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How do you mount your specimens?

Posted by Donald Peck  
Donald Peck January 04, 2013 07:33PM
How do you mount your micro specimens? I have tried a number of ways over the past 50 years.

I use the 7/7 x 7/8 x 3/4 inch (22 x 22 x 20mm) plastic boxes with black box and clear lid; black paper liner, and balsa wood peg.

One of the first things I learned was to mount the specimens so the crystals of interest are flush with the open top of the box. Thus different minerals may be viewed under the microscope without major refocusing from specimen to specimen. I also use a turntable under the microscope for displaying specimens and here, one wants all to be in the same focal plane.

For me, the easiest way to mount the specimen is to put a drop of white glue on a disk paper-punched from the a black paper liner; let it set until tacky; and place the mineral chip in the glue while looking through the microscope. Usually no support is needed unless the chip is rather heavy. Then toothpicks pushed into modelling clay work pretty well.

After the glue is set, I blacken the end of a length of balsa with a felt tipped marker and glue the black disk onto the exposed end. I made a jig for measuring the length of the specimen plus wood. Cut the glued up specimen to length and then glue it into the center of the folded black paper liner. Insert it in the box and label it.

How do you mount your specimens? I am always looking for a better way to do it. I imagine that you are, too.
Jeff Weissman January 04, 2013 07:55PM

I have been using Euro-style MM boxes, in which the specimen is fastened via mineral-tack to an opaque black plastic lid, with a clear top. In this way most sides of the specimen can be readily examined and photographed from several angles, and then after study, the specimen is back and secured in its box. I always keep the boxes lid-down, so that the specimens won't fall.

I have seen many failures with this method, due to use of inferior grade mineral tack. The MIKON/Shannon material seems to be OK. Specimens mounted with good mineral tack have been shipped and received all over the world without any additional packing needed, inside the box, without the specimen getting loose. I'd still insert some soft plastic into MM boxes when shipping, just in case, except for the most delicate specimens.

I have seen way too many mounts in which the glue has failed, resulting in specimens loose in the box. This includes specimens glued to paper, glued to plastic, glued to corks/balsa, etc... Most of these had to be tossed as the area of interest was damaged once the specimen got loose.

Don't like paper / felt / foam inserts either, they tend to form loose fibers / particles, which then get stuck on the specimen.

The ban of my mineral existance is Perky boxes, with or without the styrofoam or black fiber inserts. I almost always peel specimens out of these infernal hinged boxes and throw the boxes away. Too many specimens have been destroyed due to failure of the insert or by stiking the upper part when you are trying to close the box.

For display purposes, I agree that having all of the areas of interest at the same height is nice, but probably not needed for study specimens.

Another failure is due to use of way too little tack or glue; I try to be generous with the use of the tack, to make sure the specimen remains fixed in place.

Hopefully not too much of a rant, you touched a nerve ;-)

Donald Peck January 05, 2013 05:38PM
Hi Jeff, Thanks for the reply. I figured this forum needs to get a discussion going. It is too quiet! Rants accepted!!! (tu)

I agree with you that specimens glued to plastic too often come loose. That is why I use the paper inserts. I have never had a specimen come loose from them. Further, they reduce reflected glare. Haven't had a problem from black fibers when using the die-cut liners.

I have tried mounting in the lid, but have had specimens damaged either in removing the box or returning it for storage. Thus I prefer the specimen mounted in the box and level with the top. It still allows rotation for viewing at most angles.

Come on . . . .someone else jump in here also.
Alfredo Petrov January 05, 2013 05:54PM
In my experience, specimens only come loose from either glue or tack when the matrix is powdery/friable, like earthy limonite or clay-rich altered volcanic rocks. For those specimens it's best to use a diluted water-soluble glue (like Elmers + water) which will get partially sucked up into the matrix itself.
Don Saathoff January 05, 2013 05:59PM
I have no "standard" mounting technique.....it seems that each & every specimen calls for its own technique. I use cactus spines, balsa, bamboo slivers, toothpicks and even cut cigarette filters. I use mineral tack, white glue, thick super-glue, etc. I use hinged-top perkys so am careful to keep specimens out of the radius of the hinge and mount matrix specimens with the xl of interest viewable from the side of the box, not the front, so the lid doesn't interfere with illumination from one side. Since I mount only for my own pleasure I do sometimes have to help others who are viewing my specimens. Just can't seem to find a "one size fits all" procedure. I also keep a couple of flats of un-mounted micros in matrix which I wouldn't dare attempt to trim!!

