Ishi Sticks

Flintknapping: Making an Ishi Stick

(As featured in the January 2009 issue of Practically Seeking)

When pressure flaking stone, the Ishi stick provides additional leverage so that your body energy is used more efficiently and you can knapp with more precision and greater control.

Named after Ishi (1860-1916) who was known as the "last wild Indian in North America" and whose tools are still on display at the Berkeley Musuem, the Ishi Stick has become a standard piece of every modern flintknapper's tool kit.

While a "traditional" Ishi stick is usually made from antler or bone, there are many excellent versions of this tool made from modern materials. Today we will be making one from materials available at your local hardware store.

(For more information on the life of Ishi pick up a copy of the amazing book "Ishi in Two Worlds" by Theodora Kroeber. Consider looking for the Deluxe Illustrated Edition — the photos reproduced in this version are extraordinary!)

Tips & Tricks for Making an Ishi Stick

Step-by-step Instructions for Making an Ishi Stick:

  1. You'll need a 7/8" dowel piece and a 3/4" to 1/2" copper reduction coupling. Be sure to CHECK THE FIT before purchasing. The coupling must fit snuggly onto the end of the dowel, and not all doweling is created equal.
  2. Materials for making an Ishi Stick Make sure of a snug fit

  3. Cut the dowel to your desired length. This will be generally between 12"–22", depending on your body size, and preferred pressure flaking style.
  4. Measure dowel to length Cut down to length

  5. Place the reduction coupling next to the dowel so that the "shoulder" (the place where the coupling reaches it's 1/2"  diameter section) is at the end of the dowel and the 3/4" end of the coupling is alongside the dowel. Mark with a pencil where the 3/4" end of the coupling finishes, and continue that mark around the full circumference of the dowel.
  6. Measure the coupling length This is the shoulder Mark all the way around the circumference

  7. Center the 1/2" end of the coupling on the end of your dowel and use your pencil to mark the inner circle of the coupling on the dowel.
  8. Center the coupling on the dowel Mark the placement Pencil marks

  9. Using a small saw cut into the dowel along the circumference line you drew in Step 3, but only to a depth that matches the end circle you drew in Step 4.
  10. Cut around the circumference Cut only to line depth Watch your depth

  11. Now cut into the top of the dowel on the circle you made in Step 4, but only as far down the length as the cut you just made around the dowel's circumference. Make another cut on the opposite side, then on the third and fourth sides. We've now made our circular dowel into a square at one end.
  12. Cut on the circle Cut only to the circumference line Circle is now a square

  13. We are now going to turn the square into an octagon. You should be able to see the remaining "circle" markings on the end of the dowel. Cut off each corner on that marking — again remembering only to go as far down the dowel as the cut-in from Step 4.
  14. Cut off the square corners Now we have an octagon

  15. Carefully trim or sand down the octagon into a circle until the dowel will slide completely into the reduction coupling. This should be a snug fit and require a bit of effort to accomplish. It is important to be as precise as possible, leaving no gaps between the dowel and the copper.
  16. Round out the octagon Make sure the coupling fits very snug

  17. Secure the reduction coupling to the dowel with a  good 5-minute epoxy and allow to dry. (We use Loctite Quick Set 5-minute Epoxy.) The tip of the dowel should protrude slightly. Once the epoxy has cured and set, cut this piece off so the dowel is flush with the coupling.
  18. Use Epoxy to afix Set the coupling into place Cut off protruding end

  19. Using an awl, make a "starter" hole in the very center of the end of the dowel. This hole should be deep enough to ensure that the hole you are about to drill will go straight down and not angle off to to the side.
  20. Use and awl to mark your center hole Make sure the hold is centered

  21. Take a piece of copper wire, a copper nail, or length of copper rod that is at least 3/16" in diameter and about 2" in length. Drill a hole into the very center of the end of the dowel which is slightly smaller than the diameter of your copper rod, to a depth of about 1". (Approximately 1/2 the length of the copper rod.)
    NOTE: Do not use regular copper wire. It is too soft and will bend too easily. #4 hard drawn copper wire is a very good choice and a small scrap piece may be available for purchase from your municipal power authority.
  22. Drill bit just smaller than copper rod Drill hole for copper tip

  23. Insert the rod into the drilled hole and tap gently with a hammer to seat it into position.
  24. Tap with hammer to seat copper tip Half the lentgh

  25. The exposed end of your copper rod/wire/nail is likely flat, rounded, or otherwise oddly shaped, which is no good. Using a hammer, pound the end into a tapering pyramidal tip. Then use a file to retouch the tip to your desired sharpness. The finer the tip the more pressure will be delivered into the stone and the smaller platforms you can work.
  26. Pound tip to pyramid shape Use file to retouch Pointed tip

    So Have Fun, and Enjoy your new Ishi Stick!