The tools and weapons they created to tackle the tasks needed to survive changed the course of history because they worked!
If you don’t have the tools or weapons; at the least know how to make them from rocks, sticks, fibers, sinew, sap and other natural materials. Obviously, it’s not rocket science. But at the same time crafting effective primitive tools is often an art passed down from one generation to the next. That is where our challenge is.
Have we lost the art of primitive tool making to the passing of time? Maybe not!
#1. Primitive Spears
The first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people when discussing “primitive tools” is likely to be spears. Many websites show how to quickly make one using a pole and common survival items such as knives, duct tape and paracord. However, those spears don’t really look like the ones African tribes still use today to hunt big game including African lions. Nor do they compare in any way to the power and effectiveness of an ancient Spartan dory the Spartan version of a spear. Measuring 7 to 9 feet in length, the Spartans crafted extremely effective and deadly spears, helping ensure Spartan warriors victory in battle. As a back up weapon, was a second sharpened point, on the bottom end of the spear, if the primary spearhead ever broke off.
The most basic of spears is just a sharpened stick. To make it, you’ll need a long and strong stick, which you will sharpen at one end with a knife. To finish it off, you should put the end on fire for a few minutes while rotating it, to cause the fibers to contract and toughen the end. One thing you don’t want to do, though, is make the end too pointy because it’ll break.
Primitive Spear Fishing – Now, if you’re looking for a fishing spear, you’re gonna need to break the end four ways. First, tie a piece of rope about 20 inches from the end you intend to split. This will ensure the wood won’t break too far. Click here and watch this video for more info.
Next, using a sharp knife (or a really sharp rock), make two splits at that same end, about 15 inches in depth. As you’re tapping on your knife to go deeper, make sure the blade stays in the middle at all times, otherwise the spear will be useless and you’re gonna have to start over again with a new stick.
Next, tap a couple of small twigs along the two cuts, as much as the cuts allow it. When finished, the twigs will be one on top of each other and form a cross. You’re going to need some more cordage to secure them into place.
Primitive spears and wilderness survival in the modern age – When it comes to crafting spears for hunting and trapping animals, a bowie knife is a good choice for a survival knife in the backcountry because with a bowie knife you have an easier time cutting wood and sharpening edges and creating well crafted spears.
Here’s another reason for carrying a bowie knife: Previous century Native Americans like the Apaches repeatedly raided the Spanish for weapons and supplies; one of those weapons was a Spanish saber which history records the Native Americans using as spearheads (for example, the Lipan lance). In other words, they lassoed a Spanish saber to the end of a pole for one heck of a sharp and deadly spear.
A lot of recreational backpackers pass on a bowie knife because it’s “too much knife”; but in doing so, they miss out on the opportunities for crafting primitive tools and weapons in a survival emergency. If you’re serious about survival, consider a good bowie knife like the KA-BAR Marine Corps fighting knife and a good sharpening stone. Secure one of these KA-BARS to the end of a pole and you’ve now got yourself an instant spear — no beaver, rabbit, ‘possum, or wild boar has a chance!
From making primitive spears to crafting several of the other primitive tools you’re going to read about in this article, the Marine Corps KA-BAR has it’s place in several top ten lists of essential survival gear. But there’s more to know!
Today’s extreme survivalist can even consider packing a manufactured “spearhead” or two, perhaps in the same way as the lion hunters of Kenya, Africa (known as the Maasai) and other modern day hunters who’s chief game are wild boars or alligators in the American south. (You don’t need to pack along a complete spear for survival emergencies — just the spearhead). Click here and watch this video for more info.
#2. Primitive Stone Hammers
Now that you know how to make a spear, making a hammer is easy. You split a pole with your knife as you normally would but you only make one split. Use cordage to tie the pole to avoid it breaking too much.
Next, find a flat rock and insert it into the split, then use lots of cordage to secure it to the pole. This video will show you how to make a primitive stone hammer.
As with a stone hammer and the other primitive tools mentioned in this article, you’ll see that most call for cordage and sometimes tree sap as a way of binding rock and wood together in a way to create a tool or weapon. If you’re paying attention to how these primitive tools and weapons are crafted, we repeatedly see the reward for carrying paracord and super glue (industrial strength super glue) in our survival gear, whether we’re camping with the kids or getting our bug out bags ready for a possible future all Hell breaks loose evac.
If you’re new to survival, be sure to start packing cordage and super glue. If you lose an axe, you can make a primitive axe or even two. If you break a machete — you can now make one, though, sure it won’t be quite the same as an actual machete. But if you’ve ever done any bushwhacking (brush clearing and trail making) with a good stick, you can see how a stick with a sharpened edge can do a lot of the same kind of work a machete can do.
