How to Make a Microscope for 25 Cents (or Less)

Though admittedly a very simple one, this article shows you know how to make a microscope for as little as 25 cents.

| March/April 1980

The wing of a fly looks like something from a monster movie . . . while pieces of hair suddenly appear to be as big as pencils! A child's first peek through a microscope can be the beginning of a lifelong fascination with a world that we don't usually see. The magnifying devices are fun and educational, provide both "rainy day" and outdoor entertainment, and appeal to adults as well as to youngsters!

Unfortunately, microscopes cost money . . . and nowadays, many folks just can't spare much cash for non-necessities, no matter how worthwhile the items may be. Furthermore, store-bought microscopes are often too complicated for young children to set up and adjust. And, of course, most people wouldn't want to carry an expensive piece of optical equipment along to the woods or seashore!

Simple Tools and Materials

Well . . . here's some good news for all you eager entomologists and budding botanists! You can build your own for about 25¢ (or even for free)! Furthermore, the homemade instrument is small enough to fit in your pocket and powerful enough to make grains of salt look big as dice! If you'd like to know how to make a microscope, all you have to do is think small . . . then collect the following materials:

You'll need a scrap of soft wood about 2" wide, 3" long, and 1" (or so) thick . . . a strip of thin sheet metal ("tin can" metal will work, but something a little heavier would be better) . . . carpet tacks or heavy staples (the sort you drive into wood with a "gun") . . . a penlight bulb (the kind with a solid glass bump at the top) . . . and—if you want clips to hold a microscope slide in place—two pieces of thin, springy wire (piano wire, for example).

The penlight bulb is probably the only part you'll have to buy (that's where the 25¢ comes in). But, if you're lucky, you might even be able to locate a burned-out bulb . . . which will work just as well as a new one would and won't cost you anything!

For tools and equipment, you'll need a piece of medium-grit sandpaper . . . a tube of household cement (white glue—or even modeling clay—will do in a pinch) . .. a hammer or a staple gun . . . a drill and two bits (one 1/4" or larger and the other 11/64") .. . tinsnips for cutting the sheet metal (don't yield to the temptation to use —and ruin—your scissors) ... a saw (if your woodblock will need to be cut) ... and needle-nosed pliers with side-cutters.

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