SMART Archaeology glass arrowhead workshop

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On Sunday I was fortunate enough to run a workshop for the South Manchester Archaeology Research Team using bottle glass to produce an arrowhead. My aim from this session was to get photos and feedback on my teaching and how I am organising the process for the learner.

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I now have a very structured approach and clear outcomes for the session: use hard hammer, soft hammer and pressure flaker; produce something like a Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead; recognise that the equipment needed is all accessible and therefore personal practice can be developed (if desired).


smart 7All those boxes were ticked. I also added a feedback section that was designed to be useful to me, but also encourage some reflection by the participants on what they had learned. This is following Kolb’s learning cycle model and I think it is a valuable addition.

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Feedback from a previous participant has encouraged me to use a whiteboard, in particular to explain platform angles. Having a clearly established process allows me to punctuate it with whiteboard explanations before the participants have to do it. This too is really useful.

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Pressure flaking: it is not easy, and not easy to get people up and running with it in a three or so hour session. Consequently, the later stages involved a little interference by me to get rid of any difficult bits. I have a barb and tang flint arrowhead produced on a flake and made by me. One side of it has a nice row of deep invasive removals. They were produced by John Lord showing me how to pressure flake. The opposite side has an intermittent row of shallow flakes produced by me, not really getting it. I think if John Lord does a bit on his students arrowheads, then it is totally legit.

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And everyone did go home with something approaching a barb and tang Bronze Age arrowhead. I would like to thank Ellen McInnes for suggesting this and Andrea Grimshaw for the organisation and making it happen. Based upon the feedback I can say that we all got something from the day and I think we all enjoyed each others company, so a result!


The tools I use

This is a reference page to illustrate the free availability of materials that can be re-purposed for the production of stone tools. I really began to improve when I had tools and materials with which to practice and make mistakes. That is why I now love working with glass, and I value the process of re-purposing everyday objects to facilitate stone tool making. I see it as a test of my own ingenuity and understanding (e.g. will it work?). I also enjoy the minimal costs associated with re-purposing, as it makes this activity freely available to anyone prepared to invest the time and effort. Onto my toolkit.


Carpet off-cuts. As discussed here I have found carpet off-cuts to be ideal leg protector material. Their free availability means that they are great for workshops as I can make lots for absolutely no financial cost, and minimal time and effort. The above ‘book’ was given to me by my neighbour, Ashif the carpet fitter. Carpet off-cuts receive a 10/10 in my imaginary marking regime.


Hammerstones. Let’s go to the beach. I have a selection of hammerstones of many different materials and sizes and they serve a number of functions. The big ones are useful for breaking up large flint nodules as illustrated here. The first example in the above picture has seen a lot of service and its elongated shape makes it also good for abrading edges as well. The third stone is not a hammerstone, but my abrading stone. Smaller hammerstones can also be used for tasks such as quartering glass bottles as discussed here. Hammerstones receive a 10/10 in my imaginary marking regime.


Antler hammers. Also known as soft hammers, or even dog chews. This is my favourite and was bought from a pet shop, sold as a dog chew and cost I think about £6. I have since bought a slightly bigger ‘real’ one from Scotland for £9. That is also pretty good. These are useful tools for thinning a piece of flint or glass as they almost peel off layers of material. I have some example soft hammer flakes that I show when teaching someone how to use a soft hammer. If they can master producing nice thinning flakes, the end result is a nicely thinned piece. Antler hammers receive only an 8/10 in my imaginary marking regime, mainly because they cost me money. I will be trying wood at some point soon. Free wood.


Copper pressure flakers. This helps if you have builder friends, of which I have one. I have acquired a pipe cutter and have been given waste copper pipe. Copper is now quite valuable and these would have been cashed in for scrap, so they do have a financial value attached. However, Joe Curley was good enough to furnish me with enough to make twelve pressure flakers of two different diameters. Enough to run a workshop. I flatten the ends and use the point for pressure flaking glass and they work well. They do need regular re-sharpening with a hacksaw and file. I have used a ‘proper’ copper pressure flaker as owned by a colleague and it does work better. Because of this performance issue these re-purposed copper pipes get 8/10.

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Soft iron pressure flakers. This is based upon an Ishi type pressure flaker and its production method is detailed here and here. This type also needs regular sharpening with a file, but it is easy to replace the nail when it has worn down. It is now my favourite tool and although there is a cost attached to the production it still gets 10/10 because I like using it so much.

