101: Getting Started in Rock and Mineral Collecting ~
In order to begin any type of collection the first step necessary is to
obtain a guide or catalogue so that we can identify the pieces that will be part
of our collection. Get a book that has clear, color pictures and detailed
descriptions. You need to be able to recognize and to classify your specimens. You
may want to invest in a "field guide" with more concise information and
smaller pictures that you can easily take with you on collection expeditions and a
more complete guide to keep at home.
is the basic equipment necessary for collecting specimens
in the field:
Personal and Safety Equipment
- Use the buddy system whenever possible. If you
go collecting alone, make sue that someone knows
where you are going and when you are expected back.
- A cell phone can't hurt but make sure that it is
fully charged and if you have a car charger for it
make sure it is in the vehicle you are taking. Also
realize that the phone may not have reception where
you are going so again, make sure someone knows
where you are and when you will return.
- Appropriate shoes and clothing for your
collecting area. Foot wear with ankle support, lug
soles, and steel toes are highly recommended.
- A hat to provide protection from the sun.
- A hard hat if you are collecting in areas with
overhanging and falling rocks. Many quarries and all
mines require hard hats be worn by all collectors.
- Polarized sunglasses to protect eyes and help
you identify specimens by blocking glare.
- Protective goggles to wear when using hammer and chisels.
- Heavy gloves for protection.
- A basic first aid kit.
- Water for drinking, washing specimens, and to
fill an overheated radiator in an emergency.
- A good map of the areas you are traveling
through and in on your collection trip.
Navigation and Recording
- Permission to collect
- Maps and guidebooks for the area
- Bearing compass and altimeter. A good GPS unit
can be an alternative.
notepad and a pencil to write down the date, the place, comments on the
trip and the mineral samples found.
- An easy way is to number each found sample and make a corresponding card with all the information
- Camera to record site locations.
Tools for Specimen Identification
- Field guides for identification
- A 10X loupe or magnifying glass to observe smaller details and help with identification.
- A small magnet to help identify meteorites and
- A small container of vinegar to identify
- A streak plate to help distinguish between
similar-appearing minerals. An unglazed porcelain
tile (like the back of a bathroom tile) can
substitute for standard streak plate.
- Moh's hardness scale and test items.
- UV light and viewing bag to identify fluorescent
Tools for Collecting
Make sure that all tools have been inspected and are
in good condition. A hammer with loose head is a weapon!
- A Crack hammer, 2, 3, or 4 lb., or breaking
medium-sized rocks and for driving your chisels.
Choose the largest hammer you can comfortably
- A Crowbar or pry bar. 22" pry bars are good
basic tools, although 30" and larger are needed for
really heavy work.
- A set of hand chisels either wide-ended or
pointed. Carbide-tipped ones will make your work
easier, although they are more expensive than steel
- Geologist's pick (hammer/pick combination) also
commonly called a rock hammer. The pick end is for prying and
the flat end for breaking rocks. It is often used for scale in
photographs. A belt or sheath makes it easy to
- Sledge hammer (12 to 16 lb) or Mason's hammer (6
to 8 lb) for breaking big rocks. Again, go with the
largest you can comfortably handle (and haul). A
sledge hammer may be more effective if you cut the
handle off at 18".
- Pocket tools to use to extract specimens from
deep pockets and crevices. You can use a commercial
pocket tool, an 18" screwdriver, an ice pick, or a
modified garden claw.
- Paintbrush, whiskbroom, and toothbrush to clean
and help evaluate specimens.
- Tools for fine work like spatulas, surgical
knife, palette knife, sieve, dental picks,
geologist's trim hammer.
Tools for Transporting Specimens
- Field bag or internal-frame backpack. If you
anticipate carrying a very heavy load, a properly
adjusted internal-frame backpack will make it
- Newspaper, paper toweling or similar to wrap your specimens in and protect them until you return home.
(note: do not use newspaper for fluorescent
specimens unless you wrap in plastic first!)
