how to create custom mineral stands


a feature article

For some time I’d had a problem. A problem which became greater as my mineral collection grew. A problem with which, I suspect, other readers may be familiar; how best to display specimens in the limited space available. Often their centres of gravity are such that...

rockngem magazine issue 65
rockngem magazine issue 65

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without additional support they cannot be seen to best advantage.
Whilst there are available clear polystyrene props and supports (adjustable or not), I find these intrusive, visually unaesthetic and usually a poor compromise. The more specimens that need support, the worse becomes the problem, until the collection becomes a forest of polystyrene props interspersed with specimens -perhaps a classic case of not being able to see the wood for the trees! I needed to find a solution. So, what to do?

 

custom polymer clay mineral stand
custom polymer clay mineral stand

Recently when my grandsons were visiting, we were using oven -hardening polymer clay (Sculpey) to make dice. Whilst doing this, it occurred to me that this could provide a solution.
Indeed, it might be an ideal material from which to make unobtrusive custom stands or supports for some of my collection.

I started by forming a few simple blanks into which I could impress specimens. The initial colour, size and shape of the blanks were determined by the pieces to be supported; some were cuboids, others discs, tablets or cheese -wedges. A couple of experiments revealed that by first placing a piece of standard kitchen Clingfilm over the blank, a clean release was obtained without the risk of ‘pull-out’ or surface contamination of the specimen. This could be a concern with delicate or friable surfaces, such as may be found with some fossils for example.
Remember to remove the clingfilm from the surface of the polymer clay before curing it in the oven.

Clingfilm is both thin and sufficiently compliant to allow excellent reproduction by the polymer clay of surface detail. This ensures accurate mating between support and specimen which, when the support is cured, results in a stable and inconspicuously supported display piece. The accompanying images show examples of various specimens and their supports, as fabricated by the author (the supports, not the specimens!)

Polymer clay, under various brand names such as ‘Fimo’ or ‘Sculpey’, is available in a wide range of fully mixable colours, enabling intermediate colours or marbled effects to be produced. The exposed surface can also be textured in a manner sympathetic with the specimen being supported (best done with the specimen in place, to avoid distortion).
Of course, how far you wish to employ such techniques depends on how closely you wish to mimic the appearance of the specimen. I would, however, stop short of decorating the surface with the likes of fine mica flakes, sand grains etc. as they may not adhere sufficiently well to the material when cured. Particularly large or heavy specimens may require three -point support.
Polymer clay generally requires a curing temperature of about 130° Celsius in a domestic oven (not a microwave), at a time of 15 minutes per 6mm (1/4 inch) of thickness.
Full instructions are supplied and, of course, there is plenty of information available online.

So, if you have a similar problem, why not give it a go? I’m sure you will enjoy it and be pleased with the results.

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