Studio Tour – Have a look around….

by gingermeekallen on January 31, 2010

Welcome to the metals studio!

Messy, perhaps, but to me it’s full of nothing but potential.  It’s a space that is designated for creating. Ideas are born and culminated here. This is a beautiful thing.


I know. I know. It’s a mess. I resisted the urge to clean up before snapping these shots. I assure you that it is actually quite organized in a way that works for me. I know where everything is!

My main bench is to the right in the first room, and then you can see the hot table in the second room.

My bench is a modified watchmaker’s bench. Elsewhere in the bench room I also have a standard jeweler’s bench with the curved cutout and scrap tray, and a modified wooden desk with a skin (jewelers know what this is). Adjusting to the flat front of a watchmaker’s bench was tough, but now I enjoy it. It works well for me, especially with my GRS Benchmate. Because it is a watchmaker’s bench, it does offer a much better array of drawers, as does the watch crystal cabinet to the right behind my purple chair. This is a cabinet for Flex-O crystals with a foot pedal in the base that operates the arm on top to install crystals.

Many jewelers have torch setups at their benches. I prefer to have the torches in a separate location, along with an assortment of firebrick (see right), honeycomb and tripods, etc. I need to be able to work “large” with the torch, and I couldn’t do that safely at the bench. I have two torch outfits – one air/acetylene and one oxy-propane. My range of torch tips is quite broad – #00 to #8.

Back in the bench room, most of my hammers, except the really large and heavy ones, are on the peg board overhead. The latest addition (shown in the overall photo on the right with the black head) is the large vertical cross-peen hammer I found at SNAG last year. I was so excited about finding that! But my favorites are the Peddinghaus forming hammers. They have always served me well. Germans make great hammers.

I also have three anvils, but again the Peddinghaus is my favorite. (I have no ties to the Peddinghaus Corporation or any other company mentioned here, other than years of using these tools with wonderful results.) My husband drove about 500 miles to pick up this anvil for me from a blacksmiths’ supplier. I have forged, fold-formed, planished and just plain had it out on this anvil. It is a small one, only 45 pounds. It sits just to my right when I’m at the bench. I need to do something about that big crack in the stump. As the wood has dried over the years indoors, that crack keeps getting bigger. It’s too easy to lose parts in there. (Hmm, I could make a sheet lining to fit there that would be great for forming….)

My other anvils include a really large rough one given to me by a horseman. Its flat horn is broken, but I don’t mind. I call her Isabel, named for her stump, which my dad brought me after Hurricane Isabel took down a huge maple in his yard. The third one is made from a section of railroad iron.

Pliers are incredibly important for me. I really enjoy using an assortment of specialty pliers. Many metalsmiths prefer to get by with a basic set, but I like tools, and I don’t mind buying a tool even if it only performs one little function. It sure does help when its time comes. Of course, this means I have lots of pliers. I don’t know how many. I suppose I could count them, but I don’t really need to know that, do I?


In a case to my right when I’m sitting at my bench is a stack of shelves with pieces from my found object collection. I like to have these things where I can watch them, or see them, and see what might develop. I really enjoy working with found objects, and I’ve collected lots of interesting relics. Who knows what they will become.

Getting back to the tools, I have many favorites. This dapping set (to the right), containing punches and a beautifully polished block, is fantastic. One of the punches has a gouge in it, and it arrived that way. Most people would have returned it and required a replacement be sent, but I didn’t. I just work around it, or not.

I also found this corrugating roller in a jeweler’s supply shop in Florence, Italy. What a wonderful way for me to remember that trip, along with the Italian hammer and oval bezel mandrel. (Italians make nice tools, too!)

My rolling mill is also a relic. I purchased it from another metalsmith. I did a little research on the manufacturer, and discovered that the company was only in operation for about 20 years around the turn of the 20th century. So, my rolling mill is a centenarian. I had the rollers redressed at a machine shop, and a wood-turning client made me a new handle. Still rolling strong!

I really enjoy getting tools, and even supplies, that have a little history whenever possible. A watchmaker in my area retired, and I bought his collection of watch crystals, most of which were vintage, but never used. I also bought a couple of benches from him, as well as several watch crystal cabinets. I may never exhaust this supply of crystals. I have thousands of them, all different kinds. It’s nice to have when a customer requests a replacement, as is my inventory of watch bands. But, really, I use them for other things, such as lockets or windows in sculptural pieces. Just imagine!

There are many other items of interest in the studio. A welder friend built me a hydraulic press to my specifications. And then, just to make me smile (prompted by my apprentice) he painted it purple. I’ve never seen another purple hydraulic