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Introduction and help requested getting started with small lathe work


Juleswatch

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Good evening all,

My name is Jules I signed up as a newbie to the site last week and am starting to feel my way around. I live in Brazil, from the UK originally and back there a couple of times a year.  I am getting to the point in life now where I have more time to do what I enjoy and am now embarking on my pocket watch journey. I am not completely new to this but consider myself with still an awful lot to learn!! I have spent most of my life working with and maintaining precision instruments and control valves. I started off life as a fitter and turner (Laurence Scott & Electromoters if anybody remembers it Manchester and Norwich), but as you can guess all much larger tools and in many cases but not all larger instruments. I am considering buying a small lathe for machining pieces I can't find such as Hebdomas or Schild balance staffs (or when I can find them preparing and fitting them). I've also never built my own balance assemblies, so any other specialized tools that are a must please speak up. Any advice anybody can give before I get started would be well received, videos to watch, courses to take, equipment recommended mistakes to avoid etc. Thanks in advance and looking forward to learning from the years of knowledge you all have - all the best...Jules

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Thank you for your introduction and welcome to this friendly forum.

We all look forward to your contributions and continued involvement. 

You need a watchmakers lathe if you are intending to make balance staffs. Ebay is the place I would look. 8 mm collects are more popular then the 6mm. I had a foot control lathe with a Singer sewing machine motor. That had plenty enough power. Or are you looking for something a little bigger? such as a clock makers lathe. In that case I would go for a Unimat 3 which I have two one with the drilling attachment. With lathes its like a bug you will want to make all sorts of things so have a really hard think on how big you want to go. 

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Thanks for the welcomes and thanks OH for the advice. Short answer is small to begin with - I think.

I have never tried any lathe work so small, so this is going to be interesting, all of my lathe work has been large diameter work on submarine parts and high pressure control valve parts, so into the dark we go!

My short term need is to cut out old balance staffs and then either fit new ones if I can find them or make them and fit them. I have found a couple of suitable staffs recently and they are on their way from France as we speak. Should be here next week.

I'm currently working on some Hebdomas pocket watches, three to be precise and all of them are cleaned inspected and rebuilt now and awaiting the dreaded balance wheel assembly. I'm in Brazil at the moment and after asking around with a few watchmakers who say they can help out - but invariably in the end don't or are too busy or not really interested, I've decided to try to learn and go it alone and be self sufficient. It's going to be fun anyway!

I'll take a look on eBay I was looking at staking tool sets yesterday too so maybe a one stop shop, importing from Europe tends to be faster than US, (not sure why) and the fastest is China - is that a swear word or is there anything in the small lathe department from China that anybody has any good experience with?

Looking forward to learning form you guys over the next months and years. I'll post a few pictures once I get set up with something.

RH my dad was from Leeds and my cousins live in Wakefield. I'm there about once every year or so. Other side of my family is from sunny scuny (Scunthorpe for those who don't live in the UK) and now mostly live around Brigg, a short hop between the two.

All the best...Jules

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20 minutes ago, Juleswatch said:

Thanks for the welcomes and thanks OH for the advice. Short answer is small to begin with - I think.

I have never tried any lathe work so small, so this is going to be interesting, all of my lathe work has been large diameter work on submarine parts and high pressure control valve parts, so into the dark we go!

My short term need is to cut out old balance staffs and then either fit new ones if I can find them or make them and fit them. I have found a couple of suitable staffs recently and they are on their way from France as we speak. Should be here next week.

I'm currently working on some Hebdomas pocket watches, three to be precise and all of them are cleaned inspected and rebuilt now and awaiting the dreaded balance wheel assembly. I'm in Brazil at the moment and after asking around with a few watchmakers who say they can help out - but invariably in the end don't or are too busy or not really interested, I've decided to try to learn and go it alone and be self sufficient. It's going to be fun anyway!

I'll take a look on eBay I was looking at staking tool sets yesterday too so maybe a one stop shop, importing from Europe tends to be faster than US, (not sure why) and the fastest is China - is that a swear word or is there anything in the small lathe department from China that anybody has any good experience with?

Looking forward to learning form you guys over the next months and years. I'll post a few pictures once I get set up with something.

RH my dad was from Leeds and my cousins live in Wakefield. I'm there about once every year or so. Other side of my family is from sunny scuny (Scunthorpe for those who don't live in the UK) and now mostly live around Brigg, a short hop between the two.

All the best...Jules

Small world.  I say Leeds because it's reasonably well known, actually in Rothwell, not quite midway between Leeds and Wakefield.  My step used to live in Brigg.  

How did you end up in Brazil ?

I haven't used a lathe of any type, other than scale, will using a  watch lathe be much different to what you are used to?  

