Tips for a beginner watchmaker?
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  1. #1
    Member HunkyDory's Avatar
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    Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    Hi everyone!
    I would like to get in to watchmaking, since watches are one of my hobbies.
    I was wondering which kits I should get, if I should get a book of some sorts, and some tips.
    Thank you all!
    Yours Truly,
    HunkyDory

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  2. #2
    Member pithy's Avatar
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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    Shades of invisibility . . . .
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  3. #3
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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    Hello...I suggest that you simply (!) ask yourself just what you want to do with your watch interests...come up with a sentence or phrase that speaks to the notion & run an internet search...see what shows up, decide if it makes sense to you, & go from there.

    Really--to my mind--there's so much that has to do with watchmaking, that the individual asking the questions, is uniquely qualified to decide where it all goes.

    There are many good books available...I suggest Henry B. Fried's "The Watch Repairer's Manual". It's a fine, well-known, introduction to the field...if this book appeals to you--and you have a sense of the author's approach to benchwork--I reckon you're off to a good start.

    Stay in touch, & enjoy! Michael.
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  4. #4
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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    There are a number of 'sticky' threads at the top of the Watchmaking forum page, where some of the more experienced posters have put some time and effort into answering the very questions you ask. Read those, and they'll help you a lot.

    There's debate over whether one should start out working on broken movements or running. The running movement folks argue that you won't know if you've gotten it right if it was never going to work. The broken movement folks (myself included) argue that the broken movements aren't about fixing anything, but rather about acquiring the ability to work with tweezers and screwdrivers on something as small as a watch. Your choice.

    The next bit of advice - don't buy kits. Don't 'cheap out' on tools. There are lots of good used tweezers out there for cheap, which will work much better for you than any cheap new tweezers.

    Last bit of advice - raise your work surface, or lower yourself. The watch should be in front of your face, not under it.

    Have fun!!! Put in the time practicing removing and replacing parts, and understanding how it all works together.
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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    Interesting debate over running vs broken. I would have to say a first timer should start of with a running movement. After tearing down and reassembling a broken one you won't know if it's assembled correctly or if you made errors along the way. If you assemble a working one and it does not run you know you have erred and can go back and follow the power train and see what is still out of sorts.

    A beginner lacks the skills to repair a broken watch and can still learn proper technique and use of tools on a working piece. Plus there is a certain sense of accomplishment when you assemble a watch for the first time and the balance starts flying.

  6. #6
    Member azkid's Avatar
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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    Watch servicing and lubrication costs rapidly add up. I had to plumb the depths of my being to acquire the tremendous patience needed while saving up and buying bit by bit until I could finally make a tiny baby step of partially disassembling a watch. :)

    Example of necessary thrift: I decided to get very inexpensive Chinese screwdrivers.

    Fortunately, I happen to have already been learning to hand sharpen knives so sharpening screwdrivers was an extension of the craft. I have been able to adjust the thickness of each screwdrivers​ blade well enough that I have not yet damaged a screw head -- to my utter amazement.

    I have a 4-track tape player and vintage head demagnetizer which I have used to demagnetize hands recently.

    I started with buying a dozen very low cost, common-as-dirt, women's pocket watch movements, all nearly identical, all made by a particular major manufacturer and all from the late 19th century. So many were made (millions) that I can still easily find many NOS parts and tons of used parts 100 years later. Also, critically, the parts are machine made and thus sufficiently interchangable.

    These movements are also extremely simple with parts much larger than wristwatch movements. Thus, great for me to learn on.

    It is hard enough working on these delicate, lightweight parts without then being any smaller. Doing so requires incredible patience and the most deliberate, fine, dexterous motor skills of anything I have ever tried.

    That is including reflow soldering surface mount electronic parts smaller than rice grains. I'm glad to have started on the PWs, now that I have attempted a couple of minor things with teeny little '50s Bulova movements.

    The old PW movements are also more tolerant of lubricants, requiring fewer types than a high beat modern wristwatch. More $ saved.

    I have a mix of condition from parts only to non running complete to barely running. I figure that with a dozen of these, one of them, surely, just needs a disassembly, cleaning, reassembly, and lubrication. If I run into a fault I don't have the skills for, I set the movement aside. If I run out of movements I will buy more.

    So far I have one movement running but too fast, another running with poor amplitude, and a third that is in the middle of a main spring replacement. I also have been able to coax a few other poor or non-operational movements into running better, though not perfectly, to practice specific tasks (disassembly, oiling, ...)

