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Neolithic adze from Ash wood

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JerseyBill

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Hi.
I am a self-confessed ignoramus in the wood-working realm! Other than some pen turning my only experience has been building a replica Neolithic longhouse with other volunteers between 2016 and 2018. So timber working skills are limited to axe, adze and chisel work. As part of the on-going project to explain the Neolithic to visitors and school children, I now want to create some replica, usable, Neolithic adzes - i.e. stone "blades" attached to wooden hafts. I have got hold of some freshly felled ash and I'm removing the bark. I don't have a clue as to whether the timber needs seasoning, if it does how best to do it, how long it takes, how to stop it cracking etc. I understand that ash has good shock resistance and strength, and yet is workable - and I want to do this asap and without using power tools. Any ideas / advice???
Cheers all!
Bill
 

LJM

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I made such an axe, along with a bronze bladed one, for my undergraduate dicertatcion, a long time ago! If you’re aiming for authenticity, you obviously need to work the wood with stone blades. Otherwise, tools such as draw knives and spoke shaves would be close to the technology available then. Green ash works very nicely. As you will know, evidence of how tools were halted is scant (because the wood typically rots, leaving just the stone blade, and perhaps leather used to secure it), so unless you have a local example, I’d suggest looking at examples of surviving handles and choosing the style that suits your wood the best.
 

joshvegas

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I imagine your approach should be.

Build it as quickly as possibly from what's to hand.

I can't imagine your typical neolithic gentleman being too fussed on moisture content. You should probably 'just do it' and you'll end up with a far more accurate replica than a planned and measured approach.

Were they not normally formed from a piece of branch base and trunk with the stone lashed on?
 

Rorschach

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I imagine your approach should be.

Build it as quickly as possibly from what's to hand.

I can't imagine your typical neolithic gentleman being too fussed on moisture content. You should probably 'just do it' and you'll end up with a far more accurate replica than a planned and measured approach.

Were they not normally formed from a piece of branch base and trunk with the stone lashed on?
I'm not sure I entirely agree there.

Certainly if you had no tools at all you would want to get something workable as quickly as possible but most people wouldn't have been in that situation.

Tools would have been a succession of improvements. You make a tool quickly and crudely, then you use that tool to make a better one that lasts longer, and then you use that tool....... and so on.
In the absence of a TV I think they would have put care and time into making the best tool they could manage so I don't think it would be unfair to do the same now, obviously using equipment of the time of course.
 

JerseyBill

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I made such an axe, along with a bronze bladed one, for my undergraduate dicertatcion, a long time ago! If you’re aiming for authenticity, you obviously need to work the wood with stone blades. Otherwise, tools such as draw knives and spoke shaves would be close to the technology available then. Green ash works very nicely. As you will know, evidence of how tools were halted is scant (because the wood typically rots, leaving just the stone blade, and perhaps leather used to secure it), so unless you have a local example, I’d suggest looking at examples of surviving handles and choosing the style that suits your wood the best.
Many thanks LJM (and others who have responded).
Great to hear from someone who has already done it! I do intend to use tools as authentic as possible.
I am basing the design on the stone blade and the imprint of the decayed wooden handle found at the well site near Leipzig in Germany. It did appear to be made from branch base and trunk junction (as per joshvegas post). ExArc conducted experiments using adzes recreated from that find and similar evidence in Europe. School children find this sort of thing amazing and it's great to be able to demonstrate the tools that would have been used to build our Longhouse.
Thanks again, all, much appreciate your input.
 

JerseyBill

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I'm not sure I entirely agree there.

Certainly if you had no tools at all you would want to get something workable as quickly as possible but most people wouldn't have been in that situation.

Tools would have been a succession of improvements. You make a tool quickly and crudely, then you use that tool to make a better one that lasts longer, and then you use that tool....... and so on.
In the absence of a TV I think they would have put care and time into making the best tool they could manage so I don't think it would be unfair to do the same now, obviously using equipment of the time of course.
Thanks Rorschach. I think that your point about an evolving process of better and better tools is very valid. joshvegas is right, in that the first tool would have been a bit rough-and-ready as necessity demanded - but later tools would have been better fashioned with much more care. We know, for example, that the Neolithic spent many, many hours polishing the stone tools to get the cleanest cutting edge possible. They were exceptionally gifted craftspeople and appear to have taken great pride in the quality of their work.
Thanks again all!
 

LJM

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By the Neolithic, tools were pretty well developed, including composite blades and projectiles, so I don’t see any reason to believe that they would be crude or simply knocked up; think of a tool that we might use daily today, indeed rely upon. I doubt that it many of us are happy with something knocked up. A great deal of skill and thought went into blade production, and the shafts and handles would surely match that.
 

pe2dave

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I now want to create some replica, usable, Neolithic adzes - i.e. stone "blades" attached to wooden hafts.
Bill

Just questionning the 'stone' Bill? When did flint become a predominant 'blade' material?
I'm sure your contacts would help? I can't imagine any 'stone' being used as a cutting edge?
(I may be wrong)
 

JerseyBill

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Just questionning the 'stone' Bill? When did flint become a predominant 'blade' material?
I'm sure your contacts would help? I can't imagine any 'stone' being used as a cutting edge?
(I may be wrong)
Hi Dave. From what I have read, flint was frequently the "stone of choice". During the earlier "stone ages" it would be just knapped and left fairly rough, but the Neolithic was named for the polished tools that our ancestors had started to develop and prefer. But flint is rare in some places and so, whilst trading did occur, they had to use what they could get their hands on. Obsidian, granite, quartzite, and others are all mentioned in the texts - and some are better then flint as a tool, but harder to work and create a sharp edge. This, too, is going to part of my experiment. Thanks for your input - much appreciated.
 

