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Using a Barrel Closer

by J.Edwards

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We have mentioned barrel closers quite a bit here on Tick Talk recently. J.Peter first made reference to his set in a post exactly one year ago this week, it came up again in his post on simple tools, and we gave a set away to one lucky commentator back in February. One thing we haven’t done yet, though, is to demonstrate how a barrel closer is used and what makes it so handy.

If you are a watchmaker and know what a barrel does but have never heard of a “barrel closer”, jump ahead to the next section and keep reading, as this simple tool will make for a very valuable addition to your repertoire.

While the name is pretty self explanatory to a watchmaker, we realize that there may be a few readers who may not be familiar with what a barrel is, let alone what a barrel closer would be used for. If you aren’t familiar with the terminology, I recommend checking out this article on AllianceHorlogere.com, aptly titled The Barrel (pay particular attention to the exploded diagram). For a more concise introduction, a barrel is essentially the first wheel in a watch or clock, and contains inside of it a long, coiled spring that serves as the source of energy for the entire mechanism when it is wound up.

The Tool

In addition to the set he provided for the contest several weeks ago, Prem (who runs Prime Time Canada) kindly sent along a second set of his company’s barrel closers for me to try.

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The set he sent contained one generic barrel closer (above left) and a second tool that is used for opening the barrel of the ladies’ Rolex calibre 2235/2230 (the two pieces above right). The set is made from a high grade, clear acrylic that has been stress tested and will wear well. The acrylic is well polished, providing a clear view of the work and the edges are neatly bevelled, to prevent chipping. All in all, my first impressions since receiving them have been very good, and I am quite happy to replace the cracked and battered, cheap acrylic closer, which I fabricated in watchmaking school, with these beauties.

For the purposes of this post, I chose the largest barrel currently sitting on my bench, taken from an 18 ligne pocket watch, and was pleased to see that there was still ample room to accommodate even larger barrels in the closer. I will be focusing particularly on the use of the closer on the left. However, I have included both in the image above, with the top taken off of the one on right, because it is my personal preference to use the bottom from both sets; one to adjust endshake in the barrel and the other to close it.

Using a Barrel Closer

You may be able to see, in the image below, that the bottom from the generic barrel closer, which is pictured in the foreground, has a concave top surface. I use this portion of the barrel closer to adjust the endshake of the barrel arbor within the barrel itself. The bottom from the ladies’ specific barrel closer in the background has a flat top surface, with a slightly larger center used when opening the barrel of a Rolex 2235. I prefer to support the barrel on this flat surface when closing. Conveniently, the tops and bottoms of both sets are fully interchangeable.

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To recap: I use the concave bottom to adjust endshake and the flat bottom, in conjunction with the generic top, to close a barrel.

When opening a barrel, the cover is nearly always deformed and balloons up slightly in the center due to pressure applied at the barrel arbor. To correct this, before any final cleaning of the watch, I set the barrel cover face down on the concave barrel closer bottom.

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I then apply a firm, even pressure to persuade the cover back to its original shape. There are a number of ways to do this, some watchmakers will use their fingers, others a stake, and the most ideal method I have heard of is a convex-shaped barrel closer top. Presently, I use the curved, non-business end of a boxwood handle.

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Typically, it takes a few tries to get the endshake adjusted just right, but with practice and familiarity with a calibre, it is possible to get on the first or second attempt.

To close the barrel, I set it down in the middle of the flat-topped bottom and centered the arbor in the holes.

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Using four fingers, I then apply a firm, even pressure around the perimeter of the lid until I feel the barrel cover snap down securely into place. That’s it!

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Clean, simple, and precise.

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If you would like one of these fantastic sets for your own workbench, you can drop by Prime Time’s eBay store and order one delivered to your door.

As always, if you like what you read on the blog, feel free to make a donation.

2 Comments

  1. Posted April 7, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Jon,
    That is indeed a very concise, clear, and qualitative report! As versatile as they are the barrel closer is a pretty valuable tool, given the fact that modern day movements are pretty fragile, and just a micron less or more in the endshake will result in chaos. Cheers for your explanations, spot on- watchmaker of the 21st century!
    Prem

  2. Posted April 10, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks Prem! And thank you again, as well, for providing such a well made set to work with. They truly are an excellent addition to any watchmaker’s workbench.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] clear acrylic barrel closer topped the list before and it does again this year. If you don’t have one already, I highly [...]

  2. [...] in his or her arsenal. Not only does this little tool make closing barrels a snap, as we’ve mentioned on the blog here before, it’s also an invaluable tool for adjusting the endshake of the barrel arbor in [...]

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