Posts Tagged 'Tuesday Tools'

Tuesday Tools – Case Opener Update

A while ago I wrote about all of my case openers and I mentioned a little sticky ball available online fairly inexpensively which is supposed to be able to open most screw back watch cases. Here is the follow-up:

Case BallI finally got the magic case opening ball today and it was well, a big disappointment. I tried it on 5 watches today and I was only successful in opening one of them. Thankfully, I have professional grade tools for opening all of these watches. The ball succeeded on a Tag Heuer Link, but failed on: Rolex 31mm Datejust, Rolex Lady Datejust, Movado Chronograph and ladies Seiko 5. It would appear that if the backs are on as tight as they should be, the ball fails. My overall opinion is that my son is going to enjoy his new little ball 🙂

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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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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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Today for Tuesday’s Tools I talk about the tool I probably use second most to tweezers, my screwdrivers.Screwdrivers I use the standard 9 screwdriver set from Bergeon. There are better screwdrivers out there. I would really like a set with ball bearings instead of a friction bearing but I’ll probably wait until this set wears out before I break down and buy a new set. You really could get by with some pretty cheap screwdrivers as long as you have good blades.

Screwdriver blades should be made from blued steel unless you are performing a delicate operation and you want to use something else. I have a few bronze blades that I use in extra delicate situations. New blades often look like the one on the left. Notice that the grain runs parallel to the tip. This isn’t actually ideal but the shape of the blade is very nice. Notice the proportion of the flat of the tip and how the two sides are exactly parallel. New Blade

In everyday use screwdriver blades will wear and brake. Keeping them in good condition is a constant chore. I like the grain of my blade to run perpendicular to the tip because it keeps the blade from sliding as much.Correct Tip To prepare the tip I run the blade along my India stone making sure that the flat tip stays consistent in it’s width from one end to the other, if the tip is a triangle than the two sides aren’t parallel, if it is cigar shape than the two sides are rounded not flat. The screwdriver to the right has good proportions. When inserting the blade in the slot you want it to penetrate about 90% of the depth before contacting the corners of the slot. This gives you a nice strong grip and keeps it from sliding out. If it contacts the bottom of the slot it will slide easily. If it penetrates too shallow it will break off. Your screwdriver should be the same width (or slightly narrower) than the screw head you are turning.

Not all slots are created equal! You may find yourself adjusting your screwdriver blades to make them more narrow or blunt depending on the width of the slot in the screw.

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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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All stones are not created equal.

It’s tuesday and time for Tuesday’s Tools. This week I’ll talk about stones; sharpening stones to be specific. When I was a boy I remember my father having a nice oil stone in his toolbox in a leather pouch which he used to sharpen his tools, and he would let me use if for my pocket knife, so long as it got returned to it’s rightful place when I was done. When I was out on my own I bought a sharpening stone and found out that all stones are not created equal. This thing was soft and grey, coarse, and worthless when it comes to sharpening a knife. I still have it, but I no longer use it.

Open up any jewelry supply tool catalog and you’ll find about 20 or so different kinds of stone to choose from. There are black stones and white stones and red stones, hard stones and soft stones. I have three basic stones in two sizes. Stones My larger stones are Bergeon quality stones. The large reddish brown stone is an India stone I use for sharpening gravers mostly. The white one paired with it is an Arkansas stone for removing burrs and putting a cutting finish on the gravers. The smaller stones are a Fine India Oilstone from Norton USA and an Arkansas stone. The smallest red stone is a Degussit stone (Corundum or Ruby Slip). All are very high quality stones.

