Saturday, November 26, 2011

My First Clean and Oil

Gears soaking in isopropanol after being ultrasound washed.

My first Unloved Watch—that 1971 Citizen with the 21-jewel movement I now know is named the 0200 1802—is now cleaned, oiled, reassembled, cased, and running, and a handsome watch it is. Well, in my eyes, anyway. Whether it actually keeps time I don't know yet; it has been running for an hour or so and seems to be doing fine so far, which means it hasn't gone completely berserk, I guess.

It felt like a completely different watch when and after reassembling it after cleaning; the balance moves way, way more freely, and in fact it started ticking away for a few seconds just by handling the case, after I cased it. Before cleaning, it was sort of barely running, the balance did move but "heavily," and had clear trouble running when I held it different positions. No more, now it's like it wants to run, and springs to life at the first excuse.

That's a way-cool feeling. Like a kind of magic!

It's also much, much easier to set the time—everything moves freely; before there was so much friction I unscrewed the crown trying to do that. I put a drop of Loc-Tite there to get it to stay put.

As an aside, the crown on this watch is too small for a handwound. It's like they used the same case and crown for automatics and handwounds, and winding this is not all that much fun.

My "workbench"—my desk, really. Clockwise from the movement in the center: pin vise, #2 and #5 tweezers, screwdrivers, brass tweezers, loupe, toy microscope, tea strainer, basket with case waiting to be washed, ultrasound washer, rinsing bowl with water, little tray with isopropanol, pegwood, Pec-Pads, Rodico, pithwood, oil well, finger cots, Moebius 8000 oil, Moebius Microgliss oil, Loc-Tite, cleaning brush, parts tray with dial, hands, and movement spacer ring, movement holder.

It's been a quite a trek to get to this point. I have bought more and better tools—Dumoxel #2 tweezers and a set of Bergeon screwdrivers, sizes from 0.5 to 1.2 mm—, more supplies—pithwood, Rodico (a funky blue putty that picks up oil like magic, and is useful for other things too), another kind of oil, a couple of new crystals.

And a book: The Watch Repairer's Manual by H. B. Fried. I bought a used 1961 edition, because the new edition from 1986 costs £164 at Amazon UK, which is a bit rich for my blood. Anyway I figured watches can't have changed all that much since then, at least at the book's basic level—it's about simple handwound movements with no complications. And it's very, very good indeed.

I also bought a gadget: a small ultrasound washer. Sounds high-tech and expensive but isn't, really. It's about the size and cost of a toaster, and it washes things with ultrasound. Ultrasound washers aren't strictly required for watch repair (after all, watchmakers somehow managed to survive for about 300 years before they were invented), but it has one major advantage—it pretty much gets rid of the requirement to use naphtha, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, or other really nasty organic solvents. Instead, plain water and detergent plus ultrasound get the job done at least as well, if not better. I have studied chemistry back in the day, and have a healthy respect for that stuff. I do not want to get anywhere near them if I don't have industrial-grade ventilation in place, which I don't. So I bought the ultrasound.

All ready to go into the wash. Also my tweezers, 'cuz, why not?

Thus armed and armored I set forth, with the help of that book and the good folks at Global Horology Forum. Here's what I did.

  • Washing: I used a dilute solution of ordinary, un-perfumed alkaline household detergent, with anionic and synthetic tensides, something to bring the pH up, and not much else, in the ultrasound. I followed that with a rinse in clean water, and finished off with a dip in purified isopropyl alcohol, very quick to stop it from attacking the shellac. I dried the components on PecPads (lint-free pads used for cleaning optics and camera equipment), which I have from my photography hobby, and in fact dabbed the plates and bridges dry with them right away, again to reduce the danger that the shellac would go soft. I did not ultrasonic-clean the screws; instead, I soaked them in the alcohol. The same for the date jumper and yoke springs. I did not wash the balance assembly, nor the mainspring assembly, nor the pallet fork.
  • Cleaning: I pegged the jewels—that is, I took a sharpened piece of pegwood and carefully twirled it in them—, and used Rodico wherever I saw visible dirt left over from the wash. I did not remove the cap jewels from anywhere other than the balance. I cleaned the pallet fork carefully with Rodico and pithwood, and all the pivots and gear teeth in pithwood. I cleaned the pallet fork with Rodico and pithwood; no wash.
  • Oiling: I used Moebius 8000 for the jewels and pivots, and Microgliss for the cannon pinion, hour wheel, date wheels, and clutch. I tried to do as explained on the Net and in Fried, although it was rather hard to tell how well I succeeded since everything is so small and I have no stereo microscope. I do have a plastic toy microscope and a loupe, and did my best to verify everything I did.

I kept everything under drinking glasses while they were drying, to protect them from dust. I put the components into a tea strainer when in the ultrasound cleaner. We now have an extremely clean tea strainer, but Joanna doesn't want to use it for tea anymore, for some reason.

