Friday, 5 December 2014

On the manufacture of gun-flints, Memoir of the Geological Survey 1879.

Title page of: Memoir Geological Survey. England and Wales. On the manufacture of gun-flints, the method of excavating for flint, the age of Palaeolithic Man and the connexion between Neolithic art and the gun-flint trade by Sydney B.J. Skertchly. London : HMSO, 1879.

Title page of: Memoir Geological Survey. England and Wales. On the manufacture of gun-flints, the method of excavating for flint, the age of Palaeolithic Man and the connexion between Neolithic art and the gun-flint trade by Sydney B.J. Skertchly. London : HMSO, 1879. The memoir is an exhaustive account of the making of gun-flints at Brandon in Sussex.

The memoir is a regarded as a classic by modern day flint knappers.


Sample page showing a few of the wide range of gun-flints that were available at the time - all with interesting names such as Mixed Grey or Spotted Horse Pistol, Chalk-heeled Horse Pistol, Best Carbine, Solid Grey Musket etc.

Sample page showing descriptions of the thirty-three gun-flints that were available at the time. The gun-flints had interesting names such as Mixed Grey or Spotted Horse Pistol, Chalk-heeled Horse Pistol, Best Carbine, Solid Grey Musket etc. They were all made by eye, no measurements were involved.

Illustration showing knappers at work.

Illustration showing knappers at work. Flint was mined from chalk pits, each pit lasting from six to nine months. The miners sold the flints to the flint knappers by the 'jag' which is one cart-load about equal to a ton. 

To manufacture the gun-flints there were four processes:

Drying - flint would be dried outside in the summer but in the winter it was dryed around the fire indoors.

Quartering - a block of stone is taken and quartered - they may weigh a quarter of a hundredweight to two hundredweights.

Flaking - The most difficult process and requires great skill and 'nicety of judgement'.

Knapping - The final process of forming the flakes into gun-flints. A good flake will make four, and a very good one five flints. An average workman will knap 3,000 flints in a day of 12 hours. One man working from 4 a.m. until 11 p.m. made 24,000 in a week!

Illustration showing how a flint fractures to provide a series of flakes. Just one stage in the process of making gun-flints.

Illustration showing how a flint fractures to provide a series of flakes. Just one stage in the process of making gun-flints.

Watch a video on flint mining and knapping at Brandon in the 1930s and 1940s here  and here. Definitely worth watching!

Posted by Bob McIntosh

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