Do you need a microscope in your gunsmithing toolkit?

USB_MicroscopeAfter checking out the inexpensive borescope from my earlier review I decided to look around and see what other inexpensive tools I might be able to add to my collection and came across the “Plugable USB 2.0 handheld digital microscope” and decided to check it out. I figured that for the price it was worth a try.

The microscope is listed on Amazon’s website as the Plugable® USB 2.0 Handheld Digital Microscope with stand for Windows, Mac, Linux (2MP, 10x-50x Optical Zoom, 200x Digital Magnification). The microscope itself is just a little bigger than the size of a roll of quarters and has a USB cord that is about 5′ long. It comes with instructions, software CD, and a stand.

The microscope is compatible with Windows, OS X, and Linux. All of my was done on a Windows 7 machine. When I plugged the microscope into the USB port windows automatically found the device and installed it as a generic USB webcam. This means that you can use this camera with any program that can display a webcam image. I installed the included software and found that while it worked, it was not very intuitive. I decided that since I already have several webcam capable programs that I was familiar with and already installed that I would just use those for my testing. I was able to use Skype and VLC to display and record the images that I needed. I played around with the microscope and had a little fun figuring out the controls and looking at things under the magnification of the scope. The microscope has two thumbwheel controls on it. The one located up near where the USB cord enters the microscope is used to control the output of the  8 LEDs that illuminate whatever you are viewing. The second thumbwheel is the larger gray band in the middle of the microscope and it controls the magnification of the microscope. While the microscope has an optical zoom capability of 10x – 50x there is no focus adjustment on the microscope. This means that you are only able to get the picture in focus at 2 or 3 points while zooming in from 10x to 50x. There is no way of knowing what magnification level you are at you just know that you have a clear picture that is “bigger” than before.

After playing around looking at my fingerprints, the printing on a dollar bill, and just about anything else within reach of my desk, I decided that I had better get to the job at hand. I had recently purchased the Ed Brown 1911 Sear Jig from Brownells and decided to test the microscope by taking images of the sear I was working on before, during, and after using the jig. I’m not going to go into details on how to use the jig, but if your interested here is a quick Brownells video on how to use it:

When you mount the sear into the jig this is the way it will look. All of my magnified photos will be oriented from this direction and will show the area in the green box in greater detail.

Jig I ended up placing my microscope on a bench block and this gave me the ability to set everything up so I could just slide the jig under the microscope without having to readjust everything each time I wanted to check my progress. My final setup ended up looking like this.


In this photo you can see the sear (the darker metal in the central portion of the photo) mounted between the two “legs” of the jig (the shiny silver metal on the left and right edge of the photo, This is the way the sear looked before I had done any work at all.


And here is the right hand side of the sear under the highest magnification I could achieve.


After I had taken a few passes with the stone, I placed the sear back under the microscope and looked at my progress.


After a few more times of stoning and checking the sear I was happy with my end result.

FinishedLowMagnificationHere is a “split screen” shot of the before and after.

CombinedWhile I had the microscope set up I placed the sear in profile under the scope and checked the angle and the relief cut. (This was not my actual end result, At some point I accidentally overwrote my final profile picture and I’m to lazy to disassemble my 1911 to get another photo right now.)


So overall what do I think? Again I have to remind you of the old saying “You get what you pay for”. This microscope works and does basically what is described in the sales pitch it does have it’s limits.

It is a fun tool to have around. I find that now that it is here, that I have put it to use a couple of times while working on my guns. As an amateur gunsmith working only on my own guns, I would have to say that this is one of those fun/handy tools to have around, but it is not an essential tool.  If I was a professional gunsmith I would have to change that and say that this microscope or one like it would be on my necessary tool list and here is why.

As a gunsmith you can complete the same job by using a jewelers loupe or a magnifying head visor and do an excellent job but after the firearm walks out your front door you have no proof of the work that you have done. With a microscope like this you can take before and after pictures to show your customer what you did and to show potential customers what they can expect if you do the same job for them. Beyond impressing your customers with pictures of your work, I think that this could also possibly save you from some legal trouble. Imagine that six months after you do trigger work on a customers gun there is some type of incident involving the firearm and you suddenly have a lawyer sniffing for dollars at your door. Do you have proof that the sear was properly worked on while in your shop? What if the customer made alterations after it left your shop? Having photos to document your work may get you more work in the future or save you from legal troubles down the road.

Like the USB borescope that I reviewed previously, this isn’t the best USB microscope out there but for the price it is a very handy (and fun) tool to have in your shop. For the $40 that I spent I am happy with the results.

Update: The microscope I had purchased is no longer available. There are several other options now available. They appear to have a higher magnification and a slightly lower price. You may want to check out this version:

One thought on “Do you need a microscope in your gunsmithing toolkit?

  1. I really like the idea of this. It is much less cumbersome than taking a picture on my digital camera with the macro setting then transferring that to the PC because it allows live real time viewing on the PC. I will check these out.

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