What to save and mount
is a matter
of some discretion to decide what to break and what not to break.
Generally, avoid breaking up a specimen when there's no good reason and especially when smaller pieces would be less desirable.
|1. Containers for microminerals
How would you preserve your specimen from falling into a crack in the floor or otherwise becoming lost? The first step is to get a container for it. It can be cardboard, plastic, metal, or whatever... but it should have a lid to keep dust and lint away from your specimens. This is especially important for fibrous or acicular minerals such as agardite, natrolite, etc.
2. Making the post or pedestal
Now that you have the boxes prepared, our plan is to make some type of "mount" or support to which we will affix the specimen. Micro crystals can be very fragile, so you want them to stay put. Since we're dealing with a tiny crystal or mass on a very tiny piece of matrix, we'll mount the specimen on a "post". Why? Well, when you're looking at the specimen, you'll want to rotate the box and slant it to see different areas of the crystal(s). If the specimen were all the way down in the bottom of the box, the sides of the box would obstruct more of your view.
|Lately I've been
using round toothpicks as
posts, as shown above. I'll call this the "pull-through
this is a time-tested micromounting technique used by some of the
best-known collectors. It works like this: First, glue the
specimen to one end of a toothpick and hold it in a clothespin while it
dries. Then drill a matching-diameter hole in the bottom of an
M511 box whose inside bottom you have roughened up with a sharp
object. To make the hole, use a drill bit that is the same size
as the toothpick's fattest portion. Next, pull the toothpick
through the hole until the specimen is at the desired height. It
should be a snug fit.
Epoxy glue is a good choice to fasten it in place. In 24 hours when it's completely dry, use a razor saw to cut away the excess toothpick that protrudes out the underside of the box. I've used this one; if you do any sort of hobby work with dowels and stuff, get a couple of them. You will use them for so many crafting projects.
Don't apply excessive pressure when cutting. It's better to saw slowly and apply very little pressure; you don't want to break the glue loose from the plastic. Most glues have good pull strength but not much peel strength. They don't hold well when subjected to torque.
|3. Glue (Keeping the post in place)
If you're using pre-sawn posts instead of the pull-through toothpick method, you can glue the posts into the box without pulling them through a hole in the bottom and sawing off the excess. Toothpicks are too thin to stand upright by themselves even when sawn off square (hence, the hole), but thin dowel sections work well as pre-sawn posts. I use wooden dowel that's 3 mm diameter.
As in the toothpick / porcupine quill method, make sure you "rough up" the plastic in the bottom of the box by cutting criss-crossed scratches into it so the glue will adhere better. You can use a pin or an X-acto knife for this purpose. After this, take one of the 6 to 8 mm lengths of thin dowel and put a drop of super glue or 5-minute epoxy on one end. Glue the "post" into the box-- dead center and perfectly upright if you can manage it-- and let it dry. I use a "flexible", gel-form super glue that's available at Wal-Mart for about 3 bucks. It dries fairly quickly, so be careful you don't glue your fingers together with the stuff. Don't be too stingy with the glue; more glue takes longer to dry, but it also gives more support for the post. If you skimp on glue, the posts can break off. You don't want to go to all that trouble just to have this happen.
Lately I've been using epoxy glue to hold the posts in place. It seems to work better than anything else, but it's a little more work because it requires mixing prior to use. Don't mix too much at once or it will go to waste.
If you choose the pull-through toothpick method mentioned above, you might want to put glue on the portion of the toothpick that you estimate will be in the hole. When the toothpick is pulled in to the right depth, the glue will touch the plastic. Then you can twirl the toothpick around in the hole to spread the glue uniformly. When it dries, you can saw away the portion of toothpick that protrudes out the bottom of the box.
4. Painting the boxes
I've found that most plastic boxes are highly reflective and cause horrible glare when looking at a specimen closely. The clear ones are like mirrors... very distracting.
After I glue the posts into the boxes, I paint them on the inside with dull or flat black paint (here's the kind I use). You could use some other color if you really wanted to (not white, unless it's a dark mineral), but use one with a dull finish. Once the paint is dry, you are ready for the next stage... placing the actual specimen on the post. That is, unless you are using the pull-through toothpick method (see above), in which case you can glue the specimen to the toothpick first if you prefer.
