Fossil Hunting Tools: A Beginner’s Expedition Shopping List

Whether you are a beginning fossil hunter or have been hunting fossils for several years, the most essential thing you’ll need is the appropriate tools.

Fossil hunting can be a difficult task, but with the following list of fossil hunting tools, your quest for the ideal fossil will be much easier.

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Fossil Hunting Tools

Disclaimer: It is not legal to hunt for or collect fossils everywhere you go. In many places, it is legal to collect some types of fossils, and not others. In some places, it is not legal to collect anything at all (think National Parks). Do your research before you collect any fossils, and don’t disturb anything until you are sure you aren’t breaking any local laws governing the specimens.

Fossil Hammer

Fossil hammers, also known as rock hammers, come in a vast array of styles, weights, and lengths.

There are literally different hammers for every aspect of fossil hunting, including hammers for prying, chipping, cracking, and prying.

So, when preparing a fossil hunting kit, you’ll definitely want to include at least one type of fossil hammer.

Some of the most useful options in fossil hammers include:

  • Mason’s hammer-This type of hammer has a square head and a chisel end. A mason’s hammer is excellent for breaking rocks into small pieces, loosening hard soils, and it provides good control when needed.
  • Chipping hammer-This type of hammer has both a pointed end and a vertical chisel end and the cushioned handle helps protect hands and absorb vibrations. A chipping handle will also allow you to have a more precise blow in a small area.
  • Crack hammer-These hammers are excellent for breaking large rocks into small rocks. The hammer has two flat polished ends that look like small, handheld sledgehammers. A crack hammer can also be used to point ends into rocks and drive a chisel.
  • Cross peen hammer-The cross peen hammer is a fossil hammer and chisel in one. One side of the hammer has a blunt chisel end and a flat hammer face. It is excellent for driving chisels and reducing hand samples. They are especially good for breaking limestone and other hard sedimentary rocks.

Fossil Preparation Tools

The type of fossil preparation tools and equipment you need basically depends on the type of material you are working on and the amount of time you intend to spend prepping.

Hand tools, such as a Dremel, are good for using the metal point of the engraver to remove matrix from around the fossil, because it works like a piston or a jackhammer, only in a much smaller version.

A small air abrasion tool can be used to remove the leftover matrix from around the fossil itself because it “sandblasts” the softer matrix without damaging the fossil.

Rake

When putting together a set of fossil hunting tools, whether it is river fossil hunting tools or tools for searching in beach sand, you’ll definitely want to include a rake.

A rake can be used to remove the debris covering the area where a suspected fossil is or for sifting through the bottom of rivers and creeks.

A good choice is a collapsible rake/hoe combo, which can used to rake as well as flip over clay boulders and rocks, and the hoe end can be used as a tooth scoop to prevent you from having to bend over again and again.

When the tool is collapsed it can be used as a rock pick on softer materials.

Shovel

One of the most important fossil hunting tools you’ll need is a shovel.

A long handle shovel is ideal for digging in rivers, while a short handle shovel is excellent for digging in cramped places.

When you’re trying to dig out fossils, you will usually spend a lot of time sitting or kneeling, so using a short-handled shovel will quickly become one of your favorite fossil extraction tools.

Another option for small, cramped places is a foldable shovel, because not only will it fit in your backpack, but the handle is often shorter.

Fossil Hunting Sifter

There is a vast array of options when it comes to fossil hunting sifters.

While in the field you may want to consider a standard square sifter, which can be used for sifting and separating fossils from fine sand and dirt.

A sifter with a thicker screen, but smaller holes may be the ideal choice when hunting for fossils in rivers and creeks.

When searching for a fossil hunter sifter, just keep in mind that the screen should be tight enough to prevent small fossils from falling through, but large enough to allow the sediment to escape.

Paleo Pick/Geo Pick

A geo pick is the ideal fossil hunting tool because they have a chisel edge and a pointed end. So, you can rip apart sedimentary rock and dig in small holes while kneeling.

Mattock

A mattock is a short-handled tool that has a sharp side you can use for cutting roots and heavy vegetation and a hoe-like edge that can be used to break up soil and gravel.

Chisel

Chisels are essential for getting the fossil out of the matrix surrounding it, as well as for splitting nodules that may contain fossils.

You will generally use more than one style of the chisel; for instance, you will need a large chisel to get through the bulk of the work, while a smaller chisel can be used for finer, more precise work.

Some of the most common types of chisels used for fossil hunting include:

  • Hand rock chisels-The chisel end of a hand rock chisel narrows down into a thin, straight edge. This type of chisel can be used to break rocks along a line.
  • Hand point chisel-The hand point chisel tapers down at the end into a sharp point, which allows the force to concentrate on one specific spot.

Steel Point/Pry Bar

In some situations, you may not need a chisel or a hammer to eliminate the matrix around potential fossils.

Instead, you need something that allows for more precise work.

A steel point is especially beneficial when chiseling crumbly matrix may end up causing damage to a fragile fossil.

A small steel point can also be used to position and apply liquid glue when adhering loose parts of a fossil.

