Flintknapping: Making an Ishi Stick
(As featured in the January 2009 issue of Practically Seeking)
When pressure flaking stone, the Ishi stick provides additional leverage so that your body energy is used more efficiently and you can knapp with more precision and greater control.
Named after Ishi (1860-1916) who was known as the "last wild Indian in North America" and whose tools are still on display at the Berkeley Musuem, the Ishi Stick has become a standard piece of every modern flintknapper's tool kit.
While a "traditional" Ishi stick is usually made from antler or bone, there are many excellent versions of this tool made from modern materials. Today we will be making one from materials available at your local hardware store.
(For more information on the life of Ishi pick up a copy of the amazing book "Ishi in Two Worlds" by Theodora Kroeber. Consider looking for the Deluxe Illustrated Edition — the photos reproduced in this version are extraordinary!)
Tips & Tricks for Making an Ishi Stick
- Drill the hole for your tip slightly undersized for a good friction fit.
- This same construction technique can be easily adjusted to make larger flakers and chest crutches for prismatic blade production.
- Be sure the epoxy fills all gaps.
- A tip sharpened by hammering will last longer than one created by filing.
- The copper reduction fitting is used for wooden Ishi Sticks so the wood will not split out sideways when you are using it. If you modify these instructions to use delrin or other synthetic material you may choose to skip this step.
- Ishi used antler, bone or a soft nail for a tip. If you're feeling adventurous try making one in this "old school" style!
Step-by-step Instructions for Making an Ishi Stick:
- You'll need a 7/8" dowel piece and a 3/4" to 1/2" copper reduction coupling. Be sure to CHECK THE FIT before purchasing. The coupling must fit snuggly onto the end of the dowel, and not all doweling is created equal.
- Cut the dowel to your desired length. This will be generally between
12"–22", depending on your body size, and preferred
pressure flaking style.
- Place the reduction coupling next to the dowel so that the "shoulder" (the place where the coupling reaches it's 1/2" diameter section) is at the end of the dowel and the 3/4" end of the coupling is alongside the dowel. Mark with a pencil where the 3/4" end of the coupling finishes, and continue that mark around the full circumference of the dowel.
- Center the 1/2" end of the coupling on the end of your dowel and use your pencil to mark the inner circle of the coupling on the dowel.
- Using a small saw cut into the dowel along the circumference line you drew in Step 3, but only to a depth that matches the end circle you drew in Step 4.
- Now cut into the top of the dowel on the circle you made in Step 4, but only as far down the length as the cut you just made around the dowel's circumference. Make another cut on the opposite side, then on the third and fourth sides. We've now made our circular dowel into a square at one end.
- We are now going to turn the square into an octagon. You should be able
to see the remaining "circle" markings on the end of the dowel.
Cut off each corner on that marking — again remembering only to go as
far down the dowel as the cut-in from Step 4.
- Carefully trim or sand down the octagon into a circle until the dowel will slide completely into the reduction coupling. This should be a snug fit and require a bit of effort to accomplish. It is important to be as precise as possible, leaving no gaps between the dowel and the copper.
- Secure the reduction coupling to the dowel with a good 5-minute epoxy and allow to dry. (We use Loctite Quick Set 5-minute Epoxy.) The tip of the dowel should protrude slightly. Once the epoxy has cured and set, cut this piece off so the dowel is flush with the coupling.
- Using an awl, make a "starter" hole in the very center of the end of the dowel. This hole should be deep enough to ensure that the hole you are about to drill will go straight down and not angle off to to the side.
- Take a piece of copper wire, a copper nail, or length of copper rod that
is at least 3/16" in diameter and about 2" in length. Drill
a hole into the very center of the end of the dowel which is slightly smaller
than the diameter of your copper rod, to a depth of about 1".
(Approximately 1/2 the length of the copper rod.)
NOTE: Do not use regular copper wire. It is too soft and will bend too easily. #4 hard drawn copper wire is a very good choice and a small scrap piece may be available for purchase from your municipal power authority.
- Insert the rod into the drilled hole and tap gently with a hammer to seat it into position.
- The exposed end of your copper rod/wire/nail is likely flat, rounded, or otherwise oddly shaped, which is no good. Using a hammer, pound the end into a tapering pyramidal tip. Then use a file to retouch the tip to your desired sharpness. The finer the tip the more pressure will be delivered into the stone and the smaller platforms you can work.
So Have Fun, and Enjoy your new Ishi Stick!