Jeweler's Work Bench on a budget

As a former carpenter and part time hobby woodworker I’m always
dreaming up what I would like in a work bench when I have time to get
around to making it. For years I’ve worked on an old office desk I
bought at the local thrift store for $7.50. If you’re on a budget
check out the thrift stores (Goodwill, ARC, Salvation Army, etc.).
They get a lot of office desks with laminated tops or solid hardwood
but generally have a good solid 1-2 inch thick work surface. Since
you’re going to be soldering and splashing pickle on it the finish is
not critical. The drawers usually have ball bearing guides although
mine sage a bit from the weight of mandrels, dopping and forming
blocks, and hammers. Cut out a half circle in the middle if you
prefer mine is still straight. Raise the height of the bench with
blocks or build more drawer/cubby hole space underneath. I use the
clamp-on bench pin with the cast iron anvil. I like this set up as I
can remove it out of the way when I need to. I also use a large
chamois from the auto parts store as a catch apron. I have to
replace the chamois every 6 months or so due to hot metal burns but
am well stocked on used ones should anyone need a car wash :wink: I
work exclusively with silver so catching every filing or piece of saw
dust is not critical (at least not now at the current price of
silver). Just my $.02 USD worth…

Rick Copeland – Silversmith
Colorado Springs, Colorado

A Caution on using plywood as a flooring material under the wheels
of an office type chair. In a studio that I had years ago, I used
ply for just such a purpose. Over several months, the rolling action
of the wheels under my weight (150 lbs) delaminated sections of the
ply and quite suddenly opened up a pot hole. One wheel caught this
hole and I flipped over in my studio as I rocketed backwards from my
main bench to my soldering bench (I like separate areas). A tragic
industrial accident…

Since that time and 3 studios later, I now use 3/4 inch ply or osb,
covered w/ a layer of 1/8" masonite or hardboard. This is firmly
screwed down to the base sheet. It holds paint, etc. and won’t

Take care, Andy

Hi All, I also use the converted hardwood office desk, with a bow
sawed out in the middle and the legs lengthened a bit so it stands
higher. The desk top I faced with a layer of used hardwood flooring,
sanded down smooth, and with the cracks filled in.

Hans Durstling
within days - back to
Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Hi Friends, I don’t know if this is dragging out a subject too long,
but a couple of thoughts. I noticed from the BenchExchange photos
that at least a couple people here have the same bench I do. The
first real jeweler’s bench I’ve had the pleasure of owning. It was
really affordable… something like $230 from Rio Grande, plus
shipping. It came crated on a truck, and was very easily assembled.
Three drawers on the right, pull out arm rests, slide out tool tray
and a metal lined catch tray. With a price like that, I would really
have to think twice about taking the time to build my own.

Now for the cutout question. I think the more traditional/European
benches have a full semi-circle cutout, which has always seemed a bit
excessive to me. The bench I bought has a cutout, but it is more of a
half-oblong, if you get my meaning. The center of the cutout is
straight across, so it isn’t as deep. That also makes it a breeze to
mount the BenchMate mounting plate, which is a “must-have” in my
book. I think this cutout configuration is ideal because it gives you
the advantage of the cutout, but not at the expense of a great deal
of bench top real estate.

P.S. I just checked the Rio tools catalog, and the bench is on the
top of p. 115 - US $260.95. Standard disclaimer… no affiliation,
just a satisfied customer.

For what it’s worth,
Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)

After years of working on a home built table top, I bought myself
the JA500 from Progress Tool and Supply, an Orchid referral. It has
a very small cut out. One of my main criteria was that I wanted
dark wood. It came assembled on a crate and weighed a ton!

I like that it has a metal inset on the top for soldering. An
unexpected bonus is that is has a slide out extra work surface –
great for writing, or when you need a clean work surface. I love
it. It has a sweeps drawer with curved cut out, four tool drawers,
arm rests. The sides are solid, so items stored underneath don’t
make the area look messy.

On the down side, the top is blue and it’s not real wood.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor

I had Progress Tool outfit Loyola with 16-JA500 Benches and they are
great!! If they can survive students they can go up against
anything!! They will be 2 years old this summer and withstand 50
students 12 months a year!! After 6 months of working at the school
benches I sold my old bench which is pretty much what you see in most
catalog with a straight catch tray and got one myself. Progress even
cut it down for me. I am short and the average size bench is too high
so they cut almost 3" off the bottom. I am comfortable with the point
of the bench pin at my collar bone. Sue

    After years of working on a home built table top, I bought
myself the JA500 from Progress Tool and Supply, an Orchid referral.
 It has a very small cut out.  One of my main criteria was that I
wanted dark wood.  It came assembled on a crate and weighed a ton! 

I also got tired of my homemade bench and recently ordered a
model#JA-700 bench from Progress Tool and Supply. I had seen the
bench at the MJSA show and loved it. It was the more expensive model.
The catalogue said, “constructed of solid birch wood with durable
laquer finish.” It was weighed a ton but when opening the crate to
assemble it I quickly realized that I is not solid wood at all but
particle board with a type of formica finish. Nothing like what I
had seen at the show or had discussed with them on the phone. I
immediately wrote to them but it has been three weeks already and I’m
getting that funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. My previous
dealings with this company have all been good. I have just mailed
them a second letter but am getting worried because of their
silence. I’m open for any insights. Thanks. Mark Kaplan, Providence
Rhode Island

Not to belittle your situation, but I just jumped on their website
and looked up the JA-700, the description reads:

“JA-700 Champion” Setters Bench has been our No. 1 selling bench.
It is constructed of an industrial grade melamine board with a
durable maple finish throughout. Features 2 full depth and width
aluminum lined drawers, 3 tool drawers, 2 armrests, 2 mandrel holes,
& a pullout board. The originator in adding a recessed stainless
steel plate measuring 6" x 6" on the work surface."

There is nothing in this description about solid Birch, and an
industrial grade melamine board is nothing more than a fine particle
board with a laminate on top. I would not just write to the
company, but I would call them and tell them of your dilema.
Especially if one of their agents told you it was solid Birch.

Now, looking at the descriptions, the JA-410 kinda catches my eye.
Has anyone bought this one yet? Any feedback?