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A guide to manual prep tools


LabRatKing

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I threw together a guide to manual prep tools for one of my students who is interested in trying her hand at some peck and scratch work on fossils.

Figure I'd share a version of it with yinze. (mildly edited to comply with forum regs)

 

 

Manual Prep Tools- Earth Sciences

 

Basic "starter tools"

 

You probably have some stuff around your home already that will work for basic prep- large sewing needles, various nails and screws, and even old drill bits. Basically, if it is sharp and pointy, you can probably remove some rock! Hardened nails, like blued finish nails and masonry nails can be fashioned into finer points with a bit of grinder work. See also: Pin Vise (below)

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Another option is hobby knives, like an Exacto as there are tones of different disposable blades and hooks and such for them. Personally, I rarely use them for fossils as I tend to break off the fine points and need my blades for my models and such, however, if you got 'em, try 'em!

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Automotive gasket picks/o-ring picks

Pros: Cheap and easy to get- any auction site or automotive parts store has them. ranges from cheap to moderately expensive. Available with thin, pencil like grips and heavy screwdriver like grips

Cons: You get what you pay for, the cheap ones tend to be softer steel and prone to bending and breaking. Be ready to re-sharpen tips regularly. Lousy for hard matrix and may leave marks that rust later on.

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Dental Tools:

Pros: Fairly easy to get consumer grade versions online. Range from cheap to pricey. Extremely fine points, but way require occasional sharpening. Cheaper ones tend to bend easily on rock.

Cons: Real medical grade stainless steel dental picks (the best ones) may be illegal in some places as they are medical equipment and not intended for consumers. The best ones can cost a lot. Also very sharp and easy to stab yourself with...

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Dissection Probes (stainless steel)

Pros: Affordable and relatively easy to buy online. Heavy stainless steel versions cost more, but have a variety of tip types you cannot get elsewhere that are very useful. Easy to resharpen and maintain. The blunt probes can easily be ground into chisel tips and quad points. Awesome for soft matrix. The spear point type are so useful!

Cons: The cheapest ones are no better than gasket picks and are soft and prone to bending. Also, very sharp and easy to stab yourself with...

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Industrial tungsten carbide (tool steel) scribes

Pros: A personal favorite for hard matrix and fine detail work. CHEAP. Large variety of styles from a pointy stick, to a retractable pen. Tips can be replaced and are cheap.

Cons: Do not strike these with a tapper or hammer- the tip will shatter.

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Chisels:

Pros: Excellent for removing big chunks. Good for small stuff too if you know what you are doing. Great for the field and the bench. Best ones are acquired through art supply stores.

Cons: Buy carbide tipped chisels designed for stonework...many cold chisels are designed only for use on mild steel or masonry and are virtually useless for stone due to softer steel used. Heavy and you gonna need a variety of hammers. Also...expensive....but you get what you pay for.

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Specialty Chisels:

There are special tool steel thin chisels designed for splitting shale. If you are a splitter and don't have a few of these, you are doin' it wrong!

Pros: Specifically designed for splitting fossiliferous shale.

Cons: Can be hard to source.

Side note: You can make your own if you have access to a grinder and some "blue" spring steel.

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General Purpose Hammers:

DO NOT USE A CLAW HAMMER. I say again, DO NOT USE A CLAW HAMMER.

They are not designed or made to withstand meta on metal impact (like a chisel head). There are tonnes of brands and types, but a good quality ball peen and a few mini sledges will treat you right.

Personally, I prefer the "deadblow" style, but wood handle and all steel are good too as you can get really small weights.

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Mallets:

Trust me, having a mallet is really handy. Deadblows are my preferred (pictured above), but I also use a sculptors mallet...which once you learn how to use, will likely be the only hammer you ever use during prep. Don't laugh, but if you need to really wail on something, a bowling pin is awesome.

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Paint Brushes/chip brushes/wire brushes:

Artist paint brushes are useful for all sorts of things, from removing dust to picking up small bits. I use a mix of synthetic and natural bristles

Chip brushes are super cheap to the point of being disposable, but don't last very long if used wet. Also, 100% recyclable.

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a clay sculpting "feather" brush

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Pin Vise:

This is a handy little item for holding, well, pins. For your purposes this can be regular sewing needles, large gauge needles, sharpened nails, etc. DO NOT over tighten the chuck. It will jam and ruin your tool.

An Exacto type knife handle can double as a pin vise by changing out the chuck jaws with rotary (dremel) tool chuck jaws.

Pros: Inexpensive and Easy to get most anywhere. However as with most tools, you get what you pay for. Often sold with tiny drill bits which are handy for lots of things.

Cons: Thou shalt not over tighten thine chuck! Cheaper models have soft aluminum or brass ferrules which can be prone to breakage and thread stripping if over tightened.

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cheap version

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expensive version...designed for fine scale modelers...notice the chuck and ferrule are steel and nickle plate, rather than aluminum.

 

Scratch Brushes also known as Wire Brushes including sculpture brushes:

Cheap, easy to get, various types available anywhere! You will find lots of uses for these. (Also, old tooth brushes are handy...the kind without the rubber stuff in the bristles!)

