Sharp Line


In keeping with the simplicity of yesterday’s post, this is another single line on a coloured background. At this point I should just get people to guess what this is. While that would be fun, it would water down the lead in to another series I am going to start here, but possibly not continue until quite a few days from now.

This summer I spent some time with Dan Stueber, a terrific flintknapper from Oregon. I have previously featured a replica spear point that he made. He comes to teach at U-Vic most summers. We had a plan to shoot some timelapse of him making tools, a plan that started but is by no means concluded. He will be back, and with luck we can shoot some more. There is quite a lot to learn about what works in terms of frames per second, angle of view, lighting, and so on. This series will continue with more from shots of his set up and some of his work,

So, this photo is a row of students’ or teacher’s waste flakes, all obsidian, caught in a fold in the tarp laid down to keep them out of the grass. Obsidian is a volcanic glass and when it is first flaked the edge can be as sharp as one molecule thickness. There is little that is sharper, and indeed, stone tools are sometimes made for surgery as they cut more cleanly, and the wounds heal faster and with less scarring than the sharpest steel instruments. You don’t want to walk over this in bare feet, or get one of these down the edge of your shoe and sock, a bit of an occupational hazard for the modern flint knapper.



Canon 5Dii, Canon 100/f2.8 macro, f3.5, 1/160th.


5 thoughts on “Sharp Line

  1. Pingback: Tool Maker’s Tools | burnt embers

  2. I have a piece of obsidian from a company that made a machine called “Obsidian”. They gave the samples out to customers and patrons a few years back. The company was purchased by Applied Materials and they discontinued the Obsidian, but I kept my sample. It’s black and glossy and really beautiful for those who appreciate rocks and minerals. This is really nice, too.


    • Thanks Ken. Obsidian is a wonderful material. It comes in many colours, red, green, blue, speckled grey, black and mixtures of colours. This obsidian has a lot of reddish orange banding in it and comes from Glass Buttes in Oregon.

      One cool thing about obsidian is that each volcanic outcrop or flow (source) has it’s own geochemical signature. Thus, you can analyse obsidian and see where it came from.

      Since it is a beautiful rock that is easy to work, exceptionally sharp and makes pretty tools, it was widely traded. The major sources all have quite interesting distributions.
      For instance, Glass Buttes obsidian is quite common in southern British Columbia, especially in the coastal areas. A bit further north, other sources are more common. The closer you get to a source, the cheaper is the material as it does not have to travel so far. So there is typically a zone of overlap and then lessening density as rock from one source nears another source.

      Obsidian has been traded in this area much further than 1000 miles, and that trade was taking place for considerably more than 6000 years, probably for as long as people have lived here.


  3. Thanks Joseph. For me what was fascinating was the nice straight lines. Every night the tarp is folded up under a shelter and weighed down. In the mornings when it is reopened, the obsidian flakes have collected in a few areas – these ones were not spread around by that day’s class and thus still contained in the opened fold from the night before.


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