Cold weather is coming, and already there have been hard frosts, a freeze or two, and even snowflakes in the air once or twice. In this part of Ohio winter lasts about six months, a lot of days sure to be dreary, nasty, windy, wet, or slushy. FarmĀ folk can be trapped in the house until walls begin closing in, and they’re looking desperately for something interesting to do, a hobby, a business, something challenging and time consuming that will pay off in the savings account.

There are lots of hobbies like that, but I’ll bet you’ve never given thought to flint knapping. And you should. Ohioans have always been interested in native Americans, so much so that many of our towns, lakes, rivers, and counties have Indian names. Is Lake Erie, Delaware, Sandusky, Miami, Maumee, and Huron familiar? We like to search for arrowheads, spear points, awls, and pipes in plowed fields too, and are thrilled when we find a good piece. So, knapping pieces of flint into beautiful spear points, knives, and other Indian implements is a natural offshoot, and converting flint into something nice and salable is easier than you think.

Chris Miller, who lives just south of Lexington, is a master flint knapper, and this 48 year old maintenance man has been in the business since high school. He started then making jewelry, embedding found arrowheads and other implements in gold and silver. Then the price of both went out of sight in the 80’s, and he might have gone on to other things if a good friend from Florida, a Seminole Indian hadn’t taught him to shape flint with a 10 penny nail and a piece of broomstick. Then a friend brought him a small arrowhead that had a broken tip. “I thought I could re-shape it.” Chris said, “and it wasn’t hard at all. The friend brought more pieces by and suddenly I was knapping flint.”

Miller learned a lot about the hobby when he attended a “Knap-in” at Flint Ridge State Park in southeastern Ohio. Some of the best flint shapers in the country were there, showing how it was done and using every imagineable type of material from obsidian to jasper. That was in 1998 and he’s attended every Knap-in since, an event held each Labor Day weekend.

Getting flint isn’t hard, either. It can be purchased from dealers like those at the Knap-in, from other dealers at flea markets and antique shows, and dug at Flint Ridge on private land at Nethers Farm. “You look for pieces that have no cracks or crystals.” Chris said. “And you’re better off buying or finding small “tabs” about the size of something you’d like to make like a spear head, than purchasing huge pieces.”

Flint, incidentally, is wonderful stuff. It’s nearly as hard as diamond, comes in colors from red to black and brown to yellow, or combinations of these, and is easy to work. If you’re feeling sorry for early Indians and even Neanderthals who had to butcher their game with flint knives, be advised that flint knives are as sharp as razors (literally), and have the advantage of easy re-sharpening when they dull by chipping a new edge.

Chris uses simple, inexpensive tools for his work. He has fairly heavy copper cylinders several inches long to break off flakes, and other copper cylinders with a screwdriver end or a sharp point for fine flaking. Add a leather patch to protect the hands and protective glasses and that’s about it. Native Americans worked even more simply, usually using a worked hammer stone and deer antlers for shaping and chipping.

Is there money to be made with your finished products? Chris does well. He makes mostly large spear heads and knives or leather piercing awls because these are sold for $10 an inch. And being both beautiful and perfect, they sell well at arts and crafts shows and flea markets. He makes an occasional arrowhead, which is much smaller, from left over chips and sometimes lovely little bird points which Indians used for small game. Among his best sellers are knives, which he inserts into either wood or deer antlers, and being a deer hunter he routinely cleans his kills with a flint knife. They’re not just ornamental.

How do you get started at flint knapping? Lots of ways. Many libraries have books on the hobby with plenty of illustrations. Go on the web and type in flint knapping or arrowhead making or flint working or whatever, and you’ll find not only books on the subject, but videos that take you along step-by-step. “I think the best way to learn is to learn from somebody who does it.” Chris said. “There are classes being taught here and there, and I occasionally teach one myself in Columbus or Fort Ancient.

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