Stone-Age Tools: How to Make a Stone Axe, a Stone Knife and Spear Point
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Stone-Age Tools: How to Make a Stone Axe, a Stone Knife and Spear Point

Survival in the wilderness is making do with what you have around you to work with. I have no desire to be stranded in woods for a weekend and fend for myself using Stone Age tools yet, it could happen...

Stone Age Survival Tools (Arrowheads, Spears, Hand Ax)

Survival in the wilderness is making do with what you have around you. I have no desire to be stranded in woods for a weekend or to spend two weeks in a survivalist camp or to be stranded upon a deserted island. Yet I could foresee a situation whereby I would have to resort to making stone age tools to survive. Roughing it like our Stone Age ancestors is no picnic. To paraphrase the comedian Gallagher, for me, roughing it means Black & White TV.

Still, I could see myself stranded overnight, alone in the rural country, 50 or more miles from the nearest town with no prospect of being found for a day or two. While I can do without microwave frozen food, cell phone, internet access and television, I would intend to be warm, to be protected from the weather and to have some sort of defensive protection from the animals, and of course, to eat.

History of Stone Age Peoples: Immediate Needs Are the Same

The last item on my list of must-haves, to eat, is probably the easiest but requires the most time to achieve just by virtue of the fact that one needs to do this several times per day. Knowing what wild foods are edible and how to build a fire without matches is most helpful. Some edible plants require a bit of work to acquire, digging up the deep tap root of an edible weed might take an hour or more of intense labor unless you know how to fashion an impromptu tool. Some edible plants like wild leeks however can be dug-up almost entirely by hand in some locations. The point is to not burn-up more calories than the wild foods you scrounge can provide. If you have a tool or can make a tool, do so, and use it.

Stone Age Tools Made for Necessity

Just like how the Stone Age Neanderthal tribes figured out how to create simple stone tools, knowing how to fashion a stone into even the most modest of a hand-ax could come in very handy to digging-up edible roots in a survival situation. This tool also would be useful in busting apart rotted tree stumps in search of grubs, termite or ant eggs and other edible insects. Here is a method to quickly build a impromptu stone ax, and a smaller and more portable stone knife.

With some refinement an even more complicated spear point or arrowhead can be created, a spearhead which could be attached to the end of a long straight stick.

Find a Large Rock with Flat Perpendicular Edges

a fairly typical rock for sourcing good edge shears; a good smack with another rock usually shears-off a good-sized flake or shard

Almost any rock would do. I like large rocks such as ones on the edges of streams. Porous rocks with cavities, fossil-laden and rocks that have many cracks likely won't produce the most useful creations. Choose the solid type without visible flaws. I prefer source rocks that are heavy enough to remain in place and you can pound-away at the edges with grapefruit-sized rock without greatly risking injury to your fingers, hands or other bodily parts. Injuring yourself in the creation of a tool is counterproductive to your survival needs.

Using a large hammering rock, and strike the upper leading edge of the source rock. Selectively striking the edge causes flakes and slabs of rock to shear off. Many of these will be unusable but there will be some that are promising. Various sizes can dictate what their intended purpose is for.

a palm-sized flat and sharp rock with suitable for use as a primitive hand-ax for digging-up roots and simple cutting

Here, a large slab came off and it could be used just the way it is, as a hand ax. Suitable for digging and uprooting plant roots or chopping vines to create a tangle-net upon which limbs, branches, tree bark and mosses could be laid to form a sheltered roof. This tool is a bit too heavy to carry around and its best function is as a very short-term, possible single-use tool. The blade is simple and it will dull fairly quickly with use but it still can save you hours of digging for subsistence roots using just your bare hands or even using a stick.

In order to break-off such a large chunk or slab of rock, a fairly sizable 'hammer-rock' would be necessary. Something that you can lift over your head and hammer or launch with great force down upon the source rock will get the job done. Be mindful of flying shards that will likely break away and potentially strike you in the legs, arms or face. Again, self-injury in the attempt to create a useful tool is completely unhelpful and will negatively affect your ability to fend for yourself.

