Building a Sift

   The most common method of collecting fossils in Monmouth County is called sifting or screening. The concept is rather simple. Mother Nature slowly erodes the fossil bearing layers away depositing the fossils and gravel into the local streams. Armed with little more than a shovel and a shift, the basic idea is too shovel the gravel into the sift. Shake it around a bit to get rid of the sand and smaller pebbles, then search through the remaining gravel.
  In my wanderings I've seen everything from plastic sand toys to complex screens with folding legs. All of these will work, some better than others. What you use is really a matter of how often you go and personal preference. I like to use a variation of what is probably the most common design, a simple wooden frame with 1/4 inch mesh screen stapled to the bottom, light, inexpensive and with a few minor additions very durable.



The basic sift.

  These dimensions will allow the sift to be made from a single 6' stock 1x2 pine. For smaller children I would suggest reducing the size. I use two 1 1/4 inch sheetrock or decking screws to secure each corner (predrill the holes to prevent splitting). Secure the 1/4 inch mesh screening with 1/2 or 3/8ths inch staples. Use caution when working with the screening, the edges are sharp. I hammer the staples and screening flat against the wood and check that no sharp edges are exposed. Adding angle irons to the outside corners will extend the life of the sift. You can nail molding, or if you own a table saw, rip a thin strip of wood to cover where the screening is stapled to the frame. I do this on sifts I build for children to completely cover the sharp edges of the mesh.

  Note: The openings on window screening  are too small for normal fossil hunting. Use the screening with 1/4 inch openings.


I've added handles to this sift. Nice in the stream, but has a tendency to snag on vines
 when hiking through the woods. I use a smaller plain wood frame screen that
 attaches to my backpack when exploring. 



This is one of the more elaborate setups I've seen. A second sift fits inside
the first with a finer mesh to catch smaller fossils. Foam is attached to the frame
so the sift floats. This one even has a anchor.
This picture was emailed to me awhile back and I no longer have the name of the
person who built this.



The bottom line.

Happy Hunting!