Make Yourself a Tabletop Jeweler’s Bench

A few weeks ago, I decided to make myself a tabletop jeweler’s bench similar to this one. I don’t have a proper jewelry bench and needed one that fit into a crowded work space.  I had a few more requirements:  I wanted to set up the bench directly across from my soldering station. I wanted the bench to hold my bench pin at the right height for comfortable sawing. I also wanted to have a bit of storage underneath the bench. Most importantly, I needed a portable bench so  I could move it out of the way if I needed to use the work station for something else.

My last requirement was that I wanted to make the bench using  tools and materials I already had on hand.  I possessed  an old hand-held power jigsaw, a couple of  miter box saws, (inherited from my father-in-law), a drill, and a cordless screwdriver.   My materials consisted of a wood snack tray (which seemed to be the perfect size for the top of the bench,)  some boards and wood scraps picked up from dumpster diving, and an assortment of screws collected over the years.   I didn’t want to buy anything else if I could help it.  And every time I was ready to break down and buy something, I discovered that I already owned something that would do the trick. I didn’t have to buy a thing!

19 finished bench

This is my finished bench and I think it looks pretty good considering that I didn’t know what I was doing.  I’m not skilled enough to make  drawers but I did make a pull-out shelf and added a rack on the back for pliers.

19 Back of bench

The portable bench measures 24” wide, 16” deep and about 9” high with the screw-on feet and 8” without. It is put together entirely with screws. This means it can be disassembled and stored easily. Or you can just slide the shelf out and stow it a corner.

I have no carpentry skills.  I have never made anything out of wood unless you count the Popsicle stick trivet I made for my mother in Kindergarten.  So I watched a lot of YouTube videos on carpentry and using tools.  I wish I could tell you that there’s a great video on how to make this portable bench, but there’s not.

My raw materials:

 

I will post plans on how to make the bench, and step-out photos next week.  Stay tuned.

What’s On My Bench Now

I’m in the process of refining my homemade bronze clay firing schedule. The pieces below sintered beautifully, but they were the only things in the kiln that did. I had to re fire everything else, but they turned out fine on the second firing. Some more tweaking is clearly in order.

 

Second firing before cleaning. Everything sintered

I’ve been fooling a around with low-cost texture sheets. These are silicone brush cleaning mats that I cut up to make them easier to use. You can find these at Five Below, Wish.com, and Amazon

I got this texture stamp at Wish.com. I can’t find the link, but they have hundreds of designs.

 

Some previously-fired bronze that I have shaped in a swage bock. I’m waiting for it to talk to me.

Some more bronze and ceramics. I think the white pieces will end up as earrings. The bronze triangle might end up as part of a toggle clasp.

Some more ceramics and bronze wire in various shapes.

I have been thinking about riveting these two pieces together. I don’t know. They might work better as separate pieces.

A ceramic piece waits for me to decide what to do with it.

More ceramic pieces.

I am in the process of finishing a new batch of ceramic components. I burnish them in a rock tumbler and am trying different polishes to see what I like best.

My new dual barrel tumbler from Harbor Freight. I still have my vibratory tumbler, but I thought I’d give this one a try. The first one delivered from Harbor Freight had a leaky barrel. I asked for a replacement. They said they didn’t stock replacement barrels and sent me a while new unit. Which is a good thing because the first tumbler developed a short and ended up frying a circuit breaker. (Which the electrician pointed out to me after the tumbler tripped the circuit breaker several times.) The second tumbler is working fine and I hope it doesn’t develop a short. Which leads me to another thing. Before the second tumbler arrived, I looked high and low for instructions on how to repair the leak in the barrel. I found nothing. One site said it couldn’t be done. Then I found a tumbler barrel repair kit on line which inspired me to devise my own repair. If you can patch tires, why can’t you patch a rubber tumbler barrel? I mean really.

I had some liquid latex that I use for mold making. I cut a two-inch square of scrap silk fabric (because I figure silk in strong), soaked it with the latex and applied it to the barrel. I let that dry and added another layer of latex. When that dried, I covered the patch with a piece of packing tape.

No leaks yet and the tumbler has been going for a few days. Liquid latex is not that expensive and has many uses. For more information, check out the ultimate guide.

