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This is my second installment of my experience of watchmaking school.

 

I am entering my 4th week of school.  The way ahead still seems long and full of possible obstacles.  It is hard to imagine that there will ever come a time when I can begin to think of myself as a watchmaker.  I have been watching my instructor and fellow students who are farther along.  I've also watched many videos of watchmakers with almost a lifetime of service and I think that I may never come close to them. Perhaps it's best to say, following the family motto of the great explorer Ernest Shackleton, fortitudine vicimus?

 

As you work in our shop at the York Time Institute you have the feeling of being transported back to earlier era of watchmaking; more like a 19th century apprenticeship than a modern, clean, college of the science of horology.  It is certainly not as hygienic as the modern Swiss factory/laboratory (we have two dogs who pay us frequent visits!) but that is probably by intent, for our instructor is, when it comes to watchmaking, in large measure an antiquarian.  He loves old tools and techniques and the substrate of our craft: old watches and clocks.  I find it hard to consider such a love for the old as a defect—like so many modern people do.  And, anyway, I've found from experience that familiarity with the old makes for a better understanding of the new when such becomes necessary.  For example, I've found an understanding (and fondness for) 19th century classical mathematics of the type found in Whittaker and Watson's A Course in Modern Analysis or Hardy's A Course of Pure Mathematics, has served me well for embracing more modern math which, in spite of its labyrinth of jargon and complex sub-divisions, often seems like a fancy way to swat flies.  Ditto computer science.  Having, in a sense, gotten in on the ground floor, there are some concepts which I naturally understand.  So it seems to me that it is always possible to use to old as a springboard to the new whereas learning the new without reference to the old is like building a scaffold in the air.

 

I also accompany our instructor on house calls. Last week we visited two homes to repair grandfather clocks.  It’s good experience towards dealing with customers in their homes.  This is real apprenticeship, though we don’t call it that.  In fact, we do have apprentices but they’re far more advanced than I am.  Perhaps someday!

 

Since my first week I've been learning and restoring some tools I've acquired.  I recently obtained, at a very reasonable price, and 8 mm Boley lathe with a number of accessories in a, once nice, but now dilapidated box. I have almost a complete set of collets and a very nice set of gravers.  Most of the restoration will be of the box, which I started on today (Sep. 28).  So far it’s looking great.  I sanded it and put on a nice stain.  Tomorrow I’ll shellac it and repair the inside so that the lathe and its parts and accessories will be neatly stored as they were when it was new.

 

I've also obtained a number of free tools from donations made by people who, learning about our school, have generously given us surplus tools.  Some of these have to be refurbished but our instructor, because of his aforementioned love of tools, is of immense help.  Besides the lathe I have restored staking punches and stumps, a staking anvil, bench blocks, Vernier calipers and a vintage bench micrometer, etc.

 

I am told that I will soon be leaving the “grammar” of tools, their names uses and restoration, to their application or “logic” and that will be the subject of my next installment.

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Nice bit about making house calls and looking at grandfather clocks/Longcase clocks. Do you get to fault find or just watch and leave it to your teacher? were they modern or the antique English type? I used to love house calls, I've been to some really large places sort of stately homes. It sounds as if your having a really good time so keep up the good work.  

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