In paleontology, the term preparation refers to the process of removing the matrix (sediment or rock) from the fossil plants or animals, and stabilizing the fossil so that it can be studied, displayed or otherwise used, stored, shipped, traded, sold or stored for a very long time. The person who does this kind of work (a preparator) needs a great deal of experience and patience. Some area museums and larger fossil clubs offer seminars and intern programs on both collecting fossils and in the various processes of preparation of vertebrates and invertebrates. Take advantage!
The tools used for matrix removal depend upon the nature of the matrix surrounding the fossil and the fossil itself. Some specimens in the field need no more than tissue wrapped around it for a safe journey to your home. Soft material like sand or loose silt can be removed with small paint brushes and a dull hobby knife; hard sandstone or siltstone may require carbide pin-vices, hammers and chisels, or small power tools. With larger and more fragile fossils like a bone or skeleton, The fossil must be fully supported by matrix, a plaster/burlap jacket, or sandbags at all times, and every precaution should be taken to avoid scratching or chipping the bone with your too
Pneumatic Airscribes have now become popular with professionals as well as advanced amateur fossil collectors in recent years. Most ask "How did I ever clean this specimen before." Basically, the airscribe is a miniature hand-held jackhammer that operates on compressed air, The initial set up of an airscribe is a bit expensive, but if you've become frustrated with removing difficult matrix from an otherwise important or beautiful fossil, you'll come to depend on this modern too
Chicago Pneumatic, which manufactures the air scribe CP 9361, has a new model made just for fossil preparation. The AERO, and the Ingersoll Rand EP5O Air Engraving Pen are also popular and costs from $140 to $350 to set up. (You also need an air compressor and variety of types of stylus and chisels. Works like engravers (jack hammers) at 35,000 motions per minute. As with all mechanical preparation, goggles and respiratory face mask required, and work chamber recommended due to the silica content of many forms of stone matrix.

PaleoTools

PaleoTools is a reliable company that specializes in mechanical fossil preparation equipment, and has an assortment of airscribes and other pneumatic airtools that you can add to your prep lab. PaleoTools can be contacted at 805 West Hwy. 13, Suite 4 Brigham City, UT 84302 USA. Phone: (435)734-0148 toll free: (800)493-8130 fax: (435)-734-0151. e-mail: bill@paleotools.com

The airscrib is one amazing tool!
MAKE THEM LAST FOREVER: CONSOLIDANTS, GLUES AND MENDING
The most important but misunderstood and even neglected aspect of fossil preparation is the application of consolidants ("hardeners") and adhesives (glues). Not all fossils need to be subjected to chemicals to preserve them, but many do, and it needs to be done with the correct materials and done in the right way. A knee-jerk reaction is to spray a fossil with varnish, clear enamel hair spray (shellac) or similar hardware store materials. These serve only coat the fossil's surface and leave the insides of the specimen fragile and likely, if it is bone, to collapse. Professional museum preparators today use a several-step applications of a diluted, penetrating material that, when dry, hardens a fossil from the inside out. In the old days we used shellac, diluted with six parts grain alcohol, but we evolved technologically into using modern resins such as "Vinac B-15" and "Butvar B-76". These modern resins can be purchased as beads or powder and are dissolved in acetone at the rate of about 4 ounces per gallon., but I hate acetone, and its no better than sniffing airplane glue, which is made with the same stuff. Really, any household adhesive such as Duco, or thick solutions of Vinac or Butvar may be used as glue, but white, water soluble glues, like carpenter's glue, should be only used sparingly,if you have nothing else. If your fossil is wet or even damp from cleaning, always let it dry before treating it because water will just gum up the consolidants and you'll regret it. Always do work with chemicals in a well ventilated area. When we started in museum work, my brother Rich and I were given grain alcohol to use by the gallon in confined spaces. We don't remember parts of those days. Many solvents are much more dangerous

PALEOBOND

"IF THERE IS A GOD, HIS NAME IS Bill Mason"

Thanks Bill!

PaleoBond comes in several viscosities, from deep penetrants to thicker glues for bonding pieces together.
Bill Mason (L) with famed Paleontologist Dr. Bob Bakker
Bill Mason, owner of Uncommon Conglomerates, invented many of the glues and consolidants that are used today in museums around the world. These Cyanoacralodis glues, manufactured as PaleoBond, are specifically formulated for use on a wide variety of fossils. It all began with a product called "Crazy Glue" and thankfully PaleoBond now comes in various viscosities and penetrating abilities and all are standard items in every large and small paleo laboratory. You lab should have these valuable products also as they have saved many a fossil that would normally be unsalvageabl
CATALOGING AND RECORD KEEPING
Cataloging and record keeping is perhaps the most important part of maintaining a fossil collection. Once a specimen has been taken from the field, and after it has been prepared in the lab, the specimen should be cataloged. In this way, the collector and those who might acquire the specimen or collection in the future will have a proper record containing as much information as possible about each individual specimen.

Documentation

Keeping written records is the single most important aspect of responsible fossil collecting. A well-documented fragment of weathered bone may have far more scientific value than a perfectly preserved fossil skull without documentation (a no-data specimen). Nothing fancy needed, but record keeping is vital. REMEMBER: Always use a pencil. Nothing worse than opening you notes after a day of collecting and seeing the ink smudged like a bug under a windshield wiper.

