Archive for the 'Watchmaking School' Category

Tick Talk is moving

Thanks to the generous contributions of my readers I am able to move my blog to a self-hosted domain. Why am I doing this? It gives me more control over my blog content and it allows me to put some advertising on my blog – creating more revenue to improve content.

Your generous contributions have also helped me to begin outfitting a shop at my home. I hope to be able to continue equipping a shop at home because it gives me a forum to work on some projects which will help me form some really great posts.

What you need to do to continue getting my posts:

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If you receive the next post titled “Bug’s Clock” you’re getting posts from the new blog. If you don’t receive it, come a calling.


Alcohol Lamp & Pallet Warmer

Alcohol lampThis is one of those tools that when my co-workers (not watchmakers) see me using it they always ask what I am doing. It’s an alcohol lamp and a pallet warmer. So, what do I do with it? Burn alcohol and warm pallets, duh! Just kidding.

Many adjustable parts in watches (like most jewels) are held in place by friction but there are a few things which need to be adjustable and need to withstand large forces. For these items we use shellac to hold them in place. Shellac is the secretion of the lac beetle, a very diluted version is used for applying finishes to wood, but also, in a thick form it is a very hard re-heatable adhesive. It is commonly used to hold pallet stones and roller jewels in place. Shellac dissolves in alcohol and becomes soft when heated to between 170-200 degrees fahrenheit, but is extremely hard (and brittle) at room temperature.

Pallet ForkThe two stones on the pallet fork interact with the escape wheel to block the unwinding motion of the train and to let the escape wheel pass one tooth at a time at a rate controlled by the balance. The depth of interaction is adjustable by softening the shellac and moving the stones in and out by extremely small amounts (hundredths of a millimeter). The two stones need to be even and adjusted just right so that the escape wheel is properly “locked” each time and so that just the right amount of force is required to “unlock” it. This adjustment takes a lot of practice. The stones are pushed in using a piece of pegwood or pried out using a very sharp metal point.

You can get an electric heater to do the job also and there is a tool which holds the pallet fork and shows on a dial exactly how far you are moving the stones called an escapement meter. You still have to have a light touch to move the stones a very small amount but the dial helps you to better gauge how far you are moving them. Together the two tools cost over $1000 so I’m stuck doing it the traditional way for now. The escapement meter and heater are on my wish list. If you know where I can get a good quality used one for less, leave me a comment. In watchmaking school they made us do it the traditional way before they let us use the escapement meter, and I am glad they did. I guess they know that most little shops like mine don’t have an escapement meter sitting around. If you work in “the industry” you probably would have access to one.

The truth is I don’t have to adjust pallet stones every day. They are adjusted at the factory and unless you have to replace an escape wheel or pallet fork they should stay correctly adjusted, but on older watches I find that often somebody came along and moved them for some reason (probably to squeeze out a little more amplitude to compensate for some other mistake.) and I sometimes have to adjust them.

School Watch ConstructionI also use my lamp and pallet warmer to temper steel. After hardening the steel with a propane torch I temper steel over the alcohol flame because it allows for a slower more controlled flame. This is how you get those beautiful blued screws and hands you see in some watches like my school watch. I have struggled to get a good photo of my watch but here is one attempt.

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Watches I

balanceI think it’s about time I return back to the roots of this blog. My watch education.

The Lititz Watch Technicum
Micromechanics, Part I
Micromechanics, Part II
Micromechanics, Part III

Watches I

With all of these micromechanical skills, what’s a boy to do? You see, the WOSTEP program is designed in Switzerland for the Swiss watchmaking community. It’s mission is really to prepare watchmakers for the watchmaking industry. That is why the WOSTEP Curriculum covers watch movements only, and no polishing or case work. Partner schools in the United States have adapted the curriculum so that it better prepares watchmakers for the retail repair environment, although many WOSTEP graduates still end up in the U.S. Watchmaking industry. This may be why Oklahoma State’s new program is geared toward preparing AWCI Certified Watchmakers for the 21st Century instead of WOSTEP graduates. If you visit my about me page (and every post on this blog you’ll see what this boy does with his micromechanical skills.)

Having said all of that; the reason WOSTEP puts so much emphasis on the micromechnaical work is because it: fine tunes hand eye coordination and trains the eye to see very small defects. You see, for six months of watchmaking school we didn’t touch watches. Now, we would.

