Questions and Answers about Watch Repair for Beginners

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Questions and Answers about Watch Repair for Beginners

New postby Stephan » Wed Oct 01, 2008 12:02 am


This document is a compilation of questions and answers found in the various posts on this board.
The intention is to bring together scattered bits of information for the benefit of new entrants to our hobby.
Perhaps the answer to the question you are about to ask will be found here.
You might even find answers to questions you have not thought of yet.
If you are an old hand at watch repair and feel something should be added here feel free to send it to me.

NB Any miss spellings are not errors but are intentionally inserted to add to the entertainment of the reader.

Steve Gaal Jan 6 ,09

--------------------------------------------------------- General --------------------------------------------------------------------

Question - Can you tell me which books would suit a beginner to watch repair ?
Answer - " The Watch Repairer's Manual ", by Henry Fried.
" Watchmaking as a Hobby " by D.W. Fletcher, originally printed in 1947 and reprinted by Arlington Books.

Question - Is it possible to clean a watch movement without taking it apart ?
Answer - Despite the advances in cleaning equipment and the availability of ultrasonic cleaners it is not possible to properly clean a watch movement without taking it apart.

Question - Are there cleaning kits available ?
Answer - We are not aware of a commercially available cleaning kit. The simplest method is hand cleaning using Naphtha and a bowl to soak the parts in.

Question – What sort of tools would I need as a beginner to this hobby.
Answer - A good set of screwdrivers, watch hand removers, tweezers, and a mainspring winder, oilers and oil. Good quality used is better than Budget quality new.

Question – What kind of oil should I get to lubricate a watch ?
Answer – You could start with Moebius 8000 as general-purpose oil. If you want to get more specific try Moebius 9010 for pivots, Moebius 9415 for the pallet stones, and Moebius 9501 for stem/setting parts and mainspring. These are all synthetic oils that will last a very long time in a watch and a very long time in your bench

Question – I have been told my watch has been over wound. What does this mean ?
Answer – Technically it is not possible to over wind a watch. If the watch is fully wound but will not run that is usually an indication of some other underlying problem.

Question – Is there a way to guard against loosing parts by dropping them.
Answer – Try wearing a regular apron with the straps loose. Put eyes in the bottom corners and attach these to the front of your workbench when you work. This should form a catchment to collect any parts you drop.

Question – What does the term ”letting down the main spring” mean ?
Answer – Before you can dismantle a watch you need to release any tension on the main spring. This will require you to release the ratchet holding the spring and slowly allowing any tension to unwind. Consult one of the above mentioned books for full instructions on how to do this.

Question – What is a 2-tone movement.
Answer – The plates of some watch movements are decorated in 2 different colors. Most often you will find silver - colored plates with an overlay of gold decoration to give a 2-tone effect.

Question - What does the term “over banked” mean ?
Answer – The watch escape wheel is driven by the escape lever via the impulse pin. If the impulse pin gets on the wrong side of the escape lever the watch will not run. This can happen if the watch has a problem of some kind with the escapement or if the watch has been re assembled incorrectly.

Question – What does the term “in beat” mean.
Answer – If a watch or clock has nice even ticks that all sound the same it is running “in beat”
If every second tick is louder or longer or different in some way the watch is running “out of beat”

Question - What is a roller jewel and what is it made from.
Answer – The roller jewel is the pin on the bottom of the balance assembly that engages with the escape lever and allows the escape lever to drive the balance. They are usually made from the same material as the jewels in the watch. On a cheaper watch the pin may be made from steel. Occasionally a watch may be repaired with a steel pin in place of the original jewel.

Question – What are timing screws ?
Answer – These are the screws you see screwed into the rim of the escape wheel. They can be changed to alter the time keeping of the movement.

------------------------------------------------------ Topic Specific -------------------------------------------------------------------

Question – Is there a preferred order in which to reassemble a watch movement?
Answer – If the movement has been fully taken apart and cleaned try this.
First put back the balance wheel. Check to see if it spins properly. Is it true? Is the end float correct?
Next add the escape lever.
Check the roller operation. Are the clearances correct. Is the safety roller set correctly. Check the banking pins.
Then add the hair spring.
Check if the roller table and hair spring are in the right place. Does everything line up as it should?
If everything is centred the watch should run in beat or pretty close. (assuming no other problems)
Now take the balance assembly out and carefully put it to one side.
Next add the spring barrel and train wheels and put them in the movement without the escape lever.
Now check and see if they run true and free. Are the end floats on the shafts correct. Are there any tight spots?
Now add the escape lever, Give the spring a little wind and see if escape lever moves as it should.
Put back the setting parts, hour and min wheels. Add the dial and the hands.
Last put back the balance assembly and the watch should run.

