What are the most important things to look for when buying a jeweler's workbench? We asked three associate jewelers at Rio Grande for their top tips on purchasing, setting up, customizing and organizing a workbench for making jewelry.
In an ideal world, jewelers would be able to “test drive” their benches before they buy, John Sartin says, because so much about a bench boils down to personal preference. So John recommends that you start by visiting the studios of other jewelers to get a feel for their benches. If you’re friends, ask them if you can bring a small project and do a little work while you’re there.
"Whenever you buy a bench, you should get the best bench you possibly can," he says. "You may want to grow your capabilities and skills as you progress as a jeweler, and you'll need a bench you won't outgrow." Because the better quality the bench, the more enhancements you’ll be able to make to accommodate your needs over the course of your jewelry-making career.
In the Jewelry Fundamentals classes he teaches at Rio Grande, Mark Nelson stresses the importance of a sturdy bench and a solid wood bench top for mounting the GRS® BenchMate system. (“Because every jeweler will eventually end up with one.”) But most importantly, Mark tells his students that benches are designed to be customized to suit the jeweler—so get comfortable with the idea of making your own enhancements. He draws a parallel to Kate Wolf’s ethos that “a tool is a good beginning.”
“Just like you’re always growing as a jeweler, your bench is going to evolve, too,” he says. “It’s living furniture.” Mark recommends picking up a copy of The Jeweler’s Bench Book by Charles Lewton-Brain and cruising the Ganoksin Bench Exchange for customization inspiration. And while you’re learning techniques from YouTube videos, you can also pay attention to the other jewelers’ bench setups and enhancements.
“I have unique challenges as a jeweler,” says Scott Bradford. “I’m freakishly tall—my knees don’t fit under a standard bench—and I’m a lefty.” Scott is also the first to admit that his organization is a little fast and loose. And it’s all good. The key is adapting your bench to you and your style, not the other way around. When Scott comes across a picture of a cool bench modification online, he saves it so he can think of ways to make it work for his extra-tall bench (which he rendered left-handed by relocating all of the drawers to the left side.) “Customizing starts small and then it just evolves almost as an extension of your personality,” he says.
Scott says what matters most is that the “tools that you use over and over again are in close proximity.” Whether they’re piled up or Pinterest-ready is a just matter of personal taste. “If chaotic organization works for you, stick with it,” he says. Just balance it out with some helpful accessories and habits, like brushing your bench and tools off at the end of the day, and taking a few minutes to do a little re-organizing and re-setting between jewelry-making jobs.