Portable Petroglyph – Micro Pecking Technique

by Stephen Lee.
(N. Pitcher, New .York USA)

"Celtic Knotwork" shale pendant by Stephen Lee

“Celtic Knotwork” shale pendant by Stephen Lee

As requested, here is some background info on the origins and making of my Petroglyph Pendants.

In 1990 I was looking for a new craft to explore that would make use of commonly available materials provided by nature (low overhead for materials).

"Two Feathers" riverstone pendant by Stephen Lee.

“Two Feathers” riverstone pendant
by Stephen Lee.

While looking through various books on native American crafts I noticed some illustrations of simple stone pendants attributed to the Algonquin tribes.

These pendants were made of whatever soft types of stone where available, were ground into various shapes, some of which had simple designs gouged into them.

This idea really grabbed me, so I began picking up stones from the property I lived on and from a nearby riverside to see if I could carve into them with my pocket knife.

"Kokopelli" catlinite pendant by Stephen Lee.

“Kokopelli” catlinite pendant
by Stephen Lee.

In keeping with the idea of “low overhead” I wanted stones I could work with common metal tools rather than those that required expensive power tools, diamond bits, etc.

One type of stone common in my area is shale.

This turned out to be easily workable with knives, woodworking chisels, files, rasps, sandpaper and emery paper.

I experimented with many techniques for creating a design on these bland colored stones that would have enough contrast to allow the design to stand out.

It eventually occurred to me to use a basic stone working technique, that was used all over this planet for shaping stones into tools and utensils as well as for creating the many petroglyphs found on cliff faces and boulders, and which I had taught while working at an outdoor skills school in my mid twenties.

This is generally called pecking and consists of using a hammer stone that’s harder than the stone you’re shaping to crumble away portions of the stone through percussion.

"The Healer" African wonderstone pendant by Stephen Lee.

“The Healer” African wonderstone pendant
by Stephen Lee.

I realized that in order to adapt this technique for working small pendant sized stones, I would have to use a pointed metal tool instead of a stone to do the pecking.

My first pecking tool was a hardened metal concrete flooring nail with the head cut off and the nail shaft mounted in a wooden handle with the end ground to a sharp point.

Over time I’ve used worn out Philips head screw drivers, nail punches and assorted other hardened metal tools, modified for pecking.

My favorite pecking tool now, I made from a short section of sharpened bicycle spoke mounted in a type of pin vise with a three jaw Jacobs chuck for weight locked on the rear end of the pin vise. (See upper image in photo below):

Pecking and engraving tools.

Pecking and engraving tools.


Go to Part 2 of this Post:

Part 2 -From Pendant Blank to Finished Pendant.

Stephen Lee

Older Comments

Wonderful wearable petroglyphs
by: Rena

Art created using ages-old methods has an elegance that no technology can duplicate.

Thank you so much for sharing your technique with us, Stephen. Your work is just stunning. I made the photos nice and large so everyone could see the incredible precision and detail you put into each piece.

I have a couple of questions about this fascinating micro pecking method:

How long does it take you to make one of your pendants?

Do you draw the design onto the stone first? – or does it emerge as you carve, with the stone telling you how to design it as you go?

Does a stone ever crack or break while you’re doing the micro pecking?

Again, thank you so much for sharing your artistry here!

Wonderfully Unique
by: Patricia C Vener

I like how precise the results are. And now I know what that odd thing is that’s been among my father’s things (Jacobs chuck) and what it’s good for!

How many uses do you get from a single spoke? Do you taper the points differently for different effects?

You Must Have Come From Another Life…
by: Virginia Vivier

Oh my, Stephen!

Your work is breathtaking! You have such a gift for creating elegance from a humble stone. I love the way you focused on your craft and made it yours, and yours alone. Your signature is unmistakable.

Social Networking may not be your THING, but there is a group of folks who write articles about how they recycle and reuse other folks throw aways and make them into useful tools and treasures. (www.greenopolis.com)

Your lifestyle is the epitome of their thinking, only on a much higher plane. I hope you will share this article with them, as the world should know more about your beautiful talents.

Thank you Rena, and Stephen, for taking the time to share this with us!

Answers to questions about my pecking technique.
by: Stephen Lee

In answer to Rena’s questions: The time it takes to make a pendant varies greatly depending on the complexity of the design and the type of stone I use. If I’m using a shale skipping stone, (found alongside the river), that requires little or no re-shaping, with a simple design, then it might take around six hours. For a pendant cut from Catlinite, (a much harder stone), with a complicated design, then it might take up to two work days to complete it.
When the pendant blank is ready for the design I either pencil in the design freehand or trace it on using carbon paper.
I don’t recall ever breaking a stone while pecking. They are more likely to break while rough shaping or drilling the stringing hole.

In answer to Patricia’s questions: One bicycle spoke cut into several lengths short enough to fit in my pin vise will last a very long time as the steel is much harder than any of the types of stone that I work with. I generally sharpen the spoke to a long narrow point for harder stones like Catlinite and will blunt the point slightly for the softer types of stone like Soapstone and Wonderstone.

In answer to Virginia’s question: The shale, claystone and various other soft stones for which I have no name, I find lying around the area where I live. The Catlinite, Wonderstone and Soapstone I either buy or trade for.

Thank you all so much for the high praise and for your questions.

Don’t miss Part 2!
by: Rena

Good news – Stephen has kindly sent in Micro Pecking Technique, Part 2, showing more of his tools and pendant creation process.

Stephen, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.

It’s such a pleasure to have a creative session with a master craftsman.

So cool!
by: Nancy

Love the pendants! Works of art…

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