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Hi Richard - small world indeed! The quick answer - I was contracted to work on some pressure valve maintenance here back in 1993, came back and forth once a year to help out and ended up being invited to stay on by the contractor, nice change from the UK/Middle East trips I was mainly doing  (although they were great) as well as a stint in Canada and US (also great). In the end I became a permanent resident and now have a family here, my son 20 now works with me. He and I get back to the UK once a year for some football and to see friends and relatives.

Regarding your question, honest answer I don't know, I never used a watch lathe. I was working on lathes a long time ago before CNC came in so am used to manual work, but I've no idea how my lathe is going to look or be equipped. All part of the fun! I've done plenty of rivet work but never worked with balance staff equipment either, I'm hoping my past experience gives me at least some kind of a head start but it'll be fun anyway! I'm sure there will be plenty of head scratching before it all comes together.

Another question I would have which maybe OH is equipped to answer is what metal stock to use once I get set up, maybe thats for later, but I'll need to think about that and the appropriate tools for cutting it as well as a lathe. Also intrigued about making a lathe out of a Singer motor (per OH reply), plenty of old Singers here to buy at auction.

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Just be careful what you buy from China. If its just balance staffs you are going to make then a watchmakers lathe is what you want. Its very easy to add a motor and as I said get yourself a foot control. I don't know if it is still possible but in my time this was in the 1970's and 80's you could buy part made balance staffs. 

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Thanks for the heads up, for the moment it's just balance staffs, but as you said earlier in the thread these things grow on you. I'm going to take a look around here in Brazil maybe some of the disinterested watch guys who just want to change batteries now have an old lathe that belonged to their dad they'd be willing to sell. I'm not in a hurry to buy something useless. I have managed to find a couple of balance staffs which are coming from France - lets see how they work out - but in the longer run I'd like to be fairly independent of what's available (or not) on the market.

Any thoughts on materials for making balance staffs, much appreciated.

I'll certainly go for the foot control, I have one on my cleaning and polishing tool and it's a savior. Actually thinking about it I might be able to use it in a vice to cut out old balance staffs.

If you have a moment would you mind posting a photo of something you feel would be appropriate for me to get started. I'm thinking lathe, tools etc. No hurry.

All the best...Jules

 

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Thank you both for your advice I will look into materials. I am tracking down a lathe at the moment maybe I can buy a used one from a retired watchmaker here in Brazil, let's see how that pans out. My new balance staffs arrive next week so hopefully I'll have some pictures to post in the next couple of weeks before and after! I have to say I'm enjoying myself!

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If you get stuck finding one there hit me up, I have a second Wolf Jahn watchmaker lathe that I am going to strip, lubricate and move on with a reasonable number of collets. I think shipping from Scotland to Brazil would be onerous, however as you are in the UK at times I’m sure we could manage something for you to get it home. Hit me up on direct message if you are maybe interested as we are not allowed to sell here on the forums.

 

Tom

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Thanks Tom! Will do.

OH thanks for the warning about potentially buying my lathe from China, now you'll get a laugh out of this, I decided to test out the speed of things arriving here in Brazil, a) because I need the pieces and b) so I can buy safely in the future in larger quantities, or values. 

I ordered a balance wheel full assembly from China USD$2.30, two balance wheel assemblies I needed from the USA USD$12.00 for the two and two balance staffs I needed from France USD$6.00 for the two, hence testing my ability to buy, import and receive the items here.

They were all bought on the same day about a week ago.

The balance wheel assemblies from the USA have shipped and will arrive on October 30th so about 7 weeks to deliver but I assume they will eventually arrive and be what they say they are, the French balance staffs will arrive next Wednesday so that will be about 12 days and I also assume they will be what they are supposed to be, now here's where my experience meets OH warning...wait for it - the balance wheel order from China arrived this afternoon, extremely fast from literally the other side of the globe - when I opened it it was packed and labelled balance wheel assembly but was actually an extremely cheap set of (supposedly) watch screwdrivers. I won't risk them on the screws in my watches they'll last about 30 seconds.

I'm really glad I didn't shell out real money on a lathe who knows what I would have received, maybe 10 thousand packets of screwdrivers. The lesson I learned - patience 12 days vs 7, 6 weeks vs 1 - but get what you ordered. true story, love to here if anybody had better luck than me. All the best...JulesIMG_2460.thumb.jpg.e80ccec8db5dec3a193ca96256ec96d5.jpg

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Sorry to hear about your Chinese balance wheel incident. Which online platform did you buy from? I find buying from AliExpress very safe and reliable here in Singapore. So far I've only gotten conned once after about 5 years of dealing with them. And AliExpress promptly refunded me when I showed photographic evidence that I had been conned. They even shut down the seller's site. But I know that doesn't mean anything as the seller would just open another account and then it's business as usual.

China goods seem to come in 3 grades; excellent, normal and crap. Check out this screwdriver set from Kwong Yeun. Other WRT members have testified that they look and feel exactly like the Swiss brand.

