105 Jewelers Bench Comments

In late 2006 I put together a survey on the Jewelers bench to which many Orchidians and others responded. There were a series of questions asked, and the answers were revealing, and contributed to my understanding of the jewelers bench and its functions, supporting my writing of the “The Jeweler’s Bench“, and MJSA/Orchid in Print book.

Some of the specific answers were used in the book, but many served to buttress my arguments, or show me things I had not thought about. The answers were illuminating and, through their repetition of points they reinforced certain themes that are universal, and vital to the working jeweler and goldsmith. This article is then a compilation of these comments. I’ve cleaned them up a little, but in the main they are as given to me. It is useful to see and feel the repetition, hammering home the points that are important for the maker. Height, stability, storage, surface area and a willingness to alter it are all themes that emerged repeatedly from the group mind, the individuals who replied to the survey. My sincere thanks to all who participated and contributed to this project!

When asked “What kind of bench design do you use?”, the answers were telling. 43.4% said they used a standard North American commercial bench, 17.6% used a European style deep cutout bench and fully 39% used “other” – which I interpret to mean home made, reconstructed, heavily altered or re-used from another purpose. It is quite clear that jewelers alter their working space to suit their needs, and that is one of the important lessons derived from the survey.

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In my teaching I will often ask students what they would tell a hypothetical friend, what is important to know, say about soldering and constructing a catch. What would you say that is important to keep your friend out of trouble and to ease their path? This then is the sense of the question addressed here about the jewelers bench. Enjoy!

What would you tell someone who had never had a jewelers bench that is important to know about having and using one?
  1. The cut out is imperative. Have lots of places to place tools.
  2. Make it the right height for you. Your work needs to be at eye level, or you will develop back problems
  3. Have the right height, good light (I have three fluorescent bench lamp), have practical storage spaces, good lemel collection; one container for silver and one for gold, a shallow divided drawer underneath the bench top for all those thin bits and pieces, like different solders, drawing and measuring tools, hall mark stamps, drill bits, saw blades, etc, soldering torch attachments. Have easy excess to all of the pliers, files, saw frame.
  4. Sturdy, sturdy, sturdy……not rickety and unstable. Height is important – mine is low.
  5. I’d advise getting a bench that has more room/space than you think you’ll need – because you eventually WILL need it (If possible, sit at a few of them to determine if one “feels” better to you)
  6. Make it heavy, sturdy and big. Lots of bench surface.
  7. It must be sturdy. Height is important, so that you don’t strain your neck or back.
  8. Have lots of work space; lots of drawers.
  9. Stability and height are most important.
  10. A good solid bench is essential. And the more places to organize and store tools, the better too. The height of the work surface, and distance from it to the bench pan or drawer, also needs attention. Plan for things like storing burs, files, hammers. Have a place to hang flex shafts, hang up torches that are still lit without burning the flex shaft or bench, and a place to set up soldering operations without needing to clear off some other essential function of the bench.
  11. It’s your functional and artistic space to create, repair, find, think, scream, etc. A piece that I would not do without.
  12. Get it to fit your height, the bench top should be at eye level.
  13. Height – I find it easier to work at if the bench is high – approx.
  14. Most jewelers that I know are very inventive. Remember your bench is a work of art in progress, as you find out what changes will save you time alter your bench (and all of your tools) to match. Raise or lower your bench to your working height (usually so your bench pin is at your breast bone height or slightly higher). Seal all cracks so you don’t lose dust and stones.
  15. Needs to be sturdy with at least one pull out tray
  16. Get a watchmaker’s or engraver’s bench if you can afford it, or find a used one.
  17. Make certain that the work height is comfortable for you; also have arm supports, so that undue wrist strain can be avoided.
  18. Consider torch set up carefully for starters. Are you right or left handed? This will matter in the placement of your torch. I personally found out how difficult this was when I was asked to do a bench test, & the bench I was working from was set up for a left handed individual. I came off to my potential employers as being incredibly slow & was not hired for the position.
  19. Proper height of your chair is extremely important for your body. I work at slightly above eye level in relationship to my bench pin. Proper ventilation is also important. Lighting is equally important. If you are dominant with your left hand you might want to consider a custom made bench as the drawers will not be where you need them. Don’t be afraid to drill into your bench to alter it; such as holes to hold bits and adjustments for mandrels and mounting. Your bench pin is at the heart of your bench. Don’t be afraid to do a little surgery on it, sculpting it to your needs. You will be spending more time at your bench than you do in bed. Your bench should be a place of comfort and hold everything at your disposal in a way to keep you working in an efficient manner.
