American PW Rusty Balance Staffs

Discussion in 'Watch Repair' started by Glen Wheelus, Jun 16, 2016.

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  1. Glen Wheelus

    Glen Wheelus Registered User
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    Nov 24, 2015
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    I need some advice. We all know that parts are getting harder to come by now days. I acquired some staffs off eBay for some repair work and noticed that some of the vials had rusty staffs, even down on the pivots. Question: can these be cleaned up and how? And if there is rust down on the pivots, is that staff worthless. Thank you.

    PS: Looking for other sources for pocket watch parts, other than eBay. Any ideas?
     
  2. Dave Coatsworth

    Dave Coatsworth Super Moderator
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    Feb 11, 2005
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    I've successfully removed minor surface rust by chucking the staff up in the lathe and using a fine fiberglass brush.
     
  3. karlmansson

    karlmansson Registered User

    Apr 20, 2013
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    Tea can be used to eat away rust due to the mild acids in tea. It
    will however leave the entire metal surfaces discolored and almost black. You would probably need to re-polished. Non critical surfaces can be abraded but there are very few of those on a balance staff.

    I never had to resort to using these methods for very sensitive parts, just sharing my experience with rust removal!

    Best regards

    Karl
     
  4. Glen Wheelus

    Glen Wheelus Registered User
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    Nov 24, 2015
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    Thanks Karl

    - - - Updated - - -

    Thank you
     
  5. ANDY YALE

    ANDY YALE Registered User
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    Jun 14, 2013
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    I got a bunch of rusty staffs as well. If I ever can identify what they are, and need to use them, I would try one of two methods to clean them up: electrolysis, which does a good job of removing surface rust without abrading, or - and this is in the realm of theory, not having tried it yet - run them in a vinegar bath in the ultrasonic.
     
  6. Glen Wheelus

    Glen Wheelus Registered User
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    Nov 24, 2015
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  7. Jerry Treiman

    Jerry Treiman Registered User
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    Aug 25, 2000
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    I have bought old balance staff assortments where some of the staffs have a light oxidation. When I have tried to use them I polish the staff to a clean bright surface and then see if it will still fit the balance wheel and roller table. Pivots usually need reduction anyway. If the corrosion was too severe they are goners. I would be concerned that any chemical rust removal would leave a pitted and unsatisfactory finish, especially for the pivots.
     
  8. ANDY YALE

    ANDY YALE Registered User
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    Jun 14, 2013
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    I moved from the realm of theory to practice - I took a number of rusty staffs and ran them through the ultrasound in a vinegar bath. To be specific, I put them in a small corked vial full of Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar at 5% acidity and ran them for 5 minutes. Then I washed them in running water, put them in an isopropyl alcohol bath to help drive off moisture, and dried them in a convection oven. The photos show the before and after.
    I think the result is good, but if I was going to try one of these staffs in a watch, I would clean it again in my usual cleaning soloution after the vinegar. Then I would try to put a light polish on the pivots before trying it in a movement. b3.jpg b4.jpg b1.jpg b2.jpg
    The photos loaded backwards for some unknown reason.
    Some of the observations Jerry makes above may make the whole maneuver moot - the vinegar took off the surface rust, but the critical dimensions of the staff may still be distorted by the pitting.
    I'm going to try to find a staff for one of the several movements I have that need one in the large batch of rusty staffs that these are a sample of. Then I will proceed to the next step and see what verdict reality has for my theory.
     
  9. Jerry Treiman

    Jerry Treiman Registered User
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    Aug 25, 2000
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    I am very impressed with Andy's results. I think this may be a practical first step for the next time I need to use one of my marginal staffs.
     
  10. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User

    Feb 5, 2007
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    This is a real problem. Staffs may be stored for decades and when you go to find one it shot.

    I like the method shown, but the staff is likely no longer fit for the piece for which it was intended. However, it can be used to replace a smaller staff.

    When I am in my bottles and I see a staff starting to rust, I immediately clean them and if there is one that has that melting look, I throw it out. Then new rust inhibitor paper.

    This is really a depressing aspect of this work; and why I refuse to allow acids (especially flux) in my shop.
     
  11. Glen Wheelus

    Glen Wheelus Registered User
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    Nov 24, 2015
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    Thanks Dewey for the information. I need to look through my staffs and clean them. You hate to trash a staff that cost $10-20 to replace.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Andy, thank you for the post. Good information for the problem I've encountered. I wasn't sure if there was a way that I could clean them.
     
  12. QBradford

    QBradford Registered User

    Jul 7, 2017
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    I used apple vinegar for a couple of lightly rusty staff. It did remove the rust without leaving any noticeable pitting, but it tarnished the staffs. They are black as night! My question is, would polishing the staff in a lathe bring it to its original luster or did the acid in the vinegar eat that off? Also, is there any other way to get the staff shiney again? Thank you for input!
     
  13. DaveyG

    DaveyG Registered User
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    Mar 21, 2005
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    To polish up tarnished staffs I chuck the staff up in the lathe and use the Micro Glass polish from a Micro Mesh Kit, applied with a piece of peg wood.
     
  14. RJSoftware

    RJSoftware Registered User

    Apr 15, 2005
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    #14 RJSoftware, Jul 13, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2017
    I'm a little more hesitant to use the vinegar in the ultrasonic trick. I have destroyed a few hairsprings by accident. Other things it works well on. Always remember that you should use ammonia to neutralize the vinegar, but never on a dial as ammonia will lift decals right off.

    A drop of penetrating oil on a Q-tip works wonders too. Can use more controlled agitation to remove rust. Just depends on how much rust and how small/delicate the part is.

    Sometimes there is nothing that can be done but find a different one.

    A strange to me fact is, that sunshine eventually destroys everything. I had thought that plastic something that last forever, but no, sunshine and the forces of weather eventually decompose it.

    But hey maybe life will last forever, even though we die we reproduce and since we may go on by reproduction we can bring our treasures with us by our descendants. So rust doesn't matter especially if we can cut a new staff...!

    So there "na na nuu na na" we humans win...! :)

    RJ
     
  15. darrahg

    darrahg Registered User
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    Dec 22, 2006
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    I keep my staffs in glass vials and add a minor amount of watch oil for rust prevention. I isolate rusty ones from my good staffs and still add the oil to slow the process. I don't usually work on the rust (by lathe) until I absolutely need one. And, I don't intentionally purchase or use staffs with rusty pivots; just my thing.
     
  16. Bohemian Bill

    Bohemian Bill Registered User
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    I also store my staffs in small glass vials with cork stoppers. I coat a liberal amount of Mobile1 oil ( my synethic clock oil) to prevent rusting or slow it down . I got the idea to started using 1/8 inch diameter cratex Xfine rubberize abrasives to clean any staff surface rust in my lathe. I use a razor blade to shape the abrasive to a point. It seems to works really well conforming to the pivot cone shape without really removing much steel material. In most instances, I have to reduce the pivots in my Jacot tool to custom fit staff to the existing balance jewels.
     
  17. DaveyG

    DaveyG Registered User
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    Mar 21, 2005
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    It might 'decompose' RJ - but it doesn't go away - it just breaks down into ever smaller parts which it is believed will be around for hundreds of years to come ;-{

    My storage process is the same as darrahg, although I use a dab of mainspring grease rather than oil. Also, whenever I use a staff from a vial, I wash the whole stock content of that vial and re-grease the ones retained.
     
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