Rock Hammer 4 Kids
September 11, 2009 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Do budding geologists like rock hammers?

I'm pretty into science but know next to nothing about geology. My 8 year old son collects a lot of "treasures" but chief among them is rocks. He also exclaims over interesting rock-based features (like stripes, crystals, shapes, etc) and asks me what made them (my answer is always either "volcanoes" or "magical pixies").

I've gotten him geo books at the library, but he mainly just looks at the pictures rather than reading them (much to his voraciously-reading parents' chagrin). Which isn't to say he isn't interested in gaining information, he just doesn't seem to be interested in gaining it via self-directed reading.

He also likes to take things apart. And crafts, but I really hate most "science craft kits" where you just pour some ingredients together say "wow" and toss it. A "make your own fossil" kit is out, in other words.

Putting this all together, it occurred to me he might like a rock hammer for a Christmas/birthday present. Google informs me there are more styles and features than I could have dreamed.

If you are/were a budding geologist, do/did you want this or something else? Is it maybe too specialized/detailed/adult and he could get the same effect by just using another, larger rock to bust stuff open? Or should I just get him a sledgehammer and some steel-toed boots? Or perhaps rock hammers have uses other than cracking rocks open that he'd enjoy/not enjoy?
posted by DU to Science & Nature (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Might also consider a rock tumbler. Good way to use the rocks he's already collected.
posted by now i'm piste at 8:18 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

OOh, baby. Yeah. That would be awesome. (Make sure you get him safety glasses, too.) Yeah, you can break stuff open with other hammers, but it's not a ROCK HAMMER LIKE REAL GEOLOGISTS USE. (maybe next birthday/christmas throw in a cheap handlens.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:21 AM on September 11, 2009

We actually *have* a rock tumbler but we only used it once (long enough ago that he may not even remember it). It was sooo loud and you have buy the abrasive stuff...

But yes, another great idea I'll add to the list.

Magnifier, good idea. We have some of those too (not geo-specific ones, but still)--I should suggest he try them out on the rocks.
posted by DU at 8:24 AM on September 11, 2009

Goddamn, I was about to post "wait til my wife gets here" but I she she has. Yeah, geologists love their rock hammers and hand lenses.

Might do you good to read up on basic geology in your area, so you can give him better answers to his basic questions.
posted by notsnot at 8:25 AM on September 11, 2009

I would of loved a rock hammer (still would) maybe to go along you could get him a few of those break-your-own-geodes that they sell at the science museums and rock shops (I haven't looked but I imagine you can find them on line).

One other idea is getting him a portable black light (UV light) since a lot of rocks/minerals can fluoresce under UV and look totally different then under normal light. I know they have "professional" models that go into the 100$'s of dollars but they also have smaller/cheaper ones for 10-20$.
posted by Captain_Science at 8:29 AM on September 11, 2009

Rock hammers are great. My fiance is a geologist and I've used his rock hammer as a hammer around the house and as a tool to dig holes when camping or hammering in tent spikes.

A hand lens is a pretty neat tool to look at rocks. On preview I see that has been suggested.

I'll send an email off and see what he would have liked or did have as an 8 year old.
posted by collocation at 8:30 AM on September 11, 2009

Get the rock hammer and be the coolest dad EVER.

Get a small one so he doesn't hate carrying it.
posted by rokusan at 8:33 AM on September 11, 2009

That's another question: Is a small one too small? Won't he need the inertia of the larger one to actually break a rock?

We've done geodes AND he has one or more UV lights. It's starting to sound like the only thing he's missing is a rock hammer....

The basic geology of our area is: it's granite all the way down. Very sad, because I wanted to take him to look at/for fossils.
posted by DU at 8:37 AM on September 11, 2009

LOVE the rock hammer. Mine has my name engraved on it.

Just keep in mind that they are heavy and have a pointy end. This one is marketed as "great for kids" because it's lighter and not as pointy, but may not work very well on hard rocks like granite.

Definitely nthing the hand lens.
posted by Eumachia L F at 9:29 AM on September 11, 2009

Here is the reply I got:

"A rock hammer is indeed a fun thing to have (although I suspect that an 8-year old might get bored with it after a few days-- of course, the parents would still be able to have fun with it). If the kiddo is going to be bashing rocks, then a rock hammer or a masonry hammer is the way to go. A carpentry hammer would bash just fine, but might also let little steel splinters go flying. Rock-on-rock smashing is not always ideal, because sometimes the wrong rock breaks. And safety glasses are a must for any type of rock smashing.

On the whole, a classic rock hammer is a good one to have (it has a hammer on one side and a pick on the other -- the pick is NEVER for smashing rocks, but rather for diggin' in dirt). Alternatively, if you might encounter shales and layered rocks that contain fossils, a rock hammer with a flat, "chisel" end is nice because you can use it to split rocks. A hand lens is always a cool thing to have. There are affordable ones for about $10-20 with a 10x magnification. When using a hand lens, your eyelashes should almost brush the lens. In other words, you hold the lens in your right hand right next to your eye, and then move the specimen of interest up to you until it is in focus. This also means that if you want to look a big rock or a cliff face, you are pressed right up to the rock/cliff. Both rock hammers and hand lenses have uses beyond geology. I use my hammer around the house and for carpentry, and I use the lens whenever I want to look at something tiny. "

I then asked about small vs. large and he replied, "probably the smaller size would be good for a smaller person. I normally think that bigger is better when it comes to hammers - but that probably doesn't apply to an 8-year old".

