Portales man has taught flintknapping to more than 300 people

Christina Calloway

Tommy Heflin opens up his home to the Portales community every Wednesday night to share and teach his passion.

The retired Portales native has been flintknapping for about 37 years, a hobby he loves to share with others.

Flintknapping is the art of manufacturing stone points or arrowheads as ancient people did.

“I found my first arrowhead when I was 10 years old and from that time on, I always wondered how anybody can make something so beautiful with no tools,” Heflin said. “Over the years I kept dwelling on it and wondering how they (did) it.”

He’s been holding flintknapping sessions in his house for 35 years. At first, it was just him and a friend and their skills were self-taught.

“I didn’t know anybody else in the world who cared about it,” Heflin said.

Heflin said in an average week, about six people comes to his house to flintknap, at least three of them are regulars. The biggest group he taught in his house was 22.

Heflin said he has woman who has been coming out with her fifth-grader for the past two weeks to flintknap, one of the youngest group members he’s had.

“I don’t think she’s really quite strong enough to do it but she has the interest, and so if they have interest, that’s all I care about,” Heflin said.

Heflin doesn’t charge for the lessons and provides all the tools, which he handmade himself, and raw materials such as obsidian and flint rock, which he gathers from around the country.

Portales resident David Flen, who’s been flintknapping with Heflin for about 10 years, says he is appreciative of Heflin’s generosity.

“Tommy is a loving and giving person,” Flen said. “Our group is a community effort. Everybody has something that they’re good at and you can learn something from everyone.”

Local businessman Bob Hobbs has been flintknapping with Heflin for a little more than 20 years. He says he’s best at percussion and pressure flaking the rocks.

“Once you make your first arrowhead, it’s like a drug; you get hooked on it,” Hobbs said. “My advice is that you just don’t give up.”

Heflin said over the course of 35 years, he’s taught about 300 to 400 people the art of flintknapping.

“It’s about eye-hand coordination,” Heflin said. “You have to work the ridges and angles. It’s hard to explain without showing you.”

Heflin also presents flintknapping to about four local schools a year.

Heflin says he is extra careful with younger children because the rocks are so naturally sharp.

“I tell the children, ‘I don’t want to have to explain to your parents why you’re missing a finger,’” Heflin joked.

Heflin also makes jewelry out of arrowheads, but he says one of his biggest accomplishments was his contribution to an exhibition in Santa Fe’s New Mexico History Museum.

“I had the honor of making all 150 of the flint tips for the arrows of the Revolt of 1680 exhibit,” Heflin said.