The Nephrite Age

Society has come so far in its ability to exploit the resources of the world, from the Stone Age, through Bronze Age, Iron Age, Industrial, Atomic, and the grey area we currently find ourselves as a combination of nuclear, post-nuclear, cybernetic, bio-engineering ages. Perhaps it is time for woodworkers to avoid the confusion of the modern era, and return to a modern version of the Neolithic era.

Nephrite, one of the two forms of Jade, is commonly called greenstone or pounamu in Māori, and the South Island is also called Te Wai Pounamu, or The (land of) Greenstone Water. The pre-European Māori were in a Neolithic Age, having not utilised metal, and perhaps the abundance of Greenstone went a way to explain why this was the case, and for the same reason why modern woodworkers might be keen to usher in a new Neolithic era: the Nephrite Age.

Nephrite is not a particularly hard jemstone- on the Mohs scale, where diamond ranks top at a 10 for hardness, and most jems rank over 7, Nephrite scores between 5.8 and 6.5 (where Jadeite, another form of Jade scores between 6.2 and 6.7). However, on the same scale copper only scores 3, iron 4 and steel 4-4.5. (Hardened steel manages 7.5-8) So the incentive to migrate into a copper, then iron age just isn’t there as much.

Nephrite can withstand almost 8 tonnes/square cm before fracturing, and although reasonably hard, can still be ground to a required shape by other rocks, or more modern methods obviously.

One researcher put this to the test, and duplicated some common metal components in Nephrite to see how they’d function compared to their metal counterparts.

A spokeshave worked equally as well as metal, a drill bit cut holes in wood and aluminium easily. He created a Nephrite cold chisel and used it to shear a 1mm steel plate, and open a metal drum. Nails made from Nephrite worked well, and they didn’t bend (although I imagine that instead of bending you’d find yourself with a lot of jade shrapnel instead if you did miss-hit!)

So could you imagine having a set of Nephrite tools?


I canonly imagine how awesome a set of chisels would look, or perhaps a smoothing plane such as the one by HNT Gordon made entirely in Greenstone, including the blade.


Just how cool would that be?!!!!!!!

One Response

  1. Great post Stu, I had no idea that a Nephrite age even existed and I thought I was knowledgeable about world history! I guess I should go back to anthropology class. These tools actually seem pretty viable,but do they offer any advantages over the tools we use now? Other than the fact that they look cool and they’re green, it seems like they would be harder to manufacture even if we could find enough greenstone. Maybe jade tools can be sold as a luxury item if they’re rare and durable…like buying expensive shoes.

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