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Staining fossils


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I took my dad out to collect some carboniferous fern fossils from a coal mine tailings heap. He wants to combine the fossils with his woodworking, perhaps making pendents or embedding them into recesses in boxes as decorative embellishments.

Some of the fern fossils are slightly darker than the matrix they're in, but for the most part they're not as visible as we would like. Is there any straightforward way to stain or treat the specimen such that the fossil portion stands out better visually from the matrix? Ideally, some sort of stain that would have a greater effect on the fossil portion than on the matrix.

Or (and I fear this is the case) would it be a matter of painstakingly hand-painting/staining the fossil?

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Try varieties of minwax for wood staining. This is often used to dye dinosaur tracks to enhance contrast. Note that something with a satin finish will not give it a shine like a gloss.

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Or (and I fear this is the case) would it be a matter of painstakingly hand-painting/staining the fossil?

Your fears are well founded. That's what I would do but I would use PVA to highlight the fossil rather than stain.

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I would highlight.

A reminder. Stains often produce a unique finish depending on the wood species. This also applies to fossils. I once tried some stains on fossils for the fun of it...browns turned an unnatural pinky purple after a couple weeks.

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Thanks for the responses, I've passed them along.

Unnatural pinky purple could be fun!

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I hope these are 'expendable' fossils and not collector or museum grade?

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I hope these are 'expendable' fossils and not collector or museum grade?

Yes, quite expendable. Very common (here in Alabama) fern fossils.

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What's common for you is rare and desirable for someone else. And I am surprised how often museums don't have (and would like) something that you'd think they would already have.

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Yes, I should have mentioned that staining a fossil is a risk, an experiment, and if you treasure the specimen do not do it. I have some dark carboniferous fern fossils and the only way I can imagine making it pop would be to paint the matrix around or perhaps stain that rather than the specimen. An intrigueing problem all collectors encounter...

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The fossils in question are nice little samples, specifically selected and quite suitable for making jewelry or adorning small wooden boxes. They are not museum or collector quality pieces. Experimenting is part of the fun of the project. And if these don't work out, I know where there's a tailings heap with a couple metric tons more.

Not to worry. I've got tremendous respect for high quality or collectible specimens.

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The fossils in question are nice little samples, specifically selected and quite suitable for making jewelry or adorning small wooden boxes. They are not museum or collector quality pieces. Experimenting is part of the fun of the project. And if these don't work out, I know where there's a tailings heap with a couple metric tons more.

Not to worry. I've got tremendous respect for high quality or collectible specimens.

Right on!

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Here's something that I've tried with some success for Mazon Creek specimens.

With a 'mortar and pestle', I've ground some of the light red broken nodule pieces into a very very fine powder. Then brushed that powder over areas of the background to make it more evenly lighter colored. Then, I've also ground some coal dust to lightly brush the fern to darken it.

That has helped make some fossils stand out a little better, it looks very natural and I figure it all can be removed easily.

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