How To: Re-attach dial feet with a soldering machine

A common problem – broken off dial feet. As a regular reader of this blog you will know that I dislike dial pads (the sticky bits that people stick dials to movements with) quite a bit, and I don’t have any in my workshop, and I hope I will never have.

They are basically pure evil. Not only do they make the dial stick up too far from the movement, but they don’t hold properly and will move with time. So don’t even think about using them 😉

I have a couple of watches in my workshop that need new dial feet, and Neil, one of the poor clients suffering from broken feet, pointed me to a dial soldering machine on eBay. This is just what I wanted, so I went out and bought one. Not cheap, but if it does what it says on the tin, well worth the money.

The machine arrived, and I did some trials on an old dial, and wasn’t happy enough. With a couple of emails to Peter from watchlume.com, who sells the machine, we got things sorted, and he changed the design a bit, and I was very happy with the result.

To demonstrate how to solder on dial feet, I am using a cheap quartz watch. The movement doesn’t work any more, so I buy a new one – but of course the dial feet don’t fit any more, as the holes on the movement are in different positions. Quite a common problem for anyone dealing with changing quartz movements …

Having taken the feet that don’t fit the movement off, I now have to find the exact position for the new feet on the dial – not easy. I start off by putting bits of copper wire that have the right diameter (here 0.7mm) into the dial feet holes of the movement. To be able to mark the position, I put some blue grease (Moebius) on top of the wire, as you can see in the photo.

You can see how the grease leaves a very distinct blue dot where the dial foot has to go. I mark the position of the dot with a cross that I scratch into the dial, so I can find the position again with the grease gone. That done, I carefully remove the grease, as grease and soldering are no friends.

Having removed the grease, I scratch off the varnish that covers the dial back. Even if your dial is not varnished, you have to create a fresh, clean surface for soldering.

Now I cut a small length of copper wire, level off the end, and dunk it into some flux. This stuff still has a price tag of DM 1.50 on it, and I think I bought it in 1986. Still good for a couple of decades. This flux has been to Africa, Germany and England, and I’m not going to part with it any time soon 😉

I also apply a tiny amount of flux to the dial, and then cut off the smallest possible amount of solder. This is very thin solder for electronic work, and that’s just the right stuff. You really only want a tiny tiny amount. Too much, and you have too much solder riding up the foot, which makes it too thick.

You fix the wire in place with the crocodile clamp, and apply current. Within a second, the wire heats up, and the solder melts. Just when it starts to spread properly, stop the current, and you will have a perfect joint.

With both feet attached, I cut the wire to length, and flatten it at the top, and take the burr off (not yet removed in the photo). We’re ready to roll!

So after all, the quartz watch was worthwhile saving – it’s a quite nice looking Swiss Army watch, and Joris got it from his girlfriend 20 years ago!

I had to reposition the feet once, as the dial wasn’t quite in the right position. You can re-heat the feet in the dial soldering machine, and slightly move them, so that’s feasible. Not easy, and the whole operation takes me a good hour. But not only did I save Joris watch, I also got some useful experience with my new dial soldering machine.

20 thoughts on “How To: Re-attach dial feet with a soldering machine

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  4. She doesn’t know I sent it off to get it fixed, so it’s going to be nice surprise I think when she sees that you fixed her present 🙂

    As always a clear and concisely written ‘how to’.

    Thanks!

  5. That’s a useful ability and tool to have; I have tried it with my normal soldering iron with mixed results…

    The problem I would really like to solve is when the foot pokes through the dial itself – looks like they are passed through from the business side and then over-painted so they really bigger up the dial when they come adrift 🙁

  6. That’s a useful ability and tool to have; I have tried it with my normal soldering iron with mixed results…

    The problem I would really like to solve is when the foot pokes through the dial itself – looks like they are passed through from the business side and then over-painted so they really bigger up the dial when they come adrift 🙁

    • Well, Cirrus, the only real solution is to have someone make you an entirely new dial. They can’t be patched, filled, overpainted. Believe me. I got caught out this way and it’s a horrible, horrible feeling. To me, this is a crime as serious as horse thieving and should be punished similarly.

      And as to dial feet…don’t get me started.

      • Dial pads, I meant dial pads. Death to dial pads. Death to dial pads. Death to dial pads. Death to dial pads. Death to dial pads. Death to dial pads. Death to dial pads. Death to dial pads.

      • I suspect filling and repainting my damaged dial would be possible, but then the repair would be exactly where you need to mount new feet. It’s a shame really as the dial is otherwise lovely.

        • Hi Cirrus, I’m not sure about that. I sent pictures of mine to DR Bill, oft-mentioned in these parts, and they wouldn’t touch it. Same with another dial refinisher here in the UK.
          The solution was to have them make a new dial, which was surprisingly reasonably priced. I suspect there is more flexing and settling going on across a dial face than you might suspect, and guess that an filler would soon come away; both refinishers felt that they would never be able to accomplish a surface evenly blended enough, too. So….

          • The problem with making a new dial, I think, is the damaged one has “applied” markers formed by stamping then out from the rear. The Tissot and SeaStar markings are seperate pieces though, so in that respect it would be easy enough…

          • They pushed out the old markers and reapplied them! Glad it was them doing that and not me!

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