- Cloth bags, boxes, tubes, egg cartons, etc. for holding
- A bucket can be used inside a pack to protect
the fabric from your tools and to carry specimens.
It Can't Hurt to Bring This Along
- Extra change of clothes. Collecting can be dirty
- Rain gear
- Knee Pads
- Mask or Respirator as some rock dusts are
hazardous to your lungs.
Starting Your Collecting
You can start your collection by takings some filed trips to well-known
deposits. Before you begin, always ask permission to hunt rocks on land that you
do not own and always observe the "rock
collectors code of ethics". An excellent way to field collect is join an area rockhound or
lapidary club and go out with experienced collectors.
You can find a listing of local clubs on
our link or at the
American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS)
website. At this time you may
or may not know what you want to collect. Some collectors focus on a particular
family or group of minerals. Others collect only one type of mineral in all its
different colors, forms and locations. Most of us start by collecting rocks and
minerals that just appeal to us and refine the collection as it and our knowledge
can also begin your collection by acquiring a mineral box already prepared with a
set of samples of the most common minerals. These appear identified with their
names which can help us learn to identify them in the field. Another advantage of
this type of collection is that it is easily expandable by acquiring other boxes
that contain different samples of minerals or by acquiring additional minerals
individually from other collectors, lapidary stores, rock and gems shows, and
similar sources. In fact It is very common to find in the minerals stores and
shops samples in the typical small 4x4 cm. cardboard boxes which allow us to
increase the variety of minerals in our collection very economically.
and Conservation of Your Collection
Once you identify the rock type or mineral you will want to make sure and label
it. It is customary to put not only the name of the specimen but the location it
was obtained from. As you identify and add to your collection you will naturally
start sorting it to organize it more. How you sort is entirely up to you: by
color, mineral family, location found, etc. Now is also the time to consider how
to store and and conservation of your specimens. As your collection grows in
number and variety of specimens you will need to find suitable storage. What you
choose will depend on the characteristics of each specimen and where you are going
to display or store your collection.
boxes are a great solution in those cases that we have delicate
minerals or crystals that are susceptible to be deteriorate or to be broken. They
make it easy to observe the piece from all angles without having to touch it
directly. These boxes are available in square or rectangular form, with white or
black bases, and in a variety of sizes.
Special supports are available for
exhibition of minerals in display cabinets, bookcases and tables. They show the
specimens in a position that facilitates observation, to emphasize prettier
details, and at the same time provide a support base that assures stability. There
are many different types of supports, many dedicated specially to the support a
particular type of specimen. For example rings used to display mineral eggs and
Display Cabinets are a
way to to show off and to admire the pieces of your
collection. As the collection grows you will find not only
an increasing in the number of specimens but also the size
of the minerals that we like to collect. It is common at
this stage to construct or acquire a display cabinet or
What to Do with Your Collection
There are other things you can do with your specimens other
than put them on display:
- Turn them into jewelry by taking a lapidary cabochon
making or faceting class.
- Try your hand at stone carving
Suiseki, the Japanese art of natural stone selection
- Create a rock garden
- Display at a local library or show.
There are many different places to go to look for minerals. However the
best sources are not always near our homes and often not accessible due to
restrictions, extraction techniques, ownership rights, etc. The collection goal
then becomes about having the best possible specimen. That means acquiring them
from their better deposits. At this point you may look to a professional mineral
retailer. Many times these minerals have their own support with name and source
deposit. As you increase your contacts in the lapidary world you may also
encounter other expert collectors with good specimens for sale or trade at shows,
swaps, their owns stores or through websites.
After years and years of collecting you will have acquired a wide knowledge of
mineralogy and related areas. It is often at this stage that the collector pursues
the specialization of the collection. They decide on collecting just fluorescent
minerals or micromounts or create a systematic collection from a particular area.
Some collectors focus on the various forms of a single mineral or collecting
samples fro deposits around the world.
Article sources: Mineral Town; Mt. Clements Gem and