Ever heard of a flint knapper or have any idea what one is? Hint: it’s not someone who steals flints from their homes while they sleep.
“Original flint knappers were guys who made gun flints in Europe,” said George Leduc, a flint knapper himself who will be demonstrating at Traditional Craft Days at Canterbury Shaker Village. “They would get some local flint and sit there and chip away at it and shape it into appropriate size and shape for putting into flintlock rifles.”
Flintlock rifles are now relics of a bygone era, but that doesn’t mean modern folks have given up on the practice. After all, Traditional Craft Days is all about showcasing skills that have been practiced by humans for centuries, so this fits right into it.
What Leduc mainly works with are projectile points – sharp stones that we would think of as arrow or spear heads. This is an old skill that comes with a bit of danger. Back in the day, flint knappers would do this all day long, breathing in all kinds of hazardous dust and particles, often leading to very early deaths. And if the dust didn’t get them, flying chips of extremely sharp stones most certainly would.
It’s for the latter reason that you won’t get to try your hand at flint knapping yourself, but you’ll get the chance to see Leduc do it as carefully as one can.
So how does someone get into flint knapping, anyway?
“Modern flint knappers are trying to do reproductions of Native American arrowheads that are found – that’s how I got involved,” Leduc said. “I’m retired, and shortly after I retired I got involved in a program called SCRAP (State Conservation and Rescue Archaeology Program), run by the state archaeologist.”
Leduc has gone on several archaeological digs around the state, including some sites that are more than 12,000 years old.
“Those are the most exciting because they’re rare,” he said. “I heard people talking about this flint knapping, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
The next thing you know, Leduc became a hobbyist flint knapper who has created dozens of projectile points. While he has gone on digs looking for good flints to make these, he admitted that is not always the best way to go about getting the material.
“The best stone to use, especially when you live around here, is stuff you mail-order for – obsidian and different types of flints that mostly come from out west,” he said. “Occasionally we get together and have a knap-in, where a bunch of people who practice this get together and share tips, exchange stones sometimes.”
At Traditional Craft Days, Leduc will show how he makes these arrowheads and will explain the process. He will have several pieces with him that he made himself, as well as some authentic arrowheads that have been donated for educational purposes. You can even check out an obsidian biface he made, which is a larger stone that people would carry with them as sort of a utility knife, chipping off pieces to use as smaller knives as they needed them. Other than that, you can just watch Leduc do his thing.
“I’ll be actively chipping away.”
Leduc, of Loudon, will demonstrate on both days of Traditional Craft Days at Canterbury Shaker Village. For more information on SCRAP, go to nh.gov/nhdhr/SCRAP.htm.