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Basic watchmaking tips - Oiling Part 1

  1. Archer

    Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Aug 17, 2017

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    Some time ago I posted some basic tips on cleaning to assist some of the people here who are learning watchmaking. Here is that post for reference:

    https://omegaforums.net/threads/basic-watchmaking-tips-cleaning.56365/#post-696021

    And links to subsequent posts:

    https://omegaforums.net/threads/basic-watchmaking-tips-oiling-part-1.62310

    https://omegaforums.net/threads/basic-watchmaking-tips-oiling-part-2-the-mainspring-barrel.71246/

    https://omegaforums.net/threads/basic-watchmaking-tips-oiling-part-3-the-wheel-train.84482/

    https://omegaforums.net/threads/basic-watchmaking-tips-spotting-wear.81025/

    https://omegaforums.net/threads/basic-watchmaking-tips-oiling-part-4-the-escapement.87072/

    This is the second post on basic watchmaking tips, but this is on oiling. One of the most critical things a watchmaker does is apply lubrication to the various parts of the movement that require it. Oiling tends to become a heated topic with watchmakers, so I am just showing my way of doing things, and I’ll explain why I think they are appropriate. As always, I will listen to any well reasoned argument for a better or different way, but if anyone wants to argue for the sake or arguing, please find another thread thanks. ;)

    On the topic of which oils to use, since that is often an even more heated topic, I’ll simply say that for the most part I follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. I’ve seen people argue oils endlessly, some saying they never go bad, others saying you can just use motor oil, etc. For me using modern synthetic oils that are recommended by the brands has given good results for me and my customers. If you are working on your own watches and want to conduct long term experiments with how different oils perform, that’s fine but keep in mind that’s not the situation most professional watchmakers are in. We have a duty of care to the customer, and quite frankly don’t have the time to experiment and have things potentially go wrong.

    So one of the first things we need to look at is what do you need to do your oiling. For me it’s this:

    [​IMG]

    I have 2 sets of oil cups with agate wells, both with individual covers on each well. You decant oil from the oil bottles using a clean probe of some kind (I use a clean, polished wire that I keep just for this purpose) and as you can see I have used a marker to write the type of oil or grease on each lid. Agate wells are preferred since they don’t get scratched easily, and having a cover on each oil well means that you only have to expose the one you are using to the air – the kind that have a cover for all 4 wells expose them all when you are just getting oil ore grease from just one, so I don’t recommend those. Of course the lid is kept closed at all times except when you are actually getting oil. I flip the lid open, dip my oiler in the oil, flip the lid closed, and apply the oil.

    It’s a good idea to track how often you change the oil in your oil cups. Over time the oil will oxidize and become contaminated, so I personally change the oils every week on the same day. I realize that for a hobbyist this may be extreme, so I would recommend decanting the smallest amount of oil you can into your oil cups so you are not wasting much when you change the oils. Your oil supply should be stored in a cool, dark place.

    You may also note a large white block with 2 oilers stuck in it. This block is foam that I used to clean the oiler between uses. It’s made by Bergeon, and does a much better job of cleaning the oiler than say pith wood does, and leaves no residue on the oiler like pith wood can. I do sometimes take steps to “pre-clean” my oiler after applying certain greases to save this block a bit, so for example when I’m installing braking grease in a mainspring barrel, I clean it off in another piece of foam before I stick in this block for final cleaning. I actually recycle the small square pieces of white foam that come in mainspring packages for this:

    [​IMG]

    The next thing is the oilers themselves. I almost exclusively use dip oilers, so like an old quill pen I have to dip the oiler in the oil to pick up oil to apply. There are so called automatic oilers, and I do have one I use occasionally for oiling non-shock and “fixed” cap jewels, but these do have drawbacks:

    [​IMG]


    These have a reservoir inside them, and a plunger that pushes oil into the space between the hole jewel and the cap jewel. The difficulty comes with properly cleaning these of old oils, and I feel they provide less control over the amount of oil applied.

