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Of Microscopes and Honing

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 07-13-2011 at 04:57 AM (1752 Views)
I remember when I was learning to hone; I thought I needed a microscope to know what I was doing. I had no reliable tests to tell where I was at in the honing process, and I believed the microscope would open the door to honing nirvana.
It didn't.
I remember being totally baffled, confused, and disappointed by what I saw.
I had no frame of reference at that time.
My bevels looked good to me. I could not understand why I couldn't get my razors to shave.
I wish I could get back all the time I spent walking razors up to finishing hones, stropping, and test shaving only to find out that they wouldn't cut hair.
I didn't have my bevels set.
They looked like they were set: There was no flat at the edge, and there was no light reflecting in the microscope. All I could see was a single plane that went all the way to the edge, and the same thing on the other side of the razor. My eyes and my microscope said that the bevel was good.
My beard begged to differ.

I eventually put down the microscope and focused on other methods to determine where I was at in the honing process. Those methods worked. Not only that, they worked consistently and reliably once I came to trust them. I didn't look at a razor under a microscope again for several months.

Sometime last fall or winter I revisited the microscope. This time I was armed with a reliable means of knowing how my edges were; I had something to relate to I was seeing in the microscope.
My honing improved dramatically after that. I was finally able to understand what I was seeing, and see what I was feeling.
On the really difficult blades I was able to see what was happening under the microscope and troubleshoot problems to correct them.

With my microscopes, I can tell if I have microchips in my edge. I can tell if the scratch pattern is improving. I can tell if I have multiple bevels.
With my microscopes, I can't tell if my razor is shave ready. I can't tell how smooth the shave will be.
I still can't tell if a bevel is set or not by looking at a microscope.
There is at least one guy who can tell if his bevels are set by looking at a microscope, but he lives in optical utopia with a high quality stereo microscope.

I have heard of others that can tell if the bevel is good via a monocular microscope. I often wonder if their resolution is better, their optics crisper, their eyes better, or if they're just pulling my leg?

Updated 07-13-2011 at 05:08 AM by HNSB

Helpful Razor Information


  1. mainaman's Avatar
    After using a scope for a year or so I can tell if the bevels are set using it, works great for me at least.
    I find the result to depend to extent on the scope you use too, the Radio Shack one is useless because the light you get in is not enough to get a good look at the bevels. Loupe not good for me because a real 30X costs a lot of money and the readily available ones are not powerful enough for my eye. The one I find works great is a cheap 30x from e-bay that has good lightning and good magnification to see a lot of detail.
    Updated 07-13-2011 at 11:30 AM by mainaman
  2. onimaru55's Avatar
    Dude, it's like the stockmarket. You should rely on multiple indicators
  3. HNSB's Avatar
    Update: I got to use a good stereo microscope today. That totally blew my mind.
    Being able to see the edge under magnification in 3D was amazing. It was like being able to miniaturize myself and look at the blade.
    I will have a stereo microscope of my own very very soon.
    Brettnj likes this.
  4. Brettnj's Avatar
    I use a stereo microscope from amscope. It helps to see what your doing and your progress. You can get some good deals on used ones on bay.
  5. sharpsandflats's Avatar
    I've used a 200x endoscope that reveals all of the bevel lines when taping the spine to geometrically shape the edge. When I strop the blade with 200k diamond paste after I've finished with the Shapton 30k glass stone, the hone wear on the bevel just seems to disappear and that's when it all comes together. That smooth shave is perfection. So the scope just confirms the work that I've done as well as any microchips in the blade. Otherwise, you really don't need a scope if you're confident and proficient at honing. As was previously mentioned, the shave test is the real test.