Don S.
David Zimmerman (2) January 05, 2013 06:55PM
A technique used up here in Quebec quite a bit is to take those clear thumbtacks and cut the metal spike off from them and then mount the clear part into a thumbnail box like a pedestal for your small pieces. It has a nice classy look to it, even if it doesn't appear natural at all.

Don, I like some of your ideas such as the bamboo and cactus spines. I'm now thinking maybe even some large bamboo could work for larger specimens. Sounds like a winter project in the makings.....

Have Fun!

"Look ma, I'm in a friggin geode!"
Joseph Taggart January 06, 2013 08:12AM
If you are interested in different pegs, here is a handout that I distributed at a presentation I did a few years ago:

Notes on my mounting technique, presented at the 2/08/2009 meeting of the Rocky Mountain Micromineral Association at Colorado School of Mines Mineral Museum.
The style is a modification of Quintin Wight’s toothpick/bamboo skewer technique (The Complete Book of Micromounting pp.124-127; M.R.V37#4,p319)and Christian Thorsten’s (www.njminerals.org/mmhowto.html) toothpick method. The micromount box should be one of the thicker ones, such as those made by Althor or Amac, not the thin/fragile Euro ones.
1) I prefer to paint the inside of the box bottom with Rust-oleum flat black #7578 with a brush before I drill the hole (keeps paint out of the hole, so glue adheres directly to plastic). If the box is colorless plastic I put on one thin coat of paint, let it dry, then put on a second coat. If the box is black plastic I only need to put on one coat to remove the shine from the plastic. To increase my size options for the pedestals, I use different size wood dowels, and toothpicks.
2) I buy the 1/4", 3/16" and 1/8" dowels in three foot lengths (at Home Depot) and cut them into 6 inch sections. I sharpen one end of each dowel section with a pencil sharpener, so the point can go through the hole in the bottom of the box easier than a blunt end. I then color an inch of the blunt end with a black permanent marker (I use Sharpie brand).
3) I glue the sample onto an appropriate diameter dowel with cyanoacrylate gel (I use Super Glue brand Gel). After the sample starts to stick to the dowel, I put the point of the dowel into a lump of clay and tilt it so that gravity keeps the sample oriented properly until it dries. Sometimes I use a jeweler’s “third hand” to keep the sample positioned until the glue hardens.
4) I then drill (drill press is best if you have one) an appropriate size hole in the center of the bottom of the box (1/4", 3/16", 1/8" for the corresponding size dowels, and 5/64" for toothpicks). Next, using the dowel for a handle, I hold the sample in water in an ultrasonic cleaner (make sure sample is not water soluble!) to remove any last minute dust. I then put the dowel back into the lump of clay until sample and dowel are dry. Now put the dowel’s point through the hole from the inside of the box. Pull and gently turn and tilt the dowel from the outside to test position the sample. When I figure out the optimum orientation, I pull gently on the dowel until the sample is almost all the way down in the box, with the pointed section of the dowel extending outside the box. I then apply Super Glue Gel around the part of the dowel extending out the bottom of the box, exactly where the dowel will be bonded to the box when I push it back in.
5) Now push the dowel up and rotate the dowel a bit to smear the glue. I then use the dowel to position the sample (you’ve only got about 15 seconds, which is why you figured out the optimum orientation BEFORE you apply the glue). With the dowel technique I can not only position the sample with rotation and tilt, but unlike the balsa/cork pedestals I can also carefully move the dowel up or down to make the sample’s top perfectly even with the lip of the box. I then hold everything still for a minute and finally stick the pointed dowel in the lump of clay again, to set up for a couple of hours.
6) The cutting of the excess dowel is not done until the very end (I usually wait until the next day) when the mount is essentially finished. The final step is to put the lid on the box (to protect the sample and the flat black interior from saw dust) stabilize the dowel on a desk and cut off the box (don’t let it fall on the floor), even with the bottom using an X-acto razor hobby saw. Save the excess dowel for future micromounts.
7) To make sure that the dowel and excess glue are even on the bottom of the box, I sand it level with an extra-fine (320 grit) sheet of sand paper on a table top.
8) The way I label the tops and bottoms of the boxes is with a computer and a laser printer. The labels that I use are Avery #5265 (8 ½" x 11" full sheet labels). I type vertical columns of identification labels, two for each sample, one 1"x1" with complete information for the bottom, and one 1"x1/4" strip with only essential information for the top. To cut the labels I draw two fine pencil lines down the label sheet. To draw the lines, I custom make clear plastic rulers the width of the boxes. Since the ruler is transparent, I can line it up on the center-justified printing and draw two lines as guides to cut the strip. If I then cut out each individual label with the backing still attached, it is surprisingly difficult to separate the backing from an individual label (trust me, it doesn’t sound hard, but it is)! The best way to do it, is to cut 11" long vertical strips of the printed labels. Wrap one strip of labels face down over your finger and pull the end, bending the backing until the diagonal cut provided by the manufacturer pokes out. Take the backing off “half” of the strip of labels. Now, without the backing, cut off the pair of labels and place on the appropriate box.
Luca Baralis January 06, 2013 11:33AM
European way to mount micro (tack) is generally less accurate and tidy than american one, but it's faster a lot.
And time is very important, to me.
You have to use best quality tack, otherwise It will release oil in the matrix, stink (ugh!!!), and/or it will become hard and will leave the specimen loose.
However, I don't like to use tack as I think it has a very bad looking: it will capture fingerprints, duster, fibers and so on ... So I use hot glue.
It is cheap, good loking (IMHO), reliable, fast and easy.
I use three size box: al transparent 22x22x20h mm, 42x37x32h mm white base and 62x47x42h mm white base.
On the larger size (box and specimen) I think that the colour of the base isn't a key feature. On the smaller, I use trasparent lid 'cause the most italian supplier don't deal with black ones. But It is really a main issue?
When the specimen chip is really small, specially if flat, I use a small cylinder of glue not melt as a base. See the attached picture.