Porcelain and Bronze Make Jewelry

I’ve been fooling around with colored porcelain components for a while, and usually make them into pendants or earrings.   Here’s my first ring which might not be a practical application, but it was fun to try.  The metal is bronze, my current favorite.

diagramI decided to go with a prong setting in bronze.    The basic diagram (not to scale) is above.  I cut a piece of wire, soldered it closed with hard solder and shaped it with a round mandrel. Then  I laid out the prongs in the 2, 4, 8, and 10 O’clock positions and soldered them on with hard solder.  (The red dotted line is an estimate of the size of my ceramic focal  so I could be sure that I cut the prongs long enough.)    Then I cut, shaped and filed the shank and soldered it on with  medium  solder.   Here’s a tutorial that shows something similar to what I did.

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I cleaned up the ring and bent the prongs around the focal so I could measure where to cut them before balling them with a torch,

 

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I didn’t use easy solder on the ring because I didn’t want to detach a prong when I balled it.

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Shaping the prongs around the focal and making sure it is centered on the ring

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I tapped the prongs very lightly with a hammer to tighten them.

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View from underneath

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Definitely not a ring for everyday wear!

I now have a small kiln that fires to cone 6, so I expect to be making more ceramic components in the future.

Oval Jump Ring Ovation!

I like to use oval jump rings in my jewelry because they are strong and attractive.  But it can be difficult to make them.  I tried the oval winder you see below.  Unless your wire is very stiff, it twists when you take it off the mandrel  making it hard to cut jump rings with consistently-positioned seams, and even harder to saw them in a jump ring jig.

After some experimenting,  I found the best solution for me is to make my own mandrels that I modify slightly so I can saw even, consistent jump rings.

Tape two round mandrels together, wind the wire evenly around them and saw, positioning your saw at an angle as you would for round jump rings.   The notch or space between the mandrels allows you to angle your saw and cut a perfect jump ring.  Here are some pictures of the process of sawing oval jump rings using two 10 mm mandrels. Be sure to securely clamp  your mandrel to something to hold it steady while you saw.  And don’t forget to lubricate your saw blade.

The size and shape of your jump  rings are limited only by the size and shape of your mandrels.  I wanted some smaller jump rings and used drill bits I taped together at the drilling ends so I could use the smooth parts as mandrels. Again, the space between the two drill bits allows you to saw your jump rings at an angle, one jump ring at a time.

I used 1/4″ drill bits here.  You could go smaller if you needed smaller jump rings.  You could use nails with the heads sawed off, or any kind of smooth mandrels taped together.

Some more mandrels to try:  Paint stirrers and Popsicle sticks make great oval-shaped jump rings.  Just clamp them to a steady surface, wind the wire, and saw.

I All sizes

Here’s a sampling of different oval jump rings you can make with the mandrels I’ve described.  The ends are nice and flush for soldering  or you can close them with pliers and leave them unsoldered.  Give it a try!

 

A Cheap and Easy-to-Make Jump Ring Tool

I have been on a quest for an inexpensive and easy method for making jump rings. I like to make my own so I can choose whatever metal, gauge, and type of wire I need at any given time. Sometimes I cut jump rings with flush cutters, but I always find myself filing the ends. I like my unsoldered rings to look soldered to the untrained eye and for me, this means I have to saw them.

I made myself a jump ring cutting jig a few years  ago.  I like that it’s portable but I struggle to find a  comfortable way to hold the jump rings in place while I saw.  Sometimes my hand cramps and if I’m interrupted or my saw blade catches or breaks, it’s difficult to pick up sawing on the same line,  since this method has you sawing from the inside of the coil.  (If you have trouble using a jig like this, try turning it backwards so you can hold the coil snug with your thumb as you saw. See picture below. This worked well for me for awhile.)

Sawing with commercial jig

 

I needed a better solution. I watched a ton of videos on cutting jump rings: I watched videos where people held their coils in miter vises, like this one. I haven’t had much luck with vises. My coil slips around and I am afraid of crushing the coil if I tighten the jaws of the vise  too much.

I watched videos on using jump ring cutting pliers.  Not a good solution for me.  To cut jump rings with this method,  you have to hold the pliers at an angle with one hand, and support them on a little rod that protrudes from the bottom while you saw with the other hand. I would have a hard time sawing like this.

I saw some wonderful YouTube videos including this one on how to make a jump ring cutter. by Pocket 83.   I found it particularly inspiring because Mr. Pocket (or is it Mr, 83?) explains why he takes every step and does not assume knowledge. I was considering trying to make a variation of his cutter until I saw this video by Elizabeth Honeysett who demonstrates  cutting the jump rings off a wooden dowel.  That got my attention. I could do that! But not before I made some modifications.

