The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Daniel White

Added to museum: 6/14/07

Micro Flint-Knapping—Miniaturizing a traditional hunter's craft that goes back to pre-historic times

Dan White (Click on photo to view larger image.)

Scaling traditional techniques to extremely small sizes

Dan White has been able to create his own form of art, based on what was one of the first forms of art—flint-knapping (shaping stone by breaking off chips). He calls it "micro-knapping". Prehistoric cultures learned early on that flint could be chipped to create sharp edges for knives, arrow and spear tips. The ability to make quality points was critical, as it meant the difference between eating and going hungry. Shape and size varied widely based on use and culture, but the technique has changed very little in thousands of years. Old points are popular among collectors, and some modern craftsmen have taken to duplicating the ancient techniques, but Dan has taken it to the extreme small end of the size scale.

Over the last few years Dan has made over 100 miniature stone arrowheads. He uses a stereo microscope to reproduce the stone-age technology of flint-knapping in miniature. After months of experimenting, headaches, and stabbing himself in the fingers, he has been able to develop a technique where he can make miniature stone arrowheads the size of a grain of rice that have all the same proportions and flaking as the full-size originals. Each miniature takes between 1 and 2 hours to complete.

Tools of a new micro-trade

His tool kit consists of a thick rubber pad, a fine grinding stone, various size small nails/pins for use as pressure flakers and Scotch tape. (He must wrap his finger 4 or 5 times with tape to prevent the smaller nails from stabbing him while flaking). He like to use the most colorful stone he can find for his microscopic arrowheads. First, he starts with a flake of stone about the size and thickness of a nickel. He then begins breaking off large chips with a sharp copper nail to shape the stone down into a bi-facially flaked "pre-form". Once the pre-form is complete it's time to use the smaller nails and pins to shape it down and begin finishing the edgework and notching or fluting. Notching is done with a small nail that has been flattened and sharpened. He makes all the pressure flaking tools with the help of a microscope. Micro-knapping is basically the same as normal flint-knapping in the way each flake has to be removed in a very similar and precise manner.

Seen here are some of Dan's favorite micro points, described from left to right: 1- A T-drill style point made of Kaolin flint from Oklahoma. 2- Another T-drill style made of opal from Australia. 3- His smallest point- a paleo style fluted point made from Alibates chert from Texas. 4- An arrowhead made from striped opal from Australia. 5- A Dalton-style made from Kaolin from Oklahoma. 6- A "bolen bevel" style point made from quartz crystal from Maryland. 7- A stemmed point made from Brazilian agate. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

Scarcity of materials leads to miniature craft

Dan has been a collector for most of his life and his interest in ancient stone arrowheads is what eventually lead to his pursuit of flint-knapping. When he first started trying to make arrowheads he had no way to get large pieces of flint to practice with, so he decided to make miniature arrowheads using tiny pieces of stone that had broken off some damaged arrowheads in his collection. As far as he knows, he is the first
person to ever try flint-knapping under a microscope. Since he had never heard of this before, there was no place to go for guidelines or advice.

It took several months to develop his technique and figure out the right tools to make. After much practice and pain, he was able to make a miniature arrowhead under 2 mm long that has sharp edges and is flaked on both sides just like the full-size ones. His smallest arrowhead was considered for the Guinness Book of World Records, but because there is no category for arrowheads or flint-knapping (and they didn't feel like creating one) he was turned down. However, some of Dan's work is in the Smithsonian collection and his smallest piece has been photographed by the Smithsonian's photographer. He has sold some individual miniatures to collectors in the past but would rather keep most of them and enjoy them himself, especially since they are so difficult to make.

Early difficulties solved by better tools and techniques

When Dan first started, his only tools were the microscope, a pin for the notching, a pocket knife and some card paper. He would find the thinnest, flattest chip of stone and then shape the edges down with the tip of the knife blade while holding the stone between his fingers in a piece of card paper. The first 10 or 15 were crude looking and not bifacially flaked (flaked equally on both sides). He used the pocket knife for a while before realizing he could never get the results he wanted (bifacial flaking) with such a hard chipping tool. This is when he started using nails and placing the stone on a rubber pad to get longer pressure flakes.

One of Dan's arrowheads is shown here attached to a miniature arrow. (Click on photo to view larger image.)

When starting out and trying to teach himself how to make these tiny points, Dan would break two or three for every one he finished. After finally getting the tools and technique just right, he says he can now make two or three (if he's really careful) before he breaks one. According to Dan, "The hardest part is doing the notching and the flute flakes for the Clovis style points. Naturally, most of the breaks happen after much of the work is already finished. If I can get the arrowheads to look good under the microscope, they will look really good to the naked eye, but sometimes I break them on purpose if they don't look just right."

Dan admits that he has dropped a few of them and lost them in his carpet including a couple of his best ones. After spending over an hour looking for one he has to give up in frustration. Even so, he says working this small is worth it.

 NOTE: Dan met 2006 Craftsman of the Year David Kucer once at an antiques show. David is certainly experienced in miniature work and was very impressed with Dan's miniature arrowheads. We think you will be too.

Here are several examples of Dan White's work:

(Click any photo for a larger image.)

Dan's tool kit includes:

• A stereo microscope (it's a lot harder to make micro arrowheads without it but it can be done).
• A pressure flaker with a sharp copper nail for making the pre-forms, and some smaller pins and nails for the finer chipping work. Also there's some clear tape used to protect his finger from being poked by the nails while pressure flaking

• A small grinding stone used to grind the edge of the pre-form prior to chipping

• A rubber pad cut from a tire for placing the point on while chipping. On the pad is a red piece of stone typical of the size and shape he likes to start with. 

The penny is to show size. The small hafted knife in the center has a turtle bone handle with real sinew keeping the blade on.

Some arrowhead samples of various shapes are shown next to the tip of a toothpick for size reference.
More small points, all of a similar style are shown next to a penny.

This is Dan's smallest arrowhead, a fluted and bi-facially flaked Clovis-style point that measures just over 1 mm. According to archeologist Dr. Dennis Stanford at the Smithsonian and the people at Guinness Book of  World Records, this is the smallest knapped stone arrowhead they have ever heard of.  This is the only one he has made this small and says he doesn't think he wants to try it again. He made it several years ago and had to hold it down on his pad using a popsicle stick while flaking it with a special tool he made just for this point. It took about 1-1/2 hours to finish.

These points are all made from Alibates flint found by Dan's late friend George Chapman near Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, the famous ancient flint quarry in the Texas panhandle. George lived near the quarry and he would send Dan a pile of small flakes he picked up in exchange for a finished point or two. Dan says this is some of his favorite material to work.
These are some of the first ones Dan made from broken pieces of arrowheads. All are made from a thin flake and are only chipped on the edges.
These three glowing "opals" are all made from Australian Opal from Lightning Ridge.
He has only one picture of himself at work with his microscope. It was taken by Val Waldorf in August, 2002 at Flint Ridge, Ohio for the October, 2002 Chips publication for flint-knappers. (Vol.14, #4)
Dan has created other weapon shapes as well, from spear points to daggers. The handles were made out of tiny bones found in owl droppings.
A knife with an arrowhead-like point made from fire opal.
A miniature knife of the type chipped from obsidian.

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