If you are going to start working on watches then one of the first things that you need to consider purchasing is a good set of watchmakers screwdrivers.
Until I began in the world of watchmaking I didn't realise just how complicated selecting a set of watchmakers screwdrivers could be. In this article I'm going to break down everything you need to know about screwdrivers for watch repair so that you don't end up purchasing the wrong tools and ultimately find yourself wasting time and money.
Why are good watchmakers screwdrivers so important?
It's common practice when somebody decides that they want to take apart a wrist watch to just purchase the cheapest set of small screwdrivers they can find. The majority of these are made in either India or China and although they may look OK at first glance as soon as you start using one of the mini screwdrivers you will start to realise why they were so cheap.
Cheap watchmakers screwdrivers tend to have imperfections that you will not find in a higher quality set of screwdrivers. For example, the screwdriver blades are often made of a very soft metal so they lose their profile very quickly resulting in slippage and damaging of screwheads. They also lack a decent action on the top of the handle so when used don't glide and rotate smoothly like more superior ball-bearing based handles.
These differences may be acceptable in larger tools but when working on delicate parts often smaller than 1mm it's vital to have good control and precision quality.
Lets begin by breaking down the parts of the watchmakers screwdriver to understand what really matters.
The money is in the handles
The most expensive part of the watchmakers screwdriver is the handle. The ends are usually universally coloured so you can quickly identify which screwdriver size you are working with. All the top brands use the same colour coding system:
- Green - 200
- Grey - 140
- Red - 120
- Black - 100
- Yellow - 80
- White - 60
The number next to the colour refers to the blade width in millimeters.
Good watchmakers screwdriver handles will have a hexagonal end piece, this is to ensure that they do not roll when put down on the bench.
Image courtesy of taylorhorology
The handles themselves are usually made from stainless steel and knurled to produce a shaft that has a nice grip to its surface. In recent years an ergonomic handle has been produced that offers a rubberised coating onto the shaft of the handle but the general consensus is that these are best left alone as they "desensitize the true feel" of the screwdriver.
Finally, all good watchmakers screwdrivers will have a ball bearing swivel action on the top piece of the screwdriver handle. This is vital when working on delicate parts because anything short of a smooth rotation as you screw or unscrew could result in a slip and a slide off the screw and onto more important watch parts.
Selecting the best screwdriver blades
Now lets look at the blades themselves. The screwdriver blade is the working end and needs to be kept in "tip top" condition at all times. No matter what watchmakers screwdriver set you purchase you will have to re-dress and resharpen the blades on a regular basis.
In the image you will notice the tiny grub screw that is used to hold the blade in position. It is by loosening and tightening this screw that you can replace your screwdriver blades. In cheap screwdrivers you will notice that this small grub screw often fails to grip the blade correctly causing the blade to rotate during use. Not great when screwing and un-screwing!
The quality of the metal used for the blades will make your life much easier. Very soft blades will simply twist and deform under pressure and not hold their profile. Simply put you will be sharpening your screwdrivers more than using them.
Screwdriver blades need to be of a very good quality because the torque that is generated through such a small tip is very high.
Due to huge variations in watch screws, screwdriver blades will often have to be reshaped for different watches and their screws.
Selecting the correct sized screwdriver that is the same width of the screw slot is vital to avoid damaging the both the screw head or the surrounding areas of the screw.
Do you need a stand?
When purchasing your screwdrivers you will have the choice of whether to purchase them in a rotating stand, a wooden box or a plastic wallet.
The choice is really yours here as this doesn't affect the quality of the screwdrivers themselves. The ones in stands are often good to keep all the screwdrivers together for easy selection and usually come with a collection of replacement blades inside the stand. The ones in plastic wallets are often cheaper due to material costs.
Should you buy a set or individuals?
You will also find that you can purchase your watchmakers screwdrivers either as a set or as individuals. Many sets are often too large and a waste of money, they include screwdriver sizes that are too large and rarely used.
The most common watchmakers screwdriver sizes that I use and I think you will find most people use are:
- Grey - 140
- Red - 120
- Black - 100
- Yellow - 80
For working on some pocket watches you may need a slightly larger size but for wristwatches these sizes are very popular.
So purchasing a set of 10 or more watchmakers screwdrivers in a set is often a waste of money. For many people just purchasing these 4 screwdrivers but in the best quality they can afford would be a wiser investment.
The 3 best watch screwdriver brands
There are 3 screwdriver brands that I can recommend and they are all Swiss/French made.
- A*F Switzerland
All of the above brands will supply you with a product that you will be happy with. A*F are generally a little bit cheaper and Bergeon and Horotec are roughly the same price.
In my opinion Horotec are a slightly better product and you can really feel the quality when you use them. I own a set of both Horotec and Bergeon screwdrivers and I find I mostly use the Horotec ones because I like the way they feel.
Making the right buying decision
So now you have a better understanding of watchmakers screwdrivers you should be able to better decide which screwdrivers are for you.
In my opinion you should always buy the best quality screwdrivers you can afford. A good set of watchmakers screwdrivers will last you for many years and become something that you treasure.
If you cannot afford to purchase a full set of screwdrivers then just purchase the most popular sizes and get the rest when you can afford them.
Using good tools is always a pleasure. Trust me!