    So dip oilers come in different configurations. They can even be home made, but the three that I have used are the types that follow, with the first being what are commonly advertised as “Swiss made” oilers and are often sold in sets of 4 different sizes:

    [​IMG]

    The tip is very bulb-like, and sometimes has small flats on the side (honestly I’m not sure if this came this way or if I stoned the flats on it at some point). Using these as they come, they are crude and I find don’t provide the control that I want. The next step up is the proper Bergeon version of these cheap oilers:

    [​IMG]

    You can see that the tip is more of a fan shape, and is much more flat. These provide much more control over the amount of oil you pick up. So why is that important? The most basic way of controlling how much oil you apply, is to control how much you pick up. In many ways whatever you pick up is what will be applied, except for a small film left behind on the oiler. This is particularly true of less viscous oils, and the transfer happens almost instantly, so it’s difficult to control how much comes off the oiler – controlling how much goes on will give you more control over the whole process.

    So I don’t use either of these regularly, and haven’t for a number of years now. I currently use the Bergeon “ergonomic” oiler:

    [​IMG]

    As you can see, the shape of the tip is very different. First it is far more refined than the other two by a long shot – everything is finely machined where the others look like they were made using a forge and anvil. Second, the shape is much more conducive to controlling the amount of oil picked up. I have picked up some oil to show that the flat portion of the tip can pick-up a rather small amount of oil – this is the smallest of the oilers that they offer. Now these are much more expensive than the others – those a few dollars each and these are $35 or so the last time I remember buying one. They are also somewhat fragile, so over time you will bend and eventually break the tip – I just broke one I had been using for over a year this past week. But the control these provide, and the fact that when I break one I can open a new one and it will be exactly the same as the one I just used (not always the case with the others) makes these worth the money for me personally.

    Not long ago I responded to someone on another forum who said they tried these and hated them. They went on to say they could barely pick up any oil with these and the oil they did pick up didn’t seem to transfer well. After some conversation it appeared that the user wanted to be able to pick up a large (for watchmaking) drop of oil and then “wipe off the excess” on the side of their oil cup. As you can probably guess, there’s no reason to do things this way when you can pick up the correct amount of oil with these right off the bat. The problem of the oil not transferring I was able to pinpoint to the user dipping the oiler too deep in the oil. If you get oil past the flat area, and get it onto the narrow part, the oiler will tend to hold onto the oil rather than transfer it. That’s why I picked up a typical amount on the photo above to show you how they are used. Once I explained all this, the user came back eventually and said they now preferred these to the older style oilers.

    So this is a start on this topic but I do intend to add more as time permits.

    Cheers, Al
     
    Edited Dec 30, 2018
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  2. sxl2004

    sxl2004 Aug 17, 2017

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    Thanks again for the information.
    So I guess dipping the movement in oil is not exactly ok.
    But as they say in Germany:
    viel hilft viel.
    ( A lot of it helps a lot).
    :D:)
     
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  3. ChrisN

    ChrisN Aug 17, 2017

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    Nice introduction, Al. Thanks for the time spent doing this.

    I like those ergonomic oilers as well but they are frighteningly expensive, as you say. On the other hand, they are far easier to control so good value for me as well.

    I take your point about pith leaving a residue sometimes but have never seen that foam block. What is that Bergeon block called and I'll pick some up?:thumbsup:

    Cheers, Chris
     
  4. Archer

    Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Aug 17, 2017

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    Hey Chris - have a look here: https://www.hswalsh.com/product/ber...-pith-alternative-old-reference-hs7011-hs7018

    The quality of a lot of the pith wood out there is pretty bad compared to what I used to be able to get - the newer stuff is really weak and often just disintegrates, so this is a really good alternative to the pith available now.

    Cheers, Al
     
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  5. boat2dan

    boat2dan Aug 17, 2017

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    Great post thanks for sharing!
     
  6. Toishome

    Toishome Aug 17, 2017

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    Excellent post. Thank you for taking the time to write it:thumbsup:. Hopefully we can see more of these in the future.
     
  7. UncleBuck

    UncleBuck understands the decision making hierarchy Aug 17, 2017

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    Quadrophenic-schizophrenia
     
  8. JimInOz

    JimInOz "Helpful Hints from Heloise" of bracelet cleaning. Aug 17, 2017

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    Thanks to guidance from Al and others, my oiling technique has improved a great deal since I first used a set of el cheapo oilers. As I do oiling under a microscope, getting just the correct amount onto the tip of the oiler was difficult due to my near vision so my approach is to dip a medium oiler and take that to the work. I then use my fine oiler to take off just the right amount.

    I also found using the small handled oilers didn't give me good feel/control, so I cut down and polished a fine oiler and mounted it in a ballpoint pen barrel and I found it gives me much greater control when picking up from the donor drop and placing it correctly.

