Bluing Pocket Watch Hands - Marty B.

Discussion in 'Watch Repair' started by Kevin Neathery, Dec 19, 2018.

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  1. Kevin Neathery

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    Many of us, well I hope many because he is a great guy, know Marty (Marty101) when it comes to hands. He has spent many years perfecting the art and skill of properly bluing hands. He posted much of this journey of learning on another site that is in danger of going away.

    I though it would be important to preserve this information for anyone looking to try and learn the art. The following posts came from the site. This will take a bit of time so please hold off on any comments until I post THE END.

    I will posting the entire thread so if you are a participant on the other site and you see your post and want it removed please let me know.
     
  2. Kevin Neathery

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    file.jpg


    I have been generously supplied with about 20 hands from Bryan E. to practice my bluing skills on. I've been determined to get this art/skill down and have tried several methods, the least of which is using your wife's oven... icon_e_wink.gif Save some time and effort, and maybe your marriage, and watch me post a traditional bluing experience. For anyone out there who decides to follow this path,maybe I can help you- and keep you from giving up. This can take practice-but a little guidance never hurts either.
     
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    file.jpg

    Here's one more-
     
  4. Kevin Neathery

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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Wed Jan 14, 2009 4:54 pm

    I find it helps to set the hands up on cardboard with either pins or thin gauge wire; it just makes using my rotary tool polishing easier...Still, I know some guys like to put the tool in a table vise and have their hands free.
    I do,too-but my hands aren't as dependable anymore-and these little guys are hard to find after ricoheting off the walls! icon_cry.gif
    file.jpg
     
  5. Kevin Neathery

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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:02 pm

    Here they are after being polished enough to remove any old blue and rust. As you can see,they are still badly scratched and pitted.
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:32 pm

    A closer look the damage. It's important to try and get as close to a mirror shine as possible, it will mean a more even blue in the end.
    I'm using 400 grit silicon carbide mixed with light machine oil-I should probably be using 200 grit. (I'll have to order some!) I have found that after an hour or so the attention can begin to wander; be careful. In an eyeblink a hand can disappear into deep space!
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by aditya » Thu Jan 15, 2009 3:46 am

    This is an extremely interesting thread, since I have got a lot of old english pocket watches with missing hands. And I intend to make hands for them some day icon_exclaim.gif

    Aditya
     
  8. Kevin Neathery

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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Thu Jan 15, 2009 5:38 pm

    Aditya,
    It would be nice to see how that's done. If you decide to try,why not show your progress like I am?
    Meanwhile-I have a lot more polishing to do...
     
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    [​IMG]by aditya » Fri Jan 16, 2009 4:12 am

    Marty,

    So far I have only tried making brass hands. Will start a new thread with details

    Aditya
     
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    [​IMG]by chief » Sat Jan 17, 2009 4:31 pm

    Marty, Good thread, keep up the nice work. Original hands are becoming hard to find.
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Sat Jan 17, 2009 6:06 pm

    I've discovered that polishing hands goes much faster by "hand"-especially when deeply pitted and scratched. I'm surprised that I haven't heard of other members using wet/dry sandpaper; I happened to have some 600 grit and it worked beautifully. I even ordered more; 800 and 1,000 grit for better finishing. I suppose the rotary tool is OK for finishing work, but I'll never use it to begin again. Working the hands by "hand" is not only much quicker, but there is more control and results are much improved.
    In most cases it was a judgement call deciding whether to polish more or not. A couple hands broke from getting too thin; the more damaged ones forced me to compromise. Still, I expect to do better with the higher grades of sandpaper next time.
    file.jpg
     
  12. Kevin Neathery

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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Sat Jan 17, 2009 6:07 pm

    One more pic'-
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Cary Hurt » Sat Jan 17, 2009 8:02 pm

    Marty,

    I've long used 3M wet-dry silicon carbide paper for my finer polishing, though I rarely use anything larger than 800, and am much more likely to use 1000, 1600 and 2000. It's available in small packs at large discount stores in the auto parts department (with the touch-up paint), or from auto parts stores in larger packs and different formats (strips, rounds, etc.)

    I also use it (backed with a small piece of plate glass) to put the final edge on my screwdrivers.

    2000 grit paper will bring steel to a mirror finish faster than most people would imagine.

    Regards,

    Cary
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Sun Jan 18, 2009 12:11 am

    Chief and Cary,
    Thanks-I really am fine tuning this, and only just discovered how easy the hand work is. It's actually what I've always done outside of horology,but I took it for granted a rotary tool was the way to go.
    Working with very damaged hands is a challenge-but what better way to gain experience? I'm finding out what the limits are in every step,and hopefully I'll learn exactly how far I can push a repair job without damage or loss.

