Sampling Spoons

Many sand collectors manage just fine without any specific sampling tools, just using their fingers or a old 35 mm film canister to scoop sand into their sampling bags or containers. This is fine when the sand is nice and dry and the weather warm. Not so nice during the winter when the weather is sub-zero and your working frozen 10,000 year old compacted glacial sediment!

Personally, I never go sand collecting without my humble sand-collecting spoon, or rather spoons, a large 15 ml one and a smaller 5 ml one, both in non-rusting stainless steel and of rectangular shape. I tried the normal rounded spoons but they do not allow you to easily collect thin layers of sand you often find on the beach.

Spoons make it much easier to collect samples, particularly when you only want sand from a specific area, such as a very thin band of sand exposed in a river bank, excavation or quarry face. Many of the most interesting sands can be found this way and some fine control may be required to collect a clean sample. I’ve yet to find anything that does the task better than a spoon.

As far as the spoon itself, what it’s made of doesn’t really matter although metal spoons are by far the strongest and a non-ferrous metal such as stainless steel or aluminium is preferred. Plastic spoons tend to break too readily but will pass through airport luggage scans when travelling by air. You can even get spoons made from titanium, if that takes your fancy – usually available from outdoor equipment and camping stores. The Rolls Royce of the spoon world, I would guess?

There are occasions, however, when the tablespoon just does not hack it, for example, when working glacial till or similar exposures that are compacted hard. The spoon does work after a fashion but tends to bend too easily and is tough on the hands with the hardness of the exposure making getting samples quite difficult. I got round this by raiding my builder’s tool box for a small pointing trowel. It makes short work of compacted exposures. However, do take care where you carry the trowel as the sharp edges will easily puncture your samples. Make sure you get a good quality trowel as cheap trowels from a budget shop don’t last very long and are prone to break easily. Good quality trowels can be bought from archaeological equipment suppliers.

And getting a little bit more serious, I’ve often come across very small samples of sand that are difficult to extract, usually due to large rocks and stones getting in the way. Lately, I’ve taken to keeping a bricklayers hammer in the boot of the car, of the type with one square head and a chisel head. Makes removing rocks that much easier and is also useful when working exposures of glacial till.

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