First, I needed my cutting mechanism to remain stationary. There is nothing more frustrating that trying to use a wonky, wobbly tool. (sharing a bed with a fidgeter runs a close second.)

Elizabeth’s dowel-cutting method addressed my second requirement: I needed to be able to see what I was doing, which means cutting the rings from the outside.

Third, I needed an easy way to push the coils up to the saw in a manner  that did not cramp my hands, and allowed me to concentrate on the sawing.  I made a  few different tools based on the dowel cutting method.  I am sharing the best one with you.

The  tool is simply a dowel with a large washer that enables you to push the coil up to the saw as you cut the rings. The washer gives you something larger to grip and you can easily compress the coils so the individual rings stay in place as you saw until you move them up the dowel to meet the saw blade at diagonal cutting point.   The rings are easy to control and you can see what you are doing.

Experiment number 2-note dowel is in a vise

I secured my dowel in a vise when I first tried this method.  Don’t.  I found that the act of sawing made the dowel constantly change position. Aggravating!  A shorter dowel didn’t  help. I simply could not get the vise tight enough to keep the dowel in place  for the whole sawing operation.

Wood dowel in vise shiftingdowel

The solution was simple. I ditched the vise in favor of two household clamps that hold the dowel like a rock.  Find a clamp or two that works for you.

Success clamp not vise

The tool is a snap to make.  Grab a wood dowel in the diameter you need,  drill a hole one one end so you can secure the wire for winding, and cut a diagonal notch on the other end to guide your saw blade.

Wind your coil tightly around the dowel and trim off the end in the hole so you can move the coil on the dowel.

Position the washer behind the coils and begin to saw into the top of the coil on the diagonal using the notch as a guide.   Use the washer to gently push the coil and keep it snug  as each ring is cut through and falls off the dowel.  Lubricating your saw blade really helps.

Experiment number 2 sawing

The modified dowel works pretty well.  No more fighting to control my tools and materials.

SawingJR from Dowel 2
Sawed jump rings falling off the dowel

JumpRings3
The finished product

While there are faster and more efficient ways to make jump rings. (Jump ringer, jump ring making tool) the modified dowel method is  an easy, inexpensive option.  Dowels and washers come in so many sizes that you won’t be limited.  And now that you know an easy way to saw round jump rings, what about oval jump rings?  They’re harder to make because  oval coils like to twist and change position.  But I think I’ve  found a solution.   Coming up in a later post.

June in Bob’s Garden

It’s been a crazy the past two weeks and some of the activity shows signs of slowing down. Philadelphia is now in a “Yellow Phase.” The Frank Rizzo mural in the Italian Market has been painted overOther activity is stepping up, and that’s a good thing.  It needs to stay stepped up.  We can talk all we want, but the only thing that counts is what we do.

I was sitting on my front stoop the other morning (this is Philly and we have stoops) sifting through a batch of bronze clay fresh out of the kiln and admiring the latest iteration of my neighbor Bob’s urban garden.  It was a welcome respite from all the tsuris.  Here are some pictures.

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Water Hyacinth  Food for turtle who was sleeping in when I took this picture,

6 Candid Koi Photo
Some of the Koi fish

JapaneseMaple
This Japanese Maple has moved down the street where Bob planted it in front of another neighbor’s house.  It’s going to get big.

 

Some pictures from last month that are too pretty not to post.  And here’s the rest of them, orchids, lotus flowers, and more.

Some sad news,  Loki, Bob and Brad’s fearless feline, died at the ripe old age of 16.  Loki kept the house free of mice and the street free of pigeons and yappy dogs.   Gentle journey  little fella.

 

LokiBigFileadj
Fearless Loki

Philadelphia: This Week in History

It’s been quite a week.  I wouldn’t say that things started with the murder of George Floyd, because they started long before that.  I worked as a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia for seven years when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, taking mostly court appointments.  I wasn’t a white knee-jerk liberal, and I wasn’t idealistic.  But what I saw, and what I experienced changed how I see the world.

Many police departments have had toxic cultures when it comes to dealing with people of color.  Philadelphia is no different.  One of the most divisive figures in the city’s history has been Frank Rizzo who was the Police Commissioner from 1968 to 1971, and later, Mayor.  There was a controversial mural of Rizzo not far from my house in the Italian Market.  People in the neighborhood have been trying to get it removed for years.  This week, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program ended involvement with the Frank Rizzo mural and it is going to be replaced with art more fitting for the neighborhood.