    Soon I'll be bluing these hands-I use an alcohol lamp and broze home-made spatula, but I may switch to a copper one out of necessity. My brass is thin and warped, the uneven surface is an added challenge I don't need.
    Can anyone tell me if copper is OK? Hopefully by Monday I'll be cooking these guys... icon_e_smile.gif
     
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    [​IMG]by Joseph T. Collins » Mon Jan 19, 2009 9:51 pm

    Marty,

    What kind of brass do you need to make a spatula? I have a brass bar 1/8" X 3/8" X 9" that you are welcome to if it will help.

    Joe
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Mon Jan 19, 2009 11:04 pm

    Joe,
    That's mighty kind of you, but what I'm looking for is something with the approximate dimensions of a playing card,
    maybe up to 1/8 inch thick.
     
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    [​IMG]by aditya » Tue Jan 20, 2009 5:26 am

    Marty,

    I am eager to see the results of your bluing experiments.


    As for hand polishing, I made this tool sometime back (link below)
    http://www.bhi.co.uk/aHints/frog.html
    It is a screw head polisher & I made it out of brass, but you can shellac hands on the undersurface to polish them.
    I will post pictures when I try it.

    Aditya
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Tue Jan 20, 2009 9:34 pm

    Well,friends,I ve had a little trouble. This has happened to me before, and I haven't been able to pin down the cause. Certain hands seem to blue just fine, and others give me a hard time. Either I'm making the same stupid mistake over and over- or it's the metal itself, the shape, or something one of you can help me with...

    The "easy" ones first-
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Tue Jan 20, 2009 9:36 pm

    Now the trouble-makers... I will be re-bluing these; when this happens sometimes it can take 4 or 5 tries to get a nice even blue. I sure hope a solution is out there.
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Stephan » Tue Jan 20, 2009 9:51 pm

    I think you have done just fine. This is just my own opinion but I think there are times when a perfect new looking hand appears
    out of place on a 120 year old watch with a bit of honest wear. On such a watch I would prefer a hand that is not 100%.
    Somehow it looks more in keeping with the rest.
    However I do appreciate that the ones you really want to get correct will be the ones that cause trouble.
    Could the effect be due to some kind of contamination left from the cleaning and polishing ?
     
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    [​IMG]by BKERR » Tue Jan 20, 2009 10:16 pm

    I believe you would be better off using copper. The heat will distribute more evenly and quicker. Playing card, why so big? I
    remember reading about metal (brass or copper) shavings put into a can which made for good heat distribution as well. Good luck!
     
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    [​IMG]by Cary Hurt » Tue Jan 20, 2009 10:21 pm

    Marty,

    Those look great, especially considering their previous condition.

    The discoloration on your problem pieces is likely from a touch of residual oil left over from an errant fingerprint. Did you degrease the hands before heating them? There could also be tiny variations in the steel that can cause different cooling rates, which will affect color. Hard to imagine in these tiny parts, but anything that changes the rate at which the metal heats and cools (as any contact with something that may act as a heat sink) can alter the color.

    Even the bad ones look pretty good to me.

    Cary
     
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    [​IMG]by Stephan » Tue Jan 20, 2009 10:39 pm

    I don't know if this would work but many years ago I used to have to make small custom springs.
    They were made from flat material usually 10 to 20 thou thick and about 1/4 inch wide and up to 2 inches long.
    They often had strange bends and other interesting features and after they were made we had to harden them.
    First they were heated to bright red and quenched in oil. (That won't help you much)
    Then they had to be polished and tempered to a dark straw colour.
    This was done with some kind of salts (alas I don't know the name)
    When cold it was just a solid white block but when heated the stuff would become a clear liquid.
    The container we used was made from steel and had a basket inside. You heated from underneath with a gas flame.
    We would cut strips of bright mild steel the same thickness and width as the springs.
    As the salts heated you would put a strip in the salt, count to 10 and then pull it out to cool and see what colour it went.
    Once we got a dark straw result we would turn off the gas, drop in the springs and count to 10 and out they came, done and dusted.
    The usual batch was about 10 springs and we were not going for colour but temper which is a slightly different target.
    Just thought it might give you another idea to try.
     
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    [​IMG]by Chris Daniel » Wed Jan 21, 2009 12:22 am

    Marty,

    I've been a bench jeweler for 20 years and have worked with all kinds of metals. I've used a piece of 18ga (1mm) thick sterling silver as a spatula for bluing hands and it's worked very well. Silver heats up very evenly, this is why some jewelers dont like to size silver rings with heat sensitive stones in them. As soon as you put the torch to the back of the ring the whole thing heats up. This doesn't happen with gold or platinum. I'd be happy to send you a piece if you'd like to try it.

