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Time to Upgrade my Shark?

by J.Edwards

Time to upgrade my dust buster

Mini vac systems are a valuable tool in any modern watch lab or workshop. There is no better way to deal with dust and small debris, which can so easily detriment the performance of a fine timepiece, than to suck it into a self contained vortex.

I didn’t have the luxury of a vacuum or ionized air system throughout my years in watchmaking school, but there really wasn’t much to justify having one there. The environment was controlled, the workspaces were kept clean, we didn’t deal with ‘real life’ watches, and we spent less than 40 hours out of nearly 3000 on the casing of watches. One day in the real world, though, is all it took to realize the value of having a mini vacuum at your fingertips. Soft bristle vacuum heads are fantastic for picking up small fibres and bits of dust from dials and crystals – why blow the dust away only to have it show up again somewhere else? A designated, dirty vacuum head, wetted with naphtha, is great for precleaning barrels to help keep your precleaning and rinsing solutions lasting longer. Lastly, and most importantly, watches that come in for service from the real world are rarely clean; a standard vacuum head is indispensable for keeping your bench top in pristine condition, especially after dealing with particularly filthy watches.

Fortunately, none of this was a realization I had to come to on my own. Right from my very first job as a watchmaker, I had a vacuum system at my bench, and the factory service center I worked in thereafter had one within arm’s reach, as well. It wasn’t until I stepped into the frontline of the trade, working in a retail service center, that I truly realized just how valuable a vacuum system really is. I could deal without having a mini compressed air gun at my fingertips, but within two days of working at my new job without a vacuum system I resolved to find a solution. With only two watchmakers in our lab, we couldn’t justify the expense of the $1000+ vacuum pump units available through tool manufacturers, so a different solution had to be found. Thanks to a sale on vacuum cleaners at a local big box store that same week, I was able to piece together an effective and suitable solution for less than $50, taxes in, and it has served me phenomenally well for close to a year now.

Foot pedal switchSmall vacuum mounted under benchMini vacuum head


The setup isn’t elegant, but it works. We had a spare, variable speed foot pedal switch lying around the shop, which I hooked up to the small, canister vacuum that I picked up on sale. The vacuum switch is left permanently in the on position and plugs into the foot pedal, which is jacked into the electrical source and provides power to the vacuum when the pedal is depressed. The final piece of the solution came from a handy, mini vacuum head adaptor set I found at the local hardware store, which funnels the standard vacuum hose down to a form factor that’s perfect for the bench top needs of a watchmaker. For those of you who may be thinking of setting up a system like this of your own, it’s worth noting that a few months later I came across the same set of adaptors I had picked up at the hardware store for much less on Amazon.

While the setup serves me very well, I will admit, I do have two gripes about it.

The first is that I like to keep the floor in our lab as free from clutter as possible. Having the foot pedal and vacuum hose on the ground, under my bench, are a small drawback, mainly because they are difficult to clean around. The rose on this stem of thorns, though, is that by simply detaching the mini vacuum hose from the funnel adaptor, the vacuum has proven to be particularly handy for performing a thorough cleaning under my bench once every week or so. Another, unexpected bonus, is that during day-to-day use the heavier hose also acts as an counter weight to draw the vacuum head back into it’s resting place when I’m done using it. I also appreciate the hands-free luxury of being able to suck bits of dirt or debris from the end of a piece of peg wood or my tweezers, using the foot pedal.

Electrolux silent vacuumThe second gripe I have doesn’t have any perks and, that, is the noise. The tiny, Shark brand vacuum cleaner that I have packs a hefty audio punch. High profile systems from VOH et al, employ a relatively quiet vacuum pump, that is often not even kept in the same workspace as the watchmakers it serves. It is impossible to time a watch properly and poising a balance or adjusting a hairspring are the last things you’d want to be doing while our little Shark is running. So I refrain from using the vac system under these circumstances – which really isn’t hard to do. Recently, however, my coworker – who is well acquainted with the noise – brought to my attention a new model from Shark that is supposedly whisper quiet. After looking into it, though, I soon discovered that it’s not wired, so it wouldn’t work with the foot pedal, but it did spark a hunt for other silent vacuums, like this one from Electrolux, which I may upgrade to down the road. Now, if only James Dyson and his team of engineers would develop a vacuum that’s as small and quiet as his Air Multiplier.

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