Increasing speed for production work

Hi All,

I’m someone who all through life has had people comment that
although I do a good job with whatever I do I tend to take too long

  • this was written on practically every report card I ever had at
    school. A while ago working as a casting assistant my speed came up
    as an issue - after I was given further training and various
    shortcuts were pointed out to me I managed to get slightly above
    target with my speed. This week however I started a new job with a
    different company as a polisher and prep “jeweller”. My boss has
    already told me that although my work is good I’m too slow and will
    have to work on my speed - he has brought this up three times within
    the first week. The jeweller training me has told me that he’s not
    worried about my speed because I’m learning and he’s happy that I
    listen carefully and follow instructions well - he has said that
    speed will come with time. I’m secretly very worried that a point
    in time will come when the jeweller training me will turn to me and
    ask me why I’m still going so slow. I focus intensely on the work I
    am doing and am constantly reminding myself to pay attention to my
    pace but before I get up to pace I start making mistakes and
    fumbling while I’m polishing ('causing me to lose pieces down the
    exhaust hose).

I’m just wondering if anyone here can offer any practical advice on
how to get my speed up and as quickly as possible. Anything at all
that you can offer will be greatly appreciated.


   The jeweller training me has told me that he's not worried about
my speed because I'm learning and he's happy that I listen
carefully and follow instructions well - he has said that speed
will come with time. 

This is the important statement and fact from master to apprentice,
also, get SMARTER, solder clean and thorough, check work with
optivisor(magnification), ask jewler for tips

   constantly reminding myself to pay attention to my pace but
before I get up to pace I start making mistakes and fumbling while
I'm polishing ('causing me to lose pieces down the exhaust hose). 

ask the jeweler what is expected from you for each piece, until you
get the hang of it, as long as you know how to do the right thing,
without question, do it, don’t go above and beyond that,
unless given the ok, do the work, LEARN, and don’t worry,
get your work checked by him, you can’t keep a pace that
you’ve never kept before, comes through experience, as in
years, figure out ways and systems to do things, above all don’t
sacrifice your body for the work, SAFETY conscious, dp

Unfortunately, many “bosses” in all their forms, use their
intimidating practices to make their new employees feel inadequate.
This form of terrorism either causes the new employee to be obsessed
with their performance for every minute of their work day, or it can
render them phobic and eventually ruined.

Pay attention to the person training you. They will be the best
judge of your performance, and their understanding will help you
more than anything else might.

If you take the time to do everything right the first time, you will
not have to repeat any proceedures, which is a big time-waster.

One of the best bits of advice that I received from a mentor was

First, you work at being good. Then you concentrate on your speed.

I have seen many examples of fast work, and believe me, you don’t
want to be there. It should come naturally through confidence and
acquired skill.

The best of luck to you, and don’t feel rushed by your boss. It’s a
game for them, and their rush ethic is not one to be admired,
especially when training a new employee.

You’ll be fine. Keep proving yourself by your dedication to detail,
and you will eventually stand out as an asset to the company, or
another company if need be.

David Keeling

David P.

What’s the hurry? Are you having a race with yourself? Strive to
make every item you finish as if you are going to buy it yourself.
Watch out for all the details in “finishing”. Once you have memorised
and make all of these ‘actions’ a habit, you will unconsciously find
that your speed will gradually improve, “improve to what level”?

its with greater ease…not speed. Speed kills!!! Speed in jewellery
means you will forsake one stage of finishing and find
another…lower level. Don’t try to achieve speed !

Do I care if setting a Princess diamond worth $7,000 takes me 30
minutes or another takes me 10 minutes? what is speed for? “accuracy
and care is totally paramount”!

If I wanted speed I would have been an Olympic runner, this is where
speed is important, not in jewellery making or setting…:>)

I have a terrible struggle with time management in my own studio,
when I am self-directed and having to sort many different tasks and
ideas into an order of priority. But on the job, almost any job,
from jewelry to office work, I have always been considered fast. The
difference is boredom and using it to an advantage.

My advice is to make a game of being efficient. Pretend that
efficiency is your task – your challenge – rather than perfection.
You don’t have to lower your standards on the work, but each time
you do something well and efficient, take note, and do it again. You
can really use the repetitive tasks of a job to hone your
efficiency. Take advantage of the fact that you are doing the same
thing over and over again. It’s an opportunity. But most
importantly, make it a game, or a personal challenge. Don’t think of
it as something you have to do to please your boss or you will
definitely start losing pieces down the hose. Make it your own
personal challenge, and then your boss’s praise will be a bonus.

