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Watchmaker’s Lathe – Made in China?

by J.Peter

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When I was in watchmaking school I had access to some of the best lathes made today. We had a Schaublin 70, a Schaublin 102, and 16 Horia lathes all with just about every attachment available. I learned to use them all and I got spoiled. We were manufacturing parts and making our school watch, so we needed quality lathes, and we used them heavily.

In my shop currently, I use an old american watchmaker’s lathe. It was the owner’s grandfathers and has been a part of his family for more than 70 years. It was probably well taken care of when his grandfather used it, and when his father used it. Since his father got out of the trade it has been used by other watchmakers with no attachment to it and it hasn’t been cared for as well as it could have been. It is free of rust and dents and since I serviced it, it runs pretty good, but it is really lacking in the attachment department. I mostly use it for cutting out broken balance staffs, re-burnishing pivots and some tool manufacturer and it suffices, but it doesn’t “shine.”

I would love to be able to make some custom pieces but in order to do that I would need some better equipment (face plate, 3 jaw chuck, cross slide, larger collet selection, drilling tail stock, large stepped chucks, etc). It is also lacking when I need to re-bush a watch because it doesn’t have a face plate. The lathe has a selection of about 12 collets (the largest being about 3mm), a couple of wax chucks, and a balloon chuck. It has a tail stock but there is no drawbar for the tailstock and no drilling attachment. It has a T-rest but no cross slide. The motor is attached to the base and sits about 5 inches behind the bed so it is hard to get a burnisher back there to polish pivots the way I feel most comfortable. Perhaps the most annoying feature is the variable speed pedal from a Foredom flex-shaft tool for speed control. It is hard to get good surface finish when your lathe doesn’t turn at a consistent speed.

I would love some new attachments, but I would really like a high-quality lathe.

I read about an ebay seller who is selling Chinese made watchmaker’s lathes on timezone the other day. The article is here. chinese lathe I realize these aren’t going to be Horia lathes, but I would love to know how good (or bad) they are. As you can see from his eBay store you can get a lot of lathe for under $1000. (I don’t know how much he charges to ship from China). The one person on timezone who actually purchased one says it’s not too bad. I don’t know what that means, but he doesn’t give a good enough review for me to risk buying one yet.

I shared some information about the lathe with fellow members of AWCI and I got bombarded with all kinds of remarks from individuals who have no experience with this lathe. They feel (without experiencing the lathe) that there is no way it could possibly be well made and that I would much better off spending my money on a quality lathe at this point on my career. For many of them, this means an american made lathe like the one they have been using for the last 40 years. Unfortunately I don’t have the $30,000 it would take to buy a fully equipped lathe like I had in school. I could start with the basics and build from there but my problem is that the lathe isn’t really going to generate very much revenue so I have a hard time justifying a large purchase. Especially since I am salaried and my income wouldn’t change even if I was using the lathe to increase productivity or generate custom products.

Lucky for me I know a watchmaker, whose opinion I trust, who is doing some experimentation and research about this product. When I know more, I’ll add to this post.

If you have any information about these lathes or recommendations for other lathes, let me know.

For more discussion on lathes and some links to different makers visit this thread at timezone.

If you would like to help me purchase one of these lathes so I can give a formal review please donate to my blog. Every little bit helps.

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