Click here and watch this video for more info.
#3. Stone Tomahawks
As you probably know, the tomahawk was invented by Native Americans and is a common symbol seen today to reflect the many warrior tribes from past centuries. A tomahawk is crafted by attaching a sharp, flat stone (sometimes chiseled to just the right shape) to a wooden stick.
Just like other weapons such as bows, tomahawks had more than one purpose. Tomahawks were used to fight enemies in battle, including raids and ambushes, as well as for everyday tasks such as splitting wood. The tomahawk evolved as metal blades replaced stones.
In modern day survival the tomahawk has made a comeback; many would-be survivalists have invested in a tomahawk. In military and search and rescue operations, a tomahawk is more than just a weapon — it’s also a good tool for door, window and lock demolitions, urban entry and exits, evacs, etc.
Then it also has it’s place as a tactical weapon made famous by Native American tribes like the Apaches. Before you go practicing your throws with a tomahawk realize that as a throwing weapon these things can kill — only practice in a safe location and keep anyone else who is watching several yards away, and behind you.
The reason is this: If your tomahawk misses it’s mark and doesn’t land dead on, it can deflect in any manner of direction, maiming or killing anyone standing a few feet away. If you’re only using it to chop wood or break down doors, there’s less need for such caution. But if you’re considering it as a throwing weapon then realize just how dangerous these things can be and exercise caution anytime it is being thrown at a target.
Today, companies like SOG and Cold Steel manufacture and sell tomahawks and websites like Amazon.com (or possibly Ebay) can fetch you the best prices. (Though when it comes to guarantees and fastest shipping, Amazon probably has Ebay beat.) Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops are other good online outfitters to consider and price compare to. Click here and watch this video for more info.
#4. Grain Grinders
Primitive mills were simple. People used a large stone carved on the inside and a second, smaller one. This particular method was used in ancient Palestine and it involved pounding seeds with the smaller stone.
Tip: you can use this to make herbal poultices to heal certain wounds and bites. Think of them as compresses made of herbs, activated charcoal and clay that are placed in cloth and applied on the skin.
Which grains can you mill? Fortunately, all of the ones that are good to store for survival can be ground with a primitive stone mill (such as wheat, rice, oats and common grains; acorns, found across much of North America, were a common staple for many Native American tribes for centuries). In fact, you can use it to grind other things such as beans, corn and rice to make meal or flour (or those acorns; though not all acorns are palatable and all must be prepared a certain way to reduce otherwise bitterness). Then you use that meal to make porridge — or flour to make bread. Meal, by the way, is similar to flour only you don’t have to do that much grinding.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can mix several grains together to make something unique. For example, you can grind beans, oats, and grain and then bake the resulting flour; or you can combine it all in a pot and then let it cook for several minutes with near equal parts water; after a few minutes of cooking time you now have a nutrient dense, calorie rich porridge to serve several people.
Making flours and porridge from a grain grinder isn’t that hard, although don’t expect the taste of the ones bought from the store. To make bread, you need flour, water and salt. Some people like adding olive oil or honey to the mix for flavor. Mix everything together, throw the resulting bowl in an oven and bake for 30 minutes at 350 F (or 176C).
To make porridge, the process is a little different but not at all complicated. You simply boil some water while you mix the grain and then eat after it cools off (no baking needed). Keep in mind you’ll need to start with more grain than you would for making flour but both recipes are dead simple and call for a grain grinder. Modern day preppers can use inexpensive electric grain grinders (similar to coffee bean grinders) and then store the final product in food packaging for long term emergency food storage. It’s a great way to reduce the cost on food storage and also ensure that only healthy ingredients are in your survival pantry (there’s no telling what kind of additives and preservatives may make their way into large scale survival food suppliers).
#5. Tools for the Bow Drill Method
In addition to a small bowl, you’re also going to need a spindle and a board (also known as a hearth) in which you carve a hole. Now, you may think that this is a somewhat complex method of starting a fire and yet, people used it as far back as the year 5000 B.C. (Before Christ). Woods such as aspen, white cedar, yucca, and cottonwood can be used to make quality boards and spindles.
#6. Primitive Hoko Knives
The oldest hoko knife was found in Washington and was made approximately 2,700 years ago. Think of them as primitive pocket knives that our ancestors would use for daily tasks but also for self-defense.
To make one, you need a small yet strong stick that you split in the middle, add a flat stone; use cordage to secure it in place. Optionally, you can use pine sap to glue it in place or both sap and cordage for added strength. The process is similar to that of making a tomahawk or a hammer. Click here and watch this video for more info.
#7. Primitive Rock Slings
Slings have been used by shepherds for thousands of years to protect their flock. And who hasn’t heard about David and Goliath, the former using a sling to knock down his much stronger opponent?
