Testing the Hand Microtome

A few days ago I ordered a microtome. Here is a video showing you the different parts: Parts of a Microtome

Now it’s time to test the device. The first sample is a carrot. It can be cut into the right shape to fit into the specimen holder of the microtome and it is sufficiently solid to allow for easy cutting, but not too hard. Carrots can also be used to hold other specimens. In this case the “carrot cylinder” is cut in half and the specimen can be inserted between the carrot halves. The carrot acts as a support.

12 thoughts on “Testing the Hand Microtome”

    1. So far I did not have to sharpen it, but then again, I did not use the knife often. For sharpening, one should use a leather belt.

  1. @john Paraffin slices should be collected with a brush and put on water (NOT IN WATER BUT ON WATER). This should straighten them up. Then you pick them up with your slide. Then remove the paraffin with xilene, rehydratate the specimen and stain it. Them mount in what you prefer if you want a permanent slide.

  2. I would recommend that anyone wanting to learn how to cut and prepare sections with a microtome should read the “Handbook of Microtechnique” by Gray, 1958, Chapter 12 “Cutting Sections”. The book is avaiable in pdf format on the internet. I would also recommend that anyone who wishes to keep their fingers intact ought not to emulate the video, where Oliver holds his finger on the carrot while slicing with the razor. If it is necessary to apply pressure to the specimen, a long pencil or similar object should be used, keeping the fingers well away from the cutting edge.
    – Bob

  3. Oliver… very good video. Thanks for sharing it.

    I have been trying to use a hand microtome to cut botanical specimens in paraffin and have been very disappointed with the results. When cutting the paraffin I find that it curls up, along with the specimen, resulting in an unusable sample. I would be interested in hearing if you, or anyone else, has any ideas for getting better results from wax embedded samples.


  4. Thanks Oliver. I was looking for a clear explanation on how to use an microtome and this video helped. I wasn’t sure on the proper technique on how to use the knife properly as my cuts weren’t always consistent. The idea of using a carrot as a sample holder is terrific, I have to try it on small objects like stems, etc.

    – Proteus

  5. Daniel,
    thanks for the information. I did not think of the lubrication issue. This is certainly something that I’m going to try out. As a matter of fact, I may actually document my experiences in the next issue of the PDF magazine.

  6. Hi,
    Well done. You get more consistent results, though, when cutting with a wet knife. The sample should be moistened every now and then as well. A mixture of water and glycerol works fine as a cutting lubricant.
    When cutting small samples, take them off the knife with a small soft watercolour paintbrush. Cut back its bristles to a few mm. You can’t handle tiny sections of, say, a pine needle with your bare fingers!

    Kind regards, Daniel

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