Parts Containers - The Essential Basic Tools of Watchmaking
Parts containers, also sometimes referred to as parts holders, parts trays, storage boxes, compartment boxes or just simply pots, may not be regarded as essential by some, but they sure do make life a lot easier.
You will use these every time you work on a movement, not only to store parts you've removed, but also to avoid contaminating cleaned parts with dust and other particles. They also allow you to group parts together that relate to the same section of the movement. I have quite a few of these and try to use a new parts container for each movement I am working on simultaneously on to avoid mixing-up parts.
They can also be used to safely store spare or donor watch movements and parts for future use as and when required. Make sure to label these if you do.
There is a vast array of options available to you but my points below may help you make your own choices:
First and foremost, you do not need to purchase specific parts containers from your standard watchmaking tool suppliers. There may be suitable containers around the house that can serve the same purpose. Boxes with compartments you have previously used to store screws or buttons would be perfect. Another good option is an organiser box that can be purchased from any hardware or hobby shop.
I would strongly urge you to only consider options with lids in order to keep any recently cleaned parts dust-free until you are ready to reassemble. Sometimes a movement could be in a disassembled state for weeks if you need to source a replacement part.
There are boxes that are divided into several sections, which can be used to organise parts, or boxes that contain multiple individual pots each with their own lid.
I prefer the latter. First each pot has its own lid, plus the box is sealable so there are two levels of containment if you were to accidentally drop it. Second and how I work, when I work on a movement, I like to take out the individual pot required and then return it to the box when I am done. You can also buy individual pots in various diameters as required. See how you work and find a solution that works for you.
They can be purchased in various materials including plastic and aluminium, but I find the aluminium option has the added benefit of being able to double up as cleaning pots too, which is very handy and allows you to minimise cleaning and rinsing solution waste. You cannot use cleaning fluid in plastic pots, as it will dissolve them.
Always go with a lighter colour, as it makes seeing smaller parts much easier.
Size of each section/pot is also an important factor you will need to consider. If these are too large, then you will need multiple boxes to group relevant parts together; if you go too small; then you will not be able to store movement plates or bridges together with the other parts. I've found that 3cm and 5cm diameter options work best for me. The 3cm pots are perfect for most if not all of the movement parts including plates and bridges, so this is the size of most of my parts containers. I find boxes of roughly 12-20 pots gives me enough sections to group parts as needed. The 5cm pots are perfect for most watch crystals, cases and case backs that are always bigger than the movement itself. I buy these as individual pots.
I bought various types of parts containers over the months until I understood my needs better. Originally, I bought these round plastic parts containers with rotating lids, but they were very cheaply made and did not sit flat due to the rotating pin in the centre, which made them unstable to work with. Also, the rotating lid did not sit flush on the top so there was enough space for parts to be able to jump between sections during transport.
I even bought a couple of secondhand electrician's organiser boxes from a car boot sale for a pound. I still use them for disassembled parts, but they are made from a dark grey plastic, which makes it harder to see the smaller parts.
Another option to save money is to use the small single serving glass jam jars that are commonly found in hotels. These probably aren't as convenient for storing a whole movement worth of parts, but for specific parts or for storing clean and rinse solutions for manually cleaning parts, they are perfect.
Whatever you choose, I suggest you designate some of your parts containers for dirty disassembled parts that you've removed from a movement and others for cleaned parts that are ready to be assembled. This will help minimise contamination and reduce the amount of time you spend cleaning your parts containers. Rubbing a little Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) or rinse solution is perfect for this.
Basic Variety = around £2-10, depending on size and material
These will definitely be one of the lower costs tools you buy, but you will eventually need at least 4-5. I suggest you only buy one or two to begin with to confirm they work for you before buying more. Also try and use boxes you may have at home to save some money.
If you think I've missed anything or have anything to add, please comment below.