Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Watchmaking - My Beginnings

I want to make a watch. More specifically, I want to make a watch movement. And I'm reasonably sure that I have yet to realize the magnitude of this aspiration, although with every project I undertake it becomes more clear.

I have been at this watchmaking thing for just about a year and a half now. In that time I have managed a few clock repairs, and even a few watch repairs. I've also failed several repairs by shooting tiny springs across the room, permanently deforming miniscule watch parts, and have rocketed a balance jewel to bounce off a wall before disappearing forever into the carpet, but as time goes by my skillset is improving.

Learning the oh-so-delicate touch required for successful micro-manipulation of watch components is something that I read about, and I am glad I did. But to get in there with a loupe and a pair of tweezers has taught me so much.

As you can see, I am barely a novice at this. Perhaps needless to say, if you are looking for proper watchmaking advice, look to one of the texts in the "Literature" section below. Still, I wanted to capture some of my watchmaking experiences so far. The general theme of which is a sort of dive right in and learn by doing.


Here is a partial list of reading materials that have helped me along the way. The list is in no particular order. If you google the title of the text you may find that there is a pdf online. I have many of these watchmaking pdf's, but since they are not mine to distribute I won't be linking them directly.

  • A Practical Course in Horology 1944
  • The Practical Lubrication of Clocks and Watches
  • The Complete Clock and Watchmaker Manual by Mary Booth
  • Riveting and Staking March 2012
  • A Treatise on Staff Making and Pivoting
  • TM 9-1575
  • Vigneaux Practical Watchmaking
  • Chicago School of Watchmaking

Additionally I have purchased these books:







eBay is where I buy most of my vintage watchmaking tools.




As with any new hobby you have to learn the lingo. Here are some of the terms that I didn't understand at first.

  • Wheels are gears
  • Pivots are bearing journals ( burnished to size with a jacot tool, fyi. )
  • Staffs are axels
  • Jewels can be either female plain bearings, or in other locations pallet jewels or impulse pins.


When I started started this journey I had no suitable tools. Even my smallest "Jeweler" screwdrivers loomed ominous above the diminutive watch movements. I started with a "cheap" set of watchmakers screwdrivers, probably from eBay. I eventually purchased several more sets until finding a set of Starrett screwdrivers. These work for all but the very tiniest of screws, say on a hairspring stud or such. I also like them as I know Starrett is a quality brand.

For general work I use a binocular visor magnifier. It has a wide field of view and a long focal length. For oiling and other high magnification jobs I prefer a binocular microscope. Mine is an AMScope brand and works very well. You can see pictures of it in the Watchmaker bench section below.

Loups are also important. I have a Bausch & Lomb on a wire to strap it to my head. This loupe has a very short focal length, and a very narrow field of view. It is sometimes hard to get the part you want into focus. In fact, the stack of loups I bought from harbor freight might even suit me better than the Bausch & Lomb. I mean, they must be of a lower quality, but they have a wider field of view and sufficient clarity and magnification. Yes, I think I like them better.

Good tweezers are important. Did you know that you will be sharpening tweezers at some point? I didn't, but it is as simple as clasping a file or stone in the tweezer jaws to dress them up. At any rate, I find I use my brass tweezers the most often these days. The Excelta and WLXY tweezers below require more force than the others, and as a result have less feedback. They are still OK, but I use them much less often.

I also make frequent use of Rodico putty for cleaning, removing smudges, removing oil from screws, etc. I Prefer the blue case back remover ball better than the 3 jaw adjustable type. You can also see the black puffer bulb to displace rogue fibers and dust specks. You wouldn't blow warm moist air from your lungs onto a clean watch movement, would you? The puffer bulb is also good for giving a spin to a balance wheel to check its rotation. All of this is sitting on a green watchmakers mat. It is reasonably soft, yet firm, and helps parts from slipping around or disappearing from plain sight.

Below is a collection of some of my other tools. If you would like to ask about any tool in particular, please feel free to leave a comment.

Watchmaking tool gallery: https://goo.gl/photos/Bbgp44ysX8Nyt6zbA


When I very first started tinkering with watches I was using a standard height desk. I had to hunch over the watches and it cast a shadow over the work. This was less than Ideal. Since I had an old sewing table that I wasn't using, I decided to re-purpose it as a watchmakers bench. I added some risers to the feet to bring the desk height up quite a bit.

I also replaced the sewing machine with a watchmakers lathe.