    Here's my basic oiling setup, seen here with a junker movement I run through the cleaner and use for practice.

    Oiler_SU.JPG

    And here is the donor oiler and my "pen oiler" ready to pick of some oil. You can see that the amount of oil on the donor is more than enough for all of the jewels.

    Oiler_CU.JPG
     
  9. craigbythesea

    craigbythesea Oct 3, 2017

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    Very nice post. Nice to see real world knowledge being shared. Thank you
     
  10. peire06

    peire06 Oct 7, 2017

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    Extremely useful and well written. Thanks a lot Archer.
     
  11. ClarendonVintage

    ClarendonVintage Nov 6, 2017

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    Lovely advice, that was an enjoyable read
     
  12. jaspert

    jaspert Nov 7, 2017

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    Great article and helpful for noob like me. Keep it up.
     
  13. panaitchrono

    panaitchrono Nov 7, 2017

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    This kind of thread we have to see more often..thank you OF.
     
  14. Professor

    Professor Dec 5, 2017

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    "So I guess dipping the movement in oil is not exactly ok. "


    Cleaned out a fifties Lux alarm clock recently using lighter fluid and window cleaner then srayed the insides liberally with penetrating oil. After getting the alarm to work i let it go off several times to vibrate the works so rust and dirt would work its way out then blew away the residue with canned air. I must have done something right that old clock has kept perfect time for going on two weeks now.

    Of course i'm not going to be using that rough and ready method on any wrist watch. The Lux is built like an AK47 so it can take it.
    I particularly wanted to fix that old clock, first time piece I can remember seeing as a child. It was manufactured not far from my home.
     
  15. Archer

    Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Dec 6, 2017

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    Yeah, this thread is related to watches...not clocks. Your post illustrates why these are very different things, but I'm guessing even some clockmakers would be cringing at your description of a service...

    Cheers, Al
     
  16. Professor

    Professor Dec 6, 2017

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    Didn't mean to introduce thread drift, just figured you'd get a kick out of this.
    I got a palm full of cobwebs and lint out of the works and the liquid that ran out of it looked like burnt crankcase oil.
    Those old alarm clocks were tough.
    From the looks of the works i suspect it was descended from some sort of milspec timing device. Possibly a bomb detonator.
    The internal plates aren't held by screws, stanchions with split and hooked ends were pressed into holes under great pressure and hammered down. It can't be disassembled without destroying it.

    Still ticking right along and keeping perfect time.

    I've often wondered what lubricants were available to the old time clock and watch makers. I suspect whale oil was the cleanest till the late 19th century.
    I was given a small vial of purified whale oil from an old musical instrument case long ago. I found it burned with a very bright white flame.

    I'm reminded of a line from Alice in Wonderland where the ribbit said his watch was greased with the finest butter.

    In looking up specs on oil used with airguns I found that in the 1920's and 30's great strides were made in producing advanced lubricants. The aircraft industry spurred most of that.

    I greatly appreciate threads like these. Knowledge is power.
     
    Edited Dec 6, 2017
  17. François Pépin

    François Pépin Jan 6, 2018

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    Thanks Al - I have just discovered this thread I missed when you created it.

    I already use these ergonomic Bergeon oilers and, from my amateur point of view, they are worth the expanse as well. By the way, I have accidentally bent two of them, which have revealed to be useful for oiling the pallets!
    I did not know these foam blocks, just ordered 2 of them as I was looking for a better way to clean my oilers.
     
  18. Professor

    Professor Jan 6, 2018

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    I'll be ordering some specialized watch lubricants soon.
    The Ingraham Tower Boy's watch I just freed up will be my test piece on disassembling cleaning and oiling properly using the information I've found on this board, then I'll strip down the Ingraham Biltmore Pocket watch and use what I learn on those to service any vintage watches I obtain in the future.
    Again many thanks for this highly valuable thread.
     
  19. Vanallard

    Vanallard Jan 9, 2018

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    Thanks for the write-up Al.

    I’ve had a number of my vintage watches serviced recently by a local watchmaker. I’ve been pleased with his work thus far but I am curious to know what kind (and quality) of oils he uses during servicing. Perhaps I’ll give it some more time before broaching the topic - wouldn’t want to burn that bridge.
     
  20. Archer

    Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jan 10, 2018

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    In my view any watchmaker should have no troubles answering this question for you. If they do, I would suggest it's not a good sign.

    Cheers, Al
     
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