So you think you can turn?

Winding stem? Easy! What ya got next?

Balance staffs….

They make winding stems look like rolls of carpet. 

A few millimetres long, a couple of millimetres at their widest point, steps, gradients, undercuts and conical pivots burnished to a perfect finish. How hard can it be?

Plenty hard. That’s how hard. 

In fairness, the turning is just progression of the skills practiced on winding stems. The dimensions and tolerances are smaller but the principles remain the same. Rotate a piece of metal in a lathe and use another piece of metal to cut bits off it until it’s the right shape. 

Burnishing I had a real problem with at first. Turning removes metal, burnishing rubs a harder piece of metal on to your work piece in order to compress the surface, making a stronger, smoother ‘skin’. In this case to reduce friction as the pivot rotates in the jewel. 

I spent 2 weeks achieving nothing but snapped pivots. Persistence pays off but we’re all human and the frustration began to build as my classmates all appeared to be progressing with relative ease. 

Then it clicked. It wasn’t the technique I was struggling with, I simply hadn’t found ‘the feel’. I had been misinterpreting just what burnishing should feel like through the fingertips. I had been chasing a smooth, rolling sensation. Whenever I found that, the balance staff would shift in its runner and either no progress would be made or the pivot would snap.

Then I found a slightly rougher sensation as I passed the burnisher across the pivot. Instantly I was getting results. Results that I could consistently reproduce! I’d cracked it and never looked back. 

I must stress that my inability to progress does not reflect badly on my tutors. They gave me guidance and suggestions at every stage but micro-mechanics at this level is very much about finding your own technique and ‘feel’. It’s about practicing, making mistakes, systematically correcting and making breakthroughs. 

In February I passed my balance staff exam. 2 exams done, 2 exams passed, no resits required and the micro-mechanics portion of the course boxed off. 

I’m not too bad at this lark. 


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