Adding a positionable lamp with a CFL bulb, and a microscope on an arm really made this bench something useful. It might be a little on the short side still, but overall it is a very serviceable bench.

Here are some more photos of my Sewing table to watchmakers bench transition.


It is important for me to keep track of where everything goes as i'm taking apart a watch. To that end I take photos as I go along. I also make use of these blue plastic watchmaker trays below. I currently have two, but a single movement can fill up both with no problem. It would be nice to take parts from one compartment, clean them, and move them to a new, clean tray. So, I have ordered two more trays from eBay.

The glass dome on the right of the picture below is a vintage movement cover. It is necessary to cover all movement parts any time you are away from the bench even for a short while. These protect against dust settling on the movement and accidental physical damage. I recently ordered 3 more of these vintage movement covers from eBay.

I am still working out my cleaning methods, but basically I use a combination of manual cleaning and ultrasonic.

The tools I use for cleaning in no particular order are:

  • Rodico - a blue/green putty
  • Harbor freight ultrasonic cleaner
  • Peg wood
  • Pith wood
  • An acid brush with cut down bristles
  • Paper
  • Kimwipes
  • Carburetor / MAF cleaner
  • A hybridizer - essentially a low temperature oven ~50 deg C

A watchmaking forum member once wrote to me on the subject of cleaning. Here is an excerpt from his advice.

IV. Cap jewels should be rubbed on lint free paper or tissue.
V. Holes must be pegged through from both sides.
VI. Pivots have to be rotated in pith.
VII. Wheel teeth and pinion leaves shall be carefully brushed.
VIII. Plates and bridges shall be rubbed, pegged, pithed and brushed.
VIV. Pallets and balance completes require single dip treatment. (I brush pallets and rub the faces with hard paper. Be sure to inspect the impulse jewel for dirt/damage.)

My cleaning method is as follows.

  • Exercise caution to avoid losing parts. This is always true, I suppose.
  • Process one group of parts at a time to keep them compartmentalized and help me remember where they go.
  • Generally I only clean screws with Rodico.
  • For really dirty or oily/greasy parts I may soak them in lighter fluid first.
  • Mechanically clean the parts with brushes, paper, peg/pith, etc.
  • Send the group thru the ultrasonic cleaner with hot water.
  • Rinse the parts in hot water.
  • Use carburetor cleaner to displace all of the remaining water. 
  • Place parts in the low temperature oven for final drying. Note that the carburetor cleaner can evaporatively cool the parts below the dew point resulting in, well, dew on the part. This is why I favor the use of the oven.
  • The ultrasonic cleaner is probably not necessary, however my harbor freight model is inexpensive and can be used for other items around the house. 

I do not use the ultrasonic cleaner or carburetor cleaner on any parts with shellac mounted jewels. This would include the balance staff with impulse jewel, and the pallet fork with its jewels. I have not yet had to replace a shellac mounted jewel, so I am rather cautious not to disturb them. I am looking forward to doing it one day though.

Once a part is clean you don't touch it with your bare fingers. I use nitrile gloves or latex finger cots.


I am a little reluctant to write this section as there are many whom are rather passionate about oiling. Nevertheless, I will relay how I go about it.

I picked up this oil cup / decanter thing on ebay. It is nice. The yellow, and blue generic oilers came from Amazon, and suck. One was rusted and another was broken. I ordered a nicer set of Bergeon brand oilers that haven't arrived yet. They come in different color coded sizes corresponding the the amount of oil they can hold, that is to say the handle color does not necessarily match the oil color.

  • I use Moebius 9401 for mainsprings, and other "high load" areas such as mainspring barrel pivots, winding mechanisms, click springs, etc.
  • I use Moebius 8000 for smaller pivots and "low load" areas such as pallet fork jewels, roller jewel, etc.
  • The gear wheel train teeth do not get oiled.
  • I use a microscope for oiling, so I can really see what is happening. A loupe of sufficient magnification would be OK too.
  • The oilers work by dipping the oiler into some oil. They retain the oil due to surface tension and the shape of the oiler tip. Touching the oil laden oiler to a watch part will wick the oil from the oiler onto the pivot.

Here is some more information: http://www.ofrei.com/page951.html


Here I'll give a little description of some of the projects I've worked on, and link to the photos I took while working on them. They are in order starting from my earliest project to most recent.

