Watch Repair Tools
What you’re getting in this report is actually a partial excerpt from the text section that is included in the online Watch Repair and Ultra Course, with a few small changes. In this report we’ll be covering mostly watch tools but if your interest is in clocks I still recommend that you read this as some of what is covered here can also apply to clocks. I’ll cover clock tools more thoroughly in an upcoming report.
This report has some important information about the quality of the tools you purchase. There are times when buying the best quality isn’t all that important but then there are those times that it can make all the difference to your success.
As we all know, not having the proper tool for a given job can make a simple task a challenge or even impossible to perform. The foundation of any vocation is its tools. To be productive enough to compete in a trade one must have at hand the necessary tools to do the job. I personally can’t think of any trade which has as many tools, some of which are brilliant and fascinating inventions, as that of watch repair. One reason for this is that watches have been around for well over 300 years. Over this lengthy period many different tools were developed to aid the watchmaker in his work. The fact is that so many devices were created that one can usually find several entirely different tools to do exactly the same task. Another reason is that we are dealing with miniature machines. The tools needed for working on these tiny mechanisms are often quite different in design than what would be used on the same mechanism if it were much larger. When working on a piece of large machinery the tools used must be designed to withstand a great deal of force, just loosening a screw may require the use of chest, shoulder, arm and hand muscles. Since it requires minute amounts of force from hand and wrist muscles when repairing a watch most tools are designed to fit in our hand and are controlled by either squeezing or turning with only our fingers. So instead of pliers, table vises etc. we use an array of tweezers, pin vises and holders developed solely for watch repair. The variety and number of tools is almost endless but few are actually necessary for general pocket watch repair.
Though many clever changes have occurred in the watch since its inception it is still basically the same mechanical device and for this reason many of the tools which were being used over a century ago can still be used to this day. These used tools can still be purchased at most NAWCC Marts and regional meetings, up on eBay and various websites specializing in used watch tools at very reasonable prices or purchased new at most material houses. Either way, the basic tools you will need to get started will be quite inexpensive.
The first thing we will discuss is the work space. A watchmakers bench is, of course, a great addition to your shop if finances allow, but is something you can do without in the beginning. The watchmakers bench is a very carefully thought out design. It satisfies the need for storage of tools, suitable working height and depth and provides a canvas catch for falling parts. Old watchmakers benches are more difficult to find than hand tools since they are considered furniture and are collected by antique seekers, but with some effort you can still find decent deals on them.
At first you’ll probably set-up your own bench from a desk or table you may already have. This is perfectly fine and will work well if a few basic but critical steps are taken during set-up. The height of the work surface is important since much of the time you will be using an eye loupe for magnification. The focal point for a loupe is only a few inches at most which means you will need to be close to your work most of the time. If you try to work at normal table height in a hunched over position your neck and back will soon be screaming. The angle of view changes as the bench height increases, allowing an edge on view of the mechanism and its parts. This, as you will see, is extremely helpful when repairing or assembling a watch. You can simply raise the height of your bench with blocks but make certain that it is secure and stable. You can also lower your chair or a combination of both. The disadvantage to lowering your chair too much is that you are more in a squatting position than a
The catch is probably the most important item your bench can offer. It saves parts and nerves throughout the work day. No matter how careful you are, parts will fall from your bench. Without some type of a catch you’ll find yourself crawling around on your hands and knees much of the day. With a little ingenuity you can rig up some sort of catch in a very short time. If you are using a desk you can stretch a piece of canvas or cotton over the top of the center drawer leaving it open while working This works well, though you have lost a little storage space for your tools. Or possibly make a frame with canvas that can be placed over the drawer when working but can be lifted out of the way to access tools if needed.
Where you place your bench is another important consideration. Try to find a place that is free from carpet and dust. I know this isn’t always easy, and when you’re starting out it’s not absolutely necessary. But it can save you from some frustrating times. Although the catch will retrieve many of the parts that drop from your bench it won’t get them all. Some do hit the floor and will do their best to hide from you. Carpet just
makes it tougher.
