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Current gear manufacturing methods for gears usually depend on power tools, or computerised machines, or something like that.

However, watchmakers and clockmakers at one point in history needed to make gears by hand. So what tools did they use? How did they make gears (especially really tiny ones)?

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  • $\begingroup$ (possible) data point: Rough blanks will assume correct involute shapes with wear.How long that takes depends on materials and encouragement used. Wooden peg gears do it quite well by themselves, I've read. $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Aug 11 '15 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellMcMahon Don't forget to add gallons of pig grease. $\endgroup$ – Paul Uszak Mar 29 '18 at 23:48
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Watchmakers would have (and still do) make the tiny gears for watches by hand using any number of jeweler's saws, needle files, and tiny drills.

A jeweler's saw is pictured below (source: Amazon)

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Needle files (source: Amazon)

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Drill bits (source: Adventures in Watchmaking)

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The website Adventures in Watchmaking has a good walkthrough of the author's experience in making a watch without having done so before, if you're interested.

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  • $\begingroup$ Neato! And that adventures in watchmaking site is a great find. Thanks $\endgroup$ – Mahkoe Aug 10 '15 at 12:17
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The advent of machine tools more or less coincides with the adoption of high speed, high accuracy, high power gears as means of power transmission. For obvious reasons if you don't have powered machines you have limited need for high quality gears.

As mentioned in another answer the gears for clocks and watches were originally made by hand with great care and skill using saws and files.

The earliest gears were peg and cage gears which could be made from wood and were used in watermills etc.

There is also a specific process for gear cutting called hobbing which allows accurate gears to be made on fairly simple machine tools.

Gears can also be cast from a pattern, requiring only moderate finishing to an acceptable surface finish and accuracy.

You might also be surprised what level of accuracy a skilled craftsman can achieve.

Indeed CNC technology has tended to improve overall productivity but doesn't do much to improve accuracy and there were automated production processes several centuries before computer controlled machining was a thing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacquard_loom

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Have look at these two:-

clock1

clock2

These are medieval clockwork mechanisms. You could make them with a smithy and hammer. Cast and bash was the principle technique. And then a bit of heavy bashing followed by more light bashing. To be honest, the greater skill lies in the mechanical arrangement of parts. They had torture racks and stuff and rudimentary locks including ridiculously large padlocks. But they had to invent and evolve these sophisticated mechanisms to keep some sort of decent time.

A great report of the restoration of the Salisbury cathedral clock (1386!) is here. Look at the 1956 restoration bit which details making parts by hand forging (bashing).

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