Seiko 5

Here is a Seiko 5 which was my first experience disassembling a watch. I didn't clean this one as it was brand new. I didn't even oil it. I just took it apart, blued some screws, and polished some parts before reassembling it.

I followed this guide http://www.clockmaker.com.au/diy_seiko_7s26/ The tutorial is missing a couple pages at the end for reassembly, but it is easy enough to sort it out from the disassembly pages.

I lost the click spring on this one. It shot out from under a plate that I removed. Two days later I found it and was able to complete this watch. Each time I wear it I remember the trials and tribulations we have been thru together.

Here are some more photos: https://goo.gl/photos/E3SJgWmraomovewb6

Heuer Stopwatch

Stopwatches are good practice candidates as they are not as sought after as pocket watches, and as such can be purchased for less money. They are generally larger than wristwatches, too.

This Heuer stopwatch was absolutely filthy inside. It was also missing several pieces. I elected to only disassemble, clean, and oil this one, and not repair/replace missing broken/components.

During cleaning I lost a balance jewel on this one. Then, I found it in the carpet, only to lose it again.
In the end, I learned quite a lot from this project.

Here are some more photos: https://goo.gl/photos/1TAUbgpPX9aaYhNNA

Grandpa's Banjo Clock

I acquired this clock a while back. The movement was caked with a green gelatinous grease. Also, one of the pivot holes is severely worn. I gave this clock just a quick clean with partial disassembly to evaluate it. It hangs unwound on the wall awaiting the pivot hole repair. It will also need a winding key made.

Photos: https://goo.gl/photos/2z6A21fyzLEwG5v79

Dad's Dila

This is a watch that my father's mother gave him when he was a teenager. The mainspring broke not long after he had it, and it stayed broken for nearly 60 years.

I replaced the mainspring with a new old-stock steel spring. This new spring broke also, so back inside I went. This time I replaced the mainspring with a modern "white alloy" spring which has been running without issue. Dad wears the watch quite often now.

Here are some more pictures: https://goo.gl/photos/Wr178dHLkBhhwzs48

Raketa Big Zero

This watch is called the Big Zero because of the large 0 at the 12 o'clock position. I read that Mikhail Gorbachev used to wear one. At any rate, I think it looks pretty cool on the bracelet I ordered from Amazon..

While working on this watch I lost a balance jewel. I pinched it a little too hard, or at just the wrong angle so that it launched itself from my tweezers. I combed the carpet fibers for a while before resigning myself to it being lost. Then I went to eBay and purchased a lot of 3 non-running movements of the same type. These three 2906HA movements only cost $17 including shipping. I harvested a balance jewel from one of the donor watches, and finished the job.

On this watch I got a little carried away with the case polishing. There was a ding I was trying to buff out. As I was doing so I realized that the watch case is chrome plated brass. You can now see a bit of the brass poking out, but it's OK you and I are the only ones that will know.

More pictures: https://goo.gl/photos/u2mbcLh8URiWRq5aA

Waltham Model 1877

This Waltham Model 1877 was made in Waltham MA in 1883. A lot has changed in the world since then!

I bought this pocket watch from eBay. It would stop running depending orientation. It would run on its face, but stop when vertical.

After disassembling the watch I discovered it had a smashed out balance jewel. I think you can order drop in replacements, but I decided to go a different route.

I ordered an assortment of loose jewels from eBay. When they came in I searched thru them to find one of the correct inside diameter for the balance staff. Then I turned a brass chaton to hold the jewel.

A chaton will have a bore of specific depth, and a diameter to fit the OD of the jewel. The chaton will have an undercut outside the OD of the jewel to allow this material to be burnished over the jewel, capturing it in the chaton.

Between ordering parts, and several failed attempts at making a chaton, this watch took a while to complete. I think it took so long in fact that I forgot to clean it before reassembling it! This watch will have to come apart again for a cleaning before I can say this project is done.

Pictures: https://goo.gl/photos/BXawYhNaLnqD1f7U6

Elgin Aircraft Clock

This is an 8-day clock meaning that it will run 8 days on a wind. A coworker generously gave it to me after learning of my forray into horology.

This clock movement is about the size of a pocketwatch movement. I was pleased to discover all the parts were present. After a clean and oil the clock was ticking again. It was a minute off after a couple days, so I made a timing adjustment. It is on my desk at work, so we will see how the adjustment worked this Monday morning. I love the faint ticking sound at my desk.

