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What are Obsidian Blades? (Pros and Cons)

A stone-age obsidian blade with a bone handle.

Obsidian blades have an air of mystery and darkness to it. Let us shed this mystery and show you all the facts, history, pros and cons of this curious black blade.

Obsidian is extremely cool. Its use dates back further than the human mind can properly comprehend, it’s a completely naturally derived material, and I’m considering taking that name for my firstborn.

Obsidian can be found all over the world, and there aren’t many materials on the planet that share the same characteristics. Although uncommon, sometimes knife blades are made from obsidian, making for one of the sharpest and sexiest options out there.

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Obsidian is Literally Lava

In order to understand the pros and cons of an obsidian blade, we must first know where it comes from. Lapis Obsidianus is an igneous rock — ignis comes from the Latin word for “fire” — and it’s formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava.

High silica content in lava results in high viscosity, so when it runs it cools very quickly and turns into glass. It’s an amorphous element, meaning that when it fractures it does so into impossibly sharp shards. It is extremely hard, but unfortunately brittle.

A large piece of obsidian ore.

Obsidian is a confusing element. It cannot be considered a mineral, because as a glass it is not crystalline, whereas minerals are. But at the same time, it is classified as a mineraloid, since it has mineral qualities, but they are too variable to be pure mineral. Get it? Me neither.

First Encounters

The first-ever known historical use takes us into the Acheulean age. This age is classified through the first practices of stone tool usage. Obsidian blades were often found with the remains of Homo erectus, and it is believed that these technologies developed nearly 1.76 million years ago.

The way that obsidian fractures are so sharp, that it wouldn’t even require the tool to be sharpened into anything. Obsidian can be used as a flint starter, and coincidentally, humans started utilizing fire around the same time that obsidian was utilized. Think about it! We have some very brave and hairy people to thank for heading straight into a cooling lava field. The human race may have evolved very differently otherwise.

Ancient tools and weapons made from animal bones and horns and obsidian.

Where Obsidian Can Be Found

This naturally occurring volcanic glass can be found in places where there are, or were volcanoes. Just to name a few: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Papa New Guinea, Peru, Turkey, and the United States of America.

Specifically, in America, deposits have been found in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. To get really specific, if you’re ever passing through Yellowstone National Park, there’s been tons of obsidian discovered between the Mammoth  Hot Springs and North Geyser Basin. If you’re ever wanting to find some cool stones (or glass in this case), make sure to check if you need permitting to take them home. Certain states want to prevent over-picking by making permits a requirement.

The Benefits of an Obsidian Blade

The main and only benefit of an obsidian blade is its potential for sharpness. To be more specific, if you placed the sharpest and highest quality carbon steel blade under an electron microscope, it will look irregular and jagged. An obsidian blade under that same microscope would be perfectly smooth and even. It’s incredible how much more perfect nature can be by just not trying at all.

The edge of an obsidian blade is a mere 3 nanometers thick. Some surgeons use obsidian for scalpels. It’s not confirmed, but certain studies on rats have found that using obsidian blades encourages quicker healing, thanks to a cleaner cut, even if that difference can only be seen under a microscope. Obsidian surgical blades have yet to be used on humans, as they have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

A caveman with a fur coat holding an obsidian blade.

The Cons to an Obsidian Blade

This is the absolute most brittle possible material that could be turned into a knife. Other than maybe a saltine cracker. The likelihood of obsidian cracking or chipping under the simplest of tasks is incredibly high.

Prying it against a hard surface, like opening a beer bottle, would more than likely break the blade. Using an obsidian blade to chop food could potentially result in accidental ingestion of shards of glass. Since this glass is so good at fragmenting, you may not even see that it has chipped.

What’s the Cost?

Obsidian knives can sometimes be cheaper than carbon steel blades, but that’s because they are manufactured in factories much less often. Most obsidian knives are hand made by the people who find the volcanic glass themselves, and then turn it into a blade through a process called knapping – fragmenting the piece into a smaller and smaller shard until you get the desired shape.

The jury is out on whether or not knapping is more time-consuming than sharpening a steel blade, Reddit tells me it’s all dependent on the person’s skill level. Regardless, some heirlooms will cost you a fortune, more kitschy homemade blades can be very affordable.

FAQ

Is an obsidian blade sharp?

Yes! It is the sharpest option out there. But it’s very brittle, and not suitable for tasks that a regular pocket knife could handle.

Where does obsidian come from?

It’s a naturally occurring igneous rock or glass. Lava runs cool very quickly and turns into glass.

Where can I find an obsidian knife?

These guys will let you know —->  Knife Buzz

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