Friday, January 8, 2010

Tip: plan it out

Today I've been thinking about the process of setting up a studio.  My studio kind of "evolved" as I figured out what I wanted and my husband helped me install all the necessary components.  It would have been much easier if I had planned it out beforehand, so I want to give you some pointers to help you design your space .

Setting up a jewelry studio is a bit more involved than setting up a place to paint, or sew, or string beads.  There are several important things to consider.  First of all there are safety issues.  Many of the processes that are used in jewelry making or silversmithing involve using chemicals or dangerous gases. For your safety and the safety of your family or anyone else living in your home (including pets) it is important to understand the need for fresh air, a way to exhaust dangerous fumes, and ways to protect your eyes, ears and lungs.  There are several articles dealing with the subject of studio safety. Here are some links:

There are many other excellent articles on the subject of safety and other jewelry studio and jewelry making  topics on the Ganoksin website. If you have never utilized it,  I highly recommend it.

Once you have educated yourself on all the dangers and safety precautions, the next thing you need to do is decide where your studio will be located. For some of you it will be in a garage or an unused room in your home or apartment if you are lucky enough to have that kind of space.  Others of you will have to think outside the box to find a space. Some homes have large walk-in closets that would work great for a workspace as long as you are not using chemicals or gases. If you decide to use your garage like I did, you will have to be sure that everyone in your family is on-board and respects your space since garages can be a catch-all for "stuff", and you don't want all that "stuff" ending up back in your new found "studio".

Here are the reasons that my garage was the best location for my studio. If your garage area is similarly set up, you might be looking at your perfect studio space:

1. My garage is part of my home
2. My garage can be closed off if necessary by a heavy door whenever there is loud pounding going on
3. We were able to duct air conditioning and heat into the garage
4. We were able to connect to water and drain pipes in the wall for a studio sink.
5. We were able to add an exhaust vent to the outside
6. We were able to add extra circuits to the electric panel which is located in the garage, so we could install extra electrical outlets, switches, and lighting

If you have a room in your home where you can tap into, or add things on to existing utilities, you will have the perfect jewelry studio.  The only thing my jewelry studio is lacking is a window. I would do anything for a window, but I feel so blessed to have everything I have, that I don't complain about not having one!!!

Once you find an area that will work for your studio, get some paper and sketch out a floor plan. Graph paper works great for this. Draw out the dimensions of the room and mark the doorways, windows, and the areas where water, electricity, and even gas if you have it, are located.  Then play around with ways of setting up your work areas. If you are on a tight budget, try to think of things you already have in your home that will work for tables and storage units.  When I first started using my garage for my studio I had several hand-me-down tables, desks, and chairs that I used.  Even card tables can work. You can also use 2 two drawer file cabinets with a hollow core door laid across them to make a really nice worktable.

I have an L shaped counter that I built for my studio that I constructed entirely out of reclaimed items. The cabinets at the bottom are made from an old oak entertainment center that my parents were getting rid of.  I cut it in half right across the middle horizontally and used the two halves as base units to attach the countertop to.  The countertop is constructed out of several pieces of 3/4" plywood that were left over from another project, that I glued together, sanded, and then primed, painted and sealed with urethane. Eventually, when I decided to add some more cabinets and countertops, I used some old cabinets that had originally been in our kitchen after we remodeled one side of it.  Then I went searching and found some similar cabinets that were on sale for half off at Lowe's. They don't match, but they are sturdy and were cheap!  It doesn't have to be beautiful, just functional.

HAKKO 493 bench top smoke absorber

Earlier I talked about safety and the importance of having an exhaust vent to draw out the fumes in your studio. If you don't have a way to set up a vent to the outside for your soldering area there are table top exhaust fans with filter systems built in that are made for glass and jewelry artists.  Here is a link:  At around $110.00 it is an affordable solution to protecting your health while soldering.

The next thing I would suggest when planning out your workspace is to set it up so that you can get to your tools easily.  The old theory about the "kitchen work triangle" applies to the studio as well.  Plan to have certain areas for each different part of your jewelry construction process and try to locate them fairly close to each other so that you don't have to walk all the way across the room to grab a tool.  Also consider how you will move around in your space. Whether you are right handed or left handed will make a difference when you are working, especially when it comes to sawing and using a flex shaft, so keep that in mind while planning. If you have an area in mind for your exhaust fan over your soldering area, then try to locate your sawing, cutting, and hammering area close by on one side, and your finishing or polishing area on the other side, so all your tools are close at hand. Once you have decided on your layout, set up your tables and see if your ideas work in real life.  Sometimes what you  think will work on paper, doesn't work well when you try it out.  When I first set up my garage/studio I thought I would be able to do everything in one area.  After a while I realized I really wanted an area that could be closed off for all the messy, smelly, loud stuff. You may want to consider that when planning your studio.

Once you have your spaces defined it is a good idea to organize your tools so you can find them easily.  There is nothing more frustrating than getting into the groove of working on a piece and suddenly realizing you can't find the burnisher or the file you need.  Some of the organizational tools that have helped me out are some simple plastic bins that can be found cheaply at your local home improvement store. You could also use shoe boxes or any kind of container.  Another thing that has worked out really well is the magnetic tool strip that I have on the wall behind my workbench. The picture shows a pair of pliers stuck to it, but I use it for all my tiny files. Here is a link to one of my favorite jewelry supply sites that carries them:  By the way, you won't find a nicer bunch of people than the folks at FDJ Tools.  They are a family owned business and will go out of their way to help you. If they don't know the answer to your question, they will find someone who does. They are awesome.

