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Instrumentation for Microtomy: Precision Tools and Slides

Like any artist, a histotechnologist has a few favorite tools to transfer ribbons onto the flotation bath and manipulate paraffin sections onto a slide. The key is to become very comfortable with several tools to be able to secure both ends of the ribbons, transfer the ribbons from the microtome to the flotation bath, use the tools to smooth or stretch out wrinkles, and then assist the sections onto the slides.
Tools used to manipulate ribbons and sections
  • Curved forceps: Small, curved instrument used for picking up sections off knife edge, removing bubbles trapped under sections on water bath, great for serial sectioning and picking up single sections off of blade, and good for smoothing out wrinkles.
  • Wood sticks: Wet the end to stick to paraffin ribbons and use to transfer ribbons from knife edge to water bath and manipulating the section onto the slide.
  • Camel hair brushes: Used to transfer ribbons from knife edge to water bath, smoothing out wrinkles on water bath, and great for unrolling stubborn sections from the knife or face plate.
  • Dissecting needles: Used to transfer ribbons from knife edge to water bath, manipulating sections and removing bubbles from underneath sections.
  • Finger tips: Used to pick up ribbons and place on water bath, but use with caution! Finger tips are the ultimate precision tools, often used in conjunction with one of the tools mentioned above.
All tools must be used with care, for they have the potential to:
  • Introduce artifacts and increase the risk of contamination if not cleaned between blocks
  • Nick the knife edge
Glass slides used for picking up tissue sections in order for stained sections to be viewed under the microscope
  • Glass slides are typically:
    • 1.5 mm thick
    • Uncharged
    • Available in various sizes
    • Must be kept clean and free of finger prints
  • Positive charged slides attract frozen and paraffin tissue electrostatically to the slide
    • No water adhesive needed, no background stain, reduces tissue loss
    • Great for silver stains, enzyme and immunohistochemical (IHC) staining, and DNA probes
    • Expensive
    • Charge will decrease over time
A slide drying rack is used to dry slides upright to assist water drainage from underneath sections.