I noticed this clock has two wheels to drive the second hand. One is attached to the second hand shaft, and the second is free to rotate about the second hand shaft. Both are driven by a pinion gear, there is a very light spring providing torque between the two wheels. This provides anti-backlash for the second hand so it won't be flopping back and forth between pinion leaves as you are flying around.

I lightly brushed the dial with soap, water and a toothbrush, and left the hands untouched. I wanted to leave a witness to the clock's vintage.

Additional photos: https://goo.gl/photos/ixytccCJ9S74TPZw9

Other Projects

I have a few other projects on the go too, but nothing to show for it yet. I am looking forward to trying out some more manufacturing techniques in the future to further work toward my goal of making a watch movement.

Words of Wisdom

The only advice I could offer is encouragement. Read as much as you can, but get in there and start doing it. Maybe start on movements that are not sentimental or otherwise valuable.

If you have any advice for me please leave a comment below. I am always eager to learn better ways to do things.

I am sure I have forgotten some things as I am tired while I write this. Perhaps there will be a follow up on the future.

Good luck on your horological adventures!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Digitizing Grandpa's Reel to Reel Tapes

My grandfather had a bunch of these reel to reel tapes from the 60's.  I thought it would be a good idea to digitize them to preserve the audio incase the tape began to deteriorate.  Conveniently enough, my aunt gave me this reel to reel player a few months ago.  I should have everything I need to manually transfer these audio tapes into digital format now.

But, there are quite a few of these tape reels, and my mind wanders.  I wonder if I could make this a semi automatic process.  The primary benefit would be that I don't have to be present during the entire recording process.  Of secondary benefit, I get to play with electronics.

I want to be able to set a tape playing and the recording program will automatically stop the recording when the reel to reel player stops playing.  Without automatic stopping of the recording, I am certain I would forget that I am recording and wander off to do something else while Audacity dutifully records silence at the end of each tape.

So, here is the setup.  To get the audio into the computer I made a 1/4" phono plug to 1/8" phono plug cable.  This cable runs from the reel to reel headphone jack to the computer's microphone input.  I am running a program called Audacity on this computer to handle the recording of the audio signal.

Like many programs, Audacity has keyboard shortcuts.  Press SHIFT + R to start/append a recording.  The spacebar will stop a recording.  Sending CTRL + SHIFT + E will open the audio export window.  All of these commands can be sent to Audacity with a keyboard, but we are trying to automate, so our commands will come from an ATMega32U4 microcontroller instead.

To know when the reel to reel player is playing, and thus when to have the microcontroller tell Audacity to start recording, I connected a Light Detecting Resistor along with a fixed value resistor to form a voltage divider.  The output of the divider is wired to the ADC on the ATMega32U4  uC.

The LDR ( Light Detecting Resistor ) is taped with blue painter's tape to the VU meter face.  The voltage from this divider circuit is read into the uC and compared to a threshold.  When the reel to reel is running, the VU meter turns on a tiny incandescent bulb inside.  The LDR voltage divider provides a high voltage when it sees light ( reel to reel is running ) and a low voltage when it sees little or no light ( reel to reel stopped ).


Initially the reel to reel is stopped and a reel is loaded.  A new Audacity window is opened up by the operator.  As soon as the reel to reel starts playing, the VU meter lamp in the reel to reel turns ON, and the microcontroller detects the LDR voltage.  The uC then sends the keyboard shortcut SHIFT + R via USB to start Audacity recording.  I am now free to do other tasks without worrying about missing the end of the reel to press "stop" recording.

When the tape reaches the end of its run, the reel to reel will shut off, the VU meter will go dark, and the uC will send out ASCII 0x20 for a spacebar command.  This will stop the recording.  

Then the uC sends out CTRL + SHIFT + E to open the audio export path dialog box.  Here, everything will wait until I am available again.  At which point I enter a suitable filename to save the recording, and setup the process for the next side of the tape.


I have now digitized both sides of one tape.  Everything went smoothly for the first side.

On the second side, however there was a small problem.  The screen saver came on.  When the recording was finished, the uC sent out the spacebar command to stop the recording.  Instead of stopping the recording the screensaver consumed this keypress and woke up, so the recording didnt stop.  Fortunately, I caught this problem early and have disabled the screensaver for the duration of this project.

An alternative solution to this problem could be to send a keypress that Audacity does not recognize before sending the STOP recording shortcut.  The first keypress would cancel the screensaver, then the spacebar keypress could stop the recording.  If the screensaver was not on, the first keypress is benign and only the spacebar command will be acted upon.