Note books are vital. Alls lost if you rely on your memory, especially if you're an old fossil yourself.
I back things up on a computer, but I still like the old fashioned way. The card catalog.
Good documentation of a fossil involves recording in a field notebook, on a map, and on the specimen, various information about its occurrence. This data can be divided into three general categories: specimen information, geographic location, and geolog

Specimen Data

Each specimen collected should be given a separate number. The number must be written on the specimen with permanent ink and recorded in a field notebook. This number is very important because it links the specimen to all the other observations you make about the fossil's occurrence. Also record a brief description of each specimen, the date it is collected, the collector's name, and collecting method. For permanence, a small patch of white enamel paint can be painted on some inconspicuous part of the fossil. Once dry, the number is painted on, followed by a thin coat of clear nail polish.

Permanent numbers on your specimens are important
Geographic Data And Maps: All information pertaining to where the fossil was found falls into this category and collectively defines the Locality. Obvious examples of locality information include such things as the name of the state and county as well as proximity to a highway, lake, or other landmark. Sketching a map of the surrounding terrain, noting features such as windmills, streams, even fence-lines and trees, is an excellent way to document a locality.

TOPOGRAPHIC MAPS (TOPOS)

The job of pinpointing a fossil locality so you or someone else can find it again is made considerably easier by using a special kind of map published by the United States Geological Survey called a topographic map. This map shows topography, elevations, many man-made structures, and, very importantly, a system of survey lines that divide the country into townships and sections. You may have seen this system used to define the "legals" of a piece of property. This is the preferred way of designating a locality, but if it is beyond your expertise, simply make all the common-sense observations you can to pinpoint your location. A simple compass can be particularly useful in helping to locate your position on a map. I get any map I need at Tucson Map and Flag Center, 3929 N. First Ave. 85719. (520) 887-4234, map it! If they don't have what you need, they know how to order it. If you like to do things on line try mapsmith@Mapsmithus.com. If you have questions about topos or other maps, call 1-800-473-1204. Reading a topo map is not all that difficult.

Geologic Data: An outcrop may expose a section of rocks several hundred feet thick and there may be several geological formations (rock units) represented. Exactly where the fossil comes from within this column of rock is very important. The layers of rock represent time, and when an animal lived (or died) is critical to our understanding of the sequence of events in the history of life. The best way to record the fossil's stratigraphic occurrence is to draw a detailed cross section of the rocks exposed in the area and mark on the drawing the level from which the fossil came. To make an accurate section drawing requires much training in geology, however a little reading about sedimentary rocks in any of a number of elementary geology texts or popular books will be enough background to make some useful observations. Weathering profile (does the rock form gentle slopes or vertical ledges?), grain size (fine like silt or coarse like gravel?), color (many rocks range from "greenish" to "reddish") and bedding ("shaley", cross-bedded, or massive?) are all suitable features to be noted on your section. If formal geologic training is wanting, rely on common-sense observations and descriptions and well labeled rock or sediment samples. You can measure your section as you draw it using a simple hand level to divide the outcrop into eye-height intervals.
Information for labels is transferred from field notes or from literature references. This data is then transferred to a permanent paper label which is kept in the box or tray with the fossil. Also, it is wise to keep a card catalog with corresponding specimen numbers in case specimen labels are misplaced or lost. Information on labels and cards should include: 1) the scientific name; 2) the geologic formation; 3) the exact locality, with a map on the larger card catalog; 4) the name of the collector, and 5) the catalog numbe
Lots of simple ways to keep fossils in your collection
SKELETONS IN YOUR CLOSET, BONES UNDER YOUR BED: STORAGE
If you are an active collector, storage of fossils becomes a problem. The joys of having a good collection are looking at it and being able to show it off to others. This is difficult to do if specimens are wrapped up in cardboard boxes stacked in the garage. Glass display cases are attractive but very expensive and do not hold as much material as a map cabinet which has shallow drawers. These can be purchased from large geological supply houses but cost is usually prohibitive. Alternatively, a collector can make his own out of wood. The case illustrated was made in a home shop at a cost of only a few dollars. The cheapest and still very practical method of storage for the amateur are beer flats which can be found by the dozens at most liquor stores . Such flats can be cut and folded into self-closing trays. They are sturdy enough that they can be stacked upon each other. Individual fossils can then be put into small cardboard boxes bought at wholesale jewelry supply companies, or put into empty artists' paint boxes that can be found free at art stores.
Wards Natural Science has some great cabinets for your fossil collection, or you can build them yourself.
Glass display cases
are attractive but very expensive and do not hold as much material as a map cabinet which has shallow drawers. These can be purchased from large geological supply houses but cost is usually prohibitive. Alternatively, a collector can make one out of wood. In the examples on the right, many fossil collectors know that a collection can get out of hand. Organization of fossil specimens makes a collection both accessible and scientific. But hey, if you want a glass case for your primo pieces, go for it.
Before
After

The cheapest and still very practical method of storage for the amateur are beer flats which can be found by the dozens at most liquor stores. Such flats can be cut and folded into self-closing trays. They are sturdy enough that they can be stacked upon each other. Individual fossils can then be put into small cardboard boxes bought at wholesale jewelry supply companies, or put into empty artists' paint boxes that can be found free at art store.