Pros: Many!

Cons: Be careful! Brushes with steel bristles can rust and stain your specimen---stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and nylon are safer if you have humidity around!

 

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So, there is a brief overview of basic hand prep tools. Field tools and powered tools are an entirely different subject discussed well in other threads.

 

 

 

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Great review!!!

 

May want to add a bit on scratch brushes? I make my own from the ones in the last picture.

 

Also, I didn't know that my favorite tool for picking micros is actually an O-ring pick :) Super stoked, because I didn't know where to look to replace it!

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I have an English pin vice that is hollow and Starrett  machinist type that are not so a nail will stay in place.  I hack sawed the head s off of fluted masonry nail and held a couple in a vice grip and ground flats. Not found much use for them yet. Beware of the cheap imported flea market dental probes. I have a few used professional probes and keep an oil wet stone handy to touch them up. Most sewing needles are to soft. I have a set of mechanics gasket picks "somewhere." from a major brand mobile tool dealer. Along with several types of clip on magnifiers. 

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I've heard of people using sail/canvas sewing needles and regular sewing needles. 
I hear they have sharpened them then hardened them after heating them up, then dipping in oil or water to temper them. 

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11 minutes ago, Fossildude19 said:

I've heard of people using sail/canvas sewing needles and regular sewing needles. 
I hear they have sharpened them then hardened them after heating them up, then dipping in oil or water to temper them. 

I have a double ended pin vise. A larger scribe/scratch awl type tip is in one side and a regular sewing needle in the other. After the hammer and chisel or electric engraver do their part, I use the larger scribe tip for most of my close work. The needle comes in play when I get right next to the fossil, or have a small crevice to dig around in like on brachiopod valves.

 

I’ve never tried to harden the needle, but it may help it to function better. I like how small it is, but it dulls quickly and flexes quite a bit under any kind of load. I find it best used to pick small bits off, flip a loose flake, or scratch out that small crevice.

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  • JohnJ pinned this topic
1 hour ago, LabRatKing said:

Updated to reflect suggestions!

 

Pinned.

:fistbump:

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2 hours ago, FossilNerd said:

I have a double ended pin vise. A larger scribe/scratch awl type tip is in one side and a regular sewing needle in the other. After the hammer and chisel or electric engraver do their part, I use the larger scribe tip for most of my close work. The needle comes in play when I get right next to the fossil, or have a small crevice to dig around in like on brachiopod valves.

 

I’ve never tried to harden the needle, but it may help it to function better. I like how small it is, but it dulls quickly and flexes quite a bit under any kind of load. I find it best used to pick small bits off, flip a loose flake, or scratch out that small crevice.

Hardening needles is pretty easy. Hold the needle in a set of pliers and heat it to red hot (stove/torch/lighter) then plunge it into oil (used motor oil is great for this! though olive oil is ok too...the others have lower therm points). Repeat three times for tiny ones, more for thicker ones. Then once cool, polish clean and you are ready to go. For extra fun, magnetize them by swiping them pole to pole over a strong magnet...makes them easier to store! (that trick works for screwdrivers and any other ferrous metal too...google it for details)

 

Truth is you could use the same technique on cheapo gasket picks too.

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Excellent topic, LabRatKing!

 

Just going to reciprocate and add a link to another informative topic on this.  :) 

 

 

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Great article..

 

Note for dental picks (the real ones), I found a rare but productive way to acquire. Make friends with a few shops then find out a homeless person's fire got out of hand and burned the office :shakehead: Since they can't be used again I got about 100! Have gifted over half so far as I'll never use that many lol.

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 11/19/2020 at 12:08 PM, LabRatKing said:

I threw together a guide to manual prep tools for one of my students who is interested in trying her hand at some peck and scratch work on fossils.

Figure I'd share a version of it with yinze. (mildly edited to comply with forum regs)

 

 

Manual Prep Tools- Earth Sciences

 

Basic "starter tools"

 

You probably have some stuff around your home already that will work for basic prep- large sewing needles, various nails and screws, and even old drill bits. Basically, if it is sharp and pointy, you can probably remove some rock! Hardened nails, like blued finish nails and masonry nails can be fashioned into finer points with a bit of grinder work. See also: Pin Vise (below)

 

Wow @LabRatKing :default_faint:Thanks for the info. :tiphat:

Tom

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I do a lot of microprep and I have about a half dozen pin vices each with a different tip... a few sewing needles sharpened to different shapes, and a few with a must-have for when sewing needles are too soft.... carbide rod.  The stuff is not as cheap as sewing needles but it has a hardness of 9 so is very useful in hard matrix under the scope. It comes invaripous diameters.  But you need diamonds to sharpen it.  I use diamond wheels on a Dremel and diamond hones from Woodworker's Supply to microsharpen carbide points.  

https://woodworker.com/diamond-mini-hone-coarse-mssu-115-403.asp

I bought this three pack about ten years ago and I am not close to needing to replace them.  It also makes a very nice point on sewing needles.  