I love these tools because they have allowed me to practice and get better. The free availability of these materials has also allowed me to share my enjoyment and my equipment with others who have made the mistake of expressing an interest. In turn, I now learn a lot from the other people I practice with. We get real excitement from sharing a new revelation, or a newly recognised free source of materials. I could at this point segue onto the social aspects of flintknapping in the present and past. However, the next post will be an accompaniment to this one and discussing freely available materials. Probably.

My ‘Soft & Sumptuous’ leg protectors have arrived

Many thanks to my neighbour Ashif from L.L.C. Carpet and Laminate flooring.


He fitted some carpet and laminate for us earlier this year and told me at the time that they had to pay to dispose of off-cuts. My ‘leg-protectors’ are made from exactly such carpet off-cuts and work really well. Having now done a few workshops it became clear that I could use a few more leg protectors. This week Ashif popped round with this ‘book’ of twelve carpet samples. I had told him what I needed and asked him for off-cuts, but he thought these may work better because of the stitched

These are carpet they no longer sell, and as well as being ‘soft and sumptuous‘ and made in Great Britain, they are absolutely free and rescued from landfill. Ashif may not fully comprehend my enthusiasm for free and recycled flintknapping equipment, however I do fully appreciate his excellent after sales customer service. Many thanks Ashif!


Flint knapping, 3D printing and primary school workshops

I have some workshops planned aimed at primary school children studying the prehistory of Britain. Following the theme of this blog, one of the activities is to bring together the components necessary for the kids to make a Bronze Age arrow. Rightly or wrongly, I am a little cautious about letting small children loose with flint or glass arrowheads so I thought I would get some 3D prints. The flint originals were a Neolithic leaf shaped example and a Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead both produced by John Lord for Elizabeth Healey’s teaching collection . These originals were scanned in by a colleague Tom O’Mahoney.



Tom also scanned one of my glass barb and tang arrowheads to see how the scanner would cope with a reflective and transparent material. This example had to be covered in talcum powder before scanning.


After scanning, two prints of each of the flint versions was produced for me by Ed Keefe from the print unit at Manchester Metropolitan University (ManMet).


The first two examples on the left have some horizontal lines running across. Ed described this as similar to when a photocopier is running low on toner. Consequently he printed them again in the more transparent material. The second two are excellent ‘plastic’ reproductions of ‘original’ flint reproductions. However, the most impressive aspect is the price. Because prints are priced by the cubic centimetre each arrowhead worked out at £2.50. Full colour versions would have cost £3.50. My scans can be uploaded to sites such as Sketchfab or Thingiverse and therefore downloaded free of charge by teachers with the print costs being minimal.

The workshops are still at the planning stage, but I have been impressed by the results and the prices for this process. I would certainly recommend the 3D print facility at ManMet to anyone who thinks the process may be useful to them. Ultimately though, it depends what the kids think!

The art of thinning and notching

Learning through making

Today we had an experimental session at the University of Manchester with a range of lithics enthusiasts and experimenters. It brought home to me again the import of thinning, and difficulty explaining how it works. I have a better understanding of the problems of steep angles now, they are simply pressure flaking platforms waiting to be exploited. All good, but I was not able to get anyone to get a piece thinner than 6mm. This is effectively the original thickness without bifacial thinning. I know from my own experience, and actual Bronze Age arrowheads on the Portable Antiquities database, that 5mm is necessary to have a good chance of successful notching. I need to be able to do it consistently, and then explain how I am doing it. That is my next learning and teaching task, transitioning from doing to facilitating. I am going to see if anyone is interested in a thinning and notching session. On the plus side, drawing attention to the sound of the hits was indeed a useful strategy.

Making an arrowhead from a beer bottle…workshop(s)

Learning through making

Last week I had the opportunity to run a workshop with the experimental archaeology group at the University of Chester (thanks Barry Taylor). The aim was for individuals to go from zero experience to producing a barb and tang arrowhead from a glass bottle. It went pretty well in that almost everyone (sorry Barry Taylor) came away with something approaching an arrowhead. Perhaps more usefully it introduced the participants to the joy of knapping, as well as the functions and effects of hard hammer, soft hammer, and pressure flaking. It brought home to me again, how difficult the thinning process is, and also, how difficult it is to teach. One thing that worked well was encouraging people to listen to the sound of their hits, and to identify the sound associated with the result they wanted. A second aspect that has occurred to me afterwards is perhaps to shift the focus onto producing the kind of flakes required. If someone understands how to consistently produce thinning flakes, then actually thinning a piece of glass should become easier. Easier perhaps than being focused upon the more complex goal of trying to make an arrowhead. I am running the same workshop in 2 weeks time at the University of Manchester with third year lithics students (thanks to Elizabeth Healey). I will test this idea to see if it helps a person to master the thinning process. Let’s see.