    Chris
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Wed Jan 21, 2009 2:56 am

    I had no idea so many people were interested in my post!

    Let's see...Bob-I tried brass shavings and had trouble watching the color changes; what I've been using is white play sand that I re-crush. I pre-heat about 1/8 teaspoon and make a litte bed for the hand. It works better(for me) than drilling holes for the hour hand hub, and seems to have an added benefit of giving me more control and even coloring. It does have draw backs; sand must not get on top of the hand or it will leave spots. You have set the hand down gently.

    Stephan and Cary-I've been so careful and so methodical about this that I'm really at a loss. It may be contamination,I may be doing it to myself-but like I said it only seems to be certain hands. Maybe it is a lower grade of steel, or a kind of metal fatigue from the repeated heating-I'm guessing now. But these "trouble-makers" react different to the heat; they will have spots that heat fast or slow-or even refuse to change color. They also take much longer to blue; the "good" hands seem almost like they want to blue in comparison. Like I said before-it can take 4-5 tries, and even then I'm usually settling for less than I like. They are great for practising on and learning patience... icon_rolleyes.gif
    It may be hands that are older-say pre 1910-are more likely to be trouble.( Please remember my experience is very limited!)

    Chris- your offer is greatly appreciated! I can't wait to try anything that may help, and this sounds very interesting. I'm convinced that mastery of this skill/art includes control of small, quick heat changes for even coloring. Silver may just be a big help for these hands that are so stubborn; it will be very interesting to try this. My mailing address is 351 - 37 Street, Niagara Falls,N.Y. 14303. Please let me pay for the shipping,OK?

    I have never met a more generous and helpful group of men.
     
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    [​IMG]by richiec » Wed Jan 21, 2009 3:29 am

    As they said years ago, You are a better man than I am Gunga Dihn. thanks for your testing, patience and posting on this project Marty, I know that blueing steel is tough and just getting the right temperature is very difficult so keep up the good work and maybe come down with your formula for blueing hands.
     
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    [​IMG]by Chris Daniel » Wed Jan 21, 2009 4:02 am

    Marty,

    No problem. I'll get it in the mail in the next couple of days. I will put a few different size holes in the plate so you can recess hour hands so they lie flat against the plate. Also, real small holes can be used to put screws in upright for blueing. I have found the trick is to watch for the color change to just begin then pull the spatula out of the flame. The silver will continue to heat the hands and you will then see the blue color appear. It's all timing and having as much of the hand in contact with the silver as possible for an even transfer of heat. Good Luck!

    Chris
     
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    [​IMG]by aditya » Wed Jan 21, 2009 4:19 am

    Marty,

    That is really excellent work !! I have been too intimidated by bluing, must try it some time.

    BTW, I remember reading in 'Practical Watch Repair' By DeCarle that over polishing sometimes results in imperfect bluing.

    Cheers
     
  29. Kevin Neathery

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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Wed Jan 21, 2009 3:40 pm

    Chris,
    I'm sure looking forward to this; the way you describe the heat staying with the silver after it's taken from the flame sounds like unbelieveable control-it may just be what some hands need.
    Between that and the brass replacement Joe is sending me, I'll be in spatula heaven-tools don't come my way easily and I can't thank the men here at Global enough.

    Aditya! I have that book, my friend Mike sent it to me recently - I have been comparing it to Fried's. How about saving me time and telling me what page that polishing info is on? I'll check it out; thanks.

    I have a question. How important do you consider polishing the backs of hands? I used to consider it equally important, but I'm starting to wonder...I think cleaning rust and dirt are a must, but a nice shine isn't.
    Any comments?
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Wed Jan 21, 2009 5:46 pm

    Here's another determined try at those "trouble" hands...better but nothing to brag about. Same bad spots; one thing I'm noticing is that many of the spots are in the same place-that seems important. I would guess the metal to be at fault if this is the case...Perhaps damage from pitting and etc. that can no longer be seen due to polishing causes this...I have noticed that a straightened bent hand can have a "fracture" mark when blued.

    Please don't forget my question above about polishing the backs of hands...No fair just lookin' at the pic's! icon_e_wink.gif
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Chris Daniel » Wed Jan 21, 2009 9:17 pm

    Marty,

    I wouldn't do much to the back of the hands. Lightly scrape loose rust thats it. You would just be making the hands thinner by removing more metal with the polishing. There is alot in this hobby by knowing when enough is enough. icon_e_smile.gif

    Chris
     
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    [​IMG]by Chris Daniel » Wed Jan 21, 2009 9:52 pm

    Marty,

    I think a playing card size spatula is way too large. What I am sending you is much smaller. The larger the surface area of the spatula the harder it is to heat it up correctly. Just my opinion of course.

