I can see it clearly now....

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Review by gko posted 12-17-2010 05:24 AM 7449 views 2 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
I can see it clearly now.... I can see it clearly now.... No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

This is actually a review of two products. I had bought a cheap little Pocket Microscope from Lee Valley that was about $10. Took a look at some of my blades and found problems that explained why they weren’t cutting as nicely. It was really fascinating. It has an LED light that is above the object which illuminated the blade clearly. It has a base that easily comes off which is how I use it. I highly recommend it to any one that sharpens his own tools. It is extremely cheap and you can give it to your kid to play with if you upgrade or get tired of looking at blades. It’s a 40x power and uses plastic lens but clear enough to see problems with sharpening.

I decided I wanted a better microscope, something that I can save pictures with and is binocular because I can see it much more clearly with both eyes. Also when the camera is on one eye piece I can still look into the other one. Did a lot of surfing and found this one. Seems to fit all of my needs and having a camera helped me explain to my wife that it was to show my grandson the splendor of nature. You know how that goes.

Was honing a low angle 50 degree blade and it didn’t cut any better. Did it twice with no improvement. I thought it was just that 50 degree blades don’t cut as well. When I looked at it with the Lee Valley microscope I saw the image similar to the one above and “whalla” there was a micro bevel so I had never reached the edge with my 3000 grit stone. I kept the blade as is because I was thinking of buying a better microscope and wanted to take pictures of my progress. So after the Amscope arrived I pulled out the blade and took this shot. You can see the area that was not touched by the honing stone.

Used an extra course diamond stone until I reached the edge along the whole length of the blade. Pretty rough looking. I could stop when the whole length was reached and didn’t have to over do it. Also nice on the hands.

Went to a course diamond stone. I usually sharpen at between 30 and 45 degrees but since this is a 50 degree bevel the bevel is very narrow and I went to a steeper angle to hold the bevel more easily. Also I sharpen both right and left handed so there is equal errors if any. Reason for the cross pattern.

This is with a King K55 stone which I think is a 1000 grit. Getting smoother. I was surprised that it didn’t take as long as I had been doing in the past.

This is with a Japanese natural stone around 2000 to 3000 grit. Getting there.

This is with a King G1 8000 grit stone with a natural nagura stone. The nagura breaks down finer and finer and creates an even smoother scratch pattern. Almost no scratch marks. The camera I think has a final magnification of 40x. [ooops! for the photos it was set on 2x plus the camera is a 10x so final magnification is 20x] The microscope has a 20x eye piece that puts the final magnification at 80x. [microscope has a 2x and 4x objective and 10x and 20x eye pieces and has final magnifications of 20x, 40x, and 80x] Still difficult to see scratch patterns with the higher magnification on the G1.

The blade cuts amazingly well on a piece of hard maple I was working on. Surface feels like a piece of glass and has a shine that is bettered only by my Japanese plane. But the Japanese plane has a final angle of 37 degrees and does not do well on curly maple. Having a 62 degree plane (50 plus the 12 low angle plane) cuts hard wood very nicely and cut through the curly parts with no tear out.

It was nice working the extra course stone and do it until I covered all parts of the blade. Didn’t have to over do it to make sure I got to the edge. At one point I thought I had gotten all of the blade with the 8000 stone but but the microscope revealed that there was an area that still had scratch marks from the previous blade. Will post picture of the shaving I got from the blade.

It is really nice having a really good microscope and its much easier to look at the blade but if you can’t afford it the $10 Lee Valley is good enough. I got so involved with microscopes that I bought a nephew a $40 microscope kit but its horrible. Really blurry and difficult to focus. Useless as a tool to inspect blade edges. The $10 LV microscope is much better.

Sorry I thought the little black rubbish was my monitor but I had some dust particles on the camera lens. Cleaned the lens and it went away but I had already gone through the sharpening process. I learned my sharpening technique from a tool master in Japan, Toshia Odate’s book on tools (have to look up the title) and from helpful people at Hida tools.

-- Wood Menehune, Honolulu

View gko's profile


83 posts in 4045 days

15 comments so far

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Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4513 days

#1 posted 12-17-2010 06:05 AM

Wow, some amazing photos! So it seems the extra effort is worth it. Thanks for posting this.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

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1745 posts in 3610 days

#2 posted 12-17-2010 06:36 AM

Appreciate your time on presenting this. Anyone who doubts grit progression needs to see this.