Dust is another matter. A little dust can stop a watch from running. It’s important to keep dust away from your bench. Keep your bench clean and uncluttered with tools and objects that can gather dust. Wipe the surface daily with a damp cloth and you should be fine. Of course covering a movement when not being worked on is a must. Common clear household jars or glasses work well. They should be clear to see if the movement is catching the edge of the glass when lifting it off.
Lighting is of utmost importance. When working under magnification, a certain amount of light is lost. The higher the magnification, the greater the loss. When working with a 10X loupe under ordinary room lighting there will be a notable amount of light reduction revealing a dim, undefined image. We must be able to flood our work with light from any angle when needed. This can be achieved with a flexible arm, dual bulb florescent lamp. Florescent lamps cast fewer shadows and generate less heat than ordinary incandescent light. At times you’ll be working very
close to the lamp and would find the incandescent lamp much too hot for comfort.
Following are some of the tools you’ll need to get started. It’s by no means a complete list as many tools will be introduced in the videos. As mentioned earlier most of the tools you’ll need can be purchased used at local marts. I do however recommend buying your loupes, screwdrivers and finer point tweezers from a material house. These three items will be used more than all other tools combined. I stress buying quality when considering these tools since they can make the difference between your success or failure in watch repair. Their importance can’t be overemphasized. Your tweezers and screwdrivers are an extension of your hands and fingers. Through practice you’ll develop remarkable dexterity. Some of this dexterity will be wasted if these tools are cheap or faulty, and of course the best hand tools will be of little value if you can’t see your work clearly due to a blurry or scratched eye loupe.
When perusing the catalogs you’re likely to find some great bargains on these three tools. These bargains are sometimes good deals, but not usually. Loupes can be found,new for as low as one dollar, screwdrivers and tweezers for a little more. Well, the famous old saying “you get what you pay for” dwells in many a watchmakers junk drawer (including mine) as a reminder that few businesses give things away unless their not worth keeping. If you see a great deal on a tool in a material house catalog don’t hesitate to ask about the quality of the tool. You’re more than likely to get an honest opinion since your future patronage is important to them.
An eye loupe takes some getting use to but soon becomes easy to use and, for me, not at all uncomfortable. But many of the cheap loupes now on the market couldn’t possibly have been designed with the shape or size of the human eye socket in mind. They just don’t fit. Even if the lenses were decent, which most aren’t, they’re still of little value since they are very uncomfortable and difficult to keep from falling out. I use mostly Bausch & Lomb loupes three of which I’ve now had and still use regularly for over 30 years now.
The most common sized loupes I use now are 5X, 7X and as I get older a 10X.
The same holds true for screwdrivers. Buy a good set. The difference between a quality screwdriver and one of lesser quality will be noticed the very first time it’s used. When just starting out a medium priced set should be just fine, but when you begin doing some really serious work, get a good quality set of jewelers screwdrivers. They usually come as a set of five to ten. I recommend getting a set of nine or ten which will cover just about anything you’ll come across when working with pocket and wrist watches. They are generally sold with replaceable blades, and when these have worn out, more replacements can be ordered. A true jewelers screwdriver can be operated
with the fingers of one hand. It has a rotatable hexagonal head which the index finger can press on while the other fingers turn a knurled, easy to grip body. Immediately under the head is a color coded band for easy identification. The head is hexagonal to prevent rolling. Screwdriver sets can be purchased in cardboard or wooden boxes or with a stationery or revolving stand, the latter being the most costly. These choices are a matter of preference, just remember to buy quality.
You’ll be a bit safer when buying tweezers. You can actually buy all of your tweezers from a local mart or again, used up on eBay or used tool suppliers. I still recommend buying your finer tipped tweezers from a material house since you will know exactly what you’re getting. The course or unusually shaped ones can be purchased used without much worry.