You can make your own primitive sling from a small piece of carved wood and some cordage. There are more than one technique to throw with a sling it but the most effective is to rotate it over your head, then forcibly throw it in your opponent’s direction. The sling stays in your arm but the rock continues to travel at high speed in the direction of your choosing.
#8. Primitive Bows and Arrows
Who among us hasn’t made a bow and arrows out of a flexible piece of wood and some cordage? Humans in centuries past used bows and arrows to hunt and to attack or defend from enemies.
One way of making a primitive bow that won’t crack or break in the middle is to tie 3 saplings together (same wood, same diameter). Heavy woods such as hickory and bamboo are best. As for the bow string, you can use any cordage you want — though you may not be happy with some of the results. For a primitive bow, you may want to consider natural fiber such as linen and hemp; though the strongest bows with the most power and deadliest accuracy would often be made from sinew (such as the Mongol bow — see below). Sinew is tissue with high tension that connects muscle to bone and is often harvested from large game animals.Click here and watch this video for more info.
#9. Mongol Bow and Arrow
The Mongol bow may be the most effective primitive bow ever created — specifically for it’s use in warfare but it was also a very useful tool for hunting; a good Mongol bow can hit a target from 350 yards away. Of course, bows evolved in time. For example, Mongols still used bamboo but they made so-called composite bows, because they would laminate them with horn and sinew.
They were successfully used by Mongol mounted cavalry archers who would fire arrows from a distance over infantry before their own infantry would attack. (If you’re considering taking up backyard archery, Mongol style bows are available and sold by specialized outfitters. The unique construction of a Mongol bow gives it superiority over other famous bows, even the English longbow.)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA… ARE YOU READY TO TURN BACK THE CLOCKS TO THE 1800’S FOR UP TO THREE YEARS? OUR GRANDFATHERS AND GREAT-GRANDFATHERS WERE THE LAST GENERATION TO PRACTICE THE BASIC THINGS THAT WE CALL SURVIVAL SKILLS NOW… WATCH THIS VIDEO AND YOU WILL FIND MANY INTERESTING THINGS!
#10. Atlatls (a.k.a. Spear Throwers)
In the modern age, spear throwers (atlatls) were made famous in the Clan of the Cave Bear series by author Jean Auel. Atlatls don’t just have a weird name, they’re weird themselves. They look like spears but the throwing principle resembles that of the primitive splint we just talked about.
Why would you want to use a spear thrower to throw spears instead of just your hand? Because a spear thrower puts more power into it, which means you need to use less effort than if you used just your hand to do it. Think of the atlatl as an extension of your arm. There are a few “atlatl clubs” around that offer instruction on atlatl use; for those of us considering that a possible collapse could be just around the corner, this may be a good skill to have in our survival arsenal and one you can teach others as well.
Click here and watch this video for more info.
It’s one thing to watch it done and another thing to do it skillfully. Like anything else when it comes to hunting, throwing a spear with an atlatl takes good technique and practice.
#11. Mortar and Pestles
If you have something else besides grains that need to be crushed into a powder or a paste, in ancient times you would use a mortar and a pestle. The mortar is nothing but a wooden bowl that you would either carve or use coals to achieve the same result. The pestle is a small club used to mix the substances inside the mortar. Some of the ingredients you can crush and mix with a mortar and pestle include medicinal herbs, nuts, spices and even charcoal. They’ve been used across the globe by Native Americans, Japanese and Aztecs, just to name a few.
#12. Primitive Bellows
Bellows are devices used to produce a strong current of air, typically used to make a fire stronger. According to the book Primitive Arts and Crafts: An Introduction to the Study of Material Culture by Roderick Urwick Sayce, the earliest records of such devices being used date back to Ancient Egypt (1500 BC). They used two flat pots, a couple of skins to cover them. According to the book, similar bellows are used in India with little modifications over the millennia.
Experts agree that blowguns have been used as far back as the stone age for both self-defense and hunting small game.
If you want to make an alternative survival weapon like a blowgun, you’d need some bamboo (such as Arundinaria or the canes, which grows in North America) for the tube and some darts (made from maple or hickory).
Blowguns evolved over time, as any other primitive tool before it. For example, at some point they began to split the wood in two along its length, hollow it out and then glue the two pieces back together.
#14. Hand Axes
OK, so hand axes are just sharp rocks with no attached poles. Still, they’ve been used for things normal axes wouldn’t have been appropriate for, such as digging or removing tree bark.
Flint, volcanic glass and quartz are great materials for hand axes. (Not much more needs to be written here on hand axes; the next time you break an axe, realize that you can use the head of an axe as a “hand axe”; that’s what primitives have shown us).
