Shop Tips for Bench Jewelers
Here are my shop tips.
Make sure you have a mat by the door that will catch bouncing gems and findings because they will travel when dropped! This shop only had room for a single buffing wheel set below the counter of the first bench in the picture so make sure you wipe down this bench top when changing buffs so you do not contaminate them.Also make it a habit to sweep the floor and straighten your counters before you start. have a covered trash can and put everything there for sending to your recycling facility. even the towels you use to wipe your hand. every little bit of gold saved is extra profit. have a vinyl wallpaper so you can wipe down the wall every week or so for the same reason.
Keep your plating chemicals covered at all times! If a tool is not being used, wipe it off and put it away. open cabinets are like a magnet for dropped gems so keep them shut. If you are lucky enough to have a sink in your shop, make sure you wipe it out before you use it, always keep the drain cover in and install a settling tank with baffles underneath to catch polish and metal residues. Make a schedule to remove this every month and clean it out to send the sludge to have the metals re-claimed
Be nice to your ultrasonic and steamer and they will be nice to you! Always keep a five gallon bucket under the spout of your steamer. This will keep your floor drier and it will catch the gems that are blown out of your settings (yes, it happens to everyone!). When you change your water in the ultrasonic, drain it into a plastic strainer that has a couple of coffee filters in it. This will catch your metal fines and any gems that fall out or jewelry items that were cleaned. You may want to remove the top filter with the gold fines and run your water through the filter again. Make sure you clean your steamer on a regular schedule. calcium build-up can reduce your pressure, burn out your heater, make it leak and potentially make it quit working. As expensive as they are, you do not want to be buying one of these each year. You may have noticed a cafeteria tray under the ultrasonic. This is to keep some of the moisture off of the counter top; some of the ultrasonic solutions are pretty hard on counters, and to catch any gems that may be knocked out of settings when you are brushing items to clean them. Wipe this down with a damp tissue when you change the water in the ultrasonic to save any gold.
What is the worst enemy of your files? Other files! You can see that I have an 'American' style bench with the pull out sweeps pan. These benches are almost always supplied with a small pull out shelf that is generally pretty useless for keeping your tools sharp and ready for use. Most jewelers I know just keep all of their tools in the sweeps pan in an disorganized pile. After spending too much time looking for tools I came up with this handy tool holder make out of paper towel tubes. I now have sharp files at all times and it is easy to find the one I want. If a gem bounces into the back of my bench, I just set the tube holder in my sweeps tray, tilt it a bit and give it a slight tap to make loose gems fall out. you can see it in use here.
You can see that this can hold 13 files and still leave plenty of room for hammers. FYI: this bench is set up for a lefty, you righties can move this to the other side.
I used some duct tape and made 3 sets of flat tube sections and then ran one line over all three to pile them up. I removed some files to better show the construction. You can also see one of my findings boxes sitting on top. A child could make this it is so simple but it is so useful. I was going to make a better one but this trial one has worked so well, it is still in use after several years. [edit: After almost 15 years this is still working fine!]
So most jewelers I know hate spending lots of money on tools. So when I needed a foredom holder I balked at spending $100 for a simple pipe with a pivoting hook on top. My solution was to hit my local hardware store and spend $12 instead. This design works just as good as the holders in the catalogs. the end of the pipe has a slight flair and I bent a 3/8 inch rod into an "S" shape to hold the motor.
Here you can see that to support my Foredom holder I just used two plumbing offsets. The power cord wraps once around on the way to the top but you could use a plastic zip-tie if you needed to.
This picture is from the 'Bench Exchange' Ganoksin.com This is the set-up I used for many years when I started. The foredom and the torch were the only things I bought new. the buffers were bought used and rebuilt. I made my first small bench based on a picture from a borrowed Rio Grande Catalog. It measures 18 inches deep and 27.5 inches wide. I made it out of an old scrap plywood sheet because it was free for the taking. took a Saturday afternoon to build in the garage. Other then some added wood screws, it has held up well over 20 years. I still use it as my soldering bench. The plastic roll away held all of my tools at the time and is still in use today also. So It does not take a lot to get started. this is about 15 years after I started. [Edit: This bench is now used when I have guests over to learn.]
I took this picture to show the mess my bench becomes when working on a project. In the front is the handpin I carved last night. Normally I would clean my bench when done but I finished this at about 2 in the morning so it gets to wait a few hours.
I broke down and bought a pitch bowl. I had been using a piece of plywood with a thin layer of pitch but I had to set some gems and do some engraving on two thin pieces so this was a good idea to 'upgrade'. So here are my tips...When heating the can of pitch to pour into the pitch bowl, make sure your exhaust fan is on high the entire time! And make sure you heat it slowly so it does not splatter when you pour it. Wear thick gloves that you can just shake off in case some hot pitch gets on them.
Here are my two silver swords in the pitch. I found the best way to heat up items to put into pitch is to heat them with a heat-gun on the lowest setting. If you do not have a heat-gun in the garage then you can look under the bathroom sink for an old hair dryer. The nice thing about a heat-gun id that you can control how fast you heat up the item you will be putting in the pitch by how far away you hold the heat-gun or hair dryer. When the item is getting close to a temperature where you might find it too hot to pick up, swing the heat over to the pitch bowl to soften the pitch. after a few seconds, pick up the item for the pitch with a pair of tweezers and push into the pitch. Continue heating for a few seconds but not too long as the item will just sink and you do not want that! Allow the pitch to cool for a few seconds and then wet your finger with a dip into some water and push just a bit of pitch over the side of the metal just enough to hold it. (FYI: The amount of pitch I pushed over the blades of these in the photo here was too much.) And then it can cool for a few minutes before you do your work. To release the item just gently heat it with a heat-gun until you can remove the metal with a pair of tweezers. The nice part about using a heat gun is two fold: 1.) You can control the heat better. 2.) It is almost impossible to burn the pitch. (These were engraved & set with gems and were awards for a tournament at Warriors & Warlords 2013. Look up SCA.org.
