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A Jeweler’s Bench Tour with Master Jeweler Eric Sanchez (Volume 1)

Jun 26, 2020

If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when you hand your jewelry over to an experienced jeweler, then this article will help shed a little light as to what goes on back here and what tools we depend on to make your jewelry look and perform better going out than it did coming in. This write up will focus mainly on the tools themselves, and how vital they are to getting the work done. First of all, an overall tour of a typical bench looks like this: 

Here we have a typical wooden bench setup. Depending on the size of the room and orientation, bench sizes differ and come in various widths, and the real nice ones include nifty gimmicks for tool placement or ease of use. Mine is your run of the mill typical layout, with shelving added for extra storage. Everything I need is at arms reach and to my left and right are the laser welder and polishing area respectively. Bench jewelers need a lot of creative ways to hold their pliers, hammers, gravers, etc; as well as a catch drawer (usually lined with metal) for all debris, large particles, or anything else that falls. Basically, you want to keep anything and everything from ending up on the floor. An apron of leather, canvas, or durable clothing is worn to protect the jeweler’s clothing and skin, as well as doubling as a failsafe net of sorts in case debris wants to skip the catch drawer.

The types of hand tools I need to use on a daily basis are quite numerous, as there are hand tools for just about everything. Some that serve multiple purposes, and some that serve just one really well. Everything from pliers, to measuring devices, to hand files. It is all vital, and without them makes some work practically impossible. Some of the bigger tools include rolling mills for rolling out tempered metals into wire or sheets, polishing motors complete with air filtration units for finishing jewelry, ultrasonic cleaners and steam blowers, and of course the laser welder.

 Today I thought I could showcase some of the various pliers I use, how they are used to create and repair your jewelry, and why. One of the most commonly used pliers I depend on are a set of three basic shapes: flat, chain-nose, and round-nose. These are good for holding onto anything my fat fingers just possibly can’t hold. Things like small jump rings, chains, or prongs. The flat ones I find perfect for a wider more secure hold, like shifting prongs without leaving unnatural bends. The chain-nose are perfect for what they are named after, holding thin chain (i.e. opening and closing links). This one is basically pointed for precision. And round-nose comes in handy when you need to bend wire into perfect circles or simply hold something small and round from the inside. I find it good practice to have a good set of pliers and a beater set, for when I’m simply holding a piece in place that needs more elbow grease (like a super thick shank), it keeps me from having to replace pliers over time for loss of alignment. 

 Have you wondered how we get those stones so well fitted between those prongs? One of my favorite pliers to help with this are ones that I still think have no proper name. In general, they are stone setting pliers, but that can mean a lot in terms of shape. My particular go-to is a pair that is shaped like a bird’s beak. Their odd shape is perfect for “pulling prongs” in at the right angle once I’ve got them filed and the stone is sitting loose and level. Typically, they are only used for average-sized center stones as these are the only size these pliers work well with. Getting a center stone tight and perfect is one of the most important parts of stone setting, so these pliers are a godsend as they make my job much easier. Can’t live without them. 

 

The parallel plier is good for when you need to evenly close two sides of something (like a jump ring), or simply to hold something in place where a parallel close is more secure than a wedged one. Some are textured with ridges for grip, and some come flat and smooth on the inside of the jaws. Depending on what stage the metal you are working with is at, the ridged ones I only use when there is metal to take away still so as not to leave marks on a nearly finished piece. Some parallels come with a channel groove along the inside to hold very thin wire in place, very handy when working with earring posts for example, or when making custom prongs.

 

Some pliers need to be specially shaped for very specific tasks. The half-round plier helps me do two things, hold and secure a ring shank without leaving marks on the inside, and with the help of my finger or another half-round allows me to bend shanks into the round shape you know and love. Flat-edged pliers just would never work as they would leave deep marks with each bend of the metal.

 Sometimes rings are thick enough that half-round pliers are just not strong enough (or maybe I’m just a weakling). More torque is needed, and a good squeeze works better than a pull of the wrist. Ring-bending pliers come in handy here, with yet another odd shape, they do one job and they do it really well. The ones I own are perfect for both strength and the plastic lined ones a great for avoiding marks on engraved shanks. They do come with longer handles too, for when you really need that extra torque.

For times when I need to just close two sides of a shank together evenly, or if I’m setting a massive stone that needs a wide grip, ring-closing pliers come in quite handy. Parallel pliers just don’t open wide enough, and are too flat, so these are perfect for that rounded or cupped shape needed to really wrap around most rings. They also work well to simply just pin two sides together while I laser weld to ensure a flush finish.

Finally, prong-lifting pliers do just what their name suggests (as many of these pliers are named). Lifting prongs! This is how we manage to safely remove stones without damaging the prongs. Obviously, very little effort is needed to open some prongs, so it’s more about the ease of pressure, angle, and precision. Sometimes the trickiest part is simply finding that part of the prong where the edge of the “lifter” catches the front edge of the prong for that first-try lift. These make it easy to simply pull the prong away from the stone, giving zero pressure to the stone itself. Super safe and leaves virtually no mark on the prong.

As you can see, a lot goes into just the pliers alone! But they are all essential for making quality work a breeze for repairs and manufacturing jewelry. Hopefully this helps give you a good idea of what goes on back here and how far tools have come these days. There are new inventions coming out all the time as jeweler’s tend to be handy people and make their own tools. Who knows what kind of plier will be invented next?

Come to Samuelson’s and be rest assured if there’s a tool for it, I’ll be using it to make your jewelry perfect!

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