Beginners Guide to Watch Case Back Removal Tools

Written by: Maz P
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Watch Case Back Removers

For those brand new to the world of watchmaking, the first step of watchmaking is removing the watch case back to access to parts. Watch case back removal tools are essential for any watch enthusiast or professional watchmaker, as they allow you to safely and effectively access the inner workings of a timepiece.

However, not all watch case backs are created equal and there are many variations with many different removal tools. In this guide, we will explore the different types of watch case backs, the reasons why you may need to remove them and the various tools available to accomplish this task. Whether you’re a complete novice or have some experience with watches, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and confidence to tackle watch case back removal with ease.

We will delve into the key components of a watch case back removal tool kit, including case back openers, case holders and specialized wrenches. You will learn about the importance of selecting the right tool for the specific watch you’re working on, considering factors such as case back type, material, and size.

By understanding the fundamentals of watch case back removal tools and techniques, you’ll be equipped to perform basic watch maintenance and battery replacements, saving you time and money. So let’s dive in and embark on this journey to master the art of removing watch case backs.

Why do Watchmakers Need Watch Case Back Removal Tools?

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Watchmakers require watch case back removal tools for several important reasons. Firstly, watch case backs are designed to protect the delicate internal components of a watch, including the movement, dial, and hands. To access and perform any necessary repairs, maintenance, or battery replacements, watchmakers must remove the case back without causing any damage. Watch case back removal tools provide the necessary precision and control to safely open the case back without scratching or denting the watch.

Secondly, watch case backs come in various types and designs, such as screw-down, snap-on, or screw-off. Each type requires a specific tool or technique for removal. Watchmakers need a range of case back removal tools to cater to these different case back types, ensuring they can work on a wide variety of watches.

Furthermore, watch case back removal tools also allow watchmakers to properly secure the watch case during repair or maintenance procedures. Case holders, for example, keep the watch case in place, preventing it from slipping or rotating during the work. This stability is crucial for accurate and precise adjustments or replacements.

In summary, watch case back removal tools are crucial for watchmakers as they enable them to safely and efficiently access the internal components of a watch, work on different types of case backs, and ensure the watch remains securely positioned during repairs. These tools are essential for maintaining the integrity and longevity of a timepiece.

Different Watch CaseBacks and Their Removal Tools

There are 4 main styles of watch case back that you should be aware of:

Snap Off Case Back

Notched Screw Case Back

Screw Off Case Back

Case Back with Screws

The Snap Off Case Back and the Notched Screw Case Back are the most common but you are likely to come across all of them in your watchmaking journey. For each type of case back, different removal tools are needed to safely and easily remove it without scratching the watch or damaging the internal parts.

Snap Off Case Back

Watch Case Back

Snap off watch case backs are commonly found in older vintage watches, although a few modern watches also feature this design. This type of case back removal is relatively straightforward and requires the use of a knife or a dedicated case opener.

To open a snap-off case back, you need to position a knife or case opener against the edge of the case back. By applying upward pressure, the tool forces the case back to un-snap itself, allowing it to become free from the watch case. It’s recommended to use a pen-knife or a case opener specifically designed for this purpose.

In some cases, the case back may have a small lip or notch which can aid in the removal process. If such a feature is present, it is advisable to insert the pen-knife or case opener into this lip or notch, as it can make the opening process easier and more precise. While this method is generally effective, there is a small risk of damaging or scratching the watch case, particularly if not executed with care.

It is crucial to proceed with caution and ensure that the tool is used skillfully to minimize the chances of any harm to the case. Additionally, it is important to take necessary precautions to avoid accidental cuts or injuries while performing this procedure.

Snap Off Case Back Removal Tools

Pen Knife
Snap Off Watch Case Back Pen Knives

When it comes to removing snap-off case backs, a standard pen knife is often regarded as an excellent tool for the job. However, it’s important to note that the choice of tool ultimately comes down to personal preference. That being said, a pen knife offers several advantages beyond its primary purpose.

One of the additional benefits of using a pen knife is its versatility. Apart from case back removal, a pen knife can also serve the purpose of sharpening pegwood, a tool commonly used in watchmaking for various tasks. This dual functionality makes the pen knife a practical choice, as it serves multiple purposes in the watchmakers toolkit.

Watch Back Case Removal Video

When selecting a pen knife for case back removal, it is advisable to opt for one with a carbon steel blade. Carbon steel blades are known for their softer and more forgiving nature when it comes to interacting with the case metal. This characteristic helps to minimize the risk of accidental scratches or damage to the watch case during the removal process. Therefore, choosing a pen knife with a carbon steel blade demonstrates a mindful approach to preserving the integrity and aesthetics of the timepiece.

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Case Back Opener Tool/Knife

Snap Off Watch Case Back Removers

There are two common variations of the standard case back opener tool that watchmakers often rely on. I have started using these tools, particularly on more expensive watches, as they offer a higher level of precision while minimizing the risk of scratches.

These case back opener tools come in two distinct shapes, each providing its own advantages. The first type features a straight, narrow blade while the second type has a curved or angled blade. Having both options at your disposal allows for greater flexibility in selecting the appropriate tool for the specific case back you are working with.