670579956-850970422.thumb.jpg.b24585fb67c68cc943980db10f813f59.jpg

As for Chinese lathes, there are some pretty good ones too. The average ones are OK. The only thing I don't like about them is that they use a D bar style lathe bed instead of the WW type. And their collets have a different screw thread from the regular 8mm WW collets.

My mentor, who goes to China regularly, has seen Chinese copies of Schaublin lathes. And they claim by using modern CNC manufacturing methods, have tolerences that match the originals.

But unfortunately, my Chinese has regressed to sub-kindergarten levels, so I can only use buying platforms like AliExpress which are in English. 😪

 

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OH thanks for the warning about potentially buying my lathe from China, now you'll get a laugh out of this, I decided to test out the speed of things arriving here in Brazil, a) because I need the pieces and b) so I can buy safely in the future in larger quantities, or values. 

I ordered a balance wheel full assembly from China USD$2.30, two balance wheel assemblies I needed from the USA USD$12.00 for the two and two balance staffs I needed from France USD$6.00 for the two, hence testing my ability to buy, import and receive the items here.

They were all bought on the same day about a week ago.

The balance wheel assemblies from the USA have shipped and will arrive on October 30th so about 7 weeks to deliver but I assume they will eventually arrive and be what they say they are, the French balance staffs will arrive next Wednesday so that will be about 12 days and I also assume they will be what they are supposed to be, now here's where my experience meets OH warning...wait for it - the balance wheel order from China arrived this afternoon, extremely fast from literally the other side of the globe - when I opened it it was packed and labelled balance wheel assembly but was actually an extremely cheap set of (supposedly) watch screwdrivers. I won't risk them on the screws in my watches they'll last about 30 seconds.

I'm really glad I didn't shell out real money on a lathe who knows what I would have received, maybe 10 thousand packets of screwdrivers. The lesson I learned - patience 12 days vs 7, 6 weeks vs 1 - but get what you ordered. true story, love to here if anybody had better luck than me. All the best...JulesIMG_2460.thumb.jpg.e80ccec8db5dec3a193ca96256ec96d5.jpg

Hector, I'm glad to hear you had a good experience! I wasn't going to mention it but it was Aliexpress that I used, I am awaiting their response All the best...Jules

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Closing off this topic (thank goodness you all say!) I got my response from Aliexpress about the fact they shipped the wrong item. It says "Judgement from Ali Express - not valid - reason - not enough evidence supplied - no refund".  It goes on to say; Notice: If the seller makes a counterclaim against your claim/evidence during the dispute, you may need to test the product according to the seller's instructions/advice and record the process!

Needless to say I am looking forward to their instructions on how to install a set of screwdrivers into a pocket watch and make them function as a balance wheel! I'm quite new to all this but even I think that might be difficult...

Thinking about it it was worth wasting $USD5.00 for the entertainment value.

Cheers...Jules

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Hi Hector, here is the screen shot I sent them of my order, OK it's in Portuguese as I live in Brazil, but they offer the service in Portuguese here. Still I think you can see from the picture which says "IMG_2460.thumb.jpg.e1c512e3417faee7b336fffd7b8acef8.jpgmechanical watch part" that what I ordered is a balance wheel assembly. I sent them that photo and the photo above of the screwdriver which arrived and apparently the original order with a picture of a balance wheel and what arrived screwdrivers was not enough - even when on the packet label you can see its says "movement" definitely not screwdrivers!!

IMG_2461.jpg

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2 hours ago, Juleswatch said:

Hi Hector, here is the screen shot I sent them of my order, OK it's in Portuguese as I live in Brazil, but they offer the service in Portuguese here. Still I think you can see from the picture which says "IMG_2460.thumb.jpg.e1c512e3417faee7b336fffd7b8acef8.jpgmechanical watch part" that what I ordered is a balance wheel assembly. I sent them that photo and the photo above of the screwdriver which arrived and apparently the original order with a picture of a balance wheel and what arrived screwdrivers was not enough - even when on the packet label you can see its says "movement" definitely not screwdrivers!!

IMG_2461.jpg

My golden rule is, never buy from Aliexpress what you can't afford to lose. I've bought some really dodgy kit in the past. You have to put it down to experience. 

You lost pennies on those screwdrivers, so let it go.

I've bought jewelling tools costing £150 that you can't fit the pusher into and got a $30 refund. It happens. But I've bought some fabulous watchmaking tools from them as well.

Pick your battles, is my advice, as this one isn't worth it, in my opinion

 

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Thanks Jon, good advice - I'm not going to worry about 3 or 4 quid, it was more of a test to see the sort of product I received before I bought more expensive stuff - my conclusion buy more expensive stuff elsewhere, even if it takes much longer to get here cheers...Jules

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