LJM

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Obsidian is still used for surgical blades as it produces a finer, harder wearing edge and a cleaner cut than steel
 

Woody2Shoes

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Stone (and not just flint) was used for neolithic axe heads British Neolithic Axehead Distributions and Their Implications
Stones may have come from sources in the alps, amongst other places.
Ash starts off with a low moisture content and would not take long to dry further e.g. by a fire for a week or three in reasonably thin cross-sections like a tool handle. As long as the log has been riven into two or more parts by splitting with e.g. wedges, it's unlikely to split much while drying. Maybe they used animal fat and/or beeswax to seal the wood once worked and dried (as said above, green wood much easier to work).
 

Cabinetman

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It’s quite possible that they dried it by the fire as has just described, then attached the stone/Flint head followed by soaking it to make the wood swell thereby gripping the stone better.
Or as I have just looked up they could have wrapped the joint with wet rawhide which then would shrink by up to 10% as it dried. Ian
 

Bm101

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If you think of people living their entire lives 'in nature' if you like, you have to reason their understanding of their environments while limited in some perspectives compared to modern 'knowledge' would have have been vastly superior in others. The dense caveman ancestor idea has long been dismissed. The rate of change of was vastly slower but our perceptions of prehistoric civilisations are being drastically updated and changed all the time.
If you lived in that environment you would be constantly looking for any advantage just as you do now. People living at that time were held back by limited technologies not inferior brain power. There's a reason small bipedal mammals who can only do most things badly came to conquer and subjugate their environment.
Spears with the heads cut from roots then fire hardened is one small example. The root part of the particular species being harder than the wood growing above soil. Then used in an extension of the arm like the atlatl. You only have to look at the culture of the aboriginal people of Australia or North America even.
Just perspective isn't it really.
Back to the original question I'd use green ash and green woodworking tools and techniques. Split the head and wedge with dried wood.
Green woodwork really hasn't changed for a very very very long time. Really you are looking at a bill hook, saw, drawknife, mallet in the round, a means of drilling holes, a shave horse and skill, knowledge and ingenuity. That really sort of covers all woodwork up to fairly modern times doesn't it? From a bucket for the milk maid to medieval cathedral building. Okay planes and chisels. Resins, beeswax and cowpish for curing leather and million other things like herbal remedies we only remember from plant names and so on. Mostly human knowledge is just telling the younguns what you know and their impatience for change leading to tiny tiny advancements. Till we hit the industrial era and then it's all gone downhill rapidly lol. Ok. Now I'm really generalizing. :D
 

dannyr

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There is a very active and knowledgeable stone and Flintknapping community on the Primitive Archer forum that would be very happy to help.
A couple of years ago I chanced on a very expert flint-knapping for tool making demonstration by an interesting man with long hair and dressed in an all-animal-skins outfit. Quick, impressive, highly skilled ---- anyone recognise this description?

The results were faceted flint tools of high quality, not polished but sharp and could be hafted - no doubt with a leather or gut thong and a pine resin glue.

I don't know his name but I'm sure he's known by primitive archer or similar communities.
 

mikej460

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I'm no expert on the matter but I recall reading once that stone age people traded
A couple of years ago I chanced on a very expert flint-knapping for tool making demonstration by an interesting man with long hair and dressed in an all-animal-skins outfit. Quick, impressive, highly skilled ---- anyone recognise this description?

The results were faceted flint tools of high quality, not polished but sharp and could be hafted - no doubt with a leather or gut thong and a pine resin glue.

I don't know his name but I'm sure he's known by primitive archer or similar communities.
Freddy?
 

JerseyBill

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Stone (and not just flint) was used for neolithic axe heads
Stones may have come from sources in the alps, amongst other places.
Ash starts off with a low moisture content and would not take long to dry further e.g. by a fire for a week or three in reasonably thin cross-sections like a tool handle. As long as the log has been riven into two or more parts by splitting with e.g. wedges, it's unlikely to split much while drying. Maybe they used animal fat and/or beeswax to seal the wood once worked and dried (as said above, green wood much easier to work).
That article is the business! Many thanks!
 

stuckinthemud

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Trading in stone tools was an established industry, various quarries of sought-after stone types with associated areas of by-product from tool manufacture are well documented, along with tool marks and antler picks found inside mines and underground quarries worked for vast lengths of time. Grimes Graves flint mine may have been active from about 2500BC to 1000BC and beyond, while there are over 500 quarries in the Langdale area of the Lake District, stretching back to 6000 BC, and that's the Megalithic. These are not the only known sites in the UK, just the most famous. Stone tools from the UK have been found right across Europe
 
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bobblezard

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Trading in stone tools was an established industry, various quarries of sort-after stone types with associated areas of by-product from tool manufacture are well documented, along with tool marks and antler picks found inside mines and underground quarries worked for vast lengths of time.
One example is the Langdale Axe factory near us, worked for hundreds of years and I believe Langdale axes made of the local green stone have been found all over europe
 
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