Tools of the trade


* ROCK PICK - The classic geologist's pick is always the most useful.
  It has a square and flat end for busting rock and striking chisels and a
pointed  pick end for digging, turning and splitting rock. In areas with
scorpions or  snakes it is very useful for turning rocks over safely. There are
several  weights and sizes to chose from. If you find yourself often working in
very hard  rock then get the larger size and if you will use it to turn stone
get a longer  handle.
CHIPPING HAMMERS - Like a mason's hammer it has a flat blade at the
  back end for splitting or trimming rock. This hammer is very useful when
working  in shales or other thinly laminated rock.
CRACK/SLEDGE HAMMERS - Crack hammers are small to medium size sledge
  hammers, 2 to 4 pounds with various lengths of handles but usually short. These
  hammers are useful when you are doing some serious excavation in hard rock or
  you need to drive large chisels. I keep a three-pound crack hammer in the trunk
  of the car but seldom actually carry it with me.
A SAFETY NOTE ABOUT HAMMERS - Remember that a carpenter's claw hammer
  is not a good geology hammer. It is not meant to be struck against rock or
  hardened steel and can chip and send nasty fragments flying your way. A ball
  peen is OK in a pinch since it is made to strike hard steel but it's shape is
  not quite right for working rock. If a hammer's head starts to come loose or
the  handle is breaking fix or replace it immediately, it is very dangerous.
HAMMER SHEATHS or LOOPS - These are a good way to keep your hands
  free. Sheaths with snaps are good when you are climbing around and don't want
to  drop your hammer. A carpenter's belt loop makes for quick access to your
hammer  when you need it. Both are found at hardware stores.
* CHISELS - They come in various sizes. The all purpose size has a 1/2
  inch wide blade and is about 6 to 9 inches long. Other useful sizes are 1/4
inch  for fine work and 1 inch or bigger for heavy work. Another very useful
chisel is  known as a BRICK SET. It has a wide(2-3") blade and is excellent for
splitting  and trimming. Hand guards are now available for most chisels and they
come in  bright colors which makes them a lot safer and harder to lose.
GAD PRY or CROW BARS - There are times when you need to split larger
  rocks than your chisels can handle. The gad pry has a point at one end and a
  short right angled blade at the other for prying layers apart. It is usually 18
  inches or more long and offers some leverage. Crow bars are useful for turning
  and moving big stuff and come in many sizes.
* SMALL PICKS - For actually getting small fossils loose or exposed
  from the rock you need a finely pointed tool. Ice picks, dental picks or just a
  small nail stuck in the end of a dowel are handy. You can find used dental
picks  in most hardware stores these days.
TWEEZERS - A good pair of tweezers will come in handy if you must
  collect small pieces without disturbing the matrix or dirt around the specimen.
  A good example would be a specimen that is starting to disarticulate and must
be  collected in pieces for later assembly such as a crinoid or trilobite. I
have  one long tweezers with an offset tip that works well for everything.
TROWELS - When working in soft sediments these can be very handy. An
  old paint or butter knife will also do.
* DUST BRUSHES - I recommend three types: a small soft brush(1/4" wide
  paint brush), a wide soft brush(3" paint brush) and a stiff brush(old
  toothbrush). I have found that disposable flux brushes from the hardware store
  are good. If you are going to excavate in very dusty shale or limestone a long
  handled dust brush is very useful.
SIEVE - A plastic or wire screen is useful for sifting through dirt or
  sand. This is often the very best way to search for shark teeth in creek beds.
  If you think you will be doing a great deal of collecting in sands or gravel
you  may want to have a variety of mesh sizes. From 1/4 inch down to window
screen or  smaller depending on what you expect to find. I have a round plastic
one made  for kids to play with at the beach. I also find it very useful at
other  locations as a place to park specimens until I can get to labeling and
bagging  them. The bright yellow color makes it hard to lose.
*SHOULDER &/or BACK PACKS - I have one heavy canvas back pack for
  the big tools and packing materials and a smaller shoulder bag for the fine
  tools and specimens. I carry both to the general area I am collecting in and
  then "park" the back pack while I keep the shoulder bag with me. I also have a
  few small pouches that slip on my belt. They hold my small picks, chisels, 10X
  magnifier, labels and small containers for delicate fossils. A fly-fishing or
  hunting vest can be incredibly useful. They have loads of pockets and pouches
  with Velcro or zippered closures and usually a few hooks or loops for hanging
  things on. Mine has 30 pockets, no kidding.
CLOTH BAGS - A couple of cloth shopping bags can come in very handy
  when you need to carry out large specimens or rocks. They fold up and are light
COMPASS - Needed if you are keeping good notes on your location or
  hiking in remote areas. Many to choose from.
MAP SCALE - You can buy ones that work with all the standard map
  scales or make your own. I have one that came with several folding scales at
  different common scales such as 1:24,000 & 1:250,000 and both feet and
  meters. It has an inch and centimeter scale for photography.
METER STICK - I have a walking stick that I have painted with ten
  alternating bands of black and bright green. Each band is 10 centimeters long
  and there is an 11th band that has 10 one centimeter bands. It is what I place
  in all photos of outcrops when in the field.
*MAGNIFIER(S) - The most useful size magnifier is the 10X folding
  lens. With this power of magnification you can observe most small fossils and
  diagnostic detail. I also carry a 15X lens but hardly ever use it, it is just
  too tight a view. A larger 3X hand lens is also handy for scanning rock
CAMERA - Taking pictures of a location is always a good idea. Any
  camera will do. Remember to put something into the picture for scale such as
  your hammer, friend or meter stick.