If you already have the specimen on the post before you paint the inside of the box, take extreme care not to get paint on the specimen. This kind of operation might seem like a huge hassle, but it really isn't too bad once you've practiced. The reason for doing it this way is that the paint inside the box appears seamless. This may seem an almost obsessive point, but a huge part of micromounting is in the presentation of the specimen. Sloppy painting just won't do.
With the pull-through toothpick method, you pretty much have to paint after the specimen is completely mounted anyway, because otherwise you'll have an area of fresh glue that has no paint on it. This will be shiny and distracting.
With the pre-sawn dowel method, you can glue everything in place, paint the inside of the box, and then perch the specimen on top of the dowel with some glue. The dowel is wide enough (ca. 3 mm) that the specimen shouldn't fall off before it dries. It still might, though.
5. Putting the specimen onto the post
Now comes the potentially very frustrating part: mounting the actual specimen to the end of the upright post. You can glue it there, or you can use a small bit of "tack", a type of putty that is used to hang posters and such without leaving nail holes.
Serious micromounters generally glue the specimens. If you've gone to the length of using toothpicks or porcupine quills, and gluing them, then you might as well glue the specimen on there, too.
Putty or tack is good to have, though, and if you keep reading you'll see why you'll probably need some anyway. You can buy this "tack" at Wal-Mart; the best one I've found there so far has been Duck brand Poster Putty, made by Henkel Consumer Adhesives. It is actually quite similar to the old "Blue Tack".
Even better than the department-store fare is the greyish-white "Mineral Tack" that's sold for the purpose. This is probably the best stuff.
Although I developed my own recipe having superior adhesion and pliability to anything I've tried, I haven't bothered producing it on a larger scale yet. It's one of those many unfinished projects, I guess. The ready-made Mineral Tack is just fine for what I do, for now; and lots of other people like it, too.
With "tack" or putty, you can always reposition the specimen. Use tweezers if necessary.
When you're gluing specimens permanently, you must TAKE YOUR TIME placing the specimen on the post. Mineral tack, on the other hand is obviously much more forgiving; you can move it at any time.
If you really want to use glue and are sure you won't need to reposition the specimen later, try Elmer's glue. Put a tiny dab on the post and on the underside of the specimen. Let them dry partially and then stick together. Allow to dry for at least a few hours.
Though it can be messier, you could instead use the epoxy or the super glue I mentioned earlier. I use this and it works well.
6. Label and catalog that specimen!
This is the MOST important step after preserving your find. Stick-on labels are fine; fast-drying correction fluid written on with India ink is also effective. Either way, put it on the outside of the box which contains your specimen. If you put the label on the lid, make sure you also put one on the base of the box. Otherwise, you will forget and end up switching lids with other boxes when you're viewing your minerals.
If you can't fit all the information on the box label, just put a catalog number on your label and make a corresponding entry on an index card or in a spreadsheet. Don't lose the cards! Be as specific as possible about where and when you found the specimen: State, county, town, name of quarry or mine, and date. If you found it in a newly-blasted area of a quarry, an old mine dump, or whatever, indicate this on your card. If you got it from another collector, include this information as well.
Mineral species can be determined later, but locality cannot. That's why, if you have no room for anything else on your labels, at least record the locality.
|There is an easier way, but it's
sort of cheating...
So you decided to jump ahead. Perhaps you're looking at 450 unmounted specimens and you don't feel like making posts.
1. Get a small box, preferably with a lid. The Amac M511 box is good. To avoid glare, paint the box black on the inside where it will form the background for the specimen.
2. Make a small ball of "tack" or mounting putty and stick it in the center of each box.
Note: Some people like to use the lid of the box as the "base" and the base of the box as the "lid". This makes sense for specimens having high 3-D relief where you might want to view it from various angles. It is also a little faster to do.
3. Stick the specimen to the ball of "tack" or mounting putty on your "base".
4. Label the base of the box and catalog the specimen.
This is how I mounted most of my specimens when I began micromount collecting. I still do it this way for certain specimens. The problem here is that the oils from the putty will creep onto the specimen, making it hard to glue if you choose later to do a permanent micromount. Acetone will of course remove the oils, but don't get it on the plastic boxes (it will melt them).
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