Sunday, 21 February 2016

Adventures with a Watchmakers Lathe - Part 1.

NOS Balance staffs for a size
16 watch - these for a Moeris
are particularly simple ones!

As with all pictures here click on
 the image for a larger view
There are a few watchmaking repairs that can only be done with a lathe and similar tools, the most critical being the manufacture of replacement balance staffs. Whilst replacement staffs are available from New Old Stock (NOS) for most watches by Waltham and several of the Swiss makers such as Cyma/Tavannes and Revue (that is one reason I deal in those makes) it is becoming increasingly hard to find them and prices are correspondingly rising, also NOS staffs are not available for any English watch made pre WWII.

For sometime I have been contemplating buying the necessary equipment and investing a considerable amount of time learning how to use it - several weeks full time I suspect before usable staffs are produced -  I haven't used a lathe since my apprenticeship days which was rather a long time ago and that lathe was about 6 foot long.

Having bitten the bullet and decided to do it I have finally managed to buy a second hand lathe and whilst I am closed for business awaiting the new financial year and for the supply of watches to pick up I will be writing a few blog entries to chart progress and to describe key aspects of the lathes use.

The first problem is the cost of a lathe, a new fairly comprehensive (but not complete!) set up by Bergeon, a premium supplier of quality watch and jewellers tools, is currently £27,594 (plus cutting tools and other bits and pieces) so that is clearly out of the question, even a "budget" watchmakers lathe by "Star" to a basic specification and with no motor is £2,874 and would require quite a few extras to make is usable for making staffs.

My Pultra 10 Lathe after
a days worth of restoration.

So clearly second hand was the way to go, after several failed attempts I was very fortunate to acquire an excellent English lathe by Pultra probably made in the early 1950s and with a very good specification. I was particularly fortunate in that some one tried to "snipe" me with a bid in the last 10 seconds of the eBay auction and I won by 12 pence!

A couple of the collet chucks (more of which in a later post) need replacing at between £20 and £45 each new (depending on size) or £10 - £15 used and I may want a few more, but apart from that it has all of the pieces necessary, except a motor which the seller has yet to auction.

However I have decided to go with a new electronically controlled motor which is on order, it is not designed for this type of lathe so will need some work to mount it and the lathe onto a base board and to connect them up.

One interesting feature of watchmaking lathes in general is that they are operated very much like a wood turners lathe with the cutting tool hand held, this close up shows the tool rest (not in position in the picture - in use it would be closer to the centre line). This particular one is a premium "tip over" type which can be folded back to allow access to the work for measuring etc. and then tipped forward, back into position without having to reset its position.

The whole lathe is 10.5 inches long and the tool rest only an inch long so this is pretty small precision engineering!

It was missing a few, mainly non essential but nice to have things, most of which I have now sourced and hopefully they will all be here in a week or so.

So far the total cost is about £1.2k but small compared to £28k for a Bergeon!

Click on "Lathes" under labels to the right of the page for other articles in the series.

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