Here is a short sample of some of the audio I captured while setting up this system.  It ends abruptly because I was just testing the start/stop commands from the uC:

Let me know if you have success digitizing some reel to reel tapes using this method or perhaps you have a different method?

Microcontroller Code:
// running on an arduino pro micro


int ledPin = 17;    // Onboard the arduino pro micro
int ldrPin = A0;    // light Detecting Resistor input

int adcRaw = 0;

#define OFF_THRESHOLD 512
#define HYSTERESIS 25

#define KEY_LEFT_CTRL  0x80
#define KEY_LEFT_SHIFT 0x81
#define KEY_LEFT_ALT   0x82
#define KEY_LEFT_GUI   0x83
#define KEY_RIGHT_CTRL 0x84
#define KEY_RIGHT_SHIFT    0x85
#define KEY_RIGHT_ALT  0x86
#define KEY_RIGHT_GUI  0x87

#define KEY_UP_ARROW   0xDA
#define KEY_DOWN_ARROW 0xD9
#define KEY_LEFT_ARROW 0xD8
#define KEY_RIGHT_ARROW    0xD7
#define KEY_BACKSPACE  0xB2
#define KEY_TAB        0xB3
#define KEY_RETURN 0xB0
#define KEY_ESC        0xB1
#define KEY_INSERT 0xD1
#define KEY_DELETE 0xD4
#define KEY_PAGE_UP    0xD3
#define KEY_PAGE_DOWN  0xD6
#define KEY_HOME   0xD2
#define KEY_END        0xD5
#define KEY_CAPS_LOCK  0xC1
#define KEY_F1     0xC2
#define KEY_F2     0xC3
#define KEY_F3     0xC4
#define KEY_F4     0xC5
#define KEY_F5     0xC6
#define KEY_F6     0xC7
#define KEY_F7     0xC8
#define KEY_F8     0xC9
#define KEY_F9     0xCA
#define KEY_F10        0xCB
#define KEY_F11        0xCC
#define KEY_F12        0xCD

int ledToggleCounter = 1;

void setup()

  pinMode(ledPin, OUTPUT); // onboard LED


void loop()

adcRaw = analogRead(ldrPin);

// if the player is ON
else if( adcRaw < OFF_THRESHOLD - HYSTERESIS )
  // player is off
  //digitalWrite( ledPin, HIGH);

  delay(1000); // Wait a bit to make sure the reel to reel is really off.

  // If the signal is still low.
    Keyboard.write(0x20); // Send the spacebar to stop the audacity recording
    Keyboard.press(KEY_LEFT_CTRL);  // Send CTRL + SHIFT + E to export the audio
    delay(100);                     // Audacity will wait for a filename to be manually input.
    Keyboard.release(KEY_LEFT_SHIFT); // CTRL + SHIFT + E complete. 

    // Stay here  until the reel to reel turns on again
    while(analogRead(ldrPin) < OFF_THRESHOLD ){
      // Blink fast because we are stopped.
      digitalWrite( ledPin, !(digitalRead(ledPin)));
    // The reel to reel has turned ON! Start recording.
    Keyboard.press(KEY_LEFT_SHIFT);   // Send SHIFT + R to Start/Append the audacity recording.

  digitalWrite( ledPin, LOW);

  // toggle the LED at 2 Hzbecause we are recording.
  if( ledToggleCounter % 10 == 0 ){
    digitalWrite( ledPin, !(digitalRead(ledPin)));
    ledToggleCounter = 0;



Friday, March 18, 2016


tgimboej is an acronym for The Great Internet Migratory Box Of Electronics Junk, which is pretty much what it sounds like.  You can sign up to receive one of the boxes; participation is free - you just have to pay to ship the box to the next person.  When you receive the box, you can take out a few bits, and put some back in before sending it to another recipient.

You can read more here: http://tgimboej.org/Main_Page

They say one man's trash is another's treasure, but that doesn't really apply here.  I found the components in the box of very high quality.  I was quite pleased with the selection.  I even found an immediate use for one of the switches I acquired!

Here is a photo of the bits I took.

As you can see I got some sweet switches, a stepper motor, some gear motors, an audio jack, binding posts, SMD to PTH adapters, perf board, a piezo buzzer, and a key switch.  Thank you to the donors!

Here are some photos of some of the things I added.

I hope you will sign up.  It was a rather fun experience.