 * NOTEBOOK - Keeping good notes is very important. There are all kinds
  of notebooks to choose from. Anything from a steno-pad to a waterproof
  surveyor's log. Mainly it should fit in your pack or pocket, be stiff enough to
  write on while standing and sturdy enough to hold up to the environment.
* PENS & PENCILS - Water-proof pens are good for labeling fossils
  in the field. Take along several pencils for keeping notes. I use a mechanical
  pencil since it never needs sharpening.
*LABELS - Small paper labels for specimens are very important. These
  can be just small slips of blank paper or pre-printed forms. I make my own
  labels and each has a place for a field number, location information and date.
I  always have several hundred with me and I spread them out through my packs
and  bags so they are always handy.
* SMALL CONTAINERS - Various sizes of small boxes, film cans or
  plastic jars are good for holding delicate specimens. Stuffing some tissue or
  foam into each is also good for protecting fossils. I have several sets of
boxes  that all nest together and are easy to carry. Matchboxes, film cans,
jewelry  boxes, etc. are all good for small delicate fossils.
ZIPLOCK BAGS - Nothing is easier for holding fossils in the field.
  Sandwich size and smaller are all good. Lapidary suppliers will carry a variety
  of sizes. I have found that three inch square bags are the most useful for
  Paleozoic invertebrates. In addition I carry some sandwich size for larger
  fossils and gallon size for grouping smaller bags.
* NEWSPAPER - For wrapping fossils there is nothing easier. Carry
  about one or two days worth. Paper bags and bubble wrap are also good but
  bulkier. Some folks also take masking tape or rubber bands but these are not
  usually needed when the specimens are stuffed into a pack or cloth bag.
FILM - Black and white or color. Either are fine, although color will
  obviously give you more information. Always have a back-up roll.
CONSOLIDANTS - There is now a variety of materials available for
  reinforcing or preserving specimens that can be used in the field.
  Superglues(cyanoacrylates) come in various consistencies. You should have a
  bottle of solvent with you if you use cyanoacrylate for safety's sake. Water
  soluble glues such as Elmers will do in a pinch. Commercial products such as
  PaleoBond or Butvar are also available. Do not use shellac!
JACKETING MATERIALS - If you are to be collecting fragile vertebrate
  fossils you will need plaster and all of the other associated materials. this
is  an area that I have no real experience with and you should refer to the more
  advanced literature for info on what is the best materials and methods.
  Collecting vertebrates is a whole different gig than invertebrates and you
  should be well prepared and knowledgeable of the techniques needed before
  attempting to extricate fragile material. In addition vertebrate fossils are
  often covered by laws that prohibit or limit their collecting on government