 

I also got foam sleeves for my pin vices from PaleoTools.  Each is a different color pattern so I know which one to pick up (after I memorize which color is which point).  I do not use both ends of a double-ended pinvice.   PaleoTools also sells carbide rod.  Most of them are not too expensive but the really fine on 3/64ths (I think) is a doozey.  (3/64ths in measured in inches equals about 1.2 mm).

 

Another good tool... a Poofer.  This is simply a lens-cleaning bulb with the brush removed, or a bathtub toy you can squeeze to get an airflow to remove powder from your project.  You could blow on it all the time, but that gets old.  

 

I could probably come up with a list as long as LabRat's for microprep.  Somewhere out there on the web is a PowerPoint I did on this topic.  

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3 minutes ago, jpc said:

I do a lot of microprep and I have about a half dozen pin vices each with a different tip... a few sewing needles sharpened to different shapes, and a few with a must-have for when sewing needles are too soft.... carbide rod.  The stuff is not as cheap as sewing needles but it has a hardness of 9 so is very useful in hard matrix under the scope. It comes invaripous diameters.  But you need diamonds to sharpen it.  I use diamond wheels on a Dremel and diamond hones from Woodworker's Supply to microsharpen carbide points.  

https://woodworker.com/diamond-mini-hone-coarse-mssu-115-403.asp

I bought this three pack about ten years ago and I am not close to needing to replace them.  It also makes a very nice point on sewing needles.  

 

I also got foam sleeves for my pin vices from PaleoTools.  Each is a different color pattern so I know which one to pick up (after I memorize which color is which point).  I do not use both ends of a double-ended pinvice.   PaleoTools also sells carbide rod.  Most of them are not too expensive but the really fine on 3/64ths (I think) is a doozey.  (3/64ths in measured in inches equals about 1.2 mm).

 

Another good tool... a Poofer.  This is simply a lens-cleaning bulb with the brush removed, or a bathtub toy you can squeeze to get an airflow to remove powder from your project.  You could blow on it all the time, but that gets old.  

 

I could probably come up with a list as long as LabRat's for microprep.  Somewhere out there on the web is a PowerPoint I did on this topic.  

I use a Lansky Diamond Fish Hook Sharpener to maintain my points. It has grooves along the length pre machined to ensure a perfect surgical point every time.

 

I used to have a diamond knife sharpening slab with a v-grove in it for the same purpose, but lost it to a failed floor pan in the VW through which my toolbox spread itself all over I-80.

 

 

I'm adding the puffer to the OP, as I use them too, and just forgot about them!

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Here is the Air Puffer  I use, though there are many on the market. Those "snot suckers" designed for use with infants work really well too! I like this one as it can't roll away and isn't prone to sucking the dust in by accident.

 

Amazon.com : Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster Large - Black : Camera  Cleaning Kits : Camera & Photo

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I also tried a snot suck, but mine was a blue bulb with the "nozzle" that was part of the bulb.  When I squeezed on the bulb, the nozzle lost its support and went in all directions.  So I went to lens cleaners.  

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1 minute ago, jpc said:

I also tried a snot suck, but mine was a blue bulb with the "nozzle" that was part of the bulb.  When I squeezed on the bulb, the nozzle lost its support and went in all directions.  So I went to lens cleaners.  

Yep, same problem I had. Before I bought the rocket I did OK with lab dispenser bottles like this one, but they are designed more for liquids, so had limitations.

China Plastic Washing Bottle and Plastic Squeeze Bottle Manufacturer -  China Laboratory Plastic Washing Bottle, Laboratory

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  • 1 month later...
jeannie55
On 11/19/2020 at 1:02 PM, Fossildude19 said:

I've heard of people using sail/canvas sewing needles and regular sewing needles. 
I hear they have sharpened them then hardened them after heating them up, then dipping in oil or water to temper them. 

My favorite needles to use are needles used for cross stitch and/or tapestry. I use the large ones with sharp points. The reason I favor these over others is they are longer and heavier than other needles. I feel more in control. 

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jeannie55

An excellent post that provides valuable information. The writer in me wonders if creating a manual for beginners that covers tools and processes for hunting and prepping fossils wouldn’t benefit amateurs as well as provide a sustainable income for the forum. A manual that can be sold online as well as in brick and mortar shops. If anyone or two should decide to put a manual together, I would happily contribute my editing skills. While I have found books on hunting, the information is hard to unpack. I haven’t found too much on prepping. So the market might be perfect for a Fossil Forum Publication. 

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Fossildude19
2 hours ago, jeannie55 said:

An excellent post that provides valuable information. The writer in me wonders if creating a manual for beginners that covers tools and processes for hunting and prepping fossils wouldn’t benefit amateurs as well as provide a sustainable income for the forum. A manual that can be sold online as well as in brick and mortar shops. If anyone or two should decide to put a manual together, I would happily contribute my editing skills. While I have found books on hunting, the information is hard to unpack. I haven’t found too much on prepping. So the market might be perfect for a Fossil Forum Publication. 

While this is a good idea, it isn't something that the Forum can do on it's own. It is beyond our ability and purview. 

This is something that someone would have to do independent of the Forum. :) 

 

 

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