A jeweler’s workday is, basically, just sitting and looking at the bench. That’s it! But there is more to just that. A jeweler needs to know the bench ergonomics involved on a typical work day and be guided in the proper way of “sitting and looking” at the bench.
In the Jeweler’s Bench Book, the MJSA/Ganoksin project published in spring 2008, there is an extensive look at what happens in the working space, where you sit and move as a goldsmith. Two of the areas addressed including sitting and looking at objects.
Various physical problems can result from sitting, from back problems to hemorrhoids. Posture should be good, and relaxed. When sitting, spine near vertical, legs and hips are about 90 degrees to each other, with feet flat on the floor, thighs close to parallel to the floor. Have an adjustable seat and supportive backrest, in angle, tilt and height from the floor, a swiveling seat and no wheels. Wheels are stressful to inhabit in the course of the day as energy is expended on staying still and they don’t let you brace your body properly for stonesetting and other jobs.
Consider changing your body’s position during the workday. Some people will do this by changing position, or changing the height of the bench top or, easier still, having a benchpin that is height adjustable. Watch out that head and neck are not bent over forwards when working, this strains them – adjust your chair, bench pin and working height to prevent this. This is one of the reasons that the jewelers bench surface and bench pin is set so high compared to other kinds of workstations – it keeps the head up. If you have a covered seat then woolen cushion covers are preferred to vinyl or other synthetic ones, because they breathe and don’t burn easily.
Choose the chair you want to live in and then construct your specific bench around that height and decision. Make sure you pick the right chair for a long time. While you can buy good benches from suppliers I always think that a bench that is designed especially for your own body sitting in its favorite chair, your reach and activities is the best idea.
We look at our work carefully, under magnification, and with a need for an even light on the work. Two desk lamps, one on each side of the bench lets you eliminate shadows. A good close-in overhead diffuse light source can help as well, as do nice white shop walls and ceiling to increase the general lighting. It is important to pick an easy on the eyes, low glare, bench surface color. You want a surface which has sufficient contrast to your tools to make finding them easy. I like to have a smoke-grey urethane finish, at least five coats on the bench top. You may find a traditional finished natural wood color right for you. Whatever you choose make it a conscious decision.
The recommended distribution of light intensity in the workshop is 10:3:1 that is, ten units of light on the bench pin and close working area, 3 units on the desk top and 1 unit of light for the background room lighting. This means that the light level on the bench pin itself is ten times stronger and more powerful than the background room lighting, and the lighting on the top of the bench is three times stronger than the background room lighting. Think of it like a surgical operation – you have most of the light right on the part being worked on.
Crouched over on hands and knees, bottom in the air and face to the floor is even known as ‘the jewelers position’ (pointed out by Kate Wolf). For this reason jewelers will have a flashlight handy, its sweeping beam at ground level will pick up the glint from most dropped stones. I have known goldsmiths install lighting under their bench just for this purpose. In North American benches which have several recessed shelves under the bench top above the filings drawer an installed small fluorescent tube can improve working in those layers and in the filings drawer. Jewelers also drop drill bits and burrs and a handy magnet is a quick way of picking them up.
There is a reason that surgeons, and the best stonesetters and engravers use stereo microscopes to work with. More jewelers today than ever before are using optivisors, binocular loupes such as surgeons use, binocular microscopes and for the top end of the field, video cameras aimed at the working area which magnify onto a large TV screen or a mobile flat screen which is placed on the bench pin. Not looking at your hands while you work takes a moment or two to get used to but when the gem is two feet across you can really deal with subtleties in gemsetting quality.
There are a lot of aging jewelers as well who are finding a need for magnification for ordinary work, taken care of up to a point by using drug store reading glasses. I have heard of stonesetters getting prescription glasses made at 4 or 6 times magnification which provide a large field of enlarged view.
It has been shown that when concentrating hard the blinking rate slows down. One is supposed to blink about 40 times a second to keep the eyes properly moist. When blinking decreases eyes can become sore, drys and itchy-so remember to blink. It is a good idea to change what you are doing now and then and focus at different distances and in different directions to keep the eyes feeling fresh.
In The Jeweler’s Bench Book, acclaimed metalsmith Charles Lewton-Brain offers expert advice on how you can choose the bench that best meets your needs—then modify it for maximum efficiency. With plentiful full-color illustrations, The Jeweler’s Bench Book covers everything from the basics of bench design to ingenious tips for tool storage and arrangement. It also includes real-life “tours” of how renowned jewelers have set up their own bench areas.