Hi All, my name is Asia: I am a tool-using mammal, and happily, so are you!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rocks and Misadventure

No, no, I'm fine--it was minor misadventure.  Ok, so the knapping meetup was on Sunday, not Saturday, and I wasn't able to attend due to an unfortunate drive-thru breakfast that brought me low, my friends; low indeed. Turns out opposable thumbs are no match for PTOMAINE.  So instead of a happy post about happy fun with the happy knapping people, I'll recount some of what I've done so far, in preparation for learning to hit rocks with other rocks.

Step 1: Find people who know how to do what I want to do.  Check--thank you Internet.

Step 2. Find information about the stuff needed to do what I want to do.  The internet is my neat friend here as well.

Step 3. Acquire necessary stuff. For this particular project, I understand that I will be needing some rocks. Since it's tools that turn my crank, it's tools I'm focused on finding at the moment--I'll get material to make stuff out of later.

Luckily, the primary tools for the type of stonework I want to do are...rocks. Although modern knappers often use copper tools for working their stone, I want to learn Paleolithic methods, so it's stones I'm after--specifically hammer stones; the rocks you use to hit other rocks with. Those should be pretty easy to forage; I have a rough idea what I'm after from the poking around I've been doing on the web.

I'll also be needing some pressure flakers, and possibly some billets (cylinders of dense material that are used as hammers for finer shaping).  Both are often made of deer, elk or moose antler, which I'll have to buy, since it's the wrong season to find shed antler, and I don't know where I might collect it legally, anyway. But I'm told by the guy that runs the knapping get-together that lengths of antler are sold in pet stores as dog chews. No problem. So, ok, time to start putting together a basic set of tools.

I gather that I'll want hammer stones in a couple of different hardnesses and sizes. From all I've read, river cobbles make ideal hammer stones, so on Friday afternoon I headed down to my local creek, which runs right through town and is easily accessible from a public park.

Up the creek bed a little ways, the gravel bank is made up entirely of smoothed cobbles, tons of which are about fist-sized and a little larger; I found sandstone, quartz, granite, and a bunch of stuff that I don't remember my sixth-grade geology class well enough to identify. On inspecting the rinsed-off rocks, I found a few smooth, comfortably-sized pieces that seem like they might be good hammers--I don't really know, so I'm counting on more experienced knappers to help me evaluate my picks.

I kept two nicely-shaped oval sandstone cobbles, one a bit lighter than the other, and a couple of harder stones that were comfortable in my hand, also in a couple of different sizes. Mission accomplished--I might turn out to need something different than what I gathered, but I got some basics to start with.

Stone hunting in the creek was fun, by the way. Like, LOTS of fun, which I guess says a lot about what kind of a dork I am. I got to get my feet wet crossing the stream to the gravel side, have a nice, if slow and somewhat wobbly walk up and down the cobble bed, and found a bunch of potential hammer stones.  When I took them to a sunny spot to wash them off, I startled the hell out of a huge tadpole, his froggy legs just starting to sprout. Hunkered at the side of the creek in my straw hat and Tevas, messing about with rocks--it made me feel all cheerfully anthropological.

For a flaking tool, I bought a 7-inch antler tip at the pet store, which I haven't taken out of the package yet since they'll let me return it unopened if it's not what I need.  Again, I'll be relying on the guidance of more experienced knappers here, too. If it is a viable chunk of antler, I'll use rasps and files to shape the point for use. Once I've had some firsthand experience with borrowed tools, I'll have a better idea what size pieces to get for more flaking tools, and for making billets.

So that's the most basic beginner tools covered, at least enough for my very first try.  Total investment, for those who are interested, was $7.58, for the antler chew. I'll also be needing a lap pad (usually made of leather), and some hand pads (leather or rubber), but I can borrow those to start.

I also assembled some safety gear--gloves, safety glasses, and a little first-aid kit made of a small tube of polysporin, a short length of compression bandage, a half-used roll of micropore tape, a pair of needle-nose tweezers and a bunch of alcohol prep swabs, all crammed into a box of band-aids. I put this with all my newly-assembled knapping gear in a milk crate that will serve double duty as a stool, packed a sandwich, some fruit and a bottle of home-brewed iced tea in my tiny purple girly cooler, and promptly got food poisoning at the Burger King drive thru.

Next month, my friends.  Next month I WILL KNAP! In the meantime, I am sure to be mammalling about with tools in other pursuits; I will certainly share my doubtless AWESOME ADVENTURES here on the mammalblog.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Welcome to the MammalBlog!

Salutations, dear reader, and welcome to my brand-spankin'-new blog!  Tomorrow I am going to try my hand at flint knapping for the very first time, and I'm so nerdily PSYCHED about it that I felt I had to share.

You see, I am a tool-using mammal. I love human ingenuity, and I'm fascinated by how we've figured out the stuff we make and do. I have a degree in Sociology and Anthropology, but that's kind of peripheral to this blog; suffice it to say that I am a tinkerer who loves tools and gadgets, and the history of what we did and how we did it once we, as a species, came down out of the trees.

This blog is, I expect, going to be a hot mess of stuff that I'm interested in and/or experimenting with. Although it's putatively a hominid-centric blog, don't be surprised if I get all frothy with excitement over lemurs, otters, or other resourceful critters from various diverse phyla from time to time. Personally, I am an enthusiastic fiber and textiles geek, a rank beginner metalworker, experienced seamstress, armchair scientist, aspiring mechanical toymaker, and dabbler in a myriad other make-things-out-of-other-things pursuits. I don't expect that I'll have trouble keeping on topic, because the topic is "stuff I dig". That's called cheating, kids; read and learn.

Speaking of which, thanks for checking out my newly-hatched site! I hope you'll continue reading, and I look forward to hearing what y'all think, and what you're up to yourselves. Cheers!