I’ve done all sorts of crazy temp jobs to support my studio
adventures. It was during 8 hour days of stamping envelopes that I
developed the efficiency game – to keep from going crazy. If I
could get a task up to a speed of way more than was expected, then
sometimes I got to go home early with full pay.

Now I am trying to apply this mindset in my studio. It is much more
difficult when the task is not repetitive. But I have learned to
group tasks that are similar and to take note of the time they take.
Just paying attention to time can make a huge difference. We all do
metal because we love it. But sometimes that love manifests itself
as the jewelry version of staring longingly into a lover’s eyes –
where time seems not to exist. This is not efficient! There will be
time to admire your work when it is done. Try to love the process of
completing each step just as much as you love checking out that
perfectly smooth polish you achieved that maybe, just maybe, could
be a little better with one more go on the wheel. Learn to let it go
and move on. The piece will not dissolve into ruins once you set it

Hope some of this crazy rambling can be helpful to you. Good luck!

Hello Freak,

The best advice that I could give you, is to use finer files and
emery papers to prep your work. Most people use heavy files and
papers that just add insult to injury! If you scratch it, you’ll have
to remove those scratches! Rubber wheels and Scotch Brite wheels are
very good substitutes to files or emery papers. If you are going to
continue to use files, get #4 & #6 cut files, alternating from the #4
to the #6. If you continue with emery paper, use 400 grit, then 600

Always alternate strokes in reverse diagonal directions to the
surface, as if you were making an X pattern. And never use the “white
knuckle” approach, bearing down “too” hard against the surface. Which
only imbeds the scratches deeper, and not smoothing the surface.

And of course, pick up your speed as you get more adept.


    Unfortunately, many "bosses" in all their forms, use their
intimidating practices to make their new employees feel
inadequate. David Keeling 

Hi All;

I’ve seen examples of behavior that support David’s hypothesis. Get
the employee struggling to achieve “pride of workmanship” so that the
issue of “pride of workplace” is never addressed. But what I’m
interested in contributing to this discussion is this.

Speed is really irrelevant.

Here’s why. There is an optimum manner or technique for any
production method. This implies an optimum rate of executing these
procedures. In other words, if you’ve been shown the proper
technique, doing it faster will compromise the quality, doing is to
slowly will be due to improper execution of the technique. Suppose
you are lapping an article of jewelry to go from a sanded finish to a
pre-polished state. If you haven’t finished with a fine enough grade
of abrasive, it will take longer than necessary to lap it. If you
have too small a lap, or the wrong hardness, likewise. A split lap
is best, if you have one, but it takes a lot of practice with those
to not ruin the work. If you are not charging the lap often enough,
you will spend to much time on the lap, the article will get too hot,
and you’ll have to stop, at least to pick up another cooler piece.
How could you, by any motion, lap too slowly? You’d have to wear off
to much metal, or get the piece too hot, or else, the problem will be
in one of the aforementioned conditions. Proper technique is, by
it’s nature, optimally efficient for what that technique is. This is
true of every technique. Suppose you are bright cutting. You are
only going to get so fast at that. Go too fast, you’ll sacrifice
control. If you don’t sharpen the graver properly, you’ll naturally
be inefficient. I hope this is understandable. So if someone
complains about your speed, you may need a teacher with better
powers of observation. After all, the master, one would assume, is
fast enough. Suppose I used the following method to teach swimming .
. . I take you out in a rowboat, I jump in the water and swim around
the boat once. Then I climb back in, toss you out into the water and
say, “well, now that you know how it’s done, I’ll see you back at
shore” and I then row off without you.

David L. Huffman


Many of us have been that route, when I first started I was very
lucky and had a mentor that was more concerned with quality more than
fast production.

I found that as time passed the amount of pieces that I was able to
finish in a day increased, whether this was in cutting stone,
fabricating, polishing, setting stones or pulling waxes whatever the

It all takes time to become quick, especially with out injuring your
self, we work in one of the more hazardous above ground jobs there
are, Polishing is by far one of the more dangerous facets of our
chosen profession.

I would much rather have pieces leaving my shop looking good and my
workers still having all their digits still attached to the same
body part they were on when they began the day.