When he and his brother were younger I think they basically dug a lot of holes. They got shut down when they started trying to dig tunnels off of those holes.
posted by collocation at 9:35 AM on September 11, 2009

I'm a geologist, and I love the tools I get to use in my job. It's more than a little part of why I went into geology.

A rock hammer is a wonderful idea for a gift, though you're going to be largely limited by granite in your area. I'm not a small guy, and I've never been able to get it to do much but bounce off granite. An 8 yr old might have a pretty tough time getting much results.

The Roadside Geology series of books are pretty great for addressing this. If the rocks in your immediate area are too hard, make a Saturday out of it and find something cool (and softer) that's close to you. A road trip, a hammer, and snacks will defintely generate some happy memories.

The handlens mentioned above is great, and will have many many uses outside of looking at rocks. I used a Hastings 10X in field camp, but you can definitely have great success with a cheaper one. Just make sure to put the handlens right next to your eye, and put your nose on the rock.
posted by cr_joe at 9:45 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm getting way more feedback than I expected on this seemingly-specialized question. Awesome.

And the library has the roadside geology book! I'll check that out on the way home.
posted by DU at 10:03 AM on September 11, 2009

I was an 8 year old geology nerd. One of my teachers taught us how to set up a rock collection. Basically, have some kind of divided storage box and get a little jar of white paint. Then, every week, he would bring in one new positively identified specimen, one for each of us, and we would paint a spot on the rock, number it, and then catalog it. That was nerd heaven.

It's important to have a collection like this - positively identified samples - so when the kid is on his own he can study them and compare unidentified specimens he finds. So if you can't identify rocks yourself or know someone who can I think you should buy a sample rock collection. And then he can add rocks to the collection. I see they also sell geodes that you can break apart yourself.

Also, any kind of unique rock is a must have. You HAVE to have a sample of Fool's Gold and obsidian and those rocks that fluoresce under UV to be a true rock nerd. So buy him one if you can't find one in your area.
posted by cda at 10:20 AM on September 11, 2009

A real rock hammer sounds like a great gift, but please get him some real safety glasses* too and make sure he wears them. Every. Single. Time.

There are a zillion styles available online so he can choose a pair he likes (rather than dealing with Uncool Dad's choice). If he needs prescription lenses you can order the frames and have an optometrist fit safety lenses to them**, or he can just wear goggles over regular glasses for the Ultimate Nerd look. Nonprescription safety glasses and goggles are usually pretty cheap, especially compared to the cost of an eye injury.***

*Lenses are impact-resistant and made of shatterproof plastic. Regular glasses, even with plastic lenses, are not impact-resistant and are often too small to protect a sufficient area around the eyes. Wraparound lenses or side shields are required for chemical safety, so even though you're only concerned about flying rock chips, pretty much every pair of safety glasses on the market has the side barriers. Gives 'em that unmistakable nerd cred.

**Very pricey. If he refuses to rock the goggles (see what I did there?), larger safety glasses will fit over regular glasses for a Six-Eyes Poindexter look.

***Sure, the odds are slim but do you really want to take chances with your kid's vision?
posted by Quietgal at 10:55 AM on September 11, 2009

Another Geo chiming in here. A rock hammer would be really cool, but as noted make sure he is wearing eye protection when breaking stuff. You can get a cheap hand lens from lots of places. Put it on a lanyard so he can wear around his neck.

When using a hand lens, your eyelashes should almost brush the lens. In other words, you hold the lens in your right hand right next to your eye, and then move the specimen of interest up to you until it is in focus. This also means that if you want to look a big rock or a cliff face, you are pressed right up to the rock/cliff.

Repeating this for emphasis. It takes a little while to get this down and I could see a little one getting frustrated and giving up.
posted by Big_B at 10:57 AM on September 11, 2009

Every geologist I know loves rock hammers. Every single one.

I'm not a geologist, but I loved rock collecting as a kid, and my rock tumbler was the coolest thing I ever got as a present.
posted by Cygnet at 11:18 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a rock hammer as a kid, and loved it--I used to find old broken bottles and pieces of coal under the deck and pretend I was an archaeologist.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:18 PM on September 11, 2009

Yeah, so about 20-some-aught years ago I was your kid (except a chick, not a little dude) and here's a few of the favorite things I got (and didn't get) for my rock collecting habit:

- Had a rock tumbler, but it was also shunned into the closet. Too loud, and took for-ev-er.

- LOVED my field guide to rocks and minerals - It might be this one, but it's been so long, the covers don't look the same. Mine had lots of shiny glossy pictures in the middle, which is what I mostly looked at, but as I got older I also started to read about the various types, etc.

- A really cool field bag for collecting rocks on walks and to put your official tools in.

- Someplace to display his finds - I highly suggest old letterpress trays which are perfect for this sort of thing and have the proper Indiana Jones feel.

- Those crack your own Geods that you can buy off Ebay. Lots of fun to crack something open and discover the insides.
posted by finitejest at 1:26 PM on September 11, 2009

er yeah, and the letterpress tray things are like these which I meant to link to and then forgot.
posted by finitejest at 1:42 PM on September 11, 2009

Seconding the hand lens, and proposing another great geology tool: The Brunton Compass.
posted by jimfl at 6:04 PM on September 13, 2009

Followup: The birthday is in 3 weeks, so I just placed the order. Incredibly, American Science and Surplus (one of the best sites on the intarwebs) had the hammer, the safety goggles (in a child size!) and the hand lens.

I'll try to remember to do another followup on how he liked it all.
posted by DU at 7:38 AM on February 21, 2010

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