    Chris
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Thu Jan 22, 2009 12:34 am

    Chris,
    I'm sure you are correct about spatula size; I ended up with a piece that size by chance and just kept it...at that time I thought it might be possible to blue several hands at once... icon_e_confused.gif !

    As for polishing the back of the hands I see your point. Badly damaged hands were tough to keep from breaking in half-it's hard to know when "enough is enough" until you gain a little experience.
     
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    [​IMG]by aditya » Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:36 am

    Marty101 wrote:Aditya! I have that book, my friend Mike sent it to me recently - I have been comparing it to Fried's. How about saving me time and telling me what page that polishing info is on? I'll check it out; thanks.


    It's at the end of the chapter "Making New Parts", page 176-177 in the edition I have got.

    Aditya
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Sat Jan 24, 2009 1:59 pm

    I have some important info from mdavis570 (an ebay seller of silicon carbide paper of great quality and price) that has answered some questions.
    Cary suggested that I use certain size grits,much larger and finer than what I was using. I said that I was using 600 grit for hands-he suggested that at least double that was probably the size to use.

    It turns out we were both correct, and there are two different grading systems that vary greatly-at least doubling the size. A "CAMI" 1000 grit equals between P2000 and P2500 grit FEPA scale.

    Here's more-http://www.i-car.com/html_pages/technical_information/advantage/advantage_online_archives/2002/072902.shtml
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Tue Jan 27, 2009 4:58 pm

    Aditya,
    I found that info from DeCarle's book; I have to admit it confuses me a bit. But I'll take it into consideration and remember it in the future.
    I expect to be posting some pic's of wet/dry papering hands in a day or so, and of anything else if there's any suggestions.- icon_question.gif
    Soon - Marty
     
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    [​IMG]by Stephan » Tue Jan 27, 2009 11:23 pm

    I once spent some time talking to a tool maker while he was polishing a plastic moulding die cavity.
    These have a mirror finish on them and he was using an oil with diamond dust in it.
    The polishing was done by applying the oil and then rubbing with a variety of small timber fingers of varying shape.
    I can't tell you much more than that but someone in the trade might know more about the process.
     
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    [​IMG]by Dutto » Wed Jan 28, 2009 3:01 am

    Hi Marty,
    I have a couple of sets of hands that need blueing and would like to try doing it so if posible can you show the hands sitting on the
    spatula and then after you get them to the right temp show what happens next.
    I hope I haven't asked too much of you but here in Australia I don't know of anybody that has attempted this yet and I might be the first.(not likely)
    Cheers
    Gary
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Wed Jan 28, 2009 4:08 pm

    Hey Gary!
    I'd be glad to help; let's start by getting a little more info. Have you polished the hands yet? If you've read this post through,you should know how important that is. The better the job, the better the blue.
    Remember to remove all grease/oil before bluing-don't touch them or use a dirty tweezer,etc, or you will have to start over.
    If you have gotten that far,and you believe they are ready to blue, do you have a spatula or pan that will heat up correctly? It should be made of copper,brass, or silver, and not over 1/8 inch thick. If the handle is wood or insulated that will help-it's going to get hot.
    Are you using an alcohol lamp? You should be-a steady flame is important. They are cheap on ebay;I purchased a wickless-stainless steel one for under $10.
    Most men seem to like drilling a small hole or two in the spatula for the hour hand hub to fit into-it's important for the hands to lay flat and be in contact with as much surface area as possible.

    You ask me to show the hands on the spatula-I can do that,maybe even with the flame underneath...as for pic's of them changing color that would take a partner so you're out of luck...My Sweetie is still chewin' on my first attempt using the oven-and don't bother trying. It works but you won't like the results.
    But you have to be patient and focused; the hand(do one at a time) will change color fairly quickly once it starts. It will go from the polished stainless steel to a golden yellow, and then on to purple and blue. You will learn that as it gets to the end stages of color you should either move the spatula away from the flame or remove it from the flame altogether-it will depend on the thickness of the spatula,the metal used in it's construction, and etc.