On the other hand I have had to let people go in the past for
performance flaws, not working too slowly though, more often than
not for continually trying to buff out all the detail in a stamped
piece, or being careless while trying to hurry up so they can get off
early. Listen to the one who is teaching you, and listen to that
little voice in your head, quickness comes through repetition and
quality comes from caring.

Kenneth Ferrell

End of forwarded message

I used to have a pie chart, clipped from some magazine, posted on my
wall at work. The chart was divided into 3 slices, labeled “highest
quality”, “very fast” and “lowest cost.” Everyone wants all three
but in truth you can only produce two for any given product (report,
jewelry, etc.). For example, if you want “very fast” and “lowest
cost”, you can’t have “highest quality.” Or, if you want “highest
quality” and “lowest cost”, you can’t have “very fast”, and so on.
This pie chart is a useful tool for negotiating expectations.

I think it is difficult for a craftsperson to ratchet down quality
in favor of “lowest cost” and “very fast”, but sometimes that is
what the boss or customer wants. The best workplace values “highest
quality”, but I wonder if very many production job bosses allow that
at the cost of either time or money.


I thought that I would just sit back and read this topic, but the
urge to contribute was overwhealming, so here goes:

First a little about my perspective:

I am a dentist (not just a regular dentist but a prosthodontist,
read perfectionist) and I just started teaching at the dental school
at USC is LA. My wife is an artist in many media as well as a
goldsmith/silversmith. I have dabbled in making jewelry as well as
hammering out sheet metal to repair antique airplanes. I have been
trained in colleges, dental schools and sweaty machine tool factories
where I polished large brass and aluminum pieces to a mirror finish
creating black dirt that penetrated all orifices thru protective

My personal learning style involves first trying to understand and
visualize what I am trying to do. I follow this by watching someone
and having them “mentor” me thru the process. In dental school you
learn to handle new tools that are powerful but require a lot of care
and control. It is useful to me to push the equipment sometimes to
the “danger” point so that I get a feel for what it can do. I tend
to be conservative at first and then as control and visualization
skills improve I can go faster. The ability to visualize controls my
speed. It is like the old story of how you carve the elephant: you
just remove all the non elephant pieces! If I can “see” what I need
to do I can use the appropriate speed (considering safety and the
nature of the material (or Person) I am working on. Students tend
to have a large learning curve. They are new to the tools, the
processes and the materials, not to mention the wealth of choices
(diamond bur, carbide bur, what shape to use, what kind of stone
grinding point). They are timid in agressively attacking the
material because they do not have control and visualization skills.
They are afraid of making mistakes! Dental students get graded on
preparations on plastic teeth: cut too fast and the plastic will
burn, cut too slow and you will not finish on time. In teaching
them I have had the most success in doing a one-on-one, and
demonstrating what I would do and then turning it over to them and
watching them do it and critiquing their technique.

Many times speed involves planning: know what you need to do, gather
the materials and supplies, have a checklist and be undisturbed by
phone calls etc. Concentrate and learn how to do it. Learn how to
evaluate your progress at each step (did I finish the surface enough
with this step so that I can move on to the next step). Know when to
ask a question. Keep a notebook on the good things you learn as well
as the mistakes so that you do not have to make the same ones again
(progress is making new mistakes, mistakes many times can be new
design opportunities!).

I do not believe that there is one right way to do most things. We
can all agree on the specifications for the finished product, we can
agree on the order in which things get done (coarse sanding before
fine sanding) but there are many different approaches. Learning the
basics of a technique is the foundation for understanding how
something is done and what the “signs” are for following the next
branch of the trail. You will still arrive at the end of the trail
if you walk it or if you jog it. How much you enjoy it may or may
not differ. For each person trained to do the work, their approach
will be different, but the end result can be the same. This
discussion is not about creativity but only on the production of an
item once the design process is finished (creativity would be another
interesting thread with an infinite number of approaches).
Brainstorming with others, taking classes in different techniques can
open you up to new ways to use your old tools and techniques as well
as opening up totally new approaches.

An aside: practicing on a different material than the one you need
to use can be useful. Copper in many ways is like sterling. Get
practice pieces and “play”, do the extreme: make hemispheres out of
pennies! Push the material and technique, mess it up and see if you
can correct it. Know when you have enough skill to try this on the
real thing! Living on the edge is not for everyone.

Charles Friedman DDS
Ventura, CA