The ultrasonic cleaner is an essential tool for clock repair. Yes, you can get along just fine without one but if you have some spare cash you will not be disappointed.
Ultrasonic cleaning machines are used by a wide variety of professionals where cleanliness is of paramount concern. They are used in many industries including Dental/Medical, Industrial, Firearm, Jewelry/Watch/Clock, automotive repair and so on.
For the past two years I have been struggling with a Harbor Freight “special”, a light duty machine that does a less than average job of cleaning clock parts. It was inexpensive and I thought it was all I needed. Now I am done with it. It was frustrating to use, the cleaning cycle was a short 6 minutes, the heater produced lukewarm water, there was no drain, the basket was made of plastic and at the end of the day it did a poor job of cleaning clock parts. It was time for a replacement.
My research included visiting manufacturers websites, looking at a myriad of models on on eBay and Amazon and seeking the opinions of clock enthusiasts on Facebook and the NAWCC forum site. There are a plethora of Chinese made machines at very attractive prices. They offer powerful heaters, large basket capacity and the ability to drain the solution from the tank. I have no idea of the reputation of these companies and I could have just as well bought a machine which would fail on delivery or fail in 6 months to a year. I would then be faced with spending another few hundred dollars to replace it. I also dreaded the thought of chasing after a Chinese company for warranty work.
I found L&R Ultrasonics. They have been making commercial quality ultrasonic cleaners for a number of years. They offer a range of sizes. I chose one near the bottom of the line, the Q140. The Q140 is approximately 10 inches long by 6 1/2 inches wide by 8 1/2 inches deep. It has a .85 gallons capacity (3.2L). It has a heater, a mechanical timer that sounds like an egg timer, a drain and it operates at 43kHz. It is made in the USA and costs twice as much as a comparable Chinese cleaner. It is a robust, well made machine backed by a 2 1/2 year warranty and something that should give me piece of mind for many years. A little money can be saved by buying an ultrasonic cleaner without a heater and preheating your solution in a microwave oven but the heater is a nice bonus.
One negative, it did not come with a stainless steel wire basket which I had to purchase separately from another supplier. The L&R basket was over CDN200! For a fifth of the price I opted for an after market stainless steel mesh basket by Cambridge Time that is designed to fit the Q140.
Overall, it is well designed, quiet (reasonably), portable, simple to use and well constructed. It uses a basic 60 minute mechanical timer and a simple on-off switch for the heater. One downside is that it is smallish and will accommodate only one movement.
Can you get along without one? Yes, but it makes life so much easier.