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jim C

1472 posts in 3899 days

#3 posted 12-17-2010 04:04 PM

That’s a great tutorial. Thanks

View Bluepine38's profile


3387 posts in 3886 days

#4 posted 12-17-2010 05:06 PM

Really makes you understand the need for sharpening correctly and why some blades cut so much better
than others. Thank you for hint on the microscope, I will definitely have to invest in it. Just went to Lee
Valley and as usual I am a day late and a dollar short, they are sold out and are not taking back orders,
thank you for the tip anyway.

-- As ever, Gus-the 80 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3916 days

#5 posted 12-17-2010 09:42 PM

thank´s for sharing it
very interresting knowledge , but when you know and have seen it one time
I don´t think you need the microscope I think it can be learned to sharpen
with out it if a skilled person is there to teach how and why and whats wrong
but just my two cent
I still say thank´s for the rewiew


View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 4287 days

#6 posted 12-18-2010 02:24 AM

i thought this was a spam post, somebody slipped in pushing a non-woodworking product. was i wrong. excellent review and topic.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View gko's profile


83 posts in 4045 days

#7 posted 12-18-2010 02:46 AM

Hi Dennis, I agree that for most of the time I wouldn’t take this out and look at how I’m sharpening. But as in the above case I had just bought the Lee Valley plane (along with the microscope) and had honed it the way I was taught and was puzzled with the out come. Advertisement said a good honing was all that was needed but after two tries nothing seemed to improve. I remembered the little microscope I bought and as soon as I saw the micro bevel I understood what had happened. It would have been a waste if I had chucked away the concept of the high angle plane.

During the summer I had another plane and I kept getting a little ridge on the surface of the wood on the right side of the blade. I thought it was the edge digging in and I tried working on the edge so it wouldn’t dig in. Same ridge appeared. I put it away and haven’t used the plane since. But two weeks ago I took out the LV microscope and saw a tiny half round chip near the edge. Couldn’t see it with my naked eyes but there it was. Worked on the blade and the ridge disappeared. In my mind I was avoiding using the plane because it was going to eat up my time solving the problem.

I think of it as a tool that might help explain some of the puzzles I’ve had. I just showed my grandson a cockroach blown up across my laptop screen. Pretty gruesome looking but he thought it was fascinating and wife thought it was wonderful. I’ve always liked microscopes but haven’t had one since I got one in elementary school. I think the little boy in me saw the cheap little microscope and things just progressed from there.

So no I wouldn’t take it out every time I sharpened my tools but its nice knowing I have something that might help me solve problems when they arise. Unless you are a microscope junkie like me I recommend getting the $10 LV microscope around when problems arise.

-- Wood Menehune, Honolulu

View gko's profile


83 posts in 4045 days

#8 posted 12-18-2010 05:30 AM

Thanks Autumn, I’ve always wanted a headset magnifier but I must have been looking in the wrong places. The ones I’ve seen were really expensive. I can’t believe you can get one for 13.95. I have a problem with one of my eyes which was one of the reasons for wanting a microscope. Which one do you have? Any negatives? Distortion? Fit?


-- Wood Menehune, Honolulu

View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 4715 days

#9 posted 12-18-2010 07:10 AM

Nice! Worth the lessons learned, even if you never have to use it again for sharpening.

I’ve experienced similar – follow same technique each time but sometimes you just can’t get an edge and you put the tool aside to go through the entire process again later. This would tell you what step went wrong and where to pick it up again. I think the price is reasonable too.

Thanks for the review.

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3916 days

#10 posted 12-18-2010 03:41 PM

thank´s again Grant I can see it can be a help and you maybee have convinced me to buy
the cheap L V…LOL


View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3667 days

#11 posted 12-18-2010 03:50 PM

This was interesting and so very well presented. I can see from this how valuable it would be to see the edge of what you are sharpening under magnification and you have raised a lot of questions in my mind. Thanks so much for pointing this out.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View hokieman's profile


200 posts in 4555 days

#12 posted 12-18-2010 05:52 PM

Great post. Very interesting and helpful information. I went to Lee Valley to find the scope but I was not successful. Does anyone have a link to this product? Can’t beat it if it only costs 10 bucks.

