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Whittling Wisdom from the Experienced

by J.Edwards

One of the longest standing watchmakers in our shop walked by my bench yesterday and caught me with a small garbage can held up between knees, whittling the tip of a piece of peg wood to a nice, fine point so that I could begin pegging out the jewels in a watch I had just finished dismantling. Quite sternly, he told me I was holding “it” wrong. Confused, I asked him if he was referring to the knife or the piece of peg wood. “No,” he said, “the garbage can. You’re holding it wrong, put it down on the floor.” Confounded, as I’ve long thought it was a brilliant idea to bring the garbage can up to my level rather than continually bend down to it, I asked him why. Calmly and assuredly, he instructed me to put the garbage can back under the corner of my bench and to whittle onto the floor.

Whittle onto the floor!? He didn’t explain himself, but by simply following his instruction, I was quickly able to discern his point. It makes for a much more effective workflow. If my reason for pulling the garbage can up between my knees was to save having to constantly bend over it every time I sharpened my peg wood, why should I bend over to pick it up in the first place? Eliminating that simple step was – oddly enough – encouragement for me to sharpen my peg wood more often, which had an even further positive influence on my effectiveness (if you have ever tried to coax a blunted or broken-tipped piece of peg wood into a jewel hole, you’ll understand what I mean).

But we’re talking about a watchmakers’ workshop here… we don’t any want junk on the floor. Exactly! The floor should be swept every single day. We sweep our shop three times a day. In the morning, at noon, and again by the cleaning staff after we go home at the end of the day. If you can see wood chips around your bench, you know that the floor hasn’t been swept. If they’ve been there for any length of time too long, you know that the floor around your bench definitely needs to be swept. Secondly, wood chips aren’t something you need to be worried about getting inside a watch. They’re enormous by comparison to any piece of dust or fiber. It just isn’t going to happen and in the off-chance that it may, they would be easy to spot. Thirdly, wood isn’t magnetic, so if you do happen to drop a part on the floor they won’t interfere if you make use of a magnet to find your part. Not only that, but if you should need to sweep to find your part, the wood chips will be a good tell-tale sign if you miss a spot.

I’ve kicked the can, and I’ll admit it. Whittle away.

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