Power Options for the Jewelry Workshop

Almost all jewelry work can be done using hand tools, but in this day and age you can’t go past the fact that power tools just make life so much easier. But as the name implies, you need power.“Ok,” I hear you say, “power, what’s so special about that? I plug stuff in the wall socket, switch it on and presto, it all works.” True in most cases, but one thing that you have to consider when setting up for your workshop is to choose a location with sufficient outlets to accommodate the number of electrical devices you need to plug in.

Just a quick listing of stuff I have in my workshop that require power:

  • Bench light
  • Spotlight over polish motor
  • Light in fume extractor
  • Pickle pot
  • Polishing Motor
  • Flex shaft (if I had my way I would have two but so far I have constrained myself from getting a second one)
  • Bench Drill
  • Tumbler motor
  • Transformer (in my case I have a couple of electrical items that I have imported from the US which runs on 110V as opposed to standard Australian 230V; I’ll get into more detail about this a bit later)
  • Shop-vac for fume and dust extraction

So as you can see, it can really quickly mount up to quite a few plugs needed. In that context there are some things you need to consider:

  • Do you have to have all items plugged in at all times?
  • What sort of power does each unit draw? (i.e. the watt reading on the device)
  • Is your setup safe?
  • Do all items use the same type of power?

Do you have to have all items plugged in at all times?

One of the easiest ways to limit the requirement for power outlets is to decide that you are OK with plugging stuff in as you need it. Having said that, though, you will at a minimum need to have two items plugged in at the same time (being your flex shaft and your light), but if you are like me and find it crazy annoying having to plug and unplug tolls and lights all the time, you have to look into more plugs. There are some options to consider:

Get your wall socket changed to a multi socket

This is definitely the best and safest option, especially since you should not attempt to change any wall sockets yourself! Always get a licensed electrician to do this type of work. Although you can easily go to the local hardware store and buy a 4-socket outlet and I guess equally easy connect the cables in the wall to the new socket. But that is not actually the issue! The issue is that all the different phases of power in your house / are rated to take a certain amount of load before the fuse is blown for that particular phase. You have probably tried it before: you turn on the dishwasher, microwave, and electrical heater at the same time and “puff!” goes the power. What the electrician takes into account is the amount of load you plan on putting on the particular circuit and make a decision if it is necessary to have a separate circuit for your workshop.

Getting the right number of sockets installed by a certified electrician is obviously the way to go, but in many cases it’s beyond the $$ reach for many. Hence the next best thing would be:

Use extension court with a fused power board

Crazy cabling

Whilst not the ideal solution and you are still constrained by the same problem with load on a single circuit, there is actually some benefits. The power boards can be mounted on your bench close to where the power is needed. You can do this with screws or double-sided tape. You can get power boards with fuses that will “blow” before the main fuse for the wall socket blows. You can get power boards with separate on-off switches so you can turn power on or off to single units at a time without having to unplug the unit.

One thing to keep in mind here is that I am speaking from an Australian framework; this may obviously differ wildly depending on where you are in the world. I know in Denmark there are very strict rules around the quality of the power boards which doesn’t seem to be the case in Australia. Obviously there are the places in the world where power is…shall we say…somewhat unregulated!

The way I have the power set up in my workshop is the cheap way with power boards. I effectively have 2 wall sockets, so what I have needed to do is set up 3 different power boards, all with individual on and off switches. As mentioned, I run a transformer for 110V, so I have gotten myself a US plug power board that I connect my US powered gadgets to. (Again, I’ll get to that in a sec.)

But I can effectively turn off all power to all devices in one move by flicking just the one wall socket switch. You can see in the pictures below how I have a fused power board screwed into the bottom of the back bracket on my bench.

IMG_2391  IMG_2389

What sort of power does each unit draw?

Back to the question of load or, said in a different way, how much power your units draw. It’s relatively easy to establish if you have the tech spec on your power-consuming units. Also, each unit must have a label clearly stating exactly how much power the unit draws.

The consumption is measured in watts but may also be shown in amps. Convert amp to watt by using the following formula:

Volts x Amps = Watts  or  110V x 1.5 A = 165W  

But before I start sounding like a know anything about this, you are probably better off reading this article that explains watts in general.

 Is your setup safe?

This is probably the most important aspect of the workshop power setup. It HAS to be safe, not just for you when working there but also for kids, pets, and other people who may occasionally gain access to your bench area.

So make sure you don’t have cables anywhere where they can get burnt, i.e. near your solder area, hot plate, etc., or get caught in moving parts, i.e. close to your polishing motor. Make sure the plugs are fully inserted when working with wire (especially if you use copper; if you have a plug that is not fully pushed in you could risk the wire sliding under the plug hitting the metal legs of the plug. Not nice!).

Do not overload your circuit, especially if you run stuff like a pickle pot and a hot plate which may be turned on for a while and draw a fair amount of power.

If the circuit is overloaded, you have a very real risk of fire. In most cases the safety switch on your main fuse board will trip if the system is overloaded, but in some older houses there may not be a properly working safety switch so be careful. Also make sure you turn off everything when you finish working.

An easy way to make sure everything is turned off is to get one of those power boards with a brightly lit on/off switch. Lead all equipment back to this board. That way you can simply turn off all power from one location and you can easily see if the power is turned off.

Does all equipment use the same type of power?

Getting back to the question about what type of power your equipment is using…

I figured out fairly early on that all jewelry tools are some 50-100% cheaper in the US.

It is actually one of these mysteries that I don’t quite get. I can understand why high quality European or US tools would be more expensive here in Australia, but when the cheap Asian stuff has a similar mark-up despite the fact the we are much closer to Asia than the US I get the feeling that something is a little strange.

Hence I often import tools and equipment from overseas. For power tools it is not a big deal if the tools come out of Europe where the voltage is the same as in Australia. A little more cumbersome if I get US power tools, which run 110V.

I solved this once and for all by investing in a relatively beefy transformer that is capable of running several pieces of equipment at the same time.

I did a fair amount of research before going down this route. Initially I didn’t really see the value in spending $$ on a transformer, believing that at the end of the day it would even out, so what I saved on the tool I would have to spend on the transformer.

But I realized a couple of things:

  • There is a significantly larger selection of tools and brands available in the US at much lower cost.
  • It is possible to get one large transformer that can run all tools rather than a small transformer for each tool.

After spending time online researching the different transformers, I decided to buy one from a local dealer. Counterintuitive, I know, seeing as I have just been advocating buying stuff overseas. But the thinking there was relatively straight forward: transformers are HEAVY, hence what I could save on the cost I would have to spend on shipping. Also, if there was any issues with the transformer it would be easier to bring it back to a local dealer.

The transformer I ended up getting is a Tortech 500W SD110-500 transformer with one outlet and built-in overload fuse.

IMG_2392 - Version 2

You can’t exactly say it’s small. As mentioned, it’s heavy and takes up a fair amount of space. But I have tucked it away on the floor behind my oxy cylinder so it is not in the way. I got a US plug power board with the transformer so I have sufficient power outlets to connect 5 devices.

So as you can tell, power is not just power. You need to know how you intend to use power and how much, but that in mind there are many different great options that can be used safely in your workshop.

Undoubtedly, power tools have made jewelry making quite easy. If you love using power tools instead of hand tools, then make sure your jewelry creations’ workshop has sufficient outlets to plug-in your electrical devices. For this, it is advisable to first create a list of all the tools that require power supply. This will help you estimate how many power outlets you require within your jewelry making workshop and whether or not you need to change your wall-sockets into multi-sockets to cope with your needs.