A post on Facebook I belong too made me think of this.
I have this barrette file hanging in my library next to the first piece of jewelry I ever made.
Way back in the early nineties when making jewelry was just a hobby, All of my tools fit in a rather small tackle box and I was working off of the edge of a small shelf in my laundry room I made it from a single 10 foot long 2X4. So you can imagine how narrow it was. My first bench pin, a scrap of wood, was attached to the side of the shelf with a C-clamp and and my metal scraps, filings, and scraps, just fell on the floor were I swept them up for the trash later. I was using this barrette file to flatten the ends of a large gauge silver wire for soldering and I was being careful as this was the first piece that someone actually wanted me to make for them. I was just happy that I had improved to the point that anyone would want something I made! unfortunately, as I was filing, I dropped the file. Now this would not be a story worth telling if I had just let the file drop on the floor, bent over and picked it up. No, It was just at this time that my evening got very interesting!
When I dropped the file, I was sitting with my feet spread and legs slightly apart to give myself some stability on the stool I was sitting on. So instead of letting it fall I had to try to catch it on my lap. At the time I was running a lot, doing martial arts, with some weight training thrown in for for good measure so I had quite powerful legs. When the file fell, I must have caught the handle just right with the seam of my bluejeans on my right leg just as the pointed end of the file was landing on the left leg of my jeans.
I slapped my legs together and immediately felt an intense sharp pain!
When I looked down I saw about 3 inches of steel horizontally sticking out of my left thigh about 6 inches above my knee. It seems that I had driven it in there with my right leg. ALL THE WAY TO THE BONE!
I just sat there for a minute thinking "Well, that was a stupid thing to do. What do I do now?" My first thought was in hindsight, not the best. I tried to straighten my legs to push my stool back and the result of the metal in my thigh was excruciating pain. I fell forward and grabbed my little shelf and kept myself from falling off of the stool. A couple of minutes later when everything was not going black, I decided that I would have to pull out the file so I could move the muscles in my thigh enough to get to the phone (I now know this is a bad idea but being young and not so bright it sounded good at the time.) When I pulled the file from my leg, the serrations on the file sliding past the sinew and meat of my thigh made a very loud sound exactly like a large wet zipper. A kind of wet, bubbly zip sound. I dropped the file on the floor and grabbed the shelf again until the world quit going black. So I try to push the stool back now and all I managed to do was fall off of my stool. every time I tried to move my leg, I would almost pass out from the pain. It took about 20 minutes to crawl upstairs and reach the phone to call a nurse. When she heard the size of the wound, the nurse I spoke with suggested that I wait until morning to visit the doctor.
So flash forward to the next day: I visited my doctor and he said that I was very lucky as I missed all of the large vessels and nerves in my leg. All that I had to show was a small chip of bone and silver dust in the muscle that left a ghostly image of the wound track. This was a very cool X-ray. I could not walk as the muscles were healing for over a month and had to take a time off of work.
The amount of blood lost in this traumatic injury? A spot about the size of a quarter around the hole in my blue jeans. I have the file in a box with a line to show how far it went into my leg. It is a constant reminder to be much more careful in the shop.
(And to this day I cannot wear a coat with a zipper, they all have buttons.)
Sitting here making several cuts on a 1 inch strip of 12 gauge brass. Except for two small wobbles, this is pretty good for a saw kerf. I always teach that the cut should not vary by more then the wide of the blade. In this case that is 0.011 inch (I am using a very large saw blade tonight). It should take only a couple of passes with a file to make this truly flat.
2nd cut. I also always said you should be able to stand the piece you cut on end and have it stand up. Just making sure that when people say I an unforgiving bastard for having such high standards, they understand that I expect no less from myself.
It is not super pretty but it works. I took the top shelf off of an old end table, put a bottom on it and and it seems to work quite well as a portable bench/ workspace. I need to add a lip to the frount but that is a quick add on. So now I have more space for others to work at. =) I wonder if I could sell these. Hmmmm...
Note to self: do not use the top of your torch shield as a place to rest your hand when nearly done soldering 10 skirt hooks. That sizzle and smoke should be reserved for grilling steak...
Spent the night rearanging my shop so I could fit in a table that will be able to hold bigger projects. I brought my big vise down from the garage so I can do some raising and hollow work without freezing or melting. So I am pretty well set up to host several people at once for the nights when the Jararvellir Jewelry Guild meets. So with the jewelry benches out of the frame to the left, I can have about 5 people working on projects. Lapidary is over by the stained glass equipment.
Everything does not have to be about jewelry. I bought this light with the cover 1/2 smashed for $2. An hour in the shop and while it does not look new, it again works just fine. I will be using this with the small light box I made to take pictures of jewe......
It does have to be about jewelry!!!!!!
July 2005- listed with The Jewelers Board of Trade
Telephone: (608) 444-9093