Luca Baralis
open | download - 2sup_b.jpg (22.1 KB)
gary moldovany January 06, 2013 12:54PM
I have been using black-painted cork pieces for a pedestal. I glue the cork into the micro box with Super Glue Gel and let it dry. I then place the specimen on top of the cork after I have put a drop of glue on it, using tweezers. I have not had any specimens come loose from this technique. I make sure the specimen dries overnight before I put the lid on. I noticed that the Super Glue Gel leaves a white deposit on the inside of the box if you do not let everything dry before closing it up.
Donald Peck January 06, 2013 05:15PM
Hello Alfredo! It is strange, I have used the technique of soaking friable matrix in diluted white glue for shelf specimens, but never for micros. Will have to try it.

Don, Like you, I use different materials for posts when it is appropriate. Although I use balsa strips most of the time, for small, usually single crystals, I often use a bristle from a steel brush, A friend uses nylon fishing leader which is stiff in short lengths. He also uses a glue, Tacky Bond, which is a contact cement and has no drying time after contact is made.

Joseph, That is a great technique, and accurate for placing the specimen. I'll bet it is quite time consuming though. Thanks for the detailed description.

Luca, I use hot glue to mount larger specimens to display on a shelf, but have not used it with micros. Do you have trouble with "stringer threads" when pulling away with the glue gun?

Gary, What is the working time when using the Super Glue Gel?

And Jason, Thank you for the link to the Fimo Clay articles. I am not sure how the clay would adapt to micro specimens, but it looks really good for larger pieces.
Dean Allum January 06, 2013 07:02PM
All of this is interesting, and I appreciate the links given by Joseph and Jason. Can somebody please post photo examples of the final product of the different mounting methods: post, needle, tack and cork pedestal, along with the different sizes of micromount boxes. All of you all have cameras.

Jeff, when you get the time, a picture of WHAT NOT TO DO would also be useful.

What is the lifetime for the best tack (what is the age of your oldest tack micromount)?
I have seen white and blue tack, why is black or gray not offered?

Which mounting method is most commonly used by micromount vendors for thumbnail specimens?
Besides Jeff, does anybody else remount their specimens?
Would you prefer to receive your specimen wrapped and in a plastic envelope?

Thanks in advance.
-Dean Allum

P.S. Mounting the labels is probably another worthwhile future thread.
gary moldovany January 06, 2013 07:33PM
Donald, I let the bottom piece with the cork dry overnight. Drying time is quick, about 10 minutes. After gluing on the specimen, I also let the open box dry overnight as well, before I close it up and label it. I usually do a handful of cork/bottom pieces at a time to make things easier. I have purchased several lots of micromount specimens from various dealers, these are mostly done with mineral tack. I usually re-do them with the cork and Super Glue Gel. I believe that mineral tack should not be used for proper micromounts, some of my older pieces have dried out and come loose. I would say that 3-4 years is the lifespan for mineral tack, although the newer stuff is supposed to last longer. I purchased gray mineral tack at Michael's, if you have one of these near you. I also got some from Shannon & Sons. I use tack for larger specimens that fit into perky boxes.
Luca Baralis January 06, 2013 09:52PM
Donald Peck Scritto:

> Luca, I use hot glue to mount larger specimens to
> display on a shelf, but have not used it with
> micros. Do you have trouble with "stringer
> threads" when pulling away with the glue gun?

