MAKING YOUR OWN GUNFLINTS
Copyright ©1996 by Wyatt R. Knapp
The cost of high quality gunflints for flintlock muzzleloaders has really gone up. And if a person wants a special size as well then you are usually talking ordering through the mail... and who likes to wait? Well now you can make your own gunflints and have an infinite supply at such a low cost they are practically free.
A great many of the cherts that flintknappers are using to make arrowheads and points work beautifully for settin' off "Ol' Ticklicker", so if you flintknap experiment with the material you are using. From my experience though, the heat-treated stuff wears out very fast. Stick to material that's not heat-treated. I have some flints I made from heat-treated Texas Tan that'll scare you with the shower of sparks they make, but you have to resharpen the edge often. Better is the harder, raw material. I really like to use hornstone (the yellowish colored kind). The flints I make from it remind me of those fine old French gunflints from the Revolutionary days. I've used a flint made from it all afternoon without a misfire due to dull flint. It was still sharp when I was done. I'm also going to try some knife river chips that I have that look real promising.
Until you find a U.S. chert you like, my advice is to find someone who is selling that transluscent black flint from England. This is the real stuff. It sells for around $3.00 a pound currently and a two pound core of that stuff will make dozens and dozens of gunflints. You can check magazines like Primitive Archer or Muzzle Blasts for sources of English and even Danish Flints.
Here's how it's done.
If you are a flintknapper, the easiest way to get blanks for making a gunflint is to look through your debitage pile for flakes that will work after a little trimming. You'll be surprised at how many there are. You just find a flake with a distinct ridge and then trim it to the right shape and size using pressure flaking techniques. But the classic, age-old method is to work with a core and drive off blades which are then worked into separate gunflints.
Figure 1 shows a core that has been worked in preparation for taking off blade flakes. It is about the size of a grapefruit. There are some things you need to note about this core. First is the flat top. Also the general shape is cylindrical with the bottom being smaller than the top. Also there are numerous ridges for the shockwave to follow. What you do is drive the blades off the core by direct percussion using the round end of a ballpeen hammer. You hold the core in your hand with the bottom nestled in the palm of your hand (wear gloves!). I have also seen people doing this who hold the core nestled between the knees. Of course they had lain a heavy leather apron over the whole region first. In any event, the next thing you do is strike the flat top of the core just back of the edge and where there is a ridge, as shown by the red X's in figure one. After a little practice you should get long, flat blades. Figure 2 shows one of these blades after it has been shaped a bit in preparation for separation into individual gunflints. The blades will be much more irregular than this at first.
The guys who positioned the core to be held by their knees weren't using a ball peen hammer to drive off the flakes. They would place the pointy blunt tip of a straight rod of bone on the spot where they wanted to peel a flake and then they used indirect percussion from a moose antler billet, striking the top of the rod. The shock was transferred through the rod to the core and a blade came off.
In figure 3 we see that same blade and it has notches nibbled into the edge. When the blade is rapped on the area indicated by the red dotted lines, the blade should break from notch to notch into nice pieces perfect for final shaping into gunflints. Now just clamp one of them into the jaws of your flintlock and watch the shower! Now you can have the fun of making your own gunflints anytime you want.
This page was last updated on 16 March 2012.
Copyright © 1998 & 2012 by Wyatt R. Knapp