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No napping while knapping

Ancient craft requires full attention to detail

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Pat Ashman, of Story City, demonstrates where to strike a piece of rock when flintknapping during a joint Webster/Hamilton County Conservation Fireside Chat at Camp WaNoKi Thursday evening.

While it’s spelled knapping, it’s pronounced napping and that — taking a little snooze — is one thing you don’t want to be doing while practicing the ancient craft of turning a rock into an arrowhead, knife or other tool.

Pat Ashman, of Story City, knows his knapping. He shared his knowledge of the craft Thursday during a Webster/Hamilton County Conservation Fireside Chat at Camp WaNoKi near Coalville.

“It’s the oldest skilled craft that humans have,” he said. “It was a big innovation once they figured it out.”

About 10 people attended the Chat and they too, got a chance to figure it out.

There’s a lot more to it than just hitting a piece of flint or chert with another rock. That only gets you a pile of chips.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Matt Mitchell, of Duncombe, center, works on a creating a tool during a joint Webster/Hamilton County Conservation Fireside Chat at Camp WaNoKi Thursday evening. Mike Christensen, of Fort Dodge, at left, and Mitchell’s wife, Libby, at right, watch him work. Matt Mitchell, of Duncombe, center, works on a creating a tool during a joint Webster/Hamilton County Conservation Fireside Chat at Camp WaNoKi Thursday evening. Mike Christensen, of Fort Dodge, at left, and Mitchell’s wife, Libby, at right, watch him work.

The skill is knowing where to strike the piece being worked, getting just the right angle and just the right amount of force.

“That’s what flint knapping is,” Ashman said. “You’re taking a controlled piece off the core. It’s continually reducing the rock.”

Matt Mitchell, of Duncombe, took a piece of chert and got down to work.

It’s already a hobby for him.

“I do this almost every night,” he said.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
A shower of chips flies off of a rock being worked on by Matt Mitchell, of Duncombe, during a Fireside Chat at Camp WaNoKi Thursday night.

He’s made several celts — a type of ax, arrowheads and he also makes his own primitive bows. He also frequently goes hiking to search for arrowheads and knappable rocks.

It’s a bit of a collection.

“My wife loves it,” he said. “The house is full of rocks.”

Brian McLoughlin, of Fort Dodge, gave it a try, too.

He managed, somehow, to chip off a section of his chert in a shape Ashman had never seen before.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Isaac Banks, 6, of Fort Dodge, takes a short break from flint­knapping Thursday evening at Camp WaNoKi to have a look at a seed pod that had endured a number of strikes from his knapping rock.

Beginner’s luck maybe. The experience was a first time for McLoughlin.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “I always wondered how they made them (arrowheads).”

He was getting the hang of it … sort of.

“I still don’t get what I’m supposed to do,” he said.

Isaac Banks, 6, of Fort Dodge, was giving it a try, too. He put his piece of chert down on the fire ring gypsum slabs and in short order, had produced an edge on the chert and a fine pile of chips. He also tried to knapp a seed pod from a tree. That didn’t work.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Pat Ashman, of Story City, at left, looks over some of the chips that came off a piece of stone Brian McLoughlin, of Fort Dodge, at right, was practicing flintknapping on Thursday night during a Campfire Chat at Camp WaNoKi.

His goal?

“Like a knife,” he said. “Or something like that.”

Ashman has to source most of his knapping stone from elsewhere.

“Iowa is not blessed with a lot of rock suitable for use,” he said.

In addition to using a hammer rock to shape the chert, other tools are used for more precise and final work. Pieces of antler can also be used to chip off pieces and their points used to apply pressure that break off even finer pieces.

Some knappers even use modern materials.

“Some of them use copper tools,” Ashman said.