    Remember, this is part art/part skill. It will take practice. Don't expect to get it right the first time, or the second. The wise course of action would be to get 4-5 old beat up hands,polish them with wet/dry paper and get a mirror shine(this is going to take some patience,too), maybe finish them off using a rotary tool, and try your best. You can start over with these same hands and try again; it will be much easier to polish them the second time. icon_e_wink.gif

    I expect to show some pic's of hand's being polished with the wet/dry sandpaper soon-why not post some pic's yourself?
    This isn't something you want to do without help; I found getting it 90% correct was easy, but the last 10% is tough. If you are persistant you will at least get close.

    If I can save you some time, or answer any questions, don't hesitate,my friend.
     
  40. Kevin Neathery

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    [​IMG]by Dutto » Fri Jan 30, 2009 3:38 am

    Hi,
    Thanks for the reply and yes I have read through and I haven't started yet as I don't have the Blueing compound yet so to start would be a waist as the hands would just start to rust until I start the process.
    I don't have a spatular yet so I will have to make myself one which leads me to why I asked for pictures so I can get an idea of sizes and how to position the hands on it.
    Also do you do both hands at the same time or seperate?
    Not to worried about the colour change just yet still have to get started.
    Cheers
    Gary
     
  41. Kevin Neathery

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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Fri Jan 30, 2009 1:54 pm

    Gary,
    Glad your back. I see you have a couple of misconceptions about this, but I'm going to post some photo's later and try to give you a better picture of how this works.
    We don't use a bluing compound, and we won't let those hands rust,either. A drop of oil or a touch of WD40 will protect them-just be very sure to clean them up again before you start.

    One hand at a time is wise. When holding the spatula and hand over the flame of your alcohol lamp, you will watch as the hand heats and begins to change color. It will go from the polished silver to golden yellow-then on to a purplish color right before the blue you want. There is no compound,no gun metal bluing,no marker pens in this. And you will see how small holes are drilled in the spatula to allow the hub of the hour hand to fit in and lay flat. Here are my two spankin' new spatulas (thanks to generous Global members) with an hour hand on each; the silver is 1-1/2 inches by 1" and about 1/16" thick, the brass is about 2-1/2" by 1-3/4" and ground down to 1/8 inch thick. Either of these are fine; the experience will be a bit different with each one and is a matter of what's available or personal preference. Just make sure they're nice and flat.
    The pic's-
    file.jpg
     
  42. Kevin Neathery

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    [​IMG]by leghorn » Sun Feb 01, 2009 12:01 am

    Hi Marty

    I am following your journey with interest, so far it looks promising. I hope that in the end , you have what you are striving for, then all of us would have gained by your experimentation.

    Frank
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Sun Feb 01, 2009 2:47 pm

    Thanks, Frank. This is for myself as much as anyone else who wants to learn; everytime I do this something improves or gets a little faster. The learning never ends-and that's good because I'd get bored quick!
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:09 am

    At the start of this post I suggested that using a rotary tool to polish the hands was the way to go. I found that a couple of other tools can make things go not only much quicker, but smoother as well...
    Before any polishing at all I suggest the use of a good rust remover that contains phospheric acid. Citric acid will work,too-just takes a little longer.
    Here are a couple before and after shots of hands that were treated; the head start provided for the next step is obvious.

    Before-
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:10 am

    And after being treated with rust remover-
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:17 am

    It's plain to see that the next step, using wet/dry sandpaper, will be much easier now. Here's a picture of the two different brands of sandpaper; one is #600 grit and the other is #1200. They are examples of the two types of grading mentioned earlier and are actually the same size grit...
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:30 am

    Another photo of simple tools used for sanding. You can either use a block or(as I prefer) a paint stick with holes drilled for the hour hand hubs. Some hands are badly damaged and require more sanding/polishing than others; judgement must be used on how thin a finished product you want to end up with.
    Also, some hands (especially hour hands) have more detail around the hub. This is hard to polish by hand without damage; I like to use a rotary tool for touching up those hard to reach spots.
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:37 am

    After polishing I soak the hands in naphtha to clean and de-grease them. Any spot of grease will ruin the bluing process; that means no fingers and a clean tweezers.
    They should now look something like this-
    (Sorry about that one hand at the very top-I'm not sure if it's brass or what)
    file.jpg
     
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    [​IMG]by Marty101 » Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:41 am

    One more angle- A couple hands have been damaged either by being bent and straightened, or by deep pitting from rust. Both of these things will leave a visible scar after they are blued and I will point them out.
    file.jpg


    The next step is the actual bluing. I'll get to it soon and show off my $8.00 wickless alcohol lamp; also and two new spatulas I posted about earlier.
     
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    [​IMG]by Dutto » Tue Feb 03, 2009 10:59 am

    Thanks Marty,
    I am paying close attention so far it looks to a rather a simple method.
    Looking forward to the next step.
    Gary
     

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