A rockin' hobby

Brodie Thomas
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Matthew English is the sort of guy you would want on your team if you ever ended up as a contestant on TV's Survivor.

English, 17, has been pursuing the art of flint knapping for the past few years. It's the practice of making hand-tools from stone and other natural materials, using the same methods pre-contact people may have used.

Using stones, wood, feathers and moose hide, he has been able to create his own bow and stone tipped arrows which - in theory - are capable of hunting small game.

He had some of his work on display at the Codroy Valley Wetlands Interpretation Centre on June 1 as part of the Feather and Folk Festival.

English said he first learned about flint knapping through one of his father's books. He sent away for a few books of his own, and before long he was hooked.

He said flint knappig doesn't have to be an expensive hobby. Other than investing in books to learn the art, he has only had to send away for one of the types of rocks he needed. All other materials were gathered around the Codroy Valley.

He was abler to find quartzite and chert along local riverbanks. But one of the best stones for making arrowheads is called obsidian. He was able to order that from the United States.

"It's almost like glass - it's a natural version of glass," said English, holding up a sharp-edged flake from a fist-sized sample of obsidian.

Anyone who has been cut by a broken piece of glass knows how sharp the edges can be. Obsidian has similar characteristics.

To make an arrowhead, he begins by breaking a flake off the obsidian or other rock with a hammer stone. His hammer stones are round granite rocks from local riverbeds.

Once he has a large flake of rock, he is able to use an antler billet - essentially a point from a moose antler - to "pressure flake" the obsidian. He uses a piece of moose hide to protect his hands while he does this.

By applying pressure to the edge, he is able to remove tiny flakes of stone and shape the flake into an arrowhead.

Obsidian, chert and quartzite have a property known as conchodial fracture. That means they tend to break apart in curved shapes, rather than in straight lines.

"Glass has the most conchodial fracture, as opposed to rock," English said.

There's more to flint knapping than just rocks. English set out to make a bow and arrow, and he had his arrow on display.

Starting with a long straight stick, he used a sharp piece of obsidian to strip the bark off and cut notches where needed. He then attached a tiny obsidian point and flights (also known as fletching) made from goose feathers to the base.

English used locally harvested moose remains to make a piece of sinew for attaching the arrowhead and fletching to the arrow.

"There were some places where they dumped moose legs and stuff," said English. "I went up and took out some tendons. I dried them out and crushed them up with a hammer stone. Then I processed them by tearing them apart."

To finish things off, English decorated the arrow with paint he made from red and blue ochre.

While the hobby is about going back to the land, English goes online for resources and to share his work on forums. He said there are plenty of instructional Youtube videos for anyone interested in trying it.

"I wouldn't call myself the best but I'm in the learning process," he said.

Organizations: Codroy Valley Wetlands Interpretation Centre

Geographic location: United States

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