Cats Whisker Forceps

A recent brush with greatness (see this excellent chap) inspired me to work on a few opaque, dry-cell, mounts. This of course reminded me that I have always lacked a delicate touch. -K

Delicate Objects

When mounting one is apt to run into all manner of materials, from algae too zea stems there is no limit to what one might encounter. While some of the objects to be mounted are simple to manipulate with droppers, section lifters, or brushes, a few require a forceps to be handled effectively. Unfortunately, some of what one may wish to mount is fragile (part of the reason one will want to protect it with a sturdy mount) and the usual forceps will be sure to result in damage unless one is possessed of the most careful hand. There is, of course, specialized equipment for working with small (right down to the truly microscopic) objects; specialized equipment for working with delicate objects; specialized equipment for working with small delicate objects; and it is nearly all difficult to find and expensive.

The Old Solution

The old solution was a simple modification to the common sort of forceps or needle. It proved such a fine remedy to the problem that few who make use of it are unimpressed. In fact, the solution was so elegant that one can still pay (exorbitant prices; $12.00 is usual) for professional equipment making use of the common (wait for it…) eyelash. When a small and delicate specimen had to be manipulated the workers of old would cement an eyelash, for the finest objects, or cats whisker to the usual needle holder or standard forceps and thereby create a more exacting tool without recourse to more expensive instruments.

As a Probe or Pick

If one must manipulate a small object, perhaps pollen or butterfly scales, a straight eyelash bound to a suitable handle will do nicely. It was once (inappropriately enough) thought that lashes from particular genders or ethnicities were superior and catalogs often boasted about the origin of their offerings as being more gracefully curved or uniformly black. Todays suppliers are rather ambiguous as to the source of their offerings and the eyelashes themselves may be human or otherwise. If one takes any comfortable handle, and cleans of oil with a solvent (alcohol-ether 50% would have been traditional) an eyelash, it may be fixed to that handle by a drop of balsam or a few wraps of thread. Such a tool comes to a very fine point that is surprisingly resilient, easily visible, and not prone to breaking, This last point rather important as any who have wade use to the thread of glass micro-manipulators may attest.

As a Forceps

For a larger object an eyelash may prove insufficient when fixed to the end of a dime-store forceps, and that is where a certain degree of preference comes in. Some historic texts make reference to using the bristles of a pig or hair from the white-tailed deer. For a modern worker those materials may prove difficult to come by. One might instead give their floors a sweep and recover a whisker or two from the family cat. Cutting away the very fine half nearest the tip, set it aside for use as with an eyelash, one should then affix the more robust end to a convenient forceps.

Such a tool at times seems to work wonders, as objects may now be grasped without fear of crushing. In truth one would be hard pressed to hold an object so tightly with such a device as to cause damage. Simultaneously, one may be assured of a sound grip. Considering the price of similarly fine ready-made forceps, the result is better than might be otherwise possible.


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