Setting up a place to work
Taking time over setting up a suitable place to work is important to make working on your silver jewellery easier, and also more enjoyable. Getting it right will also mean you can work more efficiently. You do not need a large space – just enough for a small desk will be sufficient to get started initially. The area should preferably be ventilated and well lit, ideally with natural light. Make sure the area, even if small, is free from other clutter, and has access to a power socket. It should also be dry, as damp will cause tools to rust. Access to a sink is very useful, and it is a good idea to fit the plug hole with a fine strainer, which will catch any small pieces of metal that might otherwise accidentally get washed down the plug hole.
The central focus of your workspace will be your workbench, so take time to consider this carefully and choose the best option for you. The main requirement is that it should be sturdy, as you will need to hammer on it and push against it whilst working; for further stability fix it to the wall or floor if you can. The workbench also needs to be the correct height – this will be around 1m (39in). To measure the ideal height for you, first select your chair. Make sure your chair is comfortable as you may be working for long periods of time; an office chair with adjustable height is ideal. Set the chair fairly low, so that your knees are parallel with or just above your waist. The bench top should be at midchest level when you are sitting upright with the chair in this position.
A traditional workbench will have a semi-circle cut out of the front, which allows you to get close to your work. In the centre of the semicircle cut-out, the bench peg is positioned. This is a wedge-shaped piece of wood, with a ‘v’ cut
out of it. It supports your piece and helps to keep it stable whilst working on it. The bench peg will be about 12–20cm (5–8in) from your eyes whilst working, and your neck will be in alignment. Do not stoop to work, as this may lead to back problems.
Underneath the bench peg is either a tray or a bench skin. This will catch small pieces and filings that can be gathered up to reuse or recycle; it also protects the jeweller from any hot or sharp objects.
Some benches have storage drawers built into them. Lots of small hand tools are used when making jewellery, so you do need to consider how you will store them. Small shallow drawers are ideal, as you can find things more easily. It is good to be able to reach tools whilst you are at the bench, leading to more efficient working. You might consider hanging tools from hooks on the wall next to your workbench. This keeps the work surface clutter-free and allows you to reach the tools you need as you need them. Jars and pots on your bench are also useful for small items such as saw blades, pens and scribes.
Ready-made workbenches can be purchased from tool suppliers. There are also second-hand or cheaper benches available, but new workbenches are available for reasonable prices online. If you are just starting out or have limited space, you can build your own jewellery workbench, or convert an old desk or sturdy wooden bench. The bench top should ideally be 5cm (2in) thick. Cut out a semi-circle, and then clamp a bench peg in position. Attach a bench skin underneath; these are traditionally made from leather. Ideally hang the bench skin from hooks so that it can be removed for recovery of metal dust.
Lighting is a crucial consideration when making jewellery. You must ensure that your working area is well lit, as you will be doing a great deal of close work, and natural light should be complemented by a good ceiling light and an adjustable lamp on the bench. Ideally, select an adjustable light with a pivot, which can be clamped securely to your workbench. Adju...