When assembling the watch, I used finger cots, and avoided handling the parts as much as possible. Finger cots look like condoms for hobbits. They're very funny.

The disassembly and reassembly went very well; so much it felt almost routine. I kept easily track of the parts even though I had put them in the wash all together, did not have to refer to my reference photos much, and didn't lose anything (nor did I have anything left over). I kept the screws organized just by grouping them both in the alcohol soak and when drying on a Pec-Pad.

I had no screwdriver slips worth mentioning, no parts flying around (my nice new tweezers helped with that!), and I even got the date jumper spring back in without too much difficulty by holding it down with a flat piece of pegwood, as Rob suggested in a comment on my previous post. My cheap toolkit includes a pin vise, which made removing and reinserting the cannon pinion pretty easy, I just had to realize what it was for. I put the hands in while resting the movement on a piece of glass so I wouldn't break the center jewel.

I used this to clean the pivots of the balance wheel.

The most harrowing bit was cleaning the balance wheel assembly. I did this by carefully lifting the balance wheel out of the way, and pegging out the jewel. Then I put a pinhead-sized blob of Rodico on the pegwood, and cleaned the pivot with that. I don't think I damaged anything, but it was tricky. The cap jewel was easy because it has an antishock spring that's made to be released and put back. Not as easy as Incabloc, though, but still totally manageable.

One thing that I've found interesting about this watchmaking thing is that everything has so many uses. Glass can be used as a work surface, or to help buff things. Rodico is intended primarily for cleaning things, but it's also very handy to hold small parts when oiling them, or get them to stay put when assembling. Pegwood can be used for all kinds of things; to hold things down, to move them out of the way, to clean them, and so on. Oil pins are for oiling, but they're also very handy to nudge things into place; the pallet fork, for example. I'm sure there's a vast repertoire of tips and tricks to be learned out there, from others, or just by experimentation.

Parts drying on Pec-Pads, under drinking glasses to protect them from dust. And the cat.

All in all, this exercise exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. I fully expected to wreck my first watch, and whatever problems may still appear, I haven't wrecked it. I haven't even made it much uglier; if you look closely enough, you can see some marks from my inept handling of the screwdrivers, especially the first time I took the movement apart, but nothing that stands out.

This took most of today, with relatively frequent breaks.

This has been an enormous learning experience, and I've loved every minute of it (except the one where I stupidly lost a screw a few days ago—not through a tweezers incident, but by just leaving them on my work surface instead of putting them on the parts tray.)

So thanks for the help, everyone. Suggestions are most welcome, and corrections to procedure are even more welcome.

My next project is a Wehrmachtswerk. It'll be a few weeks before I get to it, though, since I'll be traveling next weekend, and I don't want to do this on weekdays when I'm tired and impatient.


Correction: The movement is actually the 1802, not the 0800. Thanks to Stephen of Sweephand's Vintage Citizen Watch Blog for setting me straight.


  1. Hi Petteri, nice work, and very well presented in your blog :) And good to see an old Citizen being revived! I collect vintage Citizens but can only do very basic work on them.

    By the way, I think the movement in yours is in fact an 1802 rather than 0200. The 1802 is the date window version of the long lived 'Homer' movement. I think you can see the number stamped on the movement plate in one of your pics.


  2. Thanks for the correction -- you're absolutely right, it is the 1802. I went by Ranfft's movement archive, but somehow missed that one. I thought the 0200 was the only one that matched.

    And thanks for stopping by.

  3. Nice to find some one with the same nerdy hobby that I have myself :). I have some questions regarding the cleaning process that maybe you can give me some suggestions to.

    I've cleaned my movements using the same simple ultrasonic machine as yourself. I paid about 500 SEK (less than 50 euros) for it and it seems that it does an ok job. For cleaning solution I been using a
    German water based solution called "Elma Reinungskonzentrat 1:9" created to be used for ultrasonic cleaning of watch movements (

    For my first clean I used Zippo lighter fuel for rinsing (I've seen people using Ronson lighter fuel and I guess Zippo does the same job). The rinsing left only small traces of dried fluid (water I guess) on the
    bridges that I removed with Rodico. Using Zippo for rinsing was an expensive and probably unhealthy alternative.

    Before my second clean I ran across your blog and saw that you used Isopropyl alcohol for rinsing and I decided to try this instead. I got hold of a bottle of 99,5% clean Isopropanl alcohol (really cheap
    comparing with the Zippo).

    The result however is doubtful. I got a lot of residues. Mainly noteable on the larger parts (bridges etc.). I made two cleans, rinsing and drying the parts in between. I did not rinse the parts in
    water in between.

    I'm not much of a chemist and I don't fully understand the suitability of the combination of fluids I have used. Maybe I should add a rinse in water between the cleaning and rinse in alcohol? Maybe the leaning solution from Elma requires some more elegant rinsing fluid. Elma offers rinsing solutions as well, which would probably be the best solution, but I haven't been able to get my hold of any.

    Any suggestions?



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