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A Mohs hardness test is one of the most useful tricks that should be in all rockhounds’ playbooks, but it’s sometimes hard to know which kit is going to provide the most help for your specific application. I’m going to introduce a few of the best Mohs hardness test kits for different uses and budgets, and along the way, I’ll describe a little about what to look for in a Mohs hardness test kit.
The premium Mohs hardness test kit used by professionals and rockhounds alike because of its quality, completeness, and exactness is Minerallab’s Test Kit for Industrial Applications. The second is the TTC 6-piece Tester Set for its convenience. A budget or educational option would be the American Educational Products Hardness Collection with Test Kit. (Amazon links)
Kits that test for hardness come in all shapes and sizes so depending on if you’re a casual, die-hard, studious, historical, or thrill-seeking rockhound, you’ll be looking for different attributes that best conform to your style.
If you are interested in checking out the best Mohs hardness test kits only you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Mineralab Mohs’ Hardness Test Kit for Industrial Applications
This test kit (Amazon link) is used by many geologists and professionals such as rock shop owners. It’s so popular among the experienced for many reasons, but to start it off is the simplicity of the kit. It takes the form of 4 double-sided and labeled pencil-shaped objects.
Their thickness, color codes, and labels are conducive to field use – it takes hardly a second to find the exact tester you’re looking for.
They are encased in a simple plastic mold that clings onto them and won’t let anything fall out if turned over. The encasement has a single simple latch and comes with instructions on the minerals used for testing.
Each pencil itself is thick and has an abrasive texture, so they are easy to grip, even when wearing a pair of rockhounding gloves. The scratching tip is pointed and exact.
The design is simple, ergonomic, and easy to use in the field.
Using this Kit
This leads to one of the most important aspects of a Mohs’ hardness test kit in terms of practicality: the scratching tip. As we will see, there are some kits that use only large stones for their hardness in a kit.
This can sometimes provide a challenge to a typical user when they want to test the hardness of a, particularly small or valuable stone.
A blunt scratching tip found either on a device or a rock itself is a clumsy tool to use on a small stone and, if hard enough to scratch it, it may leave a noticeable mark.
Therefore, the best tool to use has a pointed tip. Even if you have to view the mark with a jeweler’s glass (another invaluable instrument for a rockhound), it’s a clean scratch and also not a big deal to the rest of the mineral.
This set uses minerals with a hardness of 2-9 on Mohs’ scale. It’s typical to not see Talc – the usual “1” referenced by the scale – in these kits because it’s regarded as the softest mineral around and won’t actually scratch anything.
So, if gypsum – the two – can scratch a particular mineral, you can estimate that the hardness is between one and two. Diamond is also commonly left out because nothing can scratch it, so if your corundum (9) cannot scratch your mineral, you’re probably looking at a diamond.
To wrap it up, this eight-piece set (Amazon link) is a winner among many because of its simple ease of use, and therefore durability. They are all made of metal so if something is to break, it would be the case, but not for a few decades.
One possible con of this kit and its design is that kits are only as exact as the number of tests you can perform. There may come a time when you want to know whether a mineral is 5.2 or 5.8, and this kit, or any other on this list, will not be able to tell you that. Actually, you’ll need a more specialized device, and this one isn’t transportable.
TIP: It is always good to know the Mohs hardness of your gemstones. One of these situations is when you want to cut your rocks or minerals. Knowing Mohs hardness helps you to choose the right tool. Find out more about the best tools for cutting rocks in the article below:
TTC 6 Piece Hardness Tester File Set
This TTC set (Amazon link) was chosen as an alternative to the Mineralab testing kit because of its convenience in terms of time-saving and field use. Like the above kit, these pieces are color-coded and ergonomic. However, these tools are only single-sided.
Using this Kit
In terms of the human factor engineering of the kit, this means that it may be slightly more comfortable for prolonged use (think of double-sided colored pencils vs. single-sided).
However, it involves more moving pieces, which just adds more things to keep track of. Generally, because of these two things, this kit really loses out to the Mineralab kit when it is meant to be used for on-the-go testing. Its usability measures up nicely for home and lab use.
Another interesting attribute of the TTC tester file set is that it’s just that – a file set. It works on a linear file type mark rather than a single point scratch.
This has several implications. First, for smaller specimens, it might be less comfortable to make a mark with a file-type tool.
Second, the tool will wear down less, especially the tools with less hardness. Between a file type and a point type tool, there is no all-encompassing answer for which is better, but I recommend starting with a point tester if you’re not sure or do not have a preference.
The TTC 6-piece hardness set also has another quirky attribute – it’s sorted and calibrated based on the Rockwell hardness for metals. Therefore, if you are more interested in the industrial use of minerals, this is a perfect tool for you.
Many craftsmen working in industry or hobbyists working with metal use these tools to analyze different specimens. This toolset ranges from 40 to 65 on this scale (labeled HRC). This corresponds to four to six on a Mohs’ scale – where a large amount of the useful industrial minerals exist.
In summary of this set (Amazon link), it is most useful for applications that involve minerals with industrial use such as iron or even man-made materials like concrete.
It is ergonomic in the sense that it is comfortable to use for extended periods of time, but it isn’t as easy to bring out in the field and isn’t as exact for a smaller specimen like gemstones.
American Educational Hardness Collection with Test Kit
True to its name, this kit (Amazon link) is great for educational purposes – it’s hands-on and great for kids. It is also more complete in terms of what is included. Let’s take a look.
Using this Kit
This kit includes 9 different minerals in their natural form – no tool form is added to make testing more comfortable.
Therefore, they come in 9 different compartments in a box and do not have any sort of case which facilitates field use. Diamond is the mineral that is not included; this set does have a talc specimen.
Because the minerals are in their natural form, you can see why this test kit is amazing for an entry into the world of geology.
Each rock has a sticker corresponding to its hardness and they can be used to scratch each other or other specimens to determine hardness.
This is also a great budget option for beginners – it’s just a fraction of the cost of the industry-standard tools.
The value contained in this set is not just limited to Mohs’ hardness testing.
This kit actually includes more materials, such as a streak plate to test that characteristic of minerals (a rock’s streak is a more objective way to test its color, to learn more about this, read the article about how to identify rocks). It also includes a nail and a penny to demonstrate how mineral hardness plays into our everyday lives.
In summary, this educational tool (Amazon link) is great for a beginner rockhound or to introduce someone to the spectacular world of rocks and minerals.
It’s also a good budget option for a rockhound who isn’t interested too much in finding valuable gemstones, but more learning about his/her finds through investigating their properties.
To wrap it up, the Mineralab testing kit (Amazon link) is the industry and rockhound premium standard because it is exact and easy to carry with you and use in the field.
For rockhounds more interested in the geology of useful and industrial minerals, especially metals, the TTC file testing kit (Amazon link) is a great alternative to the Mineralab kit. The American Educational Hardness Collection and Test Kit is a fantastic entry to the hobby, especially for the family.
TIP: And now it’s rockhounding time! Do you know where to find the best and the most beautiful rocks and minerals in the USA? Check out my guides for each state in the United States with the best rockhounding locations and what you can find there: