Through the microscope

New bag!


A new bag I made using fabric I bought from jellymania on Spoonflower. Bag pattern is Genevieve by ChrisW designs.

Baker Series IV paint matching

The Baker Series IV is a rather unusual colour, a sort of greenish grey with a metallic sheen. I am reliably informed that Baker used a cellulose paint. The colour and sheen is not easy to match unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money on a colour matching service at a fancy auto shop. As a car colour matching service would cost me more than I paid for the microscope, I plumped for muddling through on my own.

I have had a lovely German exchange student for the past week and I didn’t want to play around with paint too much in case the smell upset her, but I did manage to prepare the microscope for painting by scrubbing the rusted spots with wire wool dipped in de-corroder. Now I am free to stink up my house again, so I have prepared an essay on “what I did at the weekend”.

First, I braved a trip to Hobbycraft. Within five minutes of entering Hobbycraft I am usually ranting in the style of John Cleese. I HATE HOBBYCRAFT. Everything in there comes in kit form because Hobbycraft don’t seem to credit their customers with any imagination or creativity. The kits they sell are usually missing something important and the staff in there, although very pleasant, are powerless to help you. I have been in there on numerous occasions over the years asking why they sell fat quarters of quilting cotton and quilt wadding but no quilt backing. The only good thing about their appalling sewing range is that my loathing of Hobbycraft led to my discovering a very lovely quilt shop in Bristol called Poppy Patchwork. Visit them, they’re wonderful. I’ll put in a link at the end.

Back to the Baker Series IV : In Hobbycraft I managed to find some Humbrol enamel paints. I chose a variety of greenish/grey paints and a few others (because my husband was paying).
I painted a small area of the microscope with each of the greenish/grey paints and a couple of mixes.

In the photo above you can see (from right to left)
MET 53, matt 224, matt 75, satin 163, a 1:1 mix of matt 224 : MET 53 and right on the toe of the microscope you can just about see a 10:1 mix of matt 224 : MET53. None of these were perfect but it gave me an idea of where to go next.

After playing around for some hours I discovered a pretty good mix. Two small brushfuls of Met 53 mixed with one brushful of satin 163, plus two drops of black gloss 21 and one drop of green 75. The sheen is not quite right but the colour is good. Hopefully when it is polished up it will be a pretty good match. I’ll post more pictures when it is finished.

Poppy Patchwork –

I recently bought a Baker Series IV, I wasn’t planning on buying one but my friend, Merv, convinced me that I should. I don’t take a great deal of convincing because I’m a sucker for any microscope. I think the persuasion went something like this.

Merv said:

“There’s a Baker Series IV for sale, they’re nice microscopes.”

– I bought it.

It was cheap but it’s not in a great state.  It has rust patches and bubbles in the paintwork. Bits that should move freely are stiff and bits that shouldn’t move at all wiggle. The usual second-hand microscope problems.

This time though there was a more serious problem. the iris aperture was rusted, badly rusted;  it’s also a fiddly horrible design, the edges of the iris blades are bent up and the whole thing is quite fragile. I don’t like taking iris diaphragms apart at the best of times and I definitely didn’t want to take this one apart so I did what any sensible human being would do. I called my friend and asked him how to fix it.

“It’s simple” he said (he says that a lot) “isopropanol, de-ruster, isopropanol,  WD40 and a soft toothbrush”

Guess what? he was right, it was simple, so I thought I’d post it here, in case anyone else finds it useful.


STEP 1 – Observe the horrible rustiness of my aperture iris. I attempted to remove the iris diaphragm carrier from the microscope but I failed because I couldn’t turn the screw I needed to turn. I have hypermobile joints and a rubbish grip, my husband was at work so I couldn’t get him to do it. I had to  work with it in situ. I popped some absorbent cloths underneath the carrier to protect the field iris/condenser lens beneath and continued.



STEP 2 – cover the rusty iris with isopropanol and give it a gentle scrub. I didn’t have a small enough toothbrush so I used a foam camera sensor cleaning widget. I prefer them to cotton buds because they don’t leave fluff behind. They’re more expensive than cotton buds but I use them quite a lot in delicate areas.  Quite a lot of surface rust has come off already, see?



STEP 3 – after the isopropanol has evaporated cover the iris in de-ruster. I use Renaissance Metal De-Corroder.


The Renaissance blurb says:

Treatment selectively ruptures the bond between base metal and corrosion layer, reducing rust to a sludge which is easily wiped or brushed away. Clean-water rinse stops the process.

Even relatively prolonged immersion over several days has no significant effect on sound metal, thus giving the conservator complete control over the process – and freedom from it.

The totally benign nature of the product eliminates work and health hazards associated with common de-rusting systems such as those based on phosphoric and hydrochloric acids.

I can’t fault it, but it is expensive, so use an alternative if you wish to. In the next picture you can see the Renaissance De-corroder doing its thing. I put it on with another foam camera sensor cleaning tip and left it to work for an hour or so. I gave it a gentle scrub every now and then. It’s all very scientific.




Step 4 –  Rinse off the metal de-corroder with water, allow to dry (use isopropanol to help it on its way if necessary) then give the iris diaphragm a squirt of WD40. Give it a wiggle and smile contentedly as you watch the clean, de-rusted iris moving freely. Have a cup of tea then contemplate how you’re going to tackle the rest of the microscope.