View gko's profile


83 posts in 4045 days

#13 posted 12-18-2010 07:04 PM

Here’s the link to the item.,53212

-- Wood Menehune, Honolulu

View gko's profile


83 posts in 4045 days

#14 posted 12-18-2010 07:20 PM

I found another problem with the microscope. Years ago I bought a Chinese plane and I wasn’t very skilled at sharpening back then. I hadn’t run into the tool master in Japan yet. I tried all kinds of things. Then I bought one of these power strop things. After trying it on the Chinese blade it nearly stopped shaving wood. I kept trying to strop it but things got worse. Gave up on it and the plane went into never never land in the back of the closet. Went to dig it up last night and found that the stropping had rounded the edge so much that the included angle of the bevel was more than the angle of the blade in the plane so the wood was riding on the stropped part of the blade. I could also see that my sharpening technique was terrible. I wasn’t holding the bevel angle solidly so there are all kinds of angles and the strop just rounded all of my different angles.

The tool master said that I shouldn’t strop the Japanese tools. I bought a cheap block plane and did experiments with it. One of which is stropping the blade versus just sharpening his way and it always got worse when I stropped it.

Now I might get slammed for this and have been nervous to post this somewhere so I think I’ll hide it here. One of the secrets to the Japanese plane is putting in a really tiny curve in the sole of the plane body between the cutting edge and the back of the plane. When he first told me this my brain went WHAT?? He said its just a sliver of light coming through with a good straight edge. Perhaps about about .005” on a smoothing plane and more on roughing planes. Also on the other side of the blade it shouldn’t touch the wood. Remember Japanese planes are backwards compared to western planes. The sole should ride on the wood in just two places. When I got home I tried his sharpening technique all my plane blades and immediately got better shavings. Then I took my dad’s old Japanese plane and put that curve in and lo and behold the finest shaving I had ever seen came out of the plane! It defied all logic. I needed to understand this but could not figure it out.

Then I was reading Hoadly’s Understanding Wood book and saw the chapter on cutting veneers. At the wood mill there is a bar that presses on the wood just before the blade. He shows pictures that without the bar the wood cracks and checks really badly. Next picture with the bar applying a little pressure and the wood is much better. Final picture is with the bar pressing hard and the veneer comes out totally smooth. AHA! So the important thing is that the area just in front of the edge needs to put a lot of pressure on the wood. I think the Japanese found that the curve concentrates more pressure on that area and imperfections in the wood and wood dust slide under the curve to keep the pressure on the wood. So it takes less downward pressure to get nice shavings.

I didn’t do it with my western planes but they performed erratically. Slowly figured out that on totally smooth wood they seem to work better and I had to put quite a bit of downward pressure to get smooth shavings. I have this really cheap bullnose from WC that I use and it was always difficult to use. Chatters all the time. Found that the bullnose wasn’t touching the wood. I thought oh well its cheap and if I ruin it I’ll just get another one. So I took the bullnose off and sanded the sole from the mouth to almost the back until there was a tiny gap when I put the bullnose back on. Whalla, beautiful shavings!

Ok, don’t send the mob out to tar and feather me but anybody ever heard of this? I went to Rob Cossman’s plane rebuilding class and when he was sanding down the sole he said that he found that you need to get the sole sanded until the area in front of the blade and the back is evenly sanded. He said if you don’t get in between its ok. Sure enough the area in between had not been touched by the sandpaper and it shaved amazingly smoothly.

-- Wood Menehune, Honolulu

View toddbeaulieu's profile


842 posts in 3805 days

#15 posted 02-22-2015 02:13 PM

I’ve been using a B&L 14x loupe for inspecting my sharpening. I learn an awful lot with it, but it’s a PITA with light levels, closing one eye and trying to get just the right distance. It seems like I’m always tweaking my sharpening, picking up new types of cutters, buying new sharpening devices (worksharp), etc., which means seeing up close like this is extremely useful to me.

I stumbled across this review while searching for any news of people using such devices for sharpening. I can’t wrap my brain around how a $300 3.5x dentist binocular loupe will compare to a $40 20x loupe.

I’m very intrigued by binoculars like this. It’s just so hard to pull the trigger on something that I know so little about.

This was a helpful review. Thank you.

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