TheRizz
Rizzo Mural

 

Likewise the bronze statue of Frank Rizzo that has stood before the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building since 1999 has been removed after years of  argument over whether it should stay or go.

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Statue being removed during wee hours of June 3, 2020

I said in the opening sentence of this post that the events of this week didn’t start with the murder of George Floyd.  We all have a tenancy to ignore things that don’t affect us and to bury feelings that make us squirm.  It’s only human, but it’s dangerous-like ignoring a chronic headache that turns out to be a brain tumor that could have been treated if only we had paid attention.   And it’s only human to do things a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always done them.  That’s dangerous too,  We have to think about what we think about and we have to be aware of our history.  If they don’t teach us in school, we have to find out for ourselves.

I invite you to have a peek into Philadelphia history of the 1870’s, the era of Reconstruction when slavery as a formal institution had ended in this country and when social parity for everyone seemed like it might even  be achievable.  Until it wasn’t.

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Octavius Catto,

It only took 147 years for Philadelphia to commemorate  the work of Octavius Catto who was murdered in 1871 while helping black voters exercise their right to vote.  Read the post, Octavius Catto’s Quest for Parity.   Then understand that we must change, or this tumor we’ve been ignoring for so long will kill us.

 

 

 

 

 

Some Great Articles and Videos on Finishing Metal Jewelry

Andy Cooperman wrote a terrific series of articles on how to use the flex shaft which you can read here.

And there is a great series of how-to videos from Martha Glennie who is a professor at George Brown University in Canada. 14 videos on cover every aspect of finishing metal jewelry. You’ll want to watch them all.

 

 

McGyver Your Ring Clamp

I bought a ring clamp when I took my first metalsmithing class years ago but could never figure out how to use it.  Then I saw Helen Driggs’ article on how to use a ring clamp and decided to try.  But my wedge was too small and I couldn’t hold anything very tight.  I was too cheap to buy another ring clamp so back in the drawer it went.

Then I saw Nancy L.T. Hamilton’s article on how to convert a ring clamp with a too-small wedge into one that would actually hold something.  You basically drill a hole in the clamp so you can insert a bolt with a wing nut to hold the clamp shut.  What a great idea!  I went to drill out my clamp and saw that it was made out of plastic, not wood.  I didn’t know whether I would destroy it by drilling it so back in the drawer it went.

And while this seems like a non-sequitur, it’s not: I ate a lot of popsicles last summer  and the sticks are littering my workshop.  And I have duct tape.  And that was my solution to my non-functional ring clamp.

 

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Duct tape four popsicle stocks to the wedge.

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Break off the excess on top

 

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Cover the wedge tightly

 

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The wedge should fit tightly into the clamp

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A ring ready for sawing

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I was able to saw the ring comfortably.  The altered wedge held it tight.

 

May your days be merry and bright and may all your ring clamps hold your jewelry tight! (Sorry)

Designing a Jewelry Set in an Online Class

Everything is closed at Fleisher Art Memorial because of the pandemic so they have moved many of their classes online.  I decided to take a class called Designing a Jewelry Set with teacher Maureen Duffy and I am loving it.   Registration for the summer term at Fleisher has just opened and if you are interested in taking Designing a Jewelry Set, you can sign up here.

Our first assignment was to design some rings, just brainstorming and not worrying about how or if we could actually make them.  Here’s what I came up with:

rings

(A note here,  I use MS Word to draw.  For more information on how to do this, watch some YouTube videos here.   It’s a handy tool and you don’t need the latest version.)

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My classmates and I bounced ideas off of one another and I got the idea to use ceramic pieces in some of the rings.

 

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Trying to figure out how a ring would look with a ceramic focal and how to make it.

 

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Our teacher advised us on how we might execute our designs  told us about web sites and jewelry artists who were doing similar things so we could see their design processes.

I actually tried making a couple of the designs in bronze.  I don’t think the ring with the ceramic focal is very practical, but it was fun to try.

Next assignment:  design earrings that harmonize with the ring designs.  Here’s what I have so far:

earrings

Again, I drew the designs in MS Word and will  attempt to make a few in bronze.  I’ll let you know how they turn out.

Fleisher is offering an array of  online art classes for the summer including a class in jewelry wax fabrication with  Hratch Babikian who is an extraordinary teacher.  You don’t have to be local to Philadelphia to take these classes, and the tuition is very reasonable.