The straight, narrow blade is ideal for watches with case backs that have a small, discreet opening or groove. This blade can be carefully inserted into the narrow gap, providing a controlled leverage point to lift and remove the case back without causing any unnecessary damage.

On the other hand, the curved or angled blade is particularly useful for watches with case backs that have a wider or more prominent lip or notch. The curved shape of the blade allows for better maneuverability and easier access to the necessary contact point, facilitating a smooth and effective removal process.

By utilizing these variations of the standard case back opener tools, watchmakers can adapt to different watch case designs and reduce the chances of accidental scratches. The ability to select the most appropriate tool for each specific case enhances precision and ensures a more seamless removal experience, ultimately contributing to the overall integrity and aesthetics of the watch.

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Alternative Tools for Snap Off Case Back Removal

While there are other watch case back removal tools available, I personally have not encountered the need for more industrial options thus far. These alternative tools cater to specific cases or situations that require a more robust approach, but in general watch maintenance tasks can be accomplished effectively with standard tools.

Once you have completed the necessary repairs or maintenance on the watch’s internals, snapping the case back on is a relatively straightforward process that does not require any additional tools. Proper alignment is key in this step. Ensure that the case back is correctly positioned, taking care to align any notches or grooves, typically present for accommodating the stem. Precise alignment guarantees a proper fit and avoids any potential issues.

To secure the case back, apply moderate force using your thumb and fingers between the case back and the watch’s front. A gentle squeeze is usually sufficient, and you should hear a reassuring clicking sound as the case back snaps back into place. After securing it, inspect the edges of the case back to ensure it is evenly aligned with the rest of the watch case.

Notched Screw Case Back

Notched Screw Case Back

Among the various types of case backs I’ve encountered, the notched screw case back stands out as the most common and easiest to remove and reattach based on my experience. The distinctive feature of these case backs is the presence of notches around the edge, typically six evenly spaced notches encircling the circumference. This characteristic serves as a clear indicator that the case back can be opened using a suitable tool.

However, it’s important to exercise caution, as I have encountered vintage watches with notched case backs that are actually snap-off case backs cleverly disguised. The reasoning behind this design choice remains a mystery to me, and I often wonder about the rationale behind it.

In the event that you encounter a watch with a notched screw case back that proves resistant to the suggested tools and refuses to budge, I recommend considering the possibility that it might be a snap-off case back disguised as a notched screw case back. In such cases, it may be worth attempting to use one of the snap-off case back tools instead, as a different approach may prove successful.

There are a few commonly used tools available specifically designed to assist with the removal of notched screw case backs.

Notched Screw Case Back Removal Tools

2/3 Prong Screw Case Back Opener Tools
2 Prong Screw Case Back Opener Tool

These screw case back openers are specifically designed with adjustable and interchangeable prongs to ensure a precise fit for various types of case backs. The prongs can be adjusted in terms of size, thickness and shape to match the specific requirements of the case back being worked on.

Additionally, the width between the prongs can be modified, allowing for a snug fit into the notches present on the case back. These adjustments play a crucial role in providing the necessary grip and stability required to effectively turn and unscrew the case back.

In addition to the adjustable prong variations, there are also 3-prong variants known as the Jaxa type. These tools offer increased stability during the case back removal process, minimizing the risk of the prongs slipping out of the notches and potentially causing scratches or damage to the case back. The Jaxa type screw case back openers provide a secure and reliable grip, ensuring a more controlled and safe operation.

Jaxa Case Back Opener Tool

By utilizing these adjustable and interchangeable prongs, watchmakers can customize the tool to match the specific dimensions and design of the case back they are working on. This level of adaptability enhances precision, reduces the risk of slippage or scratches, and enables more efficient and effective removal of screw-type case backs.

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Sticky Friction Ball

Notched Watch Case Back Sticky Friction Balls

The Sticky Friction Ball is a simple yet invaluable tool. To use it, you place your watch face down on a watch cushion, case holder or hold the watch in the palm of your hand and then apply the ball onto the case back, turning it. The rubber’s friction grips the case back, facilitating its unscrewing. Importantly, this tool eliminates the risk of scratching the watch case, making it highly reliable.

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The Sticky Friction Ball proves to be a valuable addition to any watchmaker’s toolkit, offering simplicity, ease of use and effective removal of case backs without the risk of damaging the watch case.

03/07/2024 04:19 am GMT

Screw Off Case Back

Rolex Watch

The screw-off case back can be easily identified by its distinctive features including edges, grooves or threads resembling the edge of a coin, encircling the outer edge of the case back. Although I haven’t personally encountered this type of case back so far, it is commonly found on Rolex and Tudor watches, among others. These renowned brands often employ screw-off case backs for their timepieces.

However, due to the complexity associated with these high-end watches, it is important to recognize that there is much to learn to feel confident in disassembling such intricate mechanisms. Understanding the intricacies of dismantling and servicing watches with screw-off case backs requires a deeper level of expertise and knowledge. These timepieces demand meticulous attention and specialized skills to ensure their proper handling and maintenance.