Unitas 6497Our next set of tasks would prepare us for the WOSTEP gear train exam. We were given an ETA 6497 movement and our mission was to disassemble it completely, clean it thoroughly and reassemble it with every thing working and still clean. Cleanliness is perhaps the most important thing in watchmaking. Once we could handle the screwdrivers okay they began to adjust endshakes and we would have to restore them to their correct positions using our jeweling tool. At this point we didn’t have to worry about whether or not the watch would tell time, it just needed to be assembled correctly with the correct endshakes and ticking healthy. (We didn’t even really have access to timing machines at this point.) After one or two weeks of assembly and disassembly we took our exam and would move on to bigger and better things!

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filesIt is really amazing how many files I have for how little I use them. Per request I am going to discuss the files I use as a watchmaker. On a regular basis I use my 8″ No. 2 Cut file and one or two of my escapement files, the rest sit in my drawer. If I were doing more custom work or parts manufacturing I would use them a lot more. High Quality files are important. I recommend Grobet Vallorbe – as they say, if it’s got the rabbit it is a good file 🙂

Larger Files I use the larger files mostly for tool making, although I find myself using the large No. 2 file for shortening case tubes, case work and bracelet work, like forming rivets and shortening pins. For serious work you would want an aggressive file like the 8 inch No. 2 file A good number 4 file and a 5 or 6 for fine work. You would also want at least one half round file, mine is pretty coarse, it is a number 3. The numbering system represents an old system dating back to 1812 and represents the number of teeth per inch on a sliding scale proportionate to the overall length of the file. For in depth information about files you can visit Grobet USA.

Escapement filesEscapement files are small fine files (presumably for use in constructing the parts of an escapement). I have the standard set of 12 swiss made files from Vallorbe with cut 4. These files are also very useful for skeletonizing work, or any small delicate work. These files are sometimes referred to as needle files. Their is a light difference. Escapement files have square handles, needle files have round (usually with knurling). Escapement files are slightly finer: an escapement file with cut 4 has 142 teeth per inch and a needle file has 117.

Euro Tool FilesWhen I was in watchmaking school I was doing a lot of filing and I wanted a set of more course needle files fast so I bought this set of Euro Tool files made in India with a Cut of 0. That’s when I learned how nice my other files were. It pays to buy the nice stuff. But they are acceptable for course work, assuming you’re going to go back and clean up with a finer file.

If you want really clean edges you may want to go and remove the file marks, an emery stick (see top pic) or some lapping film (self-adhesive from 3M) on a small piece of brass looks really well. In fact lapping film on a brass slip is really good for polishing beveled edges.

If what you want to do is skeletonize a watch movement, most people start with a flex shaft tool, dremel tool, or drill press to rough out the basic shape then go in with a jewelers saw and escapement files to fine tune it. Finishing it all up with some lapping film on a perfectly flat surface, actually the back side of a barrette file can work nicely. Also the file edge of a watchmaker’s pivot burnisher works well for this. Some people use Diamond needle files or Diamond escapement files but I don’t have any experience with either.

There are of course many, many more types of files. All of the ones I mention above are cross cut files some of them have a safe edge others do not. These are simply the ones I use. A final note on safe edges. If you want to file crisp 90 degree corners you should dress your safe edge, typically the cuts don’t go all the way to the edge of the file so relying on the factory safe edge will give you a slightly rounded corner. To produce sharp 90 degree corners prepare at least one of your files by stoning down the safe edge all the way in until the teeth come right to this edge. This can be a tedious process. It took me most of a day to prepare my 5 inch number 5 file’s edge. But it would have taken less if I had used the diamond lap – alas they didn’t allow us such things in watchmaking school 🙂

Oh yes, one more thing. Keep your files clean and dry. You don’t really want oil on them because this will cause them to clog. In a humid climate you might store them inside of a very lightly oiled rag or with some of those silica moisture absorbing packets. Some people use wax in them to keep them from clogging. When they do clog use a file card to remove debris. Move the card across the file following the cuts.

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Hand Pushers

Hand PushersToday for Tuesday’s Tools I present to you my hand pushers. They are very simple tools, but frankly you really need to have good ones. Hand pushers are used for installing hands on a watch. Well made hand pushers will keep you from marking the hands when you install them. This set are Rolex 2089. They are identical to a set of three Bergeon pushers. I also have some inexpensive black and white pushers from India, but they’re in some box somewhere because they are so poorly made I wouldn’t ever use them. The Bergeon hand pushers have replaceable tips and they are well polished and crisp. Each tip is different. There is a small solid end & a large solid end, four tips with varying size holes to accommodate the cannon pinion sticking up through the hour hand and the arbor for the second hand sticking up through the cannon pinion. Many students make their own set of hand pushers as a turning project in watchmaking school, but we did not. It would be easy enough to make a good set on the lathe in about half an hour out of acrylic.

