But when I'm at the bench for long stretches like this, working on a single component, my mind wanders. I start to think about how it must have felt to be doing this 200 years ago, as an apprentice to a working clockmaker. Was the shop that different to mine, the vise, the files? Did they put in 8 hours a day, 10, 12? What about lighting and vision. I have an Optivisor to get up close to the work; how did they manage without modern lighting and optics?
As for productivity, my experience this week reminds me that past masters of this art were a very special class of maker. I am amazed at their sheer output; How did they push out so much work with just simple hand tools?
The traditional approach to crossing out a wheel is to remove most of the waste material by hand with a piercing saw, on a V-block of some sort, and then use files to finish the surface. This method comes with serious bragging rights. To take a component from raw metal to finished component without any power tool assistance takes not only skill, but a huge amount of time. Something that the modern world generally does not reward. This approach naturally leads to a very traditional appearance (every part slightly different, square corners at the intersection of spoke perimeter etc.), and is therefore still employed by bespoke makers of the finest quality items.
The modern approach is to use a CNC mill to remove the waste stock, or better yet wire EDM. Much faster, repeatable, and therefore financially rewarding. In each case, needle files and polishers can still be used to bring the profile of the spokes to a more traditionally correct appearance.
But this raises the question that vexes today's makers of clocks, watches and fine instruments: Is the CNC'd component really traditional? If an individual maker did not toil over it with needle file in hand from start to finish, does it still qualify? To what extent can we employ the time saving tools of the 21st century, and still claim the title "Hand Made"?
I have to admit that my own thoughts on this are still evolving. I absolutely love the hand tool tradition of classical watch and clock making. I use traditional tools and techniques as much as possible, and to the extent that I can still source the tools and materials. But I do use some power tools like a belt sander and scroll saw to speed things up. And I see some of my favourite makers embracing CNC with gusto, and watch their productivity shoot through the roof. It's hard not to be tempted.
So where do you sit on the spectrum - "Old School" all the way, or ready to roll with the latest the 21st century has to offer? Let me know in the comments.
As always, thanks for dropping by,