Before I became a watchmaker I worked in about 10 different fields ranging from management to custom jeweler. Watchmaking attracted me with its high demand for precision and the simplicity of the required goal—correct timekeeping. Through learning watchmaking, I noticed a helpful connection from the skills and knowledge I gained in my past activities. Though seemingly completely unrelated, they play a big role in allowing me to figure out how the watch mechanism works. One of the skills I developed during my past work experience was the ability to improve existing tools, as well as make my own tools. I believe watchmakers will be interested in the thoughts I would like to share in this article.
So, the question is: Should Watchmakers Make Their Own Tools? My answer is yes. There are several reasons for watchmakers to make their own tools. These reasons are all related, and contribute one to another, just like the fingers on one’s hand. Here they are:
1. You will become a better craftsmen.
The watchmaker’s hand-eye coordination gets better with the performance of every new task through working on a new project and using different techniques and materials, eventually developing a special feel for it. By working on projects where there is not any pressure, the watchmaker has a great opportunity to use the tools he would seldom use, and test his own craftsmanship.
Every time I have a chance to make a tool I do so, even if I can buy a similar one from a supplier, such as the hammers in Figure 1.
The tools in Figure 2 are watch movement holders. These tools are very convenient, especially if you are working on large movements. One of them is a holder for pocket watch movements. I made it from a hockey puck. It is very comfortable to hold while working on big movements. It does not interfere with watch hands, and does not slide on the bench. The other movement holder made from wood holds movements securely. It is easy to secure movements in it, and also it does not interfere with watch hands.
2. It will make your job easier.
By making my own tools for the job, I know exactly what operation the tool is intended for, thus it can be made with all the required details. Figure 3 shows a set of tools I made to work on balances. Shown in Figure 4 is a copper table I made to heat pallet stones and for bluing hands. The slow heating and cooling properties of copper allow great control over your work.
3. You will save a lot of money.
Swiss companies that make tools for watchmakers make great tools, but if the watchmaker can make his own for less, it is definitely a win. Figure 5 shows a very inexpensive hardwood peg sharpener I made from a block of maple wood and a razor blade. This tool helps me sharpen the thinnest point on hardwood pegs in order to clean bearings. I was not able to achieve this quality of sharpening with any other tools. Figure 6 shows a tool to help work on the balance.
4. You will learn to think creatively.
When a craftsman is willing to face a mechanical problem through developing and making his own tools, then he will learn to ask questions, recognize problems clearly, and solve them. This process, if repeated many times, will become a good habit and encourage a creative approach to any technical issues encountered. Watchmakers will also benefit by looking for answers with other trades and crafts, and the tools they are using. Making your own tools develops the creative approach to the work. Figure 7 is a tool I designed and created to hold hands and small wheels while reaming or cleaning. This is a very useful tool for the delicate projects.
Figure 8 is the tool I made to work on wheels and balances. It is very comfortable. Both of my hands are free, and there is less risk of breaking the pivots, due to the brass runners.
5. You will enjoy your work more.
When you work a long time with a tool you created it becomes like a friend. If you surround your workplace with tools you created, you will have more confidence and less stress. This confidence will help to develop a good, positive attitude, and improve your work habits.
Shown in Figure 9 is the polishing tool invented by watchmakers a very long time ago to polish screw heads and other small watch parts. Figure 9 shows one I made for myself from brass. This way, I can polish screw heads just like craftsmen did hundreds of years ago. Two long screws on the back of the tool allowed for fine adjustments. Parts are secured in the cut on the front and the tool glides above the tin plate charged with Diamantine.
I do not expect everybody to agree with my opinion, and I am sure there are a lot of arguments against making your own tools, especially pushing you towards purchasing existing ones. But if you have never made your own tools, try to make one, and you will never be the same.
By Alan Chernomashentsev