It will take several tries to get the result you want, but when it happens, it usually only takes one good strike. You'll know it when it happens. Making this stone ax took about three tries and the third strike caused it to break free. Unmodified, this post-modern stone-age hand axe is basically ready to use as-is.

the simple stone-ax as it would be held, useful for striking the ground to dig-up roots and insects

One could make a handle for this and lash it together to form a hoe or more familiar short hand-axe, but we're not planning on staying lost for long. Rescue is coming. Hold to that belief. In the meantime you need to survive.

Smaller flakes that come off of the source rock (such as the single flake shown in the two images below) make a nice-sized portable stone knife. This smaller tool is more suited to delicate work such as opening-up and cutting-apart animal flesh.

This is fairly sharp and reasonably effective. Its smaller size is advantageous to carry if you must travel out of your location through zones that have no source rocks. You may find yourself in a place where there are no suitable rocks later on, such as a deep forest or grassland, so make some tools now.

Make more than one or two to carry. Losing or breaking the edge off one won't be a complete loss. The expected breakage and dulling from use won't matter much if you have more than one spare stone knife in your pocket. You will always have at least one more ready when you really need it.

Stone Age Knives Made to Order

a smaller shard of stone serves as a simple knife. The leading edge is quite sharp and can be used to cut meat or sharpen a stick into a primitive spear

the sharp edge of this simple stone knife is surprisingly sharp

Stone Age Knife or Axe: Knapping into a Spearhead or Arrowhead

You could even refine this Stone Age knife by reductive 'pressure flaking' the edges. Using another stone with a pointed tip, hold the stone knife flake in your hand and press the pointy tip of the second rock against the edge first one, pressing hard enough causes flakes and chips to break-away. Using this method, you can craft your own spearhead which could be attached to a long stick or branch. Tied in place with a bootlace, you just made a simple spear. Flint-knapping entrails exactly this; pressure flaking and calculated repeated strikes stone against stone until it shatters in a desired way.

four spearheads created using various combined techniques

(left: ) Four spearheads that I created a few years ago, using several combined techniques including methods described here. It is unlikely that you will be throwing a harpooning spear at a bison or deer but In a survival situation, encountering a slow-moving mammal on the ground such as an opossum or porcupine (or venomous snake) would make this tool on the end of a long stick most useful. -Anything to stop the meat from running away before you cook it.

The delicate stone knife created above would come in handy for field-dressing the animal after it has been killed. If you're hungry enough and committed enough to getting though this ordeal, you can do it with some degree of dignity. The hardest part is keeping your wits about you and making the necessary preparations on-the-fly to survive under more primitive conditions.

(all images and items depicted created by author)

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Comments (17)

"any thing to stop the meat from running away before you cook it"... That cracked me up.. you know I couldnt do it.. I would be eating berries, perhaps grubs...or wait.. better yet, I wouldnt get lost in the wilderness at all... Still making these tools would be VERY COOL!

stickman, just in case no one ever told you. you are a totally cool guy, a caveman at his best and then some even! I really enjoy reading your articles about making things and getting back to being green and greener than the majority of man has ever been or considered. Thank you for all your useful How to's such as Stone-Age Tools: How to Make a Stone Ax, a Stone Knife and Spear Point, most excellent!

Thanks Sara! And as soon as I'm rescued I'm off to McDonald's for a calorie-fest!

Very interesting read! Well done.

I too find your works fascinating. Hopefully we will never have to test our own endurance but you never know. Just try opening a can without the use of the electric can opener! (pop tops not included) lol

Cool article, I'm always fascinated with everything related to anthropology. I tried imagining myself actually creating and using some of these tools, LOL. I think I'll stick to my computer.

Great read and post!

That spear point is amazing.

very interesting

Nice tutorial :) , and the article lay-out is really amazing, good job!

You come up with the neatest things. I don't know if I'd ever have to make a stone knife, but who knows? I wouldn't have had a clue until now.


Excellent discussion to bring back those stone age days.

My partner will probably spend the next few days looking for just the right rock to try this. He loves all the survival stuff.

I'll never look at a rock the same way again. The possibilities are endless. :-)

Informative and entertaining. I'm glad I saved my last recommendation for the day!

Interesting reading. Tweeted!