Buying a Jewelers Bench

Building your own bench is definitely not for everybody. Without the right tools or some helpful friend who has the skills and the tools it’s probably better to buy a ready-made bench. But that in itself can be a bit of a daunting task if you don’t know what to look for.

Although I ended up building my bench and hence I haven’t actually bought a bench, I’ll take you through what to consider when you start looking.

There are many different options from the super cheap to the ones that will set you back a substantial sum of cash. As with all other purchases for your workshop or studio, you get what you pay for. When buying tools or any other items for the workshop, my approach has always been to buy the best possible quality I can afford.

I know that is kind of open-ended…what exactly does that mean? Well, I’d much rather save for a couple of months to be able to afford a better quality tool that I know I will be able to enjoy for years to come than throw money away on some “el cheapo” knockoff tool. The “buy cheap, use once and throw away when broken” mentality doesn’t sit well with me I’m afraid.

My experience with metalworking as well as woodworking tools has always been that if I get a good quality tool it will be a joy to work with, it will always function well, be much more precise, won’t deteriorate with use or break like many knockoff tools produced overseas . I believe the same principles count when buying a jewelers bench.

That in mind, my first advice when you go shopping: get the best you can afford! But there are some other key things you should take into account:

  • Fit, functionality & style
  • Sturdiness
  • Storage
  • Quality

Fit, Functionality & Style

It has to fit. Well yes, sure, obviously! But what exactly does that mean? I have found that there are about as many different opinions as there are jewelers out there. But there are some common threads or guidelines to follow:

The most important thing to consider is the height. For the jewelers bench, that does not necessarily translate into the height of the tabletop but more so the working height i.e. where your bench pin sits.

Let’s just quickly take a minute to look at bench pins. The bench pin is typically a piece of wood, sometimes shaped like a wedge, where the top side slopes down towards the jeweler. The pin almost always has one or more V-shaped cuts into the front of the pin. The purpose of the bench pin is manifold: it serves as a sawing rest, it’s used to hold your ring clamp against, and you use it when filing, sanding, or polishing. Said simply, it is really the center of the bench and probably the most important part of the bench. But as with all other tools there are a myriad of different types, sizes, brands and shapes.

There are the really simple clamp on models

Clamp on Bench pin

The more sophisticated clamp on models that incorporate a hammering surface (bench block)

Benchpin with anvil space

The once that is inserted into a slot either in the front of the bench or an attachment screwed into the bench like this one

Bench Pin4

And there are the once that are part of a larger system of exchangeable devices for holding, sawing, engraving etc. like the GRS Bench Mate System

GRS Benchmate

What type of bench pin you get will be very much dependent on the bench, i.e., if it has a slot for the pin or it can be mounted with the GRS system etc.

So back to working height: the thing about height I have found is that it’s somewhat relative. I use an old office chair, one of those adjustable-height chairs, so I can pretty much adjust the chair from having the pin at eye height to mid-chest height, allowing for many different working positions. So depending on what task I do I’ll adjust my chair height accordingly.

So maybe take a look at what chair you plan to use as the very first place to start getting the fit right.

The fit will also be greatly influenced by the style of bench. There are basically two main styles:

The European style jewelers bench with a relatively deep semicircle cut-out and a piece of skin mounted to catch your off cut, filing dust, etc.

European jewelry bench multi seat

The squeaky clean version

European style workbench 2

The somewhat used version

The American style jewelers bench with either no cut-out or a more shallow cut-out and with one or more drawer style trays to catch the off cut etc.

Jewelry workbench

The Luxury Model

jewelry workbench

The slightly more modest version

There are then a number of permutations in the cut-out piece of the work area. Some benches have a large deep cut that allows the jeweler to use the sides of the table top as elbow rests like the European model. Some have flat fronts with slide-out arm rests like the ones above.