Question – Is it possible for a weak main spring to cause a watch to stop ?
Answer - A weak mainspring might do that, but the probability is that there is some other point of friction in the gear train, combined with the weak mainspring, that is causing the power loss to the balance.

Question - I've noticed that my hour wheel is loose. I mean, if I turn the movement, bottom plate down, the hour wheel comes off. Is this normal ?
Answer - The hour wheel is not attached to the movement and will often fall off if the movement is turned upside down with the dial removed. This is normal.

Question – Do I need to oil the pallets of a detached lever escapement ?
Answer - The need for oil on the pallets is the main weakness of the detached lever escapement. There are two ways to oil the pallets. One is to put a spot of oil on the tip of the L pallet. The other is to oil the tips of three escape wheel teeth.

Question – Can I use a hairspring from a parts watch to repair a different kind of watch.
Answer - It may work if the balance wheels had a similar weight and balance screws. Hairsprings were made in varying "strengths" and this was determined by the thickness of the wire used and the number or coils. A better bet would be to try and salvage the original hairspring.

Question – What sort of glue should I use to hold a crystal in place ?
Answer – There are numerous glues that will perform this function. Avoid glue that is hard to remove. You might have to take it apart again one day. Clear nail polish can also be used.

Question - Occasionally when I replace a crystal that has been glued-in, a thin strip of the crystal remains in the bezel and it's very hard to get out. Is there a way to remove this ?
Answer – A few blasts with a hair dryer will sometimes melt the glue. You might also try dissolving the glue with nail polish remover. Failing this Acetone may remove the glue. Bits can be picked out with a toothpick.

Question - What is the proper way to clean the plates of a 2-tone movement, without destroying the gold wash ?
Answer - Clean all the jewels by hand, that way the plates will not have too be in the cleaner very long. The train wheels, mainspring and mainspring barrel is what gets dirty and stoops the watch, Clean all these parts separately and the plates will need very little. I always use new cleaner and rinse on 2-tone plates. Old oil and grease in your cleaning solution and rinse will ruin a nice 2-tone. Avoid ammonia based cleaners.

Question – What is a good way to clean an enamel dial ?
Answer - It seems that the most common used method in the US, is Comet liquid bathroom cleaner. It's a paste and can be rubbed into the cracks and has a natural bleaching action. You can sit it on the frig or use a ultra sonic denture cleaner. I have also used bleach with no negative effects. A word of caution, The ultrasonic may cause a chip to come loose if the dial is physically cracked, especially around the edge, where someone tried to pry off the dial and the foot cracked the porcelain around it.

Question – Can you tell me how to deal with very tight screws that won’t undo?
Answer - Try a thin blade pocket knife, putting the end of the blade into the slot and turning. This gives leverage. Be very careful that the blade is positioned just right so as to not scratch the movement.
Try a regular screwdriver, but attach a small pair of vice grips to the screwdriver, thus giving me leverage.
Try WD40 around the screw and use a large screwdriver that has been cut to shape. Then gentle turn the driver till the screw turns a little. Then use a regular watch driver.
Question - Can you advise a way to remove rust without using emery paper?
Answer - Liquid Comet which is often used to clean dials will also act as a gentle rust remover?

Question - I have a few dials that are missing 1 or 2 of their dial feet. Is it possible to replace them ?
Answer – Replacement dial feet are available that have a flattened end to attach over the broken off foot. They are usually held in place with epoxy type glue.
Question - One of the case screws on my watch has a stripped thread. How can I fix it?
Answer - The technique that I was taught by an old watchmaker is to use a rubber based cement. Using a needle or a pin, line the screw hole with a couple of coats of the rubber cement. Allow it to dry. Then insert the screw. The rubber cement builds up the screw hole, but is soft enough to allow the screw threads to grip.

Question - I want to put an Elgin movement into an English silver case, and adjust the winding stem arbor so that I can wind the watch and set the hands. The movement fits in the case and I can wind the watch, but I cannot find a position where I can set the hands. What am I missing?
Answer - check that the small lever that is at the edge of the movement just under the dial is in the "wind and set" position? Many pendant set Elgins had this lever which allowed the watchmaker to time the watch while it was out of the case without the drag from the setting mechanism. If the lever protrudes with a pointed edge outside the edge of the dial it is in "wind only " position. When it is in the setting position, the lever will be flush with the edge of the dial. The movement was designed so that the lever had to be flush or it wouldn't fit back into the case, but in some cases it will fit back into the case either way.

Question - I'm working on a New England Watch Company skeleton watch with duplex escapement. What is the correct rest position for the balance as a starting point.
Answer - If I remember correctly, the long tooth of the escape wheel should be in the slot of the balance staff when the balance is at rest.
Last edited by Glyn Meredith on Fri Jan 16, 2009 12:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Updated.
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