1) Many people who sell knapping stone do not know how to grade it very well for flintknapping.
Silica is available at about 3 cents per pound in the form of gravel and up to 1500 dollars per pound in the form of semiprecious stones. Knappable silica is somewhere between these two figures in value, and the skill of the vendor at stone grading and his familiarity with the specific stone he sells are your only reliable access to value. Someone who offers you graded stone for less than a dollar a pound is probably offering you what most flintknappers would call "gravel".
2) For best value, purchase your supplies and tools from one dealer, especially while you are learning the basics.
Knapping materials vary, and purchasing your tools from the dealer that offers the stone can help to ensure success. Some billets don't work well with everything.
3) Learn to flintknap with the best material you can acquire, then move on to experimenting with all of the lower grade materials that may look more like the stone your own local Indians had to use 'cause they couldn't get the good stuff.
Heated Arkansas novaculite is a near perfect stone for the beginning flintknapper. Novaculite is less brittle than obsidian and is much safer to use. It is far more consistent than chert, can be reliably heated to knappability, and is consistently available in larger high grade pieces than other forms of silica.
Students typically learn faster with heated novaculite and experienced knappers who demonstrate look extremely competent when using novaculite as opposed to less consistent materials.
We do not recommend obsidian for beginnning flintknapping because:
a) It behaves too much like glass, and one is generally better trained by using a material more like natural stone, and
b) It is very dangerous to chip and will leave you bleeding.
5) Whenever possible, obtain your stone from the people who mined it, and who mined it FOR FLINTKNAPPING.
If the person who supplies your knapping stone has purchased it second or third hand, the likelihood is great that you are getting second or third rate materials. While many dealers may protest that their stone is "#1 quality", if they did not do the mining and are not experienced flintknappers they might not even know what the best material looks like.
a) Is this stone heated?
If it is not, it will probably be very difficult to work especially for a beginner. The exception is obsidian.
There is a tremendous difference in material that CAN be worked raw and material that can EASILY be worked raw. After teaching hundreds of students our advice is that your first 50 lbs of material be graded and heated.
b) Is this material spalled and bifaced?
If it is not, it CANNOT be graded as well as processed material, and is a risky buy. Most beginners ruin more material than they successfully spall (strike into large flakes) from blocks.
Don't be snookered into "comparing apples to oranges". Knapping material sold as a ten pound, six inch block for a dollar a pound might not make even a single 4 inch spall. But if you buy #1 graded spalled material with the size listed you will know what you are getting and might get several four inch spalls PER POUND. Two pounds of $5.00 per pound material could very easily yield you more usable stone than 10 or 12 pounds of blocks or poorly graded stone.
The rule of thumb for knapping stone value goes basically as follows:
RAW stone is generally worth less than 50 cents per pound.
SPALLING the stone into prime spalls adds about a dollar a pound to the value.
HEATING the stone adds another dollar or so to the value of the stone.
CLEANING and BIFACING the stone rapidly adds to the value.
If your dealer has been in business for a long time, you usually get your dollar's worth in higher priced stone.
c) What is your spall width to thickness ratio?
If they do not know what you are talking about, they probably cannot grade stone effectively. Slight variation in the thickness of spalls or flakes can mean many more or less pieces per pound and much lower value.
d) How much of this stone have you personally used for flintknapping?
A dealer/flintknapper will have used many pounds of his favorite materials.
25 years of commercial knapping stone sales mean that the beginning flintknapper or the wholesale buyer can buy from us with confidence.
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