    Buying certain used tools -- and only the ones essential for my next goal/task -- has helped the budget; vintage hands remover, crystal remover, spring winder. I have to wait or move to something else until I find a deal.

    I don't aim to be perfect out of the gate. That is impossible. Especially for me. So I start where I start and slowly work my way toward screwing up less, doing things better, adding more tasks and skills and tools a little at a time.

    I have a long way to go but... It is a hobby not a profession for me. And as such it has been fun and not as insanely expensive as I first expected. (Not cheap either). And the few successes so far have made all the patience well worth it!

    Anyway, I hope this helps.

    Sent from my XT1096 using Tapatalk
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  7. #7
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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    Quote Originally Posted by jcoffin1981 View Post
    Interesting debate over running vs broken. I would have to say a first timer should start of with a running movement. After tearing down and reassembling a broken one you won't know if it's assembled correctly or if you made errors along the way. If you assemble a working one and it does not run you know you have erred and can go back and follow the power train and see what is still out of sorts.

    A beginner lacks the skills to repair a broken watch and can still learn proper technique and use of tools on a working piece. Plus there is a certain sense of accomplishment when you assemble a watch for the first time and the balance starts flying.
    I understand this argument, but my point is that pretty much all beginners start out lacking the skill to reliably remove and replace plate screws without tweezer-snapping them into oblivion. I know I did.

    Elgin watchmaking school started with a 16s pocketwatch movement with no balance. The first lesson is just removing the hands, the dial, and the hour wheel and cannon pinion and replacing them - repeatedly. It's not till the 4th lesson that you disassemble and reassemble the whole movement WITHOUT the balance. Lesson 5, you FINALLY get one with a balance!

    Bulova's watchmaking school went a step further. the first lesson didn't even involve an actual watch. Just removing and replacing plate screws in a plate full of screw holes.

    The thing about broken movements is that almost invariably the way they're broken is the balance staff. Everything else works, so a budding hobbyist can learn how to disassemble and reassemble the train, and practice cleaning the jewels and pivots, then observing the motion to get a feeling for how clean is clean enough - do they spin smoothly, coming to a gradual stop? Or do they spin only briefly, then stop with a jerk? If you add the ratchet wheel and click, do you get backlash after winding just a few clicks? Getting the balance turning as a goal can distract you from focusing on the steps you need to learn so that it turns WELL.

    It's up to each hobbyist to figure out, of course. Broken movements are cheaper, of course, and it won't break your heart if you drive a pivot through a jewel on a movement that was never going to run anyway, or if in tightening the stud screw, your hand slips and you jam the screwdriver through the hairspring and bend it. Maybe a good compromise is to buy some broken movements, and one that runs. Study the workings of the running movement, while you practice on the nonrunners. Make working on the runner a reward for competently working on the nonrunners.

    I confess, my approach is how I tend to approach my professional work as well - I spend a long time reading up on and thinking about any new method, making sure I completely understand it before starting. Then I follow the protocol to the letter the first time. After that, I start fiddling with it, optimizing it for my needs. I approach cooking the same way - read the recipe over and over, make sure I have every last ingredient, plan out the order of the work. Later on, I fiddle with it.

    So, that's me. i'm a plodder, not a leaper. Everyone is different, and my advice is always to do what works for you.
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  8. #8
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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    Great advice! I am learning to be a lot more of a plodder and a lot less of a leaper. I have tinkered with a lot of different stuff but working on watches is deeply humbling like nothing else :)

    Sent from my XT1096 using Tapatalk

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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    During my 1st year in the watchmaking school :
    - I scribed, blued, sawed, and filed lots and lots of brass/steel bits.
    - I learned to draw parts by hand
    - I discovered the lathes
    - I had to sharpen my graver for hours on a norton stone
    - I learned to service old alarm clocks, and clocks
    - then pocket watches
    - then... watches after a few months
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  10. #10
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    Re: Tips for a beginner watchmaker?

    I see arguments for both fronts. I have just found more value in just diving right in to a complete movement. This is provided you are working on a beater where used replacement parts are readily available and not some rare vintage Longines that belonged to a grandfather. Things like handling a balance can be learned early, but making adjustments to the balance or indexing mechanism takes time and I am still learning this. Working on the complete watch just gets you into problem solving sooner.

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