Buy a Head Loupe
by Ray Wilson
A magnifying head loupe is one of the most useful tools that you will buy when you commence your journey in lapidary or metalsmithing. A head loupe gives you improved vision of your work, showing up those annoying scratches that you thought were sanded out. A head loupe gives you the magnification necessary to see your work but leaves you with 2 hands free to hold and manipulate your work.
Head loupes need to be adjustable to fit different size heads and all models should come standard with this feature. The more substantial loupes will come with a knurled nut that is wound in or out to adjust the plastic head band. Some of the cheaper types will have Velcro straps that can be adjusted to the correct head size. Loupes typically will also move up and down to allow the user to lift the loupe away from the eyes when not in use. A nice feature that means you don’t have to take your loupe off of your head when not in use. Headbands can be plastic or leather covered. Leather bands are useful as a sweat band if working in the glare of strong lights or a hot soldering torch.
Loupes also come with different type of lenses and in different shapes. The more expensive varieties will have optical glass whereas the cheaper option will have acrylic lenses. Glass lenses are an advantage as they will not scratch as easy as the plastic ones.
Each manufacturer will decide what level of magnification to offer in the lens. Standard loupes will have a magnification of around 2.5X (2.5 times). With some brands, additional lenses of increased magnification are included and can be simply replaced by undoing a couple of threaded bolts. Remember that with each increasing level of magnification the focal point comes closer to your face. For example the commonly used Optivisor with a 2.5X lens has a focal length of around 200mm. A 3.5X lens has a focal length of 100mm.
Other features are also available from some manufacturers like an additional lens for one eye, effectively doubling the magnification for that lens. Often a light is also included.
Donegan Optivisor – Rio Grande
For many years the only head loupe in the market was a Donegan head loupe made in USA. These loupes are still the standard in head loupes and you will never go wrong buying a Donegan Optivisor. Recently though the weakening Australian dollar has meant that this loupe now retails for about $120 in Australia. Recently, like so many other tools, “knock offs” or copies, that are made in China, have appeared on the market. To all intents and purposes, they are an exact copy of an Optivisor in both design and functionality. In the favour of the copy is the price. These can be purchased in Australia for around $60 and come packaged with 4 different lenses. With Optivisor only 1 lens is provided but others can be purchased as required. If this is still too much for you a copy of the acrylic head loupe with Velcro straps is available for about $20.
Other models can be purchased from places like Kogan or Jaycar.
Tiltable LED Headband – Kogan LED Headband Loupe – Jaycar
Head Loupe with 4 Glass lenses – Gemcuts
A good head loupe will last a long time. I have just replaced my original Optivisor bought in 1998. After weighing up the options I went for the Chinese knock off from Gemcuts. I can’t fault it and at $60 including 4 optical glass lenses is a great option for my failing eyesight. Given that this investment will last you a long time, buy the best that you can afford at the time.