My first endeavors into Stone Age technology were some terribly failed attempts at making knives out of stone shards I gathered on vacation in the Appalachian mountains. I picked stones that were already thin and sharp, but they are pretty fragile and I was unable to make anything sharp enough to cut. I mostly scraped or chopped with them. I tried to make two different spears with them, but the stones kept breaking and they were unable to make a sharp point for the spear.
Since these attempts were mostly unsuccessful I will not include the process here. The only one of these crude first attempts worth mentioning is this limestone fragment I found that works quite well as an axe. Since limestone is not a very tough material I hope to make a better axe soon, but for now I am using this:
Clearly, I need a lot of practice before I’m able to make a knife capable of functioning, so I decided to cheat a little bit and use this obsidian knife I have.
It is a genuine artifact from Central America that was found by a friend. I know it’s not exactly kosher to own historical artifacts, but this was found and brought back to the states by a well-meaning friend, so I keep it. It also hurts my archaeological sensibilities a little bit to use this, but since it’s a broken tool that was discarded by its original user, I like to think the original maker wouldn’t mind too much. If I could thank him or her I would. Eventually I will only use tools I make from scratch, but everyone has to start somewhere, including our Stone Age ancestors who certainly used tools that they did not personally make at times.
Making the Simple Spear
In order to make a spear that would be strong enough to withstand force and stay sharp for several uses, I had to chop down a hardwood tree and fire harden it. After a long time of searching for the perfect tree I settled on this small oak (at least I’m pretty sure it was an oak, but, since the leaves haven’t sprouted yet here in Michigan, it’s a bit hard to tell) and set to work.
I used my axe to hack away at the base and the top to get the straight, strong middle section I wanted. Once the axe had done its work I snapped and twisted the tree until I had the piece I wanted. The whole process took about 45 minutes and left my hands blistered and cramped.
I used the axe to make a dull point on one end and then used the axe to help me peel off the bark. This process took an entire afternoon so I had to finish the next day. The next step in the morning was to use my obsidian knife to whittle the point into one that is very, very sharp. At this point my spear was basically done except for some fine-tuning.
I could have used it right now, but the point would be dull after only one use so I had to fire harden it. Fire hardening is a pretty simple process, but it takes a long time. You simply hold the object near the heat for at least an hour all while rotating it slowly. It will darken slightly but you don’t want it to burn! If it burns it turns to charcoal and that is much weaker than wood. Since the wood is green, basically the heat makes the sap left in the wood boil and steam so that it hardens into a resin that holds the fibers of the wood together very tightly. This makes the wood very strong and durable. Here’s my final product.
People usually think of spears as having stone points, but those were much rarer than these simple spears. I may eventually make a more complex spear with a stone point, but this spear is strong and plenty sharp and will stay that way for a long time. Even into the Middle Ages spears like this were very commonly used.
It took me three tries to make a successful simple spear with Stone Age technology. It’s really amazing how much effort goes into even simple tasks like this when you have to use the tools our Stone Age ancestors used. If I had been able to use a metal axe and knife this would only have taken an hour or two, but instead it took two full afternoons.
I am working on several more projects right now and I will post them as I complete them. Future projects will get more and more complex with time and practice!