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So I just started playing with fossil prep and wanted to share what I have learned so far. I have a bunch of air tools coming in but couldn't wait to start so I started using my hand tools. I work with silver so I have quite a few. The wooden handled set is from online auction and cost under $9. The silver soldering pick I can't remember. I have 4 small Symphysops that were sent to me unprepped, 3 of which are in a softer shale. The matrix of the other one is more crystalline and too hard for hand tools. I did my homework like any good fossil lover regarding hand prep (or any prep for that matter) but found out very quickly that it's a hands on learning experience. The way the matrix rock responds to tools and the hardness of it vs. the fossil are something you can only know in person. As I am brand new to all fossils I was terrified to take tool to rock for the first time. I chose my least complete specimen to get a feel for it so that if I ruined anything I wouldn't be too heart broken. For any person brand new the excitement and terror comes in equal measure! After staring at the rocks and test poking with different tools for at least an hour, I finally felt ready. (Okay not READY, but I was never going to be ready!) First I established a perimeter about .5-1cm away from the fossil. I used a strait pick to dig a small border down into the matrix to establish the area I was looking to remove. I will be removing the trilobite from the matrix completely for a project so I decided to dig down around it and will eventually go under it to free it completely. I found that using a plaque scaling tool works very well for scraping away sections to create a "plane" around the fossil. For the edges I first tried a strait pick but quickly figured out that if I gently moved down and away from the fossil with a semi-blunt spade shaped tool it would uncover the edges better without hurting the trilobite. I do this a bit then switch over to a modified round pick that I curved to smooth around the perimeter of exposed fossil material to clear away ridges and dust to see how much I have exposed so I don't go to far or too deep with the spade. So far I have exposed the top and about half of the sides of the trilobite and have caused no damage. As I said the matrix is pretty soft so no heavy pressure is needed. Every minute or so I stop to blow the dust off and brush the fossil with a velvet cloth to get a look at where I am at. I was given the advice to stop every 15 minutes or so to rest my eyes and move around and have found this to be invaluable advice. After staring up close at the fossil for 20min my vision gets super blurry and takes a couple of minutes to return to normal. I find that when I come back I notice details I didn't before and it helps me chose my next move. Every time I stop I stand up, stretch my back and neck, touch my toes, flex my hands and wrists, and then go limp for a minute before returning to the fossil. I have to say I am loving the "focused relaxation" (fellow member's term) of working on a small specimen by hand and can see myself continuing to do it regularly even after I get my tools. It does wonders for my PTSD and am shocked to say it is even more effective than meditation or CBT. I will update as I go and learn and if I get into trouble. I hope this can serve as a starting place for other new people and would love to get tips and advice in the comments for me and future readers.
So I just started practicing my fossil prepping with just some basic dental tools on this little trilobite! I just got sent a set of 4 small, unprepped trilobites and as my new air tools still haven't come in yet I thought I would play with the dental tools for a bit. I'm going very gentle and very slow. I am finding the curved edge of an angle pick to be pretty good for going around the edges without running the risk of gouging anything. It's very relaxing! I'm sure my tools will arrive before I finish freeing this little guy but I couldn't wait to play with him! I need to fully extract a couple for a small display project I have planned involving the trilobites and some microfossils in a tiny glass case. I am putting sand down on the backing and placing very small shark teeth around the edges and then arranging two trilobites, a tiny ammonite, and some VERY tiny shells! As I am determined to prep everything myself it's gonna take a while but I think it will look awesome when done. Say hi to George! (I named him George )