  20. Make sure it is solid enough to stand hammering and pushing against- it needs to take about as much force as you can give it. Also make sure it is the right height for you, chest height when sitting is about right.
  21. Height is an important factor.
  22. The bench needs to be the right height, have lots of shallow drawers and have a movable screen over the filings drawer to place tools on while working.
  23. The height of the bench really needs to be high. The arm rests, if you have them are helpful, but could be better designed on commercial benches. The cut away is also important for allowing one to access your work easier.
  24. Have the height correct for good posture. The tray is great for catching items, which could otherwise land on the floor.
  25. It needs to be the right height for the individual, with a catch tray, bench pin, arm rests. Sturdiness is vital.
  26. Have ample area for arm resting. A deep cutout works best. An easily removable lap tray. Have a retractable shelf below the bench top to use as a drawing surface or to place a soldering pad on when one needs to be closer to the soldering operation.
  27. Don’t take your bench for granted. Treat it as the special tool it is.
  28. Don’t buy particle board, or an unfinished stapled together bench not appropriate for your height, or for your equipment.
  29. Have the size (Height x depth (reach) x width x thickness) correct to suit the user and type of work done. The top surface is most important and one can compromise a bit on leg space.
  30. It needs a sweeps drawer or apron setup to catch things you drop, because you will drop things. It needs to be heavy enough to be stable when hammering on metal. It needs lots of thin drawers, more like sliding shelves than drawers.
  31. Make sure the bench isn’t so tall that you can’t sit with both your feet flat on the floor. If you’re short, that can be a real ergonomic problem. Either cut down the legs of the bench or make a small, raised platform for your feet (a footstool, so to speak).
  32. A bench is just another tool to be modified for your personal use and work style so you can work more efficiently.
  33. Have it solidly built, a comfortable height for working, a place for bench pin, mandrels, a drawer to catch filings, dropped stones, etc. Have ample work space and adequate storage/drawers.
  34. Get the best bench you can afford since you will be spending a lot of time at it. Be certain that it is compatible with your physical needs – correct height, ergonomic padding/supports, etc. Convenient storage and bench pan are important. Pull out drafting tables are really nice. I splurged and bought the Otto Frei double drawer bank maple bench. I love it and it was worth the cost to me.
  35. Look for sturdy construction and check to see that the bench is heavy enough to support multiple forming and hammering tasks. I like to have lots of drawers to ensure easy working access to and safe storage of multiple tools. Check to see that you will still have access to filings drawers or other drawers after you install commonly used jeweller’s bench fixtures such as those made by GRS, like the Benchmate. Check to ensure that the height of the bench allows you to accommodate various fabrication tasks comfortably, and to use a support of some kind under the feet if needed. If you are over or under average height, check to see that you can comfortably use flex shaft foot controls while maintaining a good general purpose bench surface height. Consider your torch set-up; ensure that you will have room to safely chain up gas tanks, and to work with your torch while seated at the bench.
  36. It does not have to be purchased, it can be easily made to suit your individual needs. Of my 5 jeweler benches, my favorite is my setting bench which I made from a old desk 35 years ago, and still use it every day.
  37. Make sure to have a well built bench with drawers. Don’t put it in front of a window. That is too distracting. Have a well made, adjustable chair.
  38. Make sure that the bench top is at least 1.25″ thick, preferably hardwood. You will need more than the typical 3 drawers that commercial benches are supplied with. Buy a Bench Mate.
  39. You’re going to be sitting at it for hours on end, bashing, pushing and stressing it in ways hitherto unimagined by the average woodworker. It needs to be comfortable and be made with as much hardwood as you can get.
  40. The half round cutout is fantastic. Getting the right height for the bench is crucial. Something with a very solid design is also crucial.
  41. A bench will need to be as efficient and ergonomic as you can make it. You can create an extremely functional non-traditional type bench. It does not have to be a standard bench purchased from a catalog. But it does need to have plenty of storage and functionality. And you will need to sit at your bench, at the proper working height, and see how far you can reach all around you. See where it feels natural to reach for things without straining yourself. This will help you lay out all your surrounding accessories that you will use on a regular basis.
  42. Stability is important, also the correct height, to save an aching back. I work on a custom made bench. The only thing I really judge as important to me is that my bench pin is a firm as a rock. When piercing I find that I need a firm pin to rest against. A loose pin means many broken saw blades also.