There are many different manufacturers of tweezers, but, I believe the Swiss company Dumont produces the finest ever
for the watchmaking trade. The Dumont Regular is their highest quality followed by the Dumont Professional. My personal favorites are the Dumont 0A for extra fine hairspring work, the 0C for all-purpose and the 3C. There are many other sizes to choose from. It’s really a matter of what works best for you. Non-magnetic tweezers are a good choice for the beginner and the experienced watchmaker. I have a few pair of these myself and use them often. It’s important to keep the points true to their original shape. Working with a bent pair of tweezers can cause a lot of frustration. Parts are apt to fly when the tips are mismatched. Keep them sharp and even. Again, think quality here since you will have a tweezers in hand most of the time you’re at the bench.
You’ll want to pick up a few different pin-vices. A pin-vice is a small chuck with a handle. There are numerous types and sizes of which you will never have too many. These can be picked up for pennies on the dollar at local NAWCC marts and horological swap meets of course up here on the internet. You’ll use them to hold broaches, stems, screws and endless other tools and parts.
Indian stones of various shapes, coarseness and sizes are a must for grinding new tips on tools or removing material from parts. Make sure to get a knife edged stone as this will prove to be invaluable at the bench. Indian stones can also be had for next to nothing.
We’ll discuss and use oilers in the videos but I’ll give a brief explanation here of how one works. There are many kinds of oilers on the market. The picture shown here shows the type I use most. These are inexpensive whether purchased new or used. When dipped in oil the spade end shown picks-up a drop of oil as a result of surface tension. When the oiler makes contact with another surface, such as a jewel, it deposits the drop. There are different sizes, each a different color for easy identification. There are also oilers that hold the oil inside the handle. These are great too. I’ve used these with great success but find even better control over the amount of oil to be dispensed with the first type. Again, it’s a matter of preference.
A demagnetizer is another important tool for the shop. There are different types of demagnetizers on the market. All of them work well, it’s just a matter of preference which type you choose. They can usually be found used at reasonable prices or new for under $100.00. In fact some import tool companies like Harbor Freight in the U.S. get them in and sell for very little money. Not the very best quality but they work. Tools and parts have a tendency to become magnetized. Magnetism and watches don’t mix well. A magnetized watch will tend to run fast or erratic. We cover the problem of magnetism and the use of a demagnetizer in the online watch course.
One very helpful addition to the shop is the timing machine. It isn’t at all necessary when starting out. This machine “times out” the watch electronically. It can tell you in a matter of seconds just how fast, slow or erratic a watch will run for a 24 hour period. It also reveals to the trained eye certain ailments a watch may be suffering without even opening the case. Although the timing machine is a valuable diagnostic
tool for the watchmaker it should never be completely trusted.
Timing machines can be purchased up on eBay and used watch tool houses. In recent years decent quality entry and intermediate level timing machines have emerged on the market coming out of China. These machines are very reasonably priced and do a good job. You can check them out by putting watch timing machine into eBay search or any other search engine.
Although a timing machine is an excellent tool to have in the shop I always recommend learning to time watches
without one, then when you are quite competent at this very important task you can use the timing machine as a helpful tool and will never have to depend on it. These techniques are covered in detail in the course.
A cleaning machine will be a must a little later on but at first you can do just fine without one. There are many types of cleaning machines on the market. Fully automatic ultrasonic machines capable of cleaning many watches in one cycle can run several thousand dollars. Smaller machines purchased new from a material house are also very expensive. Fortunately there are used mechanical cleaning machines
on the market. These
machines are still found up on eBay and used watch tool supply houses often for under $200. These old mechanical cleaners work extremely well for pocket watches as well as vintage wrist watches. You’ll cover cleaning in the videos and in the text section of the course.
I think I know how you feel…I had to type it all again!
Thanks for going through all of that. See you in the next report.
Until then take care,