I first became interested in flintknapping when I was living on the farm, working in the fields. I’d find arrowheads and I’d think, “I can make these too,” so I tried making them out of glass bottles, using the nails that were sticking out of the barn, trying to pressure flake them, but that didn’t work. I kind of put off trying for awhile after that, but later on I heard people talk about guys who could make arrowheads – So I’d go down to Coshocton county and get the Coshocton flint – I tried working with it, I’d haul it home, then haul it back and go get more. That was probably when I was in my 30’s.
So basically, I was self-taught and that’s why I have so many different techniques than everybody else does. When I first watched other flintknappers, I thought I was doing everything backwards. That was down at Flint Ridge, when I saw people like Lloyd Frye and Carl Frye. Carl was the one who started the Flint Ridge Knap-in and I think I learned the most from him over the years. That’s basically how I learned to do what I try to do.
When I started, I worked with antler billets – then I switch to solid copper. At that time, there weren’t any of the fancy billets like the ones with copper caps. I don’t think there’s really much difference between the aboriginal tools and the newer ones. It’s just what you get used to when you first start to knap and get good with. I think the real reason I’m a good knapper is just practice, practice, practice – I don’t think I have any special talent. It helped that I liked Flint Ridge flint so much too.
I think to be a good knapper you have to be really determined and focused. For people who are just starting out, I’d recommend learning to pressure flake first, that’s the easiest way to start. All of your percussion is similarly based – platforms, etc. only on a larger scale. Beginners need to make sure they get proper tools and have easier material to work with like obsidian, glass, or Flint Ridge material.
Most people who are just starting out really need to work on learning how to set up platforms and improve their accuracy. Neither one is more important than the other. It takes awhile to learn how to focus on what you’re doing. It’s not easy work - it takes a lot of determination. Watching other flintknappers is really important once you start knapping and flaking yourself, you’ll pick up on a lot of little things. I know I’d come home from watching people at the knap-in and I’d be a better knapper the very next day.
I always wanted a good source for material and, after a lot of research, I found two properties available at Flint Ridge that had good-colored flint. There are a lot of areas around there that I haven’t dug, but I think the flint from there is the best on the ridge. I can’t wait to dig there – each batch of material is so different. The material ranges from limestone to multi-colored chalcedony with every kind of chert in between. It responds well to heat treating, but Flint Ridge is one of the hardest flints to heat-treat because you might have to try a lot of different temperatures before you get it just right. The chalcedony on the cap rock takes anywhere from 375 to 650 degrees to make it show its best color and make it really knappable. I’m still learning how to heat treat better – each time I get a batch of new material I have to figure out what works best for it.
I also help run the Flint Ridge Knap-In. The Knap-In was started at Mason’s campground by Carl Frye from Akron sometime around 1982 or ‘83. There were only, maybe, 6 or 7 people there who considered themselves knappers who came, but they had a Knap-In in the Spring and one in the Fall which were both about the same size. As the Knap-Ins got bigger and the Masons got older, we switched the location to the state park at the memorial because of all the work involved. That’s when it really started to grow.
It’s much more organized now. When we first started, anybody could set up anywhere they wanted to, but now there are designated lots and aisles for everyone.
I don’t travel to too many other knap-ins anymore. I usually go to the Florida knap-in, the New York knap-in and Collinsville, Illinois . . . I used to travel more and enjoyed a lot of the knap-ins like Indiana, Kentucky and Kansas City.
I think the knappers have gotten better over the last 20 years. Their work has become more refined and they are using much more colorful and better material. Prices for lithic artwork have gone up. I think things will continue to grow over the next ten years.