EDIT: Please see comments section for helpful advice regarding WD40 and oil on iris diaphragms.




Thanks to Merv Hobden for his advice and guidance.



This gallery contains 11 photos.

I have been brave today, I tried lots of new things I haven’t tried before. I used immersion oil for the first time, I used my Lomo aplanatic oblique condenser (oiled) and I tried taking the photos with eyepiece projection – I have never tried that before either. I have been so organised that I […]

Progress in microscopy

Progress in microscopy is the title of a most excellent book by Francon (1961). If you want to know about airy discs and  phase contrast microscopy it’s THE book to buy. I’m not writing about Francon’s book though, I’m writing about me. It’s all about me, today 😀

What a long way I have come in a year or two!

I always think that there are various levels of learning.

1) understanding and accepting what the text books say

2) understanding how those things interact and why those interactions matter

3) being able to apply your knowledge

4) automatic understanding – this happens when you know your subject so well that you no longer have to consciously work anything out. You have opinions. When this happens you tend to forget a lot of the details, at least you are unable to recall them succinctly on demand. Every fact has a story, a history, a background, connections. You give mini lectures to your friends (and they’re great lectures). The information has become part of you. That’s when you really know your stuff. That’s when you become an absent minded professor who knows everything about something but who needs a written formula in order to soft boil an egg*

5) being able to create something new from your understanding.

Right now I’m probably at level 2. I’m starting to get it. I understand kohler illumination, phase contrast, numerical aperture, tube length, planes, real and  virtual images, different kinds of lenses, fluorites, APOs, achromats, compensating eyepieces, aberrations, relay lenses.

I’m starting to see how one thing effects another. It’s not automatic yet and I certainly don’t understand fully, but I’m beginning to fit it all together. I get quite a few of those light-bulb moments where I read something and I can actually feel something in my brain go “PING”. Another connection made. I frequently find errors in things I read which leads me to investigate further. 9.9 times out of ten I discover that the writer has not made an error, I have misunderstood some subtle point of maths or physics, but at least my brain is sending me “alerts”. My brain is working, it is ringing the alarm bells to let me know when something doesn’t quite fit with the other information I have. My brain is asking for clarification. Your brain doesn’t send alerts like this when you are completely clueless, it’s too busy remembering stuff to think about the stuff.

I’m starting to apply this knowledge. Clumsily and slowly at the moment, I frequently think I have something cracked only to discover that I missed something crucial, but I’m getting there. It’s very satisfying.


*Engineers seem to be exempt from becoming dippy. I think it’s something to do with magic smoke inhalation. It may also be because engineers undergo frequent socialisation as they are so regularly required to fix stuff for friends and family. They are far less likely to be locked away in a small room with only books and Asperger’s syndrome for company.

It was definitely a spider...

As promised, though somewhat delayed by my mother having septicaemia, a picture of what I found in my 45X fluorite objective. It was taken with my Canon DSLR and a stereomicroscope.

Definitely a spider’s web not mould.

As usual I had a huge argument with Adobe Elements 10. I hate it with a passion and I’m going to buy Helicon focus instead, but never mind. We have photographic evidence of the spider. The spider herself has gone. She probably starved to death.

Now I have photographed the spider’s web I can clean the objective. I’m curious to see how well it has survived being home to an arachnid.

PS. My mother has recovered.

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Today I have been polishing two microscopes that had chipped paint work. I started by lightly sanding around the chips  with 1500 grit paper, I filled in the chips with layers and layers  of hammerite smooth paint (sanding lightly between each layer of paint to make a key for the next coat). When the chips […]

Spiders in microscopes (and telescopes)


A very nice man called David contacted me after I posted about the spider’s web on my 45X objective. He directed me to a fascinating article about how spiders silk came to be used to make the crosshairs in gun sights, microscope and telescope reticles.

I knew that very fine wires were used in many of these devices but I didn’t know about the spider silk. The article starts by describing the observations of a very clever chap called Gascoigne who found a spider’s web in his telescope in the 17th Century.

The link at the top of the page will take you to the first part of the story, there’s a second part to the article which can be found at

Read it, especially if you’re a fan of Cooke Troughton and Simms or Vickers. It made my day, I hope it will please you too.

Spiders in my microscope

I think it’s a cobweb

I mentioned yesterday that I bought a very tatty microscope to do up. Well this isn’t from that microscope, it’s from another microscope which I bought for spare parts. It came with four objectives on it, one of them is a Cooke 45X oil objective which I am reliably informed was designed by Bryan Payne – he of the well known book “Microscope Design and Construction”.

I already have one of these objectives but I was jolly pleased to have another. I took it off the microscope to inspect it and saw this. I think it’s a cobweb.

Spiders have been making their home in my microscope objective! I can’t imagine they caught many flies.

I shall have a look at the stuff under the microscope when I have space to set one up. At the moment my bench is covered in freshly painted microscopes and I can’t move them until tomorrow.

Could be mould, but I think it’s cobwebs.
I’m amused.

When I’ve cleaned it up I shall take a picture through it, to see how well it survived the spiders. Cooke objectives are tough. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s perfectly usable.

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