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Flint knapper uses skill in ministry

Staff writer

Gary Schuler of rural Marion finds valuable life lessons in rocks.

A self-described amateur archeologist, Schuler was interested in learning how American Indians made stone arrowheads and other tools. So, two and a half years ago he found a way to incorporate the skill known as flint knapping into ministry.

The result is his program, “Stories from Stone.” He presents the 45-minute program at camps, vacation Bible schools, and other events using flint knapping as an allegory for spiritual principles. It is a way to reach children through hands-on methods rather than just preaching, Schuler said.

“It’s my way to help make the world a better place,” he said.

If a stone breaks while he works it during a presentation, Schuler sees it as a teaching opportunity. It gives him a chance to talk about how people, like stones, have their imperfections. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate making the best of a bad situation, because he can often make two smaller arrowheads out of the broken stone.

Flint knapping is the process of crafting arrow and spear points, knife blades, other tools, and art from stone. American Indians perfected the techniques, using them in day-to-day life.

The best way to learn is from an experienced flint knapper, but Schuler didn’t have that luxury. He taught himself with a book, a video, and lots of practice.

“It’s an extremely difficult and challenging hobby to learn, because there is no experience like spending hour after hour breaking rocks,” Schuler said.

When he started going to “knap-ins” in the fall at Maxwell Game Refuge near McPherson, he found other knappers were happy to share their expertise.

The skill takes years to master, and Schuler said he still considers himself a beginner.

“You never reach a point where you have arrived,” he said. “You can always keep improving.”

He started out with authentic methods, using deer antlers for tools. He did that because he wanted to be able to demonstrate it for children. Now he mostly uses copper tools, though, because they are more durable.

Different tools yield different results when knapping, he said. Antler tools produce wide, shallow flakes, while copper tools produce narrow, deep flakes. Schuler compared the difference to switching between batting left- and right-handed in baseball. His favorite stone to work with is obsidian: dark, glossy volcanic glass.

The hobby is satisfying on many levels, he said. It’s an opportunity to connect with other people, to make art, and to solve problems.

“It’s like playing chess with a rock, deciding which moves to make,” Schuler said.

He sells some of the pieces he makes, but only enough to pay for more materials.

“I never want to get to the point where it’s strictly a business,” he said.

To learn more about flint knapping, call Schuler at (785) 313-2940 or e-mail gary.schuler@yahoo.com.

Last modified May 5, 2010

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