If you do a search you will find literally millions of permutations, some with deep European cut-out but trays like mine, some with flat or no cut-out, etc. Again, a lot of this is a personal preference. The trouble is that when you get your first bench it’s really hard to know what will work. So I suggest you go to a shop that has a number of benches set up that you can try out and then pick the one that feels most comfortable and comes closest to fulfilling some of the following criteria as well.

Sturdiness

So if you remember that you will be filing, hammering, pushing, and pulling on the bench, you’ll know that it has to be solid and sturdy. No point in getting some light flimsy piece of driftwood; you will hate it after a short while because you can’t do all the required tasks at the bench. Of course, if you plan on making bead and wire or PMC pieces it won’t really matter, but then again, you probably wouldn’t spend the money on a jewelers bench in that case anyway.

So one thing to note is that the denser the timber, the heavier and harder it is, the less noise that gets transmitted into the surroundings when hammering etc. (a sand bag or a rubber underlay makes a lot of difference too but more about that in a different post).

A thing that you should do if the bench will sit on a hard floor is to mount some really good rubber “feet” that will again dampen the noise.

Tips: Lift the bench in the shop. The heavier the better. Knock on the table top and listen to the sound you get. Is it solid timber or laminated? Does it transmit noise? Bump it to see if it sways or moves. Sit at it to check the height and surface area. Is it comfortable? Do you feel “right at home” when sitting in front of it?

Storage

Storage covers both the storage for tools and the storage for other parts like materials, chemicals, and reference material.

Most important is tool storage. A good rule of thumb is to get a bench with at least twice the amount of storage you think you will ever need. The reason for this is because before you can look around you’ll have more tools than a mid-sized hardware shop!

There are a bunch of different options for tool storage: you can have it all in drawers, on the table top, or hanging or lying in dedicated spaces. There are hammer racks, plier racks, you name it, it’s out there.

Again know yourself. Do you prefer a neat system where all tools have their spot, or are you more of the creative (read: messy) type who has all their tools floating around everywhere?

By now I guess it’s not hard to guess which type I belong to. Let’s just say it’s not the messy one. My wife claims I have some heavy OCD tendencies when it comes to tool storage. I like it when everything has it’s own dedicated spot for many reasons. The tools don’t scratch or dent each other when kept in dedicated spots, it’s easier to find what I need and easier to see if I have misplaced something (read: accidentally thrown something out) like burs and drills.

So when deciding on your bench, make sure your style of tool storage can be accommodated. Here are a couple of shots of some of the ways I store my tools and small work pieces.

Bench drawer and tool storageJewelry Hammer rack

Sanding Stick StorageTool and work piece storageJewelry tools Storage

Then there is the ability to store material and other bits and pieces you need. I found that what works best for me is a table top organizer unit with small drawers and dedicated storage spaces. Again, this is something that can be bought separately if the bench you like doesn’t come with it.

An images of my custom-built table top organizer and next to it the commercial version:

Jewelers Bench top storage unit

Jewelers benchtop storage

Quality

I have already touched a lot on quality. The key as you have read is to get the best possible quality you can afford. That is both the quality of timber used and the quality of the make, i.e., do all parts fit perfectly together, has the producer created a nice piece of furniture that that you feel a joy using and working at or is it just a bunch of cheap 4x4s that have been knocked together with brad nails and staples?

Do all drawers slide easily, nothing binds or squeaks? Look for those little extras that tell you that the producer has paid attention to detail like the fit of hardware or the cut-outs for the bench pin and Mandrel holes.

No need to spend too much time here. You know quality when you see it I am sure, and attention to detail I guess is second nature if you do jewelry anyway.

If you are thinking of purchasing a jewelry bench, then here are some great tips for you so that you can make get the best value for your money. To begin with, never compromise on quality. Try to get the best jewelers’ bench tool within your budget. Other factors to take into account are functionality, style, sturdiness and storage. Good Luck!

So go shopping and drop a comment below if you have some good hints or places to buy that you can share with others.