May 28, 2021

How to make a watchmaker’s lathe

What is a watchmakers lathe used for

A watchmaker’s lathe is much more than just a tool for making a watch. It is a versatile tool that you can use for a whole host of other things. First, it’s a great way to enlarge a tiny piece of wood; turning it increases the cross-section of the wood. DIY clockmaking is a popular hobby, and you can use a simple clockmaker’s lathe to create various exciting projects. Check out my blog post on building a watchmaker’s lathe to start.

Materials you will need

When making a watchmaker’s lathe, you must minimize materials and costs. However, that does not mean poor-quality materials. If you are not careful, you will send more than what is on your budget. 

Graver handle

A graver handle is a sharpening tool for your material. The grave is for engraving, mounting, sizing, shaping, and sharpening.

Degussit stone

It is an oil tank that might cost more than what is on your budget. However, there are still affordable ones that perform well.  

Drill rod

It comes in two forms water or oil hardening. You have to be aware of the model you are using. 

Tools you will need for a watchmaker lathe


The loupe allows you to handle details and the lathe parts with the needed accuracy. It helps you see every detail of a watch up close and becomes easier to work on. The standard loupe is small and round. 

You add a headband to keep the watch steady at the eye, allowing you to work with both hands-frees. Different loupes have different magnifications, and the 10X is the standard loupe. They hardly come with handles, making them compact and easy to carry.


The chuck is for pinion extending past the wheel and needs a wire chuck grip. You have to use the proper size of the chuck so that there is not much pressure applied—more pressure results in teeth damage. You set up the wheel by cementing it to cement brass. 

Carborundum wheels

These wheels are on an arbor chuck that grinds steelwork. However, it is ideal for small projects. You have to keep the carborundum particles from the bearings, which cleans the lathe

Arbor chuck

It has a solid body and is used to carry wheel cutters.

Buff chuck

It has a tapered screw on which to mount polishing buffs, and Buffing is for small tasks. 

Pivot polisher

The pivot polisher is an attachment that mounts on the lathe. It holds pivots when they are being straightened, burnished, and polished.

Tool rest

The “L” tool-rest works with the faceplate, and the design allows you to make adjustments. 


The screwdriver is sharp on both ends, and the screwdriver wrench has two-sided blades of the same diameter. They come in different sizes so that you can work on different sizes of watches. They have other qualities, and I advise you to go for the high-end models. 

Lower-quality screwdrivers increase the risk of slipping and damaging the watch. I recommend a set of screwdrivers for a wide range of different sizes for different tasks. It is also handy to buy screwdrivers with interchangeable tips. 


Tweezers are used on different tasks when working on a watch, removing and moving watching parts. There is a wide range of tweezers to choose from. 

I would not recommend cheap tweezers, as they tend to damage and scratch the watch. Investing in good-quality tweezers is what I advise you.  An anti-magnetic tweezer is ideal since it does not magnetize the watch you are working on.

Case back openers

The rubber ball is a case back that is easy to use. It helps you access the watch and its parts. There is a screw-down case back and a pop-down case back; you must remove the case back to access the movement. 

You apply pressure against the case back and unscrew it. The pop-down case is challenging to work with since you have to bend the back open. Be careful to damage the case. You are allowed to use case back knives to remove the back. 

Ultrasonic cleaner

That is the best way to clean a watch. When functioning, you do not have to put the whole watch inside the ultrasonic cleaner. Put on the bracelet, or you have to disassemble the clock. Exclude sensitive parts. The ultrasonic cleaner has access to places that the brush cannot reach. 


The timegrapher helps you check the performance and accuracy of a movement. It gives you information about the amplitude, the beat rate, and the beat error. It checks if the watch needs servicing. It also informs if there is a need for adjustments or regulation.

Pressure tester

The pressure tester helps you check the water resistance of the watches you are working on. That is for watches meant for use inside water. The pressure tester helps you know if the gaskets are applied correctly. It takes care of the dust by ensuring the watch is sealed.

Step1: Cutting the wood

The workpiece should be of the correct length. Please insert it into the lathe to get rid of the overhanging material. Apply a layered blue to make a light scribe that does not scratch the surface. It gives you visual help with the length needed. Start cutting the wood. Mount your stock into the chuck and remount it back into the lathe. Drill out a hole.

Step 2: Finishing the wood

You have to stop the watchmaker’s lathe so that you make finishes on the wood. Take a light clean-up outside the wood stock, and turn the material to be a diameter of 0.1 to 0.2 mm oversized. That gives you room to polish the workpiece to the correct size. 

Step 3: Fitting the wood

The surface of your material has to be flat and parallel. Find the center of the piece of wood from each end using a center finder. Make an indentation at the intersection. Locate it, and drive it into the end grain of the piece of wood. Tighten down the tailstock.

Step 4: Putting it together

Glue attaches wood pieces to the lathe machine. You can also screw the pieces together and ensure the wood pieces are flat.

What to do if a piece breaks

You repair the material. You either attach the broken pieces using glue or screws. If there is room for filling in some wood, you may do so.

Applying Paint and Finishing

I advise you to use the finished headstock to finish the tailstock. Tighten the tailstock down so that it does not move. If the shaft needs are exposed, mount two pieces of UHMW vertically on the tailstock. These pieces keep the tailstock accessory aligned in a better way. 

Push the tailstock against the headstock while the shaft is spinning. Make an imprint of the position where you want the hole to be. It has to line up with the headstock shaft. Use the drill to press the hole. If you drill a big hole, fit bronze bushings into the hole to reduce its diameter. The lathe shaft has to be lined up with the new holes and re-attach the chuck to the shaft. 

The Degussit stone is an oil tank that polishes your material. I advise you to run the lathe in reverse. If you are filing, start slowly to avoid damaging the tool. See our posts about Wood Lathe Projects That Sell & Using a lathe | A Detailed Guide + Video.

David D. Hughes

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