Friday, July 8, 2016

The Most Essential Watchmaker's Tool

From the Apprentice's Corner

Before I even touched my first watch movement I had already heard many watchmakers speak on the importance of the screwdriver as if it were some magical tool that could solve any problem. Well, it sort of is, as I'm beginning to find out. It's hard to truly get your mind around just how important a well-made and well-maintained set of screwdrivers is until you actually start working on a watch yourself.

Screwdriver sharpening is itself an art form. There are stories of how apprentices at Patek Philippe spend their entire first week sharpening screwdrivers. Ask any watchmaker what they do and they'll half-jokingly tell you they sharpen screwdrivers for a living. Different screws call for different sharpening methods. Some screw heads have a very shallow and wide slot which calls for a screwdriver sharpened with a very steep angle. A screw with a different slot profile requires another screwdriver altogether. Ideally, it should fit snugly and uniformly across the length of the screw and not touch the bottom to avoid marking the visible part of the slot. How exactly this is achieved when the entire screw itself is less than a millimetre wide remains a mystery to me - my 6 hours or so of practice doesn't quite suffice, to say the least. 

It may seem ridiculous, but when the blade fits into the slot nicely it makes all the difference. It allows you to act with confidence and helps prevent accidents. A tiny slip can be disastrous. I've been working on a movement with a Côtes de Genève (Geneva waves) finish on the main plate. The finish is only one micron high, so a scratch can't simply be polished out - doing so would completely ruin the effect. 

It's nerve-racking to say the least, especially since I'm still developing my motor skills. Damned shaky hands of mine.(Personal tip: avoid caffeine beforehand, and remember to keep breathing. I've almost fainted after putting some tricky screws in place because I was concentrating so intensely that I forgot to take a breath.)

Whilst daunting, I still find it fun to think just how much I've got to learn. There are many thousand-page books that attempt to catalogue the different types of watchmaking tools, and to think that I'll be spending hundreds of hours to just master one of them is mind-blowing. There are even books written for individual tools themselves, like this one I found that details the use of the staking tool.

I'll be writing more on some of the tools I encounter over the next few weeks so stay tuned!

The screwdrivers within an arm’s reach of my bench. There must be a thousand of them hidden around the rebelde workshop.

Until next time,


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