 TOPOGRAPHIC MAPS - Available from the United States Geologic
  Survey(USGS). 7.5' quadrangle sheets at 1:24,000 scale are the most useful. You
  can order them directly from the USGS or buy them at map stores.
* ROAD MAPS - A good county or state map for finding current road or
  place names. This is needed to compliment the 7.5' topos since they often do
not  include recent roads, quarries or place names.
GEOLOGIC HIGHWAY MAPS - These are available on a state or regional
  scale from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists(AAPG) in Tulsa,
  Oklahoma and can be ordered directly from them or through many science supply
LOCAL GEO MAPS - If you can find one for the area you are collecting
  in then take it with you. These can be found through many state geo surveys or
  the USGS.
FIELD GUIDES - Although you do not always need to identify a specimen
  in the field it does help sometimes to be able to look up a specimen in order
to  check that it fits the formation or age.
GUIDE BOOKS - Many state geo surveys as well as professional societies
  publish guidebooks. These are often collections of field trips based around
that  year's meeting and feature road logs with mileage, descriptions of
geologic and  paleontologic features encountered and up-to-date nomenclature for
the subject  of the trip. These can be one of the best sources for sites and
information  since they often showcase some of the most current work being

* FIRST-AID KIT - A small travel kit like those made for hikers is
  essential. It is very easy to cut or bash your hands when digging around in
  rocks. Being able to clean, disinfect and bandage a cut on site can prevent a
  nasty infection later. Alcohol wipes, first-aid cream and Band-Aids will handle
  most injuries. Many kits also contain a roll of gauze, tape, scissors, etc..
* PAIN RELIEVER(ASPIRIN) - A headache in the field can ruin a day.
SNAKE BITE KIT - Available from camping stores this is important if
  you are in poisonous snake territory. Note that there is still much controversy
  on how to treat a snake bite. If you work in areas with poisonous snakes then
  take the time to learn a little about what to do. Consult your local Red Cross
  for information on the preferred first-aid.
BUG REPELLENT - With the increase in Lyme disease this has become a
  necessity. You need something with at least 50% DEET for ticks, but be easy
with  the stuff since it is toxic.
SUN SCREEN - Ever really fry the back of your neck while crouching
  over the rock all day?
TOILET PAPER - A small amount rolled up and kept dry in a ziplock.
* PONCHO or EMERGENCY BLANKET - You can buy small disposable ponchos
  or foil blankets to keep you dry in a storm. They come folded up about the size
  of a wallet and stow easily in the bottom of your pack. Remember many people
die  of hypothermia each year and this is often when the temperature is over 50
  degrees. All you need is something to keep you dry and thus prevent the loose
of  body heat.
* SAFETY GLASSES & GLOVES - When chiseling or hammering in hard
  rock you must protect your eyes and hands. Safety glasses come in a variety of
  sizes and shapes and it is easy to find a comfortable fit. Many quarries and
  clubs require safety glasses and sometimes hard boots.
HAT - If you are working in bright sun a wide brim hat is the easiest
  way to protect your head and neck from sunburn and cut down on glare. Combine
it  with a cotton bandanna to keep the sweat out of your eyes and you are all
set. I  actually recommend stuffing a few extra bandannas into your pack or
pockets  since they are very versatile.
EXTRA CLOTHES - Dry socks, shirt and pants. I don't carry these with
  me in the field but I do keep them in the car in case I want to change before a
  long drive home.
* WATER - If you are going into any sort of remote area always take
  water. A one quart canteen or water bottle is often enough. You can also carry
a  small bottle with you and keep a gallon jug in the car as refill.
FOOD/SNACKS - If you are out for the whole day you need to eat. If you
  are carrying it with you take things that don't spoil in the sun & heat, no
  use getting sick over a spoiled sandwich. Fruit and bread are good. Don't
  overload on sugar. I will pack a small cooler with food and drink and leave it
  in the car if I know I will be parked near the site. Taking a break and having
a  nice picnic at mid day will make for a much more pleasant experience and it
is a  good time to make notes in the fieldbook and double check any references
you  brought with you.
Being well prepared when going fossil hunting can help make for an even
  more enjoyable day of collecting. Having the proper stuff for the area you are
  exploring will make for a safer and more productive adventure. You always want
  to bring back good memories as well as good fossils.

