Maximizing Bench Work Profitability

Jeffrey Johnson has two stores, 18 bench jewelers, and over 100 employees-and he still has time to work at the bench. “I wouldn’t be who I am without the bench,” he says. That’s why he’s got one set up in his office among leather arm chairs, file cabinets, and a desk.

When a customer comes into his office, Johnson can sit down at the bench and sketch a design or perform a quick repair right in front of them. It’s this kind of customer service that he says has done wonders for his business-and shaped the culture of his company.

1. “My employees and my customers understand that the president of this business still works at the bench-he’s not just some suit,” says Johnson. “When I’m out on the sales floor or in the shop in my apron and headpiece, I get a different reaction from people. They are more comfortable knowing that I’m involved in the process and truly understand the craft. There’s that unspoken level of trust.”

Photo: David Polner

This Ames draft pack by Olson Manufacturing and Distribution in Kansas City , Kansas , is handy and inexpensive (around $100). Because I like to render at the bench, I built a tray that slides right into my bench where the jeweler’s tray usually sits. I can switch between the two quickly, transforming my bench into a drawing table in 15 seconds. And the draft pack is portable: It folds up into a briefcase.

Photo: David Polner

2. I rest my left elbow on this elbow pad when I’m doing most bench work. If I’m holding a ring clamp in my left hand and pushing it onto the bench pin, the elbow pad anchors my arm and keeps the ring clamp steady. It’s also beneficial ergonomically: I’ve found that working this way prevents neck pain.

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3. When I’m doing a technique at the bench that requires movement and speed, such as bright cutting, I use the elbow pad method. However, when I’m doing a project that requires an inside ring holder, I prefer to use the GRS Benchmate holding system. (The vice attachment for the Benchmate is shown here.)

4. My father made this V-shaped sawing fixture from a piece of steel about 50 years ago. It holds pieces steady for sawing, and it’s removable.

5. To prevent wasting precious time hunting for files, I color code mine by shape. For example, reds are barrette files. In addition, I engrave the number of the file coarseness into the wood on each tool.

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6. Many of my tools have green handles. This color coding system is leftover from when I worked in a shop with other bench jewelers. Since tools have a tendency to walk away, I advise anyone working in a shop with others to color code their tools.

7. I drilled a hole for my chuck key in the bench tray so I always know where it is.

8. Organization is key to benchwork, whether you are a storeowner or a part-time jeweler. I label all of my drawers so I can locate things quickly. For example, my “counter tools” drawer contains everything I’d use at the counter for a customer’s goods, including plastic bags, diamond papers, and a ring sizer.

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The award-winning Journal is published monthly by MJSA, the trade association for professional jewelry makers, designers, and related suppliers. It offers design ideas, fabrication and production techniques, bench tips, business and marketing insights, and trend and technology updates—the information crucial for business success. "More than other publications, MJSA Journal is oriented toward people like me: those trying to earn a living by designing and making jewelry," says Jim Binnion of James Binnion Metal Arts.
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