Screw Off Case Back Removal Tools

Rolex Style Case Opener

This specialized tool is employed to remove screw-off case backs. These tools are equipped with multiple-sized bezels, allowing you to select the appropriate size that matches the case back. Once you have chosen the correct bezel, it is snapped onto the handle of the tool. By applying a twisting motion, the tool effectively unscrews the case back from the watch.

Case Back With Screws

Another type of case back commonly encountered is the screw-type case back, frequently found in digital watches, particularly Casio timepieces. Additionally, some modern mechanical watches also utilize this design. While my personal experience has been limited, I have observed screw-type case backs on Hamilton mechanical watches.

Digital watches, such as those from Casio, often incorporate screw-type case backs as a practical measure to enhance water resistance. The threaded screws provide a secure seal, protecting the watch’s internal components from moisture and ensuring durability in various conditions. This feature is especially important for outdoor and sports-oriented watches.

In the realm of mechanical watches, Hamilton has been known to employ screw-type case backs, showcasing a blend of traditional craftsmanship with contemporary elements. This design choice not only offers a distinct aesthetic but also adds an extra layer of protection to the intricate mechanical movements within.

While the prevalence of screw-type case backs may vary across different watch brands and models, their purpose remains consistent: to provide a secure closure and enhance the watch’s overall resilience. Understanding the nuances of handling and maintaining screw-type case backs is crucial for watch enthusiasts and professionals alike, as proper care ensures the longevity and optimal performance of these timepieces.

Case Back With Screws Removal Tools

Screwdrivers
Watchmakers Screwdrivers Set

A simple tool that is an essential part of the watchmaking process. To remove case backs secured with screws, a set of precision screwdrivers is the tool of choice. It is essential to select the appropriate size screwdriver to ensure a proper fit.

As a general rule, the width of the screwdriver tip should match the width of the screw head. This ensures optimal contact and minimizes the risk of stripping the screw, which can make removal challenging.

When purchasing screwdrivers for watch maintenance, it is advisable to opt for ones with replaceable blades. This feature enhances longevity, as worn or damaged blades can be easily replaced, extending the tool’s lifespan and maintaining its effectiveness.

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Tips for Watch Case Back Opener Tools

Familiarize Yourself with the Watch

Before attempting to remove the case back, take a moment to examine the watch and understand its construction. Identify any notches, grooves, or threads that may indicate the type of case back and inform your tool selection.

Choose the Right Tool

Ensure you have the appropriate case back removal tool for the specific type of case back you are working with, whether it’s a snap-off, screw-off, or specialized design. Different watches may require different tools, so having a variety on hand can be beneficial.

Invest in Your Sticky Friction Ball

Initially, I purchased a blue sticky friction ball at a low cost on eBay. However, upon receiving it, I discovered that it arrived deflated and lacked the necessary valve adaptor for inflation. This, coupled with the absence of a pump, prompted me to invest in a branded option – a Bergeon Sticky Friction Ball. Bergeon is a renowned Swiss manufacturer known for producing high-quality watch tools, albeit at a higher price point.

Purchase Phillips-Head Screwdrivers

It’s important to note that while the internal components of watch movements typically employ flat-headed screws, there may be instances where case backs are secured with Phillips-head screws. Therefore, it may be necessary to have both types of screwdriver sets on hand to accommodate the various screw head types encountered in watch servicing.

Test the Closure

After reattaching the case back, ensure it is securely tightened or snapped back into place. Check for any gaps or misalignments that may affect the watch’s water resistance or overall integrity.

How to Choose the Perfect Watch Back Opener Tools for Your Watchmaking Journey

Having a wide variety of case back removal tools at your disposal will make your watchmaking journey more streamlined. Some tools you can opt for a more affordable tool, however, spending a bit of money on your case back removal tools ensures that your case back is removed safely and easily.

If in doubt, splash the cash. High-quality tools from reputable brands offer durability, precision and improved performance, ensuring a safer and more efficient experience. It is also really beneficial to do some research prior to purchase.

Read reviews, watch tutorials and seek recommendations from experienced watchmakers or enthusiasts. Their insights and experiences can guide you toward trusted brands, specific models or tool kits that have proven effective in the watchmaking community.

Watch Case Back Opener Tools FAQ

Watch case back removal tools are crucial for watchmakers as they assist them in being able to quickly and easily access the internals of a watch movement in order to clean, service or repair it. They are essential for maintaining the integrity and longevity of a watch movement.

Although I would recommend against this in order to minimize any damage to a movement, if you are desperate then there are some options without the need for an expensive tool. Some common household options may be suitable alternatives. Depending on the watch movement, you may be able to pry off the back with something as simple as a razor blade, kitchen knife, rubber ball or pair of scissors.

A bike, ball, or balloon pump should suffice as long as it has the needle adapter on the end. In my experience, only the Burgeon sticky friction ball arrives pre-pumped.

If you think I’ve missed anything or have anything to add, please comment below.

AUTHOR

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I started WatchmakingTools to share my passion and knowledge with those already bitten by the watchmaking bug. I’ve often spent hours searching online for answers on a specific issue, and even though there is a wealth of information out there, it hasn’t always been very useful, hence why I wanted to share my own findings.

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