What you need to start collecting rocks
Here's what you need to start collecting rocks and learning about geologyThere are countless ways for a passion to strike and the next thing you know a hobby is born. The moment could be as common as a flash of unusual color catching the eye. You reach down to pry a piece of the Earth from the ground and that’s all it takes for a collection to begin.
When you think about it, rock collections reflect a natural curiosity of the world we live in.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), thousands of variations have been discovered on this planet. Though similar elements are found in many of them, it’s the combination of those elements that makes each type unique.
While this may turn into a lifelong fascination, the list of what you need to start collecting rocks is short. In addition to basic rock collectors' tools and cases, it helps to know what qualifies as a “good” collection in the first place. New enthusiasts are often inclined to focus on volume, picking up every interesting piece they find. However, there’s no magic number to aspire to.
Good collections do have several qualities in common. They’re always active, always expanding as you find new specimens or better examples of existing ones. Exceptions include those first findings that hooked your interest in the first place – never replace those.
Without further ado, here are tools and useful items to start collecting rocks:
Geological book, app or other reference: Accurate identification of specimens is important. To do this you need a recent geological reference book to teach yourself the diagnostic characteristics of each specimen.
Geological maps: Technically geological maps aren’t essential to get started, but they’re extremely useful. Your assortment will probably start out with mostly chance findings, but you'll soon want to include a specimen of every rock type in your area. Maps show where different types are located.
These books and maps can be found at many libraries or by contacting your state’s USGS branch.
Magnifying glass: Attend any event where geologists and enthusiasts gather and you’ll see almost as many magnifying glasses. This is one of the few tools you need to view mineral grains and other identifying elements of many types.
The minimum magnification recommended is 6X to 10X. This tool is sometimes called a pocket magnifier or a hand lens.
Storage case: Cases come in all sizes, but the best ones are those that can expand to fit your needs. Stackable cases start with a single drawer to store each specimen in separate compartments. As needed, you can add an additional, attachable drawer for new pieces.
There are several reasons for a serious collector to have a case. Those with a lock allow you to keep them safe from the curious hands of small children. Individual compartments keep identified specimens organized and undamaged. A case also makes it easy to bring your hobby on the road as you seek out new rock types.
Knapsack: Here’s where things get really fun. Going on an expedition for particular rock types can quickly turn into a full day outing. Bring along a canvas knapsack so you don’t wind up stuffing beautiful pieces of minerals in your pockets. Plus you’ll need it for food, water and a pad to note where each was found.
Rock hammers: Over time you’ll find that sought after pieces will not always be conveniently lying around on the ground. Sometimes you just have to break out the hammer. This is not necessary for beginners to have, but it’s something you may want to add to the wish list.
Note that a good hammer can last a lifetime, but it has to be made specifically for this purpose. Try and borrow your dad’s old carpentry hammer and it’ll break before the mineral does. You’ll find what you need at most hardware stores or a specialized supply house.
Now you can seriously start collecting rocks. Welcome to the world of geological exploration.