Jewelry making is full of tools and gadgets. To the uninitiated it is completely overwhelming. I laugh now when I recall one of my first metalsmithing courses when I emailed ahead to find out if I really needed both a bench pin and a ring clamp. “Looks like they do pretty much the same thing,” I thought. If you don’t get how ridiculous that is, don’t feel bad. We all start out as novices and there is a lot of knowledge to acquire on the path of studio education.
Anatomy of a bench pin
The image above shows a common basic bench pin but there are many variations that perform the same functions. The vise is used to attach the bench pin to your table top. You will need a table that does not have a lip or carved edge so you can firmly attach your pin.
Sometimes the tapered wood block will just be a wedge that looks like a doorstop without the cutout keyhole in the model shown here. Others have spring clamps built into them that firmly hold your work in place while freeing your hands. Many jewelers like to customize the wood blocks with their favorite types of notches on the sides or front. Some models have a steel bench block or anvil at the base of the pin so you can easily move between different tasks. Whatever model you have you can rest assured that it will be invaluable for the following key functions.
Sawing – the pin is indispensable when piercing and sawing metal. The wood block is shaped to make it easy to grasp or brace against when you need a firm grip on your sheet metal as you saw. I prefer designs with a keyhole like the model shown above because this block opening is great for protecting your fingers. Always make sure you have a wooden edge between your saw and your hand; otherwise it is easy to become so absorbed in your sawing that you go straight into a finger. It can be a nasty cut you won’t soon forget.
Filing – once again the angles and edges of the wood block allow you to file your metal by moving the work piece around and bracing it against the block as you file.
Polishing & more – you will come back to your pin over and over again as you begin fabricating jewelry. This protruding bench attachment is a versatile work surface that is just plain handy to have around. I use it quite a bit when using flex shaft attachments, polishing cloths and much more.
Your bench block will not stay clean and bright for long. This is a working tool and you should expect it to get chewed up by saw blades and files. It will accumulate grease, dust and grime and before long it will become a well-worn and loved fixture in your studio.
You can find the bench pin shown here at Halstead for $5.60 (as of February, 2015) along with a wide selection of other essential jewelry tools. And, by the way, ring clamps are for tightly grasping items during work where your fingers might be at risk or the piece might fly out of your hands. Bench pins can’t help you there.