How to Make a Stone
This page shows how to make a stone axe. I made this stone axe as part of the course BIOL350:
Aboriginal Impact on Australian Ecosystems, taught by Dr
Jim Kohen at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. It is
known as an edge-ground axe
the stone axe head is ground to a sharp edge, rather than flaked
would be done using flintknapping techniques).
When I was around 9 or 10 years old, I made a great many stone axes.
However at the time I had no idea about construction techniques
other than what I thought up myself. The difficult part was how to
haft, or attach, the stone axe head onto the handle. I
used some sort of string or rope to tie them together, or sometimes
I used a vine found
this was more "natural", however they never held together very long.
Tools attached to handles are known as hafted, which means
"attached to a handle".
Edge-ground axes have been dated as early as 25,000 years ago in
Arnhem Land, Australia, and 31,000 years ago in Cape York. This is
the earliest known use of edge-ground axes anywhere in the world.
They were not used in the southern parts of Australia until much
more recently, in the last few thousand years. In about the last
1,000 years they became much more popular in the south of Australia.
This reflects a change in hunting practices, where large-game hunting
was done less in favour of small-game hunting. In the south, much
of this small game consisted of arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammals,
Edge-ground axes were used to cut footholds to climb trees,
cut into the tree hollows to reach the animals as they slept during
The edge-ground axe was constructed using a combination of traditional
materials and methods, and substitutes closely resembling those. The
stone axe is shown below as it was after the university practical
class was finished. The axe is basically complete apart from sharpening
the stone, as there was not sufficient time in class for this.
Materials Used for the Stone Axe
materials used in making the stone axe were as follows:
Privet (Ligustrum spp.) stem was used for the wooden handle. Privet
was used because it is a suitable wood, and it is considered favourable
to harvest an introduced weed, rather than a native plant as would
have been used traditionally. The wood must be freshly harvested
(“green”) so it can be bent through 180º without
A number of basalt river stones were provided and one of these was
selected for use as the axe head. Basalt was the most common stone
used for edge-ground axe heads in the Sydney region, and its most
common source was the Hawkesbury river. Chert can be flaked into
a very sharp edge but is much too brittle to withstand the pressure
of repeated chopping required of an axe head.
Fibre from the inner bark of the hibiscus bush (Malvaceae family)
was used to make the string for tying the axe together. Other suitable
plants are Paddy's Lucerne (Sida rhombifolia, also in the Malvaceae
family) and Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus, Sterculiaceae family).
Native beeswax was used as a glue to hold the head firmly in place.
Methods Used in Making the Stone Axe
A modern pruning saw was used to harvest the privet.
The most difficult part of the entire process was the splitting
of the privet stem down the middle. Several attempts had to be made
at this before a suitable split was achieved, that is, one that was
reasonably symmetrical and not overly twisted. Once this was done,
the centre section of the stem (that which would form the very topmost
part of the axe, i.e. the apex of the 180º bend) was thinned
out using a rasp. Most of the other students used a sharp piece of
stone for this, however my stem was rather thick so I used a blunt
metal hand saw as a rasp, which was much faster than using stone.
Once this was done the next step was to heat the privet stem so
it could be bent through 180º to hold the stone axe head. Heating
was done with an old square “Sunbeam” aluminium kitchen
frypan that had been filled with sand and gravel and left turned
on for a few hours to heat up. Traditionally the hot sand under a
fire would have been used for this. The wood was partially buried
in the sand, and gradually bent through the required angle. It was
necessary to peel away layers of wood from the outside of the shaft,
close to the apex of the bend, to allow the stem to bend over a reasonably
large radius. This was an important part of the process, without
which the stem was inclined to bend in only the one place (the very
apex), which would have resulted in the wood breaking.
Once the stem was sufficiently bent, a stone was selected and placed
inside the apex of the bend, temporarily held in by the pressure
exerted by the two handle halves.
Cordage was made from the hibiscus bark fibres as follows: First
the fibres were wet under a tap. Next they were twisted between the
fingers, and folded back over itself so there were two separate bundles
of twisted fibres, and these bundles were twisted over each other
to make a 2-ply cord. The twisting was continued until the lengths
of fibre were entirely twisted into cord.
The direction of twisting
is shown in the diagram below, taken from “The
10 Bushcraft Books” by Richard Graves. Each inner bundle is twisted in the
same direction (in this example clockwise as viewed from the right
hand side of the diagram looking toward the left side), and then
the two bundles are twisted over each other in the opposite direction
to that (in this case anticlockwise).
The cordage was then used to tie around the axe head, tightly binding
the head to the shaft and holding the two halves of the shafts
together. Another piece was used at the opposite (handle) end of
the shaft, to tie the two halves together against each other, shown
in the picture below.
also the cordage section of this
The Final Steps in Making the Stone Axe
Finally, native beeswax was heated using the frypan and moulded
around the spaces between the stone and the handle.
The stone axe head was not sharpened as there was insufficient time
in class for this. If there had been time, the stone would have been
ground on a large piece of sandstone under running water (in a laboratory
sink). The water washes away dust and allows for much faster grinding.
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