Yes, lassos weren’t first used by cowboys. There’s evidence suggesting Egyptians, Mongols and Huns also used lassos. As you probably know, a lasso is a really long rope with a loop at one end. You throw the loop over your running game, then pull back. The loop tightens and helps you catch your prey or whatever or whoever is running away from you.
Speaking of long ropes, how a primitive tool made of two ropes, both having a weight at one of the ends. Patagonians and Incas used them a long time ago to catch prey.
#17. Primitive Fishing Hooks
People have been fishing from almost the dawn of ancient history. Over time, fishing developed and various ways of catching fish, such as spearfishing, using fish traps and, from there, fishing hooks — many which are still used today. These small primitive tools were made from bones, honey locust spines, cactus hooks and even wood. Click here and watch this video for more info.
Daggers are small, straight blade weapons, pointy at the top, that date back to primitive times, when they were made of flint or bones. The Bronze Age is when the first copper daggers appeared and it’s worth mentioning they were also used in religious ceremonies in addition to hunting and close combat.
They were heavily used in medieval times as well, when they started to become more sophisticated: dirks, main gauche daggers, and Ballock daggers were just a few of the variations.
The first swords developed from daggers also during the Bronze Age. They were short (70 to 100 cm or about 30 inches) and didn’t have a cross-guard but the length was a net advantage over the dagger but the most interesting fact about them was they were very light. Somewhere between 800 grams and 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds), a lot less than what traditional medieval swords weighed.
The Iron Age brought, of course, iron swords, but they weren’t that much better than their predecessors. It was when steel swords came about, and finally the famous Samurai sword and a few others, that the power and effectiveness of a good sword on the battle field, prior to firearms, was at it’s pinnacle.
Even in the modern age a good steel sword still has it’s place; in fact, the U.S. Marine Corps still uses swords for ceremonial purposes. A bayonet may not be quite the same thing as an actual sword kept at one side, yet bayonets have saved the lives of many soldiers in past wars who ran out of bullets, even as an enemy overran these soldiers’ positions. A lot of people depend on firearms and overlook the fact that they better have something else as back up when those firearms run out of bullets, whether that’s a sword or bayonet (or even a tomahawk — see above). Click here and watch this video for more info.
#20. Primitive Throwing/Rabbit Sticks (also known as non-returning boomerangs)
As the name suggests, rabbit sticks work well for hunting… rabbits. They’re also dead-easy to make. The thing about these sticks is that they need to be longer than you think because they’ll have more odds of hitting prey when thrown. Speaking of which, rabbits aren’t the only things you can hunt with a throwing stick. Birds, squirrels, kangaroos (for our Australian readers) and, if need be, raccoons, ‘possum, and even rats, can also be hunted with throwing sticks.
#21. Primitive Returning Boomerangs
Boomerangs have been used by the indigenous population of the continent of Australia for thousands of years, but boomerangs have also been discovered in Europe, dating back to the Stone Age. Even the Navajo Indians in ancient America had their own version of a boomerang.
Returning Boomerang – If you’ve ever thrown a boomerang and not had it return to your position at the end of its flight path, consider that it’s a skill that can take hundreds of throws to get just right. A boomerang is a good tool to consider for open space hunting like deserts and meadows, where trees or other tall objects are not a factor and disrupt your flight path. After a few hundred throws you can have good technique, and get a returning boomerang to do just that — return to where you initially threw it from. Now now you’re ready to hunt small game like wild birds and even larger game like deer, just like primitive Australian natives of long ago who hunted emu.
Non-Returning Boomerang – This kind of boomerang is more like a throwing stick mentioned above (though slimmer and more aerodynamic), yet because of one longer wooden arm, it does not return to the thrower’s initial position, unlike the “returning” boomerang profiled above. Instead, it has one arm longer than another and slices through the air with amazing speed, maiming and or killing it’s intended target. Even large game can be taken down with a non-returning boomerang if it connects with an animal’s head or breaks a leg or knee. Keep in mind that this isn’t for sport and should only be considered as a tool for a survival emergency. Click here and watch this video for more info.
#22. The Chinese Fire Lance (Li hua ch’iang in Chinese)
If you’ve ever wondered what the first firearm looked like, look no further than the power lance — a bamboo tube attached to a spear with some gunpowder in it. Developed in 10th century China, this is as primitive as it gets when it comes to firearms. Sometimes, they would use shrapnel as it would fly the moment of the blast, causing additional damage to the opponent (this shrapnel probably paved the way to the future invention of bullets).
Though the blast was weak and the range was only of a few feet, this “primitive” technology eventually lead to the firearm which was officially invented in 13th century China.