Converse, H.H., Jr., 1984 (2nd printing revised by R. McCarty, 1989),
  Handbook of Paleo-Preparation Techniques, Florida Paleontological Society,
Inc.,  Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, Florida
Cvancara, A.M., 1985, A Field Manual for the Amateur Geologist,
  Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
Cvancara, A.M., 1990, Sleuthing Fossils: the Art of Investigating Past Life,
  Wiley Science Editions, NY
Dixon, D., 1992, The Practical Geologist, Simon & Schuster / Fireside, NY
Goldring, W., 1950, 2nd ed., Handbook of Paleontology for Beginners and
  Amateurs: Part I, The Fossils, Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, NY
Goldring, R., 1991, Fossils in the Field, Information Potential and Analysis,
  Longman Scientific and Technical
Lichter, G., 1986, engl. trans. 1993, Fossil Collector's Handbook, Sterling,
  New York
MacFall, R.P., 1963, Collecting Rocks, Minerals, Gems and Fossils, Hawthorn,
MacFall, R.P. and Wollin, J.C., 1983, rev'd. ed., Fossils for Amateurs, Van
  Nostrand Reinhold, NY
Matthews, W.H., III, 1960, Texas Fossils: an Amateur Collector's Handbook,
  guidebook no. 2, Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, Austin, TX
Mayr, H., 1985, A Guide to Fossils, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
Moody, R., 1986, Macmillan Field Guide to Fossils, Macmillan
Murray, M., 1967, Hunting for Fossils, Macmillan, NY
Parker, S., 1990, The Practical Paleontologist, Simon and Schuster, NY
Pellant, C. and Phillips, R., 1990, Rocks, Minerals and Fossils of the World,
  Little Brown, Boston
Thomas, M.C., 1968, Fossil Vertebrates: Beach and Bank Collecting for
  Amateurs, Florida Paleontological Society, Florida Museum of Natural History,
  Gainesville, Florida
Thompson, I., 1982, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American
  Fossils, Alfred A. Knopf, NY
Walker, C. and Ward, D., 1992, Fossils(Eyewitness Handbook), Dorling
  Kindersley, inc., NY
West, R.M., 1991, State Regulation of Geological, Paleontological and
  Archaeological Collecting, American Museum of Natural History, NY

American Association of Petroleum Geologists(AAPG)
P.O. Box 797
  Oklahoma 74101
Geological Society of America
P.O. Box 1719
Boulder, Colorado
(800) 472-1988, (303) 447-2020
U.S. Geological Survey
Map Distribution
Federal Center, Box
Denver, Colorado 80225
(303) 236-7477
U.S. Geological Survey
Books and Open File Reports Section
  Center, Box 25425
Denver, Colorado 80225
(303) 236-7476

Many of these items or their equivalents can be found in your local hardware
  store or a good military surplus dealer.
If you are lucky enough to have a good rock shop or lapidary supply dealer in
  your area try them for many of the items.
The following two commercial suppliers have many of the items listed above:
Carolina Biological Supply Company
2700 York Road
Burlington, NC
(800) 334-5551
Forestry Suppliers, Inc.
PO Box 8397
Jackson, MS 39284-8397
(800)   752-8460