  43. You get what you pay for. This is the foundation of your work. Spend the money for a good wood bench.
  44. A way of catching saw dust, wax, ect…is imperative. You need, need, need a bench pin, and a couple of shelves or compartments to place hand tools while working is very convenient.
  45. Make sure that it fits YOU! Have it custom made if necessary. I have mine at a height of 41 inches, so I can sit at a normal chair height and be comfortable. It allows me to have the bench pin at exactly the right height, without having to slump over.
  46. Make sure that it is tall enough! I bought my first and had to put it up on 2 x 4’s to keep from getting a stiff neck. Being rather tall, that is probably the most important thing for me… I do marathon sessions at my bench and cannot work well if I am not comfortable.
  47. Your bench should have enough storage to be able to put your tools away when not in use. Organization is the only way to work efficiently. It is a waste of time and money to spend your time looking for tools.
  48. Have the bench at the right height.
  49. Have one that you will use – either buy one or make your own features and customize it. Have a look at various set ups to get an idea of what works. Also see how you work.. if you have any disabilities to plan for. The dynamics of the work area might call for something different. I didn’t like a standard bench, so I bought a table, some wood for the tops and plastic carts for items. I am thrilled.
  50. The right height is crucial. It needs to be taller than an ordinary desk. 2. Mine has a bench top hutch, which helps organize things, but I have so much in containers on the bench surface that they block access to the little drawers in the hutch. 3. Pullout armrests are very helpful, as are double trays in the bench. I use the lower tray for metal and the other tray for catching wax work and waste. 4. Pegboard attached to both the rear and sides of the bench provides lots of hanging space. 5. Mine does not have a ring mandrel hole. I wish it did.
  51. The bench pin is supposed to be at about collarbone level. You’re not supposed to sit with the benchtop at normal desk height compared to your body position.
  52. Make the height so that you are almost at eye level to your work.
  53. You can use virtually any type of bench as long as you can adapt yourself to it. If you have a regular desk regulate your height with different chairs. If you believe you can’t do something because you don’t have the right set-up, just adapt. When you start out and spend time making or buying a bench, make sure it is changable because you will never like the first one you have. As you advance in skill, so will your taste in what you want to do at your bench.
  54. Pay close attention to ergonomics to avoid injury. Get a solidly built bench.
  55. The top should be easily cleaned and refinished (if necessary). The height should be adjusted to a person’s height in a chair.
  56. The bench must be sturdy and heavy enough to remain stable when hammering, etc. The height must be correct for each person – that means either adjust the bench or the chair. Good light is important. Use separate trays to catch each type of metal (rimmed cookie sheets on slides work well).
  57. The best bench I ever had was built from scrap wood. It was based on a design from an earlier version of Harold O’Connor’s book. It had the bench height low so that elbows could rest comfortably on the table while the bench pin was mounted on a 4″X4″ piece of wood, which was at eye level. I found this most restful on the arms and thoracic area of my back.
  58. Make sure it will withstand any force you plan to exert. That varies with the medium and methods you plan to use. Smithing large vessels and sculpture is one thing, setting diamond melee another.
  59. The bench height is vital. Make sure your knees fit under the bench without hitting anything and the bench is at a height so you work with your posture as correct as possible.
  60. Set all your tools within easy reach, and organize so it makes sense to you. A tight fitting bench pin can make all the difference. Modify your bench to suit you, and no one else.
  61. Have small compact drawers. Having many drawers is wonderful. A table top that can be changed is nice. Have a height that allows you sit comfortably without stooping.
  62. I don’t think it’s important to have a traditional jewelers bench (often it’s not the wisest investment of tool budget dollars). What is important: A sturdy (non moveable) work surface, with a bench pin at the proper height. Places to put the tools you need most often at an arm’s reach.
  63. I only use mine for sawing and filing. It captures all that sawdust and filings that used to go on the floor so I have more to recycle or reuse. All the tools (saw and files) are handy.
  64. Good lighting is very important. I prefer the three bulb Dazor[R] lights on the bench with good lighting throughout the room.
  65. The bench should fit you, rather than you fit the bench.
  66. Get a bench that you feel comfortable with…ergonomics, design, even finish.
  67. Rule #1: your bench and chair must be ergonomic. You’re going to spend a lot of intense work in this environment. Make it comfortable and…. Rule #2: Practical. Have your tools within easy reach, have easily cleaned surfaces and plenty of storage space.