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Micromechanics, Part III

Micromechanics I
Micromechanics II

With our first major exam behind us it was time to move on to the next unit. With winding stems we learned to cut stems on the lathe. Mostly right angles and flat surfaces. Our next task would introduce large tapers. We were to make a balance tack. The balance tack had a large flat base with a hole drilled in it and a long tapered cone, which had to be straight of course.

Next, we made a barrel closer out of acrylic. They key here was to have extremely fine turning lines so it would appear transparent. – This would be key for the next major project which was pivot gauges. With pivot gauges the key is to hit exact dimensions with burnished pivot shapes. The pivot gauges are cut from hardened and tempered spring steel (blue). Overall tolerances for dimensions on the pivot gauge were mostly +/- 0.03mm, but the pivot (the most important part) was always +/- 0.005mm. The pivot had to be burnished hard and with a blemish free mirror finish. This exercise simulates manufacturing a pivot on an axle that would run in a watch. The burnishing was carried out on a Jacot Tool. The pivot diameters started at 0.30mm and got smaller each time until 0.10mm for a total of 21 pivot gauges, not including exams and mistakes.

During this time I was also working on a screw head polisher. This tool is essentially a vise with three legs in which you can insert a pin vise with a screw to polish the head. It was constructed of brass jaws, steel runners and a steel thread with which to open and close down the vise.

Next, Watches I

Watchmaker’s Lathe – Made in China?

When I was in watchmaking school I had access to some of the best lathes made today. We had a Schaublin 70, a Schaublin 102, and 16 Horia lathes all with just about every attachment available. I learned to use them all and I got spoiled. We were manufacturing parts and making our school watch, so we needed quality lathes, and we used them heavily.

In my shop currently, I use an old american watchmaker’s lathe. It was the owner’s grandfathers and has been a part of his family for more than 70 years. It was probably well taken care of when his grandfather used it, and when his father used it. Since his father got out of the trade it has been used by other watchmakers with no attachment to it and it hasn’t been cared for as well as it could have been. It is free of rust and dents and since I serviced it, it runs pretty good, but it is really lacking in the attachment department. I mostly use it for cutting out broken balance staffs, re-burnishing pivots and some tool manufacturer and it suffices, but it doesn’t “shine.”

I would love to be able to make some custom pieces but in order to do that I would need some better equipment (face plate, 3 jaw chuck, cross slide, larger collet selection, drilling tail stock, large stepped chucks, etc). It is also lacking when I need to re-bush a watch because it doesn’t have a face plate. The lathe has a selection of about 12 collets (the largest being about 3mm), a couple of wax chucks, and a balloon chuck. It has a tail stock but there is no drawbar for the tailstock and no drilling attachment. It has a T-rest but no cross slide. The motor is attached to the base and sits about 5 inches behind the bed so it is hard to get a burnisher back there to polish pivots the way I feel most comfortable. Perhaps the most annoying feature is the variable speed pedal from a Foredom flex-shaft tool for speed control. It is hard to get good surface finish when your lathe doesn’t turn at a consistent speed.

I would love some new attachments, but I would really like a high-quality lathe.

I read about an ebay seller who is selling Chinese made watchmaker’s lathes on timezone the other day. The article is here. chinese lathe I realize these aren’t going to be Horia lathes, but I would love to know how good (or bad) they are. As you can see from his eBay store you can get a lot of lathe for under $1000. (I don’t know how much he charges to ship from China). The one person on timezone who actually purchased one says it’s not too bad. I don’t know what that means, but he doesn’t give a good enough review for me to risk buying one yet.

I shared some information about the lathe with fellow members of AWCI and I got bombarded with all kinds of remarks from individuals who have no experience with this lathe. They feel (without experiencing the lathe) that there is no way it could possibly be well made and that I would much better off spending my money on a quality lathe at this point on my career. For many of them, this means an american made lathe like the one they have been using for the last 40 years. Unfortunately I don’t have the $30,000 it would take to buy a fully equipped lathe like I had in school. I could start with the basics and build from there but my problem is that the lathe isn’t really going to generate very much revenue so I have a hard time justifying a large purchase. Especially since I am salaried and my income wouldn’t change even if I was using the lathe to increase productivity or generate custom products.

Lucky for me I know a watchmaker, whose opinion I trust, who is doing some experimentation and research about this product. When I know more, I’ll add to this post.

If you have any information about these lathes or recommendations for other lathes, let me know.

For more discussion on lathes and some links to different makers visit this thread at timezone.

If you would like to help me purchase one of these lathes so I can give a formal review please donate to my blog. Every little bit helps.