The basic idea of grinding stones is that in order to cut something you usually need something harder than what you are cutting. When you need to sharpen or grind hardened steel, you can’t use a steel tool so you use a stone. One purpose of the stones is for sharpening. As mentioned, I use the large stones primarily for sharpening HSS steel gravers. Although I use my diamond lap with a jig these days, I still remove the burrs and finish off my graver on the Arkansas stone. I tend to sharpen my screwdriver blades (blued steel) on the small India stone. It’s nice to have a little grained texture on the screwdriver (it keeps them from slipping as much.) I also use the stones for grinding. When shortening a winding stem (blued steel, unless it’s ETA) I usually use a combination of the small India stone and the Arkansas stone. The small Arkansas stone is a convenient size for using at the lathe when I need to grind something. The Degussit stone is the hardest and finest of all of them. I use it in tight spaces (because of it’s triangular shape) and at the lathe. The ends are very crisp so I can grind a pretty sharp inside corner with it. Cutting is almost always preferred to grinding but sometimes even the tungsten carbide graver doesn’t want to cut so well.

Case Openers

Today for Tuesday’s Tools I’ll focus on case tools. These are the tools we use to open and close watch cases.Case Tools There are many different kinds of case tools. They range from a simple knife to complex steering wheel devices.

First, these are the big guns. In the middle is the Rolex 1019, the best case opener/closer ever. Of course, it only works on Rolexes. The tool is a combination tool which both unscrews case backs and also is used for installing bezels on cases. It has about 50 different adapters for all of its wonderful uses and it is perfect! It could not be designed better.

To it’s right is the Baume & Mercier equivalent. It works okay, but it isn’t perfect like the Rolex tool, one major draw back is that to raise the die away from the case for inserting and removing you have to unscrew the set spacer the entire distance.

To the left of the Rolex tool is a generic bench top case opener. It is useful for cases with normal keyed backs that are really stuck on. I don’t use this one very often.

On the extreme left is a BB crystal press. It is for (as the name implies) pressing crystals on. It is also useful for snapping on snap backs. It has a set of square walled dies and beveld dies (interchangeable upper and lower). It is a fine press but not as nice as the large Bergeon crystal press.

case knivesThere is also a myriad of handheld casing tools. For snap-off backs a case knife is indispensable. My favorite knife is the one closest to you in the picture, it is made by Bergeon and branded with the “Crown.” it is in every other way identical to the $19 Bergeon foldable case knife. I like it because the blade has a good shape, it is sturdy but comes to a nice sharp edge and fits in my hand well. To it’s right is a German style case knife. It is extremely sturdy, straight & sharp. Useful for square cases, only if you have room to get that long straight blade in there. Next is a Maurice Lacroix branded knife. Very similar to the Rolex knife but the blade is a little thicker, sometimes you need that if you have a large gap and the handle is thicker. The thick handle is nice if you really need to press hard on a back (so it doesn’t dig into your hand.) Fourth, is a generic Gucci style case tool. This is for the style of case with a narrow gap between the lugs. Fifth, is a paring knife, about as useful as the German style. We’ll skip six for now. Seven, is a fixed blade Bergeon knife. This one has a very tight curve on it for small gaps. Sometimes when you can’t get a back off easily, you just have to find the knife that fits the back just right. Variety is important!

Not pictured is my Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. I modified the small blade to resemble the shape of the Rolex Knife. I keep it on me always (except when flying) in case I need it 🙂

For screw on backs that don’t require the bench top tools there are several handheld wrenches. Sixth from the left in the knife picture is a wrench specifically for Bulova Accutrons. On the right is an LG wrench similar to the JAXA style Swiss wrench, but I find this one to be a better wrench. I use this for most screwbacks (Tag Heuer, Swiss Army, Seiko, Citizen, Breitling, etc.) I also have the JAXA case wrench but it doesn’t operate as smoothly as this one. There are also a variety of two prong case wrenches (mostly useful only for very large backs that won’t fit in a 3-prong wrench.)

The one tool I haven’t tried yet, but I hear is very good is a mysterious sticky soft ball available on the internet which will open virtually any screw-on back they say. I haven’t tried it yet, but I am anxious to do so.

Have a favorite case tool? Let me know.