When hobbies collide

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the lab lately, trying to wrap up some research as well as looking ahead to the field season of insect collecting. And wandering through the museum, looking through boxes and bins and drawers, is a good reminder of which equipment needs replacing, or repair, or just needs to be tossed out.

One of the small but critical pieces of equipment that we seem to use up pretty regularly, especially with lots of people working on lots of big biodiversity projects, is the humble pinning block, that little wooden staircase that helps one put specimens and labels at more or less the correct height on an insect pin. They’re not expensive, but it’s always been a pet peeve of mine that most pinning blocks tend to be made of oak. Now, oak is a fine old wood, steeped in history and tradition. Sailing ships and medieval halls and whisky barrels and Arts and Crafts furniture all have a way of elevating oak to greater heights. But it’s a fairly soft wood on a small scale, with open grain, and the pointy tips of a few thousand pins have a tendency to enlarge the small holes in a pinning block until they resemble the pit of an ant lion larva. This is not ideal for running points or labels up a pin because once the crater gets too big, things tend to get bent.

This is where the second hobby comes in. I’ve recently started working with wood, which means I generally have a few assorted pieces lying around my shop that are too small for other projects. But not, I realized, too small for pinning blocks. So, a couple of weeks ago I finally merged both hobbies together, found a little scrap of leftover mahogany (yes, overkill, perhaps) and decided it would make a fine batch of pinning blocks. After a surprisingly quick bout of planing and sawing and gluing and sanding and more sawing and drilling and finishing I had a pretty little batch of shiny new pinning blocks ready for eventual destruction at the hands of the Lymanites.

Pinning block overkill. Mahogany two-holers ready for action

With one small innovation, designed to make them last twice as long. Two holes . . .

Now that they’re all seeing action in the lab, I’m planning the next batch. Maybe some maple . . . or I could laminate together some walnut and maple . . . or some of this cherry . . .

This isn’t the first time that my workshop has collided with my lab, although the previous project was a little bit more involved. Most of our insect cabinets hold Cornell-style drawers, but StĂ©phanie, our Curator, needed a cabinet to hold some USNM-sized drawers for her leafmining agromyzid flies. Seemed like a good opportunity to have some fun . . .

A museum cabinet for leafminer flies


About terry wheeler

professor, museum director, entomologist, ecologist, naturalist
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3 Responses to When hobbies collide

  1. Jim Greenway says:

    Interested in selling any of these? I’d take a couple.

  2. You know, it hadn’t even occurred to me (until now). Maybe we should launch a line of pinning blocks and other ento-supplies. It would give me a very tangible excuse to get off the computer and into the workshop. I’ll keep you posted!

    • Jim Greenway says:

      Please do! Devise a logo for your enterprise, and wood-burn it into the merchandise! How many ento-buffs have MAHOGANY pinning blocks with double holes?! I’ve had my pinning block since 1985, and it’s long past replacement.

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