Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

16.1 Collecting Preparing and Storing Miniature Minerals


16.1: Collecting, Preparing, and Storing Miniature Minerals

Collecting miniatures. One good way to start kids collecting miniature minerals is in the backyard of a willing club member who has a 40-year accumulation of rock sinking into the ground, with small chips and pieces scattered all about. Let kids know they won‘t be seeking a spectacular giant hunk but instead rejects and cast-offs: the quartz or calcite-filled geode that shattered under a hammer blow and now sits in unwanted pieces. On close inspection, and with a little scrubbing, these pieces may yield perfect miniatures. Encourage kids to get up-close-and-personal with the rocks. Other sources of miniatures include gem shows, swaps with fellow club members, and—of course—field trips to mines and mineral localities listed in guidebooks for self-collecting.

Tools for field collecting miniatures will be the same as those used for collecting bigger specimens (see 8.2): a rock hammer and chisel, goggles for eye protection, work gloves to protect hands, a roll of toilet paper for wrapping specimens so crystal tips and faces don‘t get chipped or scratched, zip-lock baggies for transporting specimens safely home in buckets, knapsacks, or soda flats, and masking tape, markers, and notebooks for recording locality and other field information for each specimen.

Preparing miniatures. Preparing miniatures basically involves trimming away matrix and unwanted damaged crystals. Kids shouldn‘t try to trim excess matrix in the field but rather at home, where they can better control the trimming. Basic supplies needed include lapidary hammers and small chisels (along with eye protection), rock or tile nippers and/or special vice-like rock trimmers to snip away pieces of matrix, a small rock saw, a hack saw fitted with a grit-edge or tungsten carbide blade rod, and a regular hand magnifying glass or, better, a bench magnifier that allows one to work with both hands free. Small sand bags are also helpful to secure a specimen and to absorb the shock of any hammer-and-chisel blows, which should be administered with a light touch.

For sturdier, non-soluble minerals and crystals, cleaning often involves nothing more than a scrubbing with soapy water and a toothbrush. I‘ve also used steel dental picks and a dental water pick to get at stubborn dirt packed within tiny crevices.

Storing miniatures. Miniatures may be stored in egg cartons, small fold-up cardboard specimen boxes, or compartmentalized plastic storage boxes with fold-top lids sold with fishing tackle or in bead-supply stores. A more expensive option is the 2-inch Perky box, named after its creator, Willard Perkins of Burbank, California, who was known to friends as "Perky". For use with miniatures, these come in two sizes: medium (1-3/8"x2"x2") and large (2.25"x2.5"x2.5"). These small plastic boxes, available from mineral suppliers, usually have a black bottom lined with Styrofoam and a clear plastic top. Specimens can be pushed into the Styrofoam or held in place with a dab of mineral- or poster-tack. These Perky boxes, in turn, can be stored in soda flats or small cabinets.

Note: Kids can use this activity to satisfy requirements toward earning the Collecting badge simultaneously (Activity 5.1).