is a much better attempt, although when I now view them together I can see the original is much more refined. The glass used here was amazing and I have to thank the guy in Oddbins last night who gave me four empty spirit bottles to play with. I may give this to him in return for more bottles. He seemed enthusiastic about the prospect, as I would be in his shoes.

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I then gravitated towards ‘Johnstone’ or bathroom ceramic, kindly collected for me by my friend David Thompson. His block of flats was having new bathrooms fitted and I now have all the old cisterns. These have been added to the ones I collected from Mansfield Cooper building when the toilets there were replaced.

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I forgot how nice this material is to work. I am pleased with all of them, and all of them indicate to me the way to proceed. The flint is great and I am concentrating on being as consistent with a soft hammer as I am now with a hard hammer. The glass worked beautifully, and making them thinner and more refined is the next step. The ceramic is really difficult to keep long. In other words it is very easy for it to break when in big pieces. Paradoxically it is really robust at arrowhead size. I can do a better job of the notching but I need a different tool. I used my soft iron nail pressure flaker with all these materials, and so they are not technically correct. I have ordered a long Red Deer antler tine today and when that arrives I am going to see how that works. My aim with the bathroom ceramic is a Solutrean point. That is uncharacteristically ambitious of me, but hey, I have about seventeen cisterns, plus lids, and I am only 56.

 

Guest post by Sunny Lum on his first experience of glass knapping

In October last year I attended John’s experimental workshop for creating Kimberley Points. As a complete novice knapper, I only had a vague idea of what would be involved, and had only prepared myself by watching a couple of quick flint knapping tutorials on Youtube beforehand, although these turned out to be almost completely irrelevant to what we ended up doing! At the start, John introduced us to what Kimberley points were and we had a short talk about the origins, uses and evolution of their creation, and also discussed the overall aim of the workshop, which was to try to end up with our own points after about 4 hours of work. He also showed us the tools the Australian aborigines originally used, namely a piece of number 8 wire, which was commonly used by the Australian sheep farming community to fence in their sheep. He also introduced us to our tools which we’d be using, which he’d created himself, adapting the wire by adding a wooden birch handle to allow better control. Other necessary equipment; huge tarpaulin to cover the floor and collect up all the glass shards, glass bottle blanks (rough cut to manageable size), a section of deep pile carpet (to protect our legs from self-inflicted damage) which was very thoughtful, protective goggles / glasses (plus coffee and plasters!)

Glass, plasters and coffee
Then there was the introduction to the process we would be using to create these points. This was explained very clearly through the use of a series of diagrams drawn onto the whiteboard, showing 2 distinct methods that created 2 different effects.
Sunny ignoring the view
The first step was to create a platform, which involved applying pressure with the wire almost orthogonal to the glass shard then changing the angle to create a pressure point, which breaks off a piece of the glass at an angle. This technique was used to create an angled platform on the side of the glass, which is used for the next step. Additionally, this step also is used to shape the glass into the correct shape.

Sunny, Rob and Rob

The second step was to use the platform created to apply pressure along the breadth of the glass shard in order to thin the edges. The process then repeats itself until you have reached the desired shape and thickness. John demonstrated the technique for the first step, and we tried to replicate it. It took about 50 mins or so before I became comfortable in creating a platform consistently. This was down to several factors; time to develop a feel for the correct angle and pressure required both to apply to the glass and also to hold the glass and tool in place to exert it, time to develop trust in the carpet to protect me from stabbing myself in the thigh, time to understand and get a feel for how the glass samples behaved when pressure flaking them.
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As part of this process, you had to adapt to the edges and shape of the glass. Depending on which way the edge slanted it was easier to create the platform from one side or from the other. This resulted in distinctive fracture patterns in the glass which was easily readable by John when he came to examine our handiwork. Once we had 2-3 blanks roughly platformed, John then demonstrated the second step to thin the edges. The technique was in essence the same as the first step, difference being the angle is now along the width of the glass instead of in step 1 where it was through the depth. This creates flaking across the width of the shard and removes material in order to thin the edge.

Sunny and his steep retouch

This similarity of technique allowed us to jump straight into step 2 quite quickly, although again it took time to develop a good feel for the amount of pressure required, angling of the tool and glass and again familiarisation with the fracture qualities of the glass in this different plane. We used some more modern glass and also some older turn of the century glass, which better replicated the aboriginal raw materials. This was particularly useful as it showed the difference in fracture characteristics. Modern glass was easier to create the platform, but was harder to thin, the older glass was harder to create the platform, but was easier to thin.

Rob Howarth and Rob Fulton

This phase was quite tricky because the process of thinning the edges destroys part of the platform, so if you didn’t create enough material removal from across the width of the shard to thin it, you ended up with a broken platform which was hard to re-use without resorting to step 1 again. It took some experience to realise this and frustrated progress when you really should have moved on. Rob Howarth, who had more experience knapping, ended up producing a pretty impressively shaped and thinned piece at the end, going through the two steps multiple times.

Rob Howarth's slim point

Time passed very quickly, and I enjoyed the challenge of working out how and where to apply the pressure to flake off and shape the glass. It helped immensely to have a file at hand to resharpen the points on the wire tool. The blunt end dissipates the force, requiring you to exert more and results in less controlled fracturing.
The biggest challenges I faced:
* developing a feel for how to hold the glass securely and safely
* developing a feel for how to apply the pressure into the glass securely and safely
* developing a feel for the angle and pressure required to create the pressure flake for step 1
* developing a feel for the angle and position and pressure required to create the thinning for step 2
In the end, I ended up with 3 half finished pieces. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have a finished piece, however I was very happy with the progress I’d made and the skills acquired that I could continue to work on those pieces if I wanted to. Overall, a very good well run and guided workshop. Helpful if you have some prior experience, but not necessary. 

Sunny smiling, Rob F inspecting
Many thanks to Rob Fulton for being one of the guinea pigs, Rob Howarth for providing the cleaned period glass and these photographs, and Sunny Lum taking the time to put his reflections down on paper for me.