Sometimes... I think it comes from the kind of the glue and the temperature it reaches.
Usually, I put the glue on the base and spin the gun in circle till no threads is wandering around. In most cases it permit to avoid problems.

Luca Baralis
Liam Schofield January 06, 2013 10:56PM
I personally like the 59 x 41 x 39 mm finn boxes for the space they give, the storage options they provide (including display), the general aesthetics when compared to other options available and the fact I can slot a clearly legible label inside and/or affixed to the bottom, ala;
Labelling of No.1 Top Cabinet- Work in progress!

It means that my generally ugly/tiny minerals can be displayed without looking... stupid? If that's the right word? The same boxes are also great for storing probe mounts, capsuled samples, hermetically sealed samples and other oddly mounted samples.

I do use tack to mount the sample itself but that is mainly because I haven't taken the plunge and gone for a hot clue gun and glue that dissolves in household alcohol but I plan to at some point.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/06/2013 10:57PM by Liam Schofield.
John Sobolewski January 07, 2013 05:41AM
I use the European type boxes (about 2.5 by 2. 5 by 2 cms) with the small black base and larger clear top and mount the micros directly onto the black base using mineral tack. The clear top has the species name near the bottom so you see both the specimen and the species name. Additional information, including the locality is stuck on the the back side of the black base. It is simple, quick, and looks just fine.
As Alfredo mentions, the biggest problem is with specimens that have a soft, crumbly base that does not stick to the mineral tack, in which case I use 50/50% solution of water and white Elmer's glue to soak the bottom of the specimen and let it dry before using the mineral tack. It works great 99.9% of the time.
For viewing, I just remove the clear top and hold the black base under the microscope John S.
Steve Sorrell January 07, 2013 09:27AM
I have tremendous respect for those that properly mount their specimens. However I don't have the time, the patience or the skill.

I prefer to use Bostik Blu-Tack and have specimens still attached after 25 years or more. I use it for most specimens other than those too fragile or too small. I usually place the specimen in the smaller base (see pics below) as this gives the best all round unimpeded view. For the fragile specimens, I turn the box upside down and make a nest of tissue or something similar and rest the specimen in that, with more material placed on top in case the box gets upended or dropped. For those really small things, I may put them in a capsule or just loose in the base and maybe with some foam to keep them from moving around too much.

The boxes I use are manufactured here in Australia by a mineral collector. They are 28x28x25mm so plenty of room for matrix specimens, and are more solid than the typical European boxes which often split on me with minimal pressure applied. The plastic is 1mm thick. You can get them in colourless or black plastic and mix and swap. I tend to use black bases and colourless tops, except for (eg) silver minerals that can be affected by light. For these I tend to use all black.

I generally recycle boxes that I receive such as the European ones when I send specimens to others. Unless it is a vintage mount in a US box. Those fit nicely inside my boxes.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/07/2013 09:32AM by Steve Sorrell.
open | download - blu tack.jpg (13.7 KB)
open | download - IMG_7733.JPG (214.4 KB)
open | download - IMG_7734.JPG (179.2 KB)
Doug Rambo January 07, 2013 03:18PM
Hi Don,

Like you, my father and I use the 7/8 x 7/8 x 3/4 -inch micromount boxes for teh bulk of our mounting.
We go with the all clear box and black lid combination.

Where we differ, and like Steve Sorrell does, we mount our specimens in the lid on blackened corks
(ranging in size from 0, 00, 000, and 0000). By mounting this way we can see almost entirely around
the specimen and it also helps when photographing as well.

Donald Peck January 07, 2013 04:07PM
Hello Doug;

Great to hear from you. Please pass my greetings to your father. I hope you are both well and enjoying our hobby.

Donald Peck January 07, 2013 04:40PM
Steve, your mounts and labels have a nice clean, crisp look to them. The reason I do not use mineral tack is that, like others, I am afraid it will dry out and release the specimens. Mounting on a peg does not take a lot of time, especially when done in the lid as you do yours. Thanks for the photos.