  68. 1. comfortable, supportive seating (check the Orchid archives for threads) 2. A tray that pulls out and curves inwards to fit the body’s contour. 3. Lots of storage for all the small tools. 4. Good lighting. 5. Surface protection of some sort for the bench top. 6. Proper height for YOU or an adjustable chair.
  69. Height and storage are of prime importance. Having everything in easy reach makes the work easier and faster. Be sure to research how your posture should be at the bench and adjust the height accordingly.
  70. Have shallow drawers – deep ones get overloaded. Have shelves behind the bench for solder flux etc. Have a rack for tweezers, pliers etc. Have holes for bench mandrel. Have a short extension for a vise on the left and a felt pad for stone setting as even square stones will roll. Have a clip for the torch.
  71. I like to keep all my steel bits and flex-shaft keys within easy reach, so I would suggest the same to someone else. The easiest way I’ve found is the use of many magnets embedded in the bench.
  72. Your bench can be anywhere your tools and inspiration meet. For 30 years my bench was “home made” from 2 x 4’s and a solid core door top, with a catch tray suspended under the bench pin. For 17 of those years I had a successful “designer” jewelry company selling to over 200 stores and galleries all over the world. The bench was “incidental” to the experience of what I created there. Now I focus on custom work, jewelry, sculpture, holloware and I have a “furniture quality” hardwood jewelers bench. I have taken the time, and spent the money to create an extraordinary environment to work in. I love it – It adds another dimension to my experience of creating and being in my studio. Is the work I create any better? Who is to say – but my overall personal experience while working in my studio is certainly enriched. That may have come with being further along in my career and level of “professionalism”.
  73. On a commercially made bench, I’d want to know why there are holes in the side, what the drawers are for and the best way to arrange light on the bench. The most important feature for my bench is its flexibility. As a new jeweler I used some features more than others, now the things I care about are ‘what can I attach to it’ and ‘will that new tool work in how my bench is set up/made’.
  74. It is useful for sawing and catching fines. You can see what you are doing without bending over. it’s sturdy, doesn’t wiggle. It has lots of places to store stuff. Mostly it holds things at eye level. You need a GRS adapter for bench pin, ring holder, and the table support for an engraving ball.
  75. Sturdy, sturdy,sturdy!!! if its not built heavily it will shake and move around making it hard to saw and file accurately. Also you should be able to attach extra tools to it without the hooks pulling out of the bench. Have things like extra holes for your mandrel holder, small vise, clamps for lights, specialty bench pins etc.
  76. The bench is a tool, like any other. Make sure the tool is suitable for one’s use; i.e, don’t obsess about buying the most expensive bench available. The cost of buying a bench was daunting to me until I decided to simply buy one within my price range. I decided that after my skills (and income) improved, I would consider buying a better bench. At the beginning, the improvement of one’s skills is more important than the purchase of a bench that will last a lifetime. I’m better now: I WANT A NEW BENCH!
  77. Invest the money in a sturdy bench.
  78. The top has to be just the right height for one’s eyes to see objects on it and one’s hands to reach those objects. Have the drawer high enough so that it doesn’t hit one’s knees (this is not the same for everyone). Lots of drawers on both sides are useful, but so is lots of horizontal surface on the top to allow for open storage of things like pliers. Have roomy space between drawers for easy movement into and out of the space and for rotating one’s body as one works.
  79. Make sure that you have enough space.
  80. Have it sturdy with plenty of drawers and space. It should be heavy enough not to shake when filing or hammering. It should be at a level so you don’t have to bend over and put strain on your neck and lower back.
  81. 1. One wants well-built stability; tight joins that won’t wobble; a level surface that is strong. 2. Have a pull-out drawer below the bench pin that is higher than one’s knees to easily catch filings. 3. Have tapered holes in the face of the benchtop to accommodate one or more ring mandrels. 4. Have at least two side drawers to allow instant access to essential tools. 5. There is no need to buy an expensive unit; and every good reason to tailor the bench at hand to your own liking.
  82. Any bench needs to be sturdy, have a solid top and be the right height for the user. Holes for mandrels are also good. It is a good habit to always pull out the drawer to catch filings when you work. Even if you are not using precious metals, it is also good for catching the piece if you happen to drop it, or for catching stones. And it is a good place to set tools when you are using several. I think its mostly personal preference. Whatever you were trained on and have gotten used to. For me, I want one with arm rests. And I can’t stand the benches that have a drawer right under the top of the bench, under the bench pin. I have been working at a bench that Rio Grande calls in their catalog, the “standard workbench”. It doesn’t look very nice, but I have been working at it for 6 years, and I think the design is great, I just wish it had a bigger top and looked nicer. I like the open space under the bench pin for keeping tools.
