Building a fossil preparation box

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By Chris Pamplin

I have been collecting fossils on and off for about 36 years and it’s not since I lived at my mother’s home, some 25 years ago, that I have been really organised about cleaning fossils for display. Although I am a professional fossil hunting guide, my interest in fossils has always been as an amateur collector and, for many years, my main fossil cleaning tool was an electric engraver, which cost £30 back in the 1980s. At my last rented house, the brick barbeque with a sandbag on it was my outdoor cleaning station. It is only since moving into a new house and finally buying a shed that I have got myself sorted.

Fig. 1. The dimensions of the box.

So here is how to make a fossil preparation box, like the one that I now have ready for use in my shed, which will keep the dust at bay and cut noise levels as well. You can use it with an electric engraver or, as I now do, with a compressed air pen specially adapted for palaeontological work.

Fig. 2. An example of an Air Abrasive Blaster (125psi).

The box described in this article was built from odds and ends that I had laying around, left over from various DIY projects. However, the materials can also be bought new if you are not in a position to recycle.

The sides and base are plywood and the back and top are an old estate agents board that was very easy to cut up and use, but they could equally be made of ply in the same way as the sides. Various bits of wood act as struts in the build and screws were used to hold it all together. A strong piece of timber acts as a cross-member for the hinged glass. The final dust seal is formed by taping the joints with gaffer tape – this strong tape also strengthens the box and makes a good hinge for the glass plate.

The front consists of some rubberised material stripped from an old car roof rack protector. This is cut to size and taped on with two crosses cut in it to allow access for the pen and my hands.

Fig. 3. The preparation box, mid-build.

It took about three hours to make the box and set it up in the shed. The 6mm glass (cut to size) cost £7 and the ply was about £5.

Fig. 4. The finished article.

The dimensions of the box arose through guesswork and circumstances. In particular, it just happens to be that size as the base was already cut, but it seems fine as it is. You can make one as big or as small as suits your needs. I am sure that this will make my fossil preparation much cleaner, stopping the dust getting onto other surfaces and projects in my hobby shed. I hope that it will be equally helpful to you.

Fig. 5. The preparation box, ready for use.

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