Liam, nice display! I think your mounted specimens are generally larger than mine.
Donald Peck January 07, 2013 05:49PM
Here are pictures showing my micromounts. The first shows a specimen of Chinese stibnite mounted on a balsa post. The toothpicks stabilize the specimen until the glue dries. Then three images of the box and labeling. The second photo is of the jig I made for determining the length of the post. The post with the mounted specimen is moved toward the card until it just touches, or nearly so. Then the wire hold-down keeps it in place until the post is cut to length with the razor blade.
open | download - Micromounts.jpg (95 KB)
open | download - Post Jig.jpg (125.3 KB)
Jason Evans January 07, 2013 08:01PM
Liam, why do you have a pyritized polo mint in your collection? (2nd row 5th from the left) nice display though and it seems a few of your specimens are much bigger than i expected them to be.
Liam Schofield January 07, 2013 10:43PM
Jason, it's a Chinese coin with a coating of Romarchite - http://www.mindat.org/photo-401426.html

The funny thing is that most of my samples come in the smaller MM boxes but I hate those boxes- they're totally unflexible, especially when you're interested in the mineral species and don't care about the size. That said, the smallest samples I have mounted in these finn boxes is less than 100um but are mounted individually either as a probe mount or in a capsule.

Don, Thanks! I have dabbled with that method of mounting and actually led a practical evening at my local Mineral and Fossil society that demonstrated that method, although we didn't have a jig like yours- that is impressive. How do you store your specimens, once mounted?
Don Windeler January 07, 2013 11:17PM
Jason Evans Wrote:
> Liam, why do you have a pyritized polo mint in
> your collection? (2nd row 5th from the left)

No, the OTHER left... ;-)

Really interesting thread. I personally don't do micros, so my storage is a pastiche of cotton-lined jewelry boxes, a fair number of Perky boxes, and chopped-up shoe or other packing boxes for cabinet pieces not on display. I eventually came to the realization I prefer the Euro style boxes to Perky for the small specimens, but I haven't been able to commit to buying a few flats of those and redoing that subset of my specimens.

Generally I push them down into the styrofoam with a bit of mineral tack in between the two, but only because I don't move them around much. I would probably move to white glue if I were taking them to shows.

I have a grand total of one sample in which the previous owned hot-melt glued it to a square of plexiglas cut to fit a Perky box in place of styrofoam. Said owner had also drilled a hole in the bottom of the Perky box and used mineral tack to hold the square in place. The hole was there so they could push up from the bottom and separate the mounted copper from its storage box for display. Just a little more work than I'm up for, but I guess it works for competition displays.

Steve Stuart January 08, 2013 01:27AM
For microminerals, I have standardized on a European-style box, 28mm x 28mm x 25mm, with clear base and clear dome. I bought a thousand of them earlier this year and I figure that I'm good for about another year. I have used black and white bases in the past. Shannon/MIKON is the supplier. Simkev Micromounts out of Canada has a similar style box with a black base, but the base is deeper than the Shannon/MIKON style.

Steve Sorrel's boxes look really nice! Mine are somewhat thin, but haven't had them break while handling them. I did find a 25mm x 25mm x 19mm heavy gauge plastic box that I tried, and still have some left.

I'm a micro-sticker, not a micro-mounter! The quality of the tack is important. Shannon's Geo-tack works well; there are other suppliers as well. The tack is gray, very pliable, doesn't seem to leach out oils, and is packaged in thick ribbons on a coarse paper backing and a blue transparent front film.

My weakness is in labeling. I print out blank, lined labels using a Word template on heavy 8" x 11" white stock, then use a photographer's paper cutter to create the individual 1" X 1" labels. On these I hand-write the species, locality and specimen number, then use double-sided tape to fasten the label to the outside base of the Euro-box. Not competition quality, for sure! Other ideas on how to print a nice label that small, one at a time would be welcomed!


Douglas Merson January 08, 2013 06:11AM
I have specimens that I got from Laszlo Horvath back in the late 80's that were done with mineral tack. It has not failed yet. In fact it is very tenacious and I had one piece break when I tried to slightly reposition it for a better photo angle. What he used is better than what I have purchased. For true micro mounts that I do, I mount on blackened corks and glue the cork to the black liners that one can get to go with the Althors P-1 boxes.
Liam Schofield January 08, 2013 08:37AM
Don Windeler Wrote:
> Jason Evans Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > Liam, why do you have a pyritized polo mint in
> > your collection? (2nd row 5th from the left)
> No, the OTHER left... ;-)

Oh. Well, I thought the Romachite was a closer fit to the description so.... meh.

That's a Dzhalindite microprobe in some delightfully yellow resin. No pyritised confectionary in my collection. Unfortunately. :-(
Don Windeler January 11, 2013 09:44AM

Actually, I was trying to gently tweak Jason, not you -- when I saw the picture the specimen I thought looked like a mint (and that you'd ID'ed) was the fifth one from the right on the second row, not the left as he'd written. Could be that I screwed up and he was talking about the one on the left, though -- sorry for the confusion in any case.

Hope your fish stayed happy while you were in Morocco!

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