Monday, August 21, 2017

A tough trick to pull

Today I flicked through the local newspapers. There on the second page was a photo of a smiling face saying, "If you are in trouble, call me". And you can bet that this Monday morning his phone will be ringing off the hook; desperate people looking for solicitor’s advice and quick solutions to get them off the legal hook. 

The beauty of a well-organised society is this: no matter what kind of help you need, there is a professional out there ready to take that burden off your shoulders.

Except, it seems, if you have a watchmaking problem; in particular: which kind of collet is best suitable for a piece of machinery never before imported into Australia?

The reality is harsh and character building: an Australian watchmaker cannot count on anyone but himself. (By the way, my very first phone call this morning was from a person who wanted me to assess a clock he intends to buy on eBay from an American seller. He would not take 'impossible' as an answer. Eventually I had to ask him what he does for a living in order to find an analogy of 'impossible' in his area of expertise. He said he was a magician and illusionist, and he likes me, and we should at least be friends - at which time I hung up!

So back to collets.

A collet is a cylindrical metal holder designed to firmly hold a tool or material to be machined. Unlike other tools (a chuck, for example) a collet exhibits some amazingly important properties. It provides strong clamping, excellent resistance to unclamping, great centring and, above all, tight tolerances.  In other words, if you are to machine a watch part which requires micron precision, you need micron precision collets. Actually, not just one, but at least a dozen to accommodate for tools of various sizes.

And now back to the original question: How do I know which collets are best suited for our machine, for the tools we intend to use and for the parts we would like to produce? 

It is clear that without the help of an expert I wouldn't be able to figure this out. So the most obvious solution to my problem is to delegate the job to Josh. To his credit, after 3 months of research and 3 deliveries (of which two were successful) we have finally got our set of precision collets to fit our Citizen R04 lathe. 

Now if you are wondering why am I sharing this information with you, the answer is to save someone 3 months of their life and frustration. The collet maker is ALPS TOOLS. Now, if you think Alps and tools, you surely are thinking Switzerland. Alps Tools is actually a precision toolmaker located in Nagano, Japan! The collets are AR11-d and the collet holder is SSH 5/8-ECH 7S-70 from the series called "Nice Mill". Nice would be a typical Japanese understatement: these collects are out of this world! 

I am a strong believer in sharing. Actually my plan is to get in touch with fellow owners of Citizen R04s around the world so we can share information and learn from each other. While large corporations have all the time (and resources) in the world and can be secretive, a small independent watchmaker does not have that luxury. Life is short and if you are to figure out everything by yourself, then the only thing you will be remembered for is your tombstone epitaph: "Could have been a great watchmaker, but ran out of time!".

Happy Collecting,


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