The pry end can be used to pull or lift away rocks or other debris.

Wrecking Bar

A wrecking bar is extremely durable, especially when you are trying to dig and loosen hard or compacted materials, such as soil, rock, concrete, ice, or tree roots.

A wrecking bar can also be used as a lever and making holes in the ground.

Each end of the wrecking bar is different, so it’s designed to be used as two tools in one.

The ends may vary and can be pointed, blunted, chiseled, or wedged.

Magnifying Glass

A magnifying glass will allow you to get a better view of the fine details of fossils, while you are in the field.

You may be amazed to discover how well-preserved some of the features can be on fossils, some that you may not have been aware of until you get out of the field.

Hand Lens

A hand lens, also known as a jeweler’s loupe, is similar to a magnifying glass, except it is smaller and allows you to see finer details on your fossils.

A jeweler’s loupe will also be beneficial in helping you identify fossil samples that you wouldn’t normally be able to see with the naked eye.

A hand lens is ideal when you are looking for tiny fossil skeletons in limestone or inspecting the cell structure in leaf fossils.

Sand Dipper

If you are a fossil collector on the beach, you most likely spend a great deal of time bending over to sift through the sand as you look for cool rocks, shells, and fossils.

A sand dipper is an excellent tool for scouring sandy beaches for fossils, such as teeth.

Brushes

Brushes are extremely useful fossil hunting tools.

You can use a brush to clean the dust from fossils that are partially covered with loose materials.

They can be used in the field or at home to clean fossil surfaces, including cleaning out small crevices.

It’s a good idea to have a few varieties, such as a short, soft-haired brush for small, delicate pieces as well as a firmer bristled brush for removing dirt and debris from fossils that are still embedded in the surface.

Even a toothbrush can be beneficial in cleaning fossils while you are in the field, especially if you use a toothbrush and distilled water for removing dust and dirt from small crevices in the fossil.

Machete

You may not think that a machete is a useful fossil hunting tool, but if you are working in the field and come across thick vegetation, a machete can become your favorite fossil hunting tool.

A machete will allow you to cut through heavy vegetation, without having to spend hours chopping, and you won’t have to bend down in an area surrounded by brush, trees, and other plants.

Putty Knife

A basic putty knife can become a handy tool when fossil hunting. You can use a putty knife to split shale as well as lightly chip away at sediment that has built up on the fossil.

UV Lamp/Blacklight

Most people associate the use of blacklight or UV light with use for geology or searching for minerals.

But, it can be extremely useful for those hunting for fossils as well.

A fossil may fluoresce in UV light for a variety of factors, but the most common reason is there is a replacement mineral for the fossil, which causes pigments in the plant or animal fossil to fluoresce due to conversion during fossilization.

Fluorescent pigments are often visible in fossilized birds, insects, and fish.

Hard Hat

Depending on where you are fossil hunting, a hard hat may be an essential piece of safety gear.

A hard hat can protect you from the sun as well as flying rock debris that may fall on you during extraction in the field.

Sample Containers/Jars/Bags

If you are hunting for fossils, some of which can be extremely fragile, you will want to have something to put your finds in.

Sample containers, jars, or bags will help to protect your fragile fossils from loss or breakage.

Don’t forget to bring along a permanent marker to write on the container, and you’ll need tissue paper or soft cloths for added protection.

Fossil Cleaning Supplies

In most situations, you can take care of cleaning your fossils when you get back home, but if you are anxious to get a clearer view of the fossil or if you are on an extended fossil hunting trip, cleaning may not wait.

Your cleaning kit should include a variety of brushes to brush away the dirt and debris, a small, hand-held dust blower, and distilled water.

It is recommended that you use distilled water because some tap waters contain chemicals that may interact with the fossil or cause damage.

Guide to Identify Fossils

There are a number of different books and guides about fossils, and it’s beneficial to have some type of guide with you.

A fossil finding and identifying guide will provide lists of different fossils, which will help you identify many of the fossils you find while out in the field.

Protective Gear

When hunting fossils you will often have to extract rocks and other debris that can lead to injuries, so it is essential that your fossil hunting tool kit contain goggles and a good, thick pair of gloves.

Tool Apron

A backpack is handy for carrying your tools until you get to the site where you intend to hunt, but a tool apron will allow you to have easier access to all of your tools, without having to dig through a large backpack.

Be sure to choose a tool apron that is made from durable materials and has several pockets.

If you prefer not to carry your tools in an apron, if you use a tool apron made from fabric, it can be used to store the fossils you find along the way.

Wrap Up

Hunting and finding is only half of the job when it comes to collecting fossils.

The majority of fossils you find aren’t clean enough to simply placed in a display glass, they need work.

It takes work to find them and to clean them.

Not only is proper cleaning essential for the fossils you find, but proper cleaning is also important for your fossil hunting tools.

Remember to thoroughly clean and store your fossil hunting tools after you have completed the hunt; this will help to protect the tools and ensure they are ready for your next fossil hunt.

Looking to plan a trip? Check out our hub for great rockhounding sites near you.