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Confessions of an Escape Wheel Killer

by J.Edwards

I plead guilty. I crushed a part under a wheel of my chair for the first time ever today. By no means on purpose, though. I moved the warm air dryer, which I use to dry freshly epilamed watch parts, to a different place under the front lip of my work bench today and didn’t count on the airflow changing to produce an unexpected “up current” that made quick work of blowing my escape wheel onto the floor. I am always ever so careful not to roll my chair when anything like this happens, but it moved ever so slightly as I craned my neck to glance backwards between my feet and – to my dismay – I heard a soft crunch under the foremost wheel as it happened. Toasted. My escape wheel, arbor and all, lay flat as a pancake on the floor.

Fortunately, we had extras in stock, and I was back into the flow of things again in no time. As J.Peter has mentioned in the past, routine, routine, routine, is so very key. There are occasional exceptions though. Despite this initial hiccup, I am happy I have made this particular change to my workflow, as it will make my epilaming routine far more effective.

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  1. Rod Fletcher
    Posted July 24, 2009 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    That’s one of my worst fears. I’ve often looked down at the floor thinking “how am I going to move without moving the chair?” It is usually a case of ‘fingers crossed’ and roll back as little as possible.

    Your post reminded me of when I spent ages looking for a part that had launched itself out of the grip of my tweezers. Can’t remember what the part was now but I do remember that it was very small. Unable to find it I cleared the bench hoping to find it under something. No luck.

    Later that evening I had a brainwave – check the Rodico!!! Sure enough it had landed on a piece of Rodico which I had later rolled into a ball without really looking at it and put into a draw during the tidying of the bench. I found the part deep in the ball of Rodico.

  2. Posted July 24, 2009 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing the places parts can land. I remember loosing a setting spring back in watchmaking school that I found months later in the socket of an electrical outlet at the back of my bench.

    One of the most off-chance occurrences I have heard of was the time a watchmaker in our shop lost a cap jewel and found it on his cheek hours later when he went to the washroom.

  3. Posted July 24, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    You know that Casker and Borel sell a hourglass shaped flask with a little nylon mesh basket with lid to put the parts in when you fix a drop. You could acutally dry the parts with a hair blow dryer while you hold the basket in your hand. You get nice even application of the product and you don’t have to worry about crushing you escape wheel or cap jewels. The only part you can’t do in it is the pallet stones.

  4. Posted July 24, 2009 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi Scott,

    I use the same hourglass shaped flask with the plastic baskets that you’ve mentioned. I am picky about the way that the epilame coating dries, though, and find I get better results by holding the escape wheel in my tweezers by one of its non-functional surfaces. I do the same for the stones of the pallet fork. Other components don’t seem to matter as much and can stay in the basket. The pieces I don’t dry in the basket, I hold just above the bottom of a basket and turn back and forth slightly to maximize airflow around them, which yields a nice even finish. Using the latest method of lubricating the lever escapement that J.Peter described, I find the oil holds more consistently when I examine the escape wheel teeth under a 40x microscope.

    Holding the tweezers closer to the tips than I typically would allows me to better gauge the level of heat that is being applied as well. The epilame appears to crystalize and turn white if the a part gets too hot, and this yields sub-optimal results. Especially if this happens at the pallets or on the escape wheel.

  5. Posted July 24, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I meant to say thank you for your comment, too, Scott. Your suggestion is gold for readers of the blog who may not be aware of the hourglass shaped epliame bottle.

  6. Mike
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I was recently at a bench course at the AWCI and talk about a good example of “parts into the void”.

    I was oiling the cap jewel and went to install the spring and I heard that click that drives fear into my heart (the sound of holding a part too tight I might add) and the spring went “somewhere”.

    I took a deep breath and tried to focus on where I was looking, my position on the bench and I remembered seeing the spring come toward me.

    Well, I carefully removed my loupe and was ready to check my face in the restroom and I had the thought to tap my loupe on the bench. That is where it was.

    Got to pay attention all the time, no matter what and be relaxed when a part goes flying. You may never think of where it goes if you just back up and start the hunt.

  7. Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Well put Mike.

    I’m glad that your story held a happy ending. It really is incredible all the different places that these little parts can land.

  8. Nolan
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    I know that whenever I had a part fly away from me and I thought it went one way…..but after not finding it in a reasonable amount of time, it almost all the time went the exact opposite of the way I thought it went.

  9. Posted July 29, 2009 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    I call that the ricochet effect ­čśë

  10. Posted July 29, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Losing parts and finding them later, phew, it is part of a watchmaker’s life. I do not think that anyone is immune to such a feeling of despair, or of gratitude as when we have lost something- or found some part on the floor, after a long search. Hallelujah!
    btw, forgot to mention The Swatch group in Toronto, Ontario are looking for a watchmaker. Any interested parties may enquire for an appointment straightaway! Cheers,
    Prem C.

  11. Posted July 29, 2009 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    That flask and those mesh plastic containers have saved me much time when applying epilame to the Rolex auto-reverse wheels, escape wheel and pallet fork.

    One always has to make sure, though, that the fixodrop inside the flask is changed regularly! If not, the whole process can result in spotty or specked parts. I’ve also found that fair heat from a hairdryer held at about one foot away from the containers for around 2 minutes yields good results.

    I will comment on flying parts, too. Today I was oiling the top balance wheel jewel only to hear that fear-invoking “click” mentioned by Mike. After almost loosing my composure, I quickly went to the ground to locate the jewel on my right side (it hit the right side of my chin and fell to the ground). The jewel ended up 2 or 3 inches under the plastic mat that my chair rolls on. How in the world did that happen?

    Glad to hear that you had a spare escape wheel, J.Edwards!

  12. Posted July 30, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I like the feeling of gratitude. The sight of a squashed part – not so much.

    I’ll pass your lead along to any watchmakers I know who may be interested, Prem. You might like to recommend that they post on the AWCI’s Job Board if they haven’t done so already.

    And that’s a great point, Dave, changing the Fixodrop regularly is another key point in applying it effectively.

  13. Posted October 18, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    My comments on oiling a clock movement are followed by a question. I have spoken with clock repairmen that have told me that over oiling has its consequences. It has been suggested to me that it is wiser to oil the axles of each wheel in their setting of both cover plates and not the sprockets of the wheels that mesh. This can create a drag on the clock movement from the oil its self and accumulating dust over time. How ever, my question is, should I oil between the teeth of the escape wheel where the pallets of the verge interact?

  14. J.Peter
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know anything at all about clocks but in a watch we oil the impulse plane of the pallet or the escape wheel teeth. I agree that the teeth of the wheels should not be oiled, only the axles in their bearings.

  15. Posted October 22, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    All recoil escapements tend to need at least a little bit of lubrication where the escape wheel teeth and energy transfer device (usually pallets) interact. Dead beat escapements do not. In clocks, ideally you want the steel of the pallets to be highly polished and uniform. A clock can and will run without oil at the pallets, but I always apply a light film of lubrication at the pallets on recoil escapements to ensure longevity of both good timekeeping and the escapement parts. No lube on pinions or other teeth.

  16. J.Peter
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree!

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