There are four benches - two with watchmakers lathes, and two without. Several people can work on their projects while I work on whatever is on my bench. This past weekend four people worked with me on their individual projects. Their progress is the focus of this article.
Let’s talk about Don. He owns over a hundred clocks and wants to learn how to take care of them, get them running, and maybe do a bit of work for others. Don is an anesthesiologist who is approaching retirement and is fascinated by clocks. He has repaired a number of clocks on his own, and has restored an anniversary clock in my shop. This last weekend Don started the restoration of a round French mechanism - one of the “pendule du Paris” mechanisms. After cleaning he spent an entire afternoon developing the feel for polishing pivots. An entire afternoon??? That’s how long it took for Don to get used to using India and hard Arkansas stones to square-up and smooth out a pivot, as well as learning how to burnish the “smooth” pivot to both work harden the surface as well as achieve a very bright polish. I haven’t walked Don through making his own burnisher, but we did cover restoring the surface of one I made some time ago. As I was taught to do by my mentor.
So, what did Don learn? He learned to “see” the surface of the pivot and to “see” what the surface of the stone is telling him as he works the pivot. He learned how it feels to draw the stone over the pivot when he is spinning it in the lathe, and he learned that the burnisher will tell him if he has not done enough work with the stones.
Then there was Mack. Mack still talks about “all those gears” and how he doesn’t believe he will ever be able to put them back together. But this weekend he put an anniversary clock mechanism back together. Mack is starting down the path I usually use to move people into clock work: He is restoring an anniversary clock. When he’s done he will be able to do something that all too many clockmakers don’t want to do - and some can’t do! It really builds confidence, with minimal investment for the clock they are restoring. And, after walking 20 people thru anniversary clocks, not one has failed to get the clocks up and running, and they can keep them running!
So, what did Mack do? The previous weekend he pulled his clock apart - all the way apart - and polished most of the pieces. And made detailed drawings of the mechanism as he took it apart. This weekend he finished polishing the pieces, I lacquered the base, we put the mainspring back in the barrel, and he put the mechanism together Unfortunately he only had about 4 hours to work on Saturday. Mack had shown an interest in learning to use the lathe to do more than just polish pivots, so, in the last 20 minutes I introduced both Mack and Don to using hand held gravers, as well as sharpening gravers.
Then there is Herschel. I have been working with Herschel for a couple of years - and now he comes over when he has accumulated a number of “challenges”. First thing Sunday morning Herschel showed up with a French round mechanism on which he had done a beautiful restoration. But, the mechanism had a bad habit of counting the hour both at the half and on the hour. While the solution to the problem took a little trial and error - turned out we removed just the least little bit of the half-hour lifting pin - the real beauty was that Herschel was able to give Don some help in deciding how well he was doing in stoning pivots.
Next Herschel pulled out a carriage clock he couldn’t get to run. He had already pulled it apart, polished and burnished the pivots, including the escape and balance pivots, and cleaned the jewels - just like Ray taught us both to do. His challenge was the hairspring that was rubbing the balance wheel. Working balance-springs is a “growth area” for Herschel. He is learning to bend a hair-spring 90 degrees away from where he wants to see it deflect.
Fortunately I was working on a Navy deck clock that someone else had “worked on”. I had an excellent opportunity to show Herschel how I do it, so he could then get his hairspring so that it did not rub. When he was done, his clock ran!
The naval clock work also gave me a chance to polish/burnish the pivots on a balance staff and an escape-wheel arbor. This gave Herschel and Don a chance to see how to use balloon and wax chucks.
Another of the people I am working with, John, did not make it over this weekend. I was talking to him later about the deck clock I mentioned above. With his background in the nuclear navy he knew that the clocks were very collectable and rather radioactive. Turns out the dials luminesce because of the tritium used in the painted numbers. For those that don’t know, the artists who drew the numbers on these dials used to wet their brushes with their tongues. Many of these people later contracted tongue cancer. After talking to John I wiped down my bench, cleaned my tools and took the paper-towels outside to the trash-can, and took the trash can out to the curb...
Speaking of John, he and his family are just beginning to learn to work on clocks. Their first project is to restore the case and mechanism of an American RA clock. This really is a family project, at this point everyone is cleaning and polishing a different part of the case.
Another couple, Jeff and Maria didn’t make it over this weekend either. They have already restored a couple of anniversaries and are currently working on a German Vienna Regulator. They have restored the mechanism and are now veneering the case and making a grid-iron pendulum.
And then there are Roland and Carol who have repaired an American jewelers regulator that fell off of a wall. It took them most of a year but the clock runs!
As Sunday afternoon progressed, with Don stoning and burnishing pivots, Rick showed up to work on the hood of a British tall-case clock. Most of these clocks were built for the upper class (before 1800) and for the burgeoning middle class in the 1800s. As the clocks were sold and/or handed down they sometimes ended up needing to live in rooms with ceilings that were shorter then the rooms for which they were made. All to often they were shortened - bases were cut off, and sometimes the swan-necks on the hood were cut off. Rick is restoring a clock that lost it’s swan necks. He had already cut out the new swan necks as well as the new base-wood that goes behind the swan necks. And he had glued in the new base-wood, veneered them twice (placing the grain at a 90 degree angle in the two layers to minimize problems with the veneer shifting) and was ready to glue on the swan necks and start firming up the loose joints in the hood. Rick put in three hours and ended up with six clamps hanging on the hood.
Busy week-end? You bet. Fortunately they are not all this busy, or I would never get anything done. Why do I do it? Partially because I have always had a focus on training - helping people understand how to do what they want to do. Partially it is because of the learning I go through as I help someone else do something. Training significantly increases my own understanding and helps me hone my skills. Trust me, you will do a better job if someone else is watching and learning how to do something.
And then there is the thrill of seeing someone do the truly amazing. This last weekend brought this home. Well, I guess it was actually Monday morning. Mack handed me a piece of drill rod to look at. He had cut a 1/8 inch long pivot that measured 0.019 inch in diameter. Actually, it ranged from 0.018 at the tip up to 0.020 at the base of the pivot. This isn’t great for an experienced clockmaker, but Mac had never used a lathe before I gave him 20 minutes instruction on cutting with and sharpening a graver. He took a lathe home with him and started working.
After looking at his work I glowed for the rest of the day.
Mack had heard what I said about keeping the graver sharp... very sharp. And, he was able to cut a long and rather thin pivot. And next he is going to learn to harden the steel so he can cut even smaller pivots.
And he’ll learn to strike a center, drill holes in arbors, square the ends of arbors, cut shoulders, and, if he chooses, cut gears.
At our last local chapter meeting I was reminded that this is important to the NAWCC. Why? Because some of these people are going to become members of our association. Thanks to the efforts of a lot of people who choose to contribute their time and knowledge, the NAWCC is a treasure trove of wisdom. It’s up to all of us to disseminate that knowledge to others.