MAGNABAR 12" Magnetic Tool Holder

Speaking of tools, there are many tools that are used in jewelry making that can be found more cheaply than at jewelry supply companies.  Always check around to see what is available at your local hardware or home improvement store - even computer parts stores.  I have found many tools, like my bench grinder that I use as a polisher, and my bench vise, at the hardware store for half of what they cost at the jewelry supply.  You can also find "third hands" exactly like the ones in jewelry tools catalogs at your local computer tech store. Of course some tools like rolling mills and magnetic tumblers can only be found at a jewelry tools supply company, but it certainly pays to shop around before purchasing.  Also check ebay and Craig's List.  My kiln was one of my very first tool purchases.  I found it on Craig's List for about a forth of what it cost new.  The lady who was selling it had only used it twice and she only lived about 10 miles from my house. I felt like I had won the lottery!

So, spend some time planning things out and shop around a bit before you buy - you will be glad you did.  In my next post I will show you some more of my favorite tools and where I got them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Micro-Mark cut-off tool review

A few weeks ago I talked about a tool that I was going to order from a company called Micro-Mark. I ordered it, and I used it for a jewelry piece I was working on that required cutting a number of different sizes of sterling silver tubes. I had my doubts about how well it would work, since I have been known to order tools based on the advertised claims from the seller, only to be disappointed, and end up returning them!!!  This tool is small, but it's heavy and appears to be well made. It worked really well for cutting the tubing. It has a very thin, but tough, abrasive cut-off wheel that zipped right through the tubing without a lot of vibration. The cut edge of the tubing had a bit of a rough edge or burr on the bottom side of the cut which was easily removed with a file. The tool has a sturdy vice that holds the tubing securely so you will have a straight and level cut. I believe that it literally cut hours off of my construction time since I didn't have to sit there sawing away at the tubing and fighting with the saw blade every time it got stuck on the edges of the tubing. The other nice thing is that, because the blade is very thin, there is not a lot of material loss. I was thinking I might find a box with low sides or a tray to set it in so I can collect the silver dust.

I would definitely suggest this tool as a "must have" for your studio if you cut a lot of tubing. Here is a link to the site:,6466.html

Monday, January 4, 2010

What I did on my Christmas Vacation

The Holidays are over, and looking back at the last 2 weeks I have to just smile and say "Oh, well!", because it doesn't seem like we really had a vacation. On Christmas Eve day I realized that I was getting a sore throat that reminded me of the "swallowing razor blades" feeling I would always get as a kid when I had strep throat. I called my doctor and was able to get a Z-pack called in and started it right away. We were supposed to get together with family on Christmas day, but decided to stay home so I wouldn't be "Typhoid Mary" and infect everyone with my germs. By the next couple of days I was feeling better, so my husband and I decided to take on a project that we had planned to do over the Holidays: installing a water softener. To all of you jewelers out there who know how to solder I have a tip for you: you can save a lot of money on plumbing bills if you put your skills to good use in your home! We bought a nice unit from our local home improvement store and installed it in a day. The fun part was that our home was not plumbed for the softener! We had to locate the water main coming into our house, shut off the water at the street, cut into the line and add some couplings and elbows and other pieces to hook up the softener. You can use your soldering skills to connect the pipes. The steps you have to take are almost exactly the same. You cut your pieces and dry fit everything together. Make sure all your cuts are straight and flush, clean your pieces where they will be soldered together by sanding the surface, then coat the area to be soldered with water soluble flux, heat the area slowly with the torch until the flux runs and add the non lead solder. In the plumbing world they call it "sweating" the connection, but it's pretty much the same a soldering a piece of jewelry together.

Anyway, we installed the water softener (which is located in a closet along with an electric water heater in the corner of my studio) , and we were very proud of ourselves. The unit seemed to be working just fine, so we went about some other chores. The next day we were in the studio when all of a sudden a really strange noise like "Boooooing" came from the water heater and the lights in the studio flickered. My husband and I looked at each other in horror wondering what in the world had happened, and fearing some horrible event had taken place in that closet.... had we installed something wrong? We checked the electric panel and the breaker for the water heater was tripped. Great. What now. So my husband switched it back to the "on" position and everything appeared to be OK. Whew! Maybe it was just a fluke!

We went to bed that night a little nervous about the breaker incident, but hoped for the best. When we awoke the next morning I went to take a shower and found that we had no hot water. The breaker was tripped again and flipping it back on did not work this time. My husband scratched his head and said "what did we do wrong?  Did installing the water softener cause the water heater to go out?" I told him that I had been expecting the 8 year old water heater to go out soon since we have very hard water and surmised that it was probably at least a third full of calcium. We checked the heater and found that the heating element at the bottom of the tank had shorted out due to the calcium build up.

So, we had another plumbing project on our hands. We purchased a new water heater and drained the old one. (My guess was correct by the way, I measured the water that we drained with a 2 gallon container and was only able to drain 51 gallons out of that 66 gallon tank!) Getting the old one out of closet was a superhuman feat since it sits on a platform that is about 18 inches off the ground in a closet. Somehow we managed to "walk" it down a makeshift set of platforms that we threw together with odds and ends until we could get it to the floor and out of the way. With all the "rocks" in the bottom it was really heavy! Then getting the new heater into position was another superhuman endeavor! But, we did it!!! We spent half the day on New Years Eve and all day on New Years Day installing a new water heater. So far everything is working great! We have plenty of hot water and no calcium deposits!


What did YOU do on YOUR vacation?  :o )