  83. The most important adjustment one can make is in the working height of the bench, Ideally placing ones work (bench pin height) between the bottom of your sternum and an imaginary line drawn parallel between the tops of your shoulders. The adjacent work surfaces may or may not be at a similar height depending on personal preference but should allow the worker to sit comfortably with a straight back with both feet flat on the floor.
  84. Stability is very important. Storage is another very handy thing.
  85. Working height is critical.
  86. The bench needs to be sturdy, you don’t want it shaking while you are sawing or setting stones etc. Height is important. I have a chair that is adjustable and works well with my bench. When I am sawing or filing, I want the work to be about eye level. Have lots of storage so that your tools are within easy reach.
  87. Quick access to hand tools and flex shaft bits speeds your productivity. A clear open space where you can measure and lay designs out it also useful.
  88. Ergonomics! ergonomics! ergonomics! Everything at the right height for YOUR body (height, arm length, where your elbows are located along those arms). Save yourself future back, neck, shoulder problems which may impair/discourage/prevent you from doing what you love. Have an adjustable chair without wheels. The problem I see most often is a bench that is a few inches too low, so that you are hunching your neck and upper back; and a rolling chair, which diverts unnecessary energy/focus into anchoring yourself to the floor with your legs and feet.
  89. Sit down at a prospective bench and make sure you are comfortable there, and everthing is, or will be, within reach. Think about real estate, both on top, and in drawer space. Will the bench have room to hold all of the things you intend to have?
  90. Purchase a bench made with as much solid wood as possible (as opposed to pressboard), assembled using quality fasteners (not staples and brads), and which incorporates a reasonable amount of storage (like a column of drawers built in to one side).
  91. It needs to be high enough to work at without bending over.
  92. Bench height & chair height are very important. Tool storage and bench size are secondary but should still be a consideration.
  93. Three things: stability, placement and lighting. I placed my bench on blocks to bring it up to a height that was comfortable to me then bolted it to both the wall and the floor. There’s nothing worse than having a bench that moves around when you are pressing on it; and securing it to the wall reduces vibration on the bench when you have to hammer on it. Make sure that you have your bench in a convenient area and that you place your bench away from distractions while keeping in mind the traffic flow of your shop. It can be very unnerving to be totally concentrating on work and have someone innocently come up to you and startle you. Lighting…make sure you have a good amount of it. Natural light is good but it is inconsistent, so augment it. I like a mixture of fluorescent and halogen light at my bench.
  94. It must be affixed to the floor or wall. It should have a white top, like a kitchen counter top.
  95. Have proper working height. Tool storage is most important. Armrests are a good addition.
  96. Make sure it: – is solid (doesn’t wobble around) – is a comfortable height – can take a beating – won’t be inordinately damaged by a little hot metal falling on the surface every once in a while – isn’t made of plastic.
  97. The important thing is working at a correct height with correct posture, and having your tools (and light source) easily accessible. A commercial bench is good for this, yet it is possible to make your own or make accessories that can be clamped to a table top when one cannot get a bench (due to expense or space).
  98. Get a bench and chair that will put you at the right comfortable height to work.
  99. It needs good storage and a way of holding your tools at hand. The height needs to adjust to you (I am 5′ 1″ and have a hard time reaching, while my 6′ 4″ husband has the opposite problem. I wouldn’t mind a “bullet proof” surface.
  100. Assuming this person is a total beginner, I’d tell them the bench pin should be at their shoulder height. To get a quality bench, but that it is not necessary to go overboard. And to think about what kind of drawers are important to them.
  101. You need to customize it to support with how you work.
  102. The correct height, with the bench top relative to your chest height.
  103. Figure out what you are planning to be making, including scale to be worked at and the techniques required, then design around these requirements. If you are doing lots of chasing the bench should have a section at the right height for this task. If you tend to make larger objects, the bench should be scaled up to accommodate the work.
  104. Get a proper chair, or you’re turn into a humpbacked whale like me. That, and attach a strip of magnetic metal to the top of your bench somewhere, its really handy for keeping track of loose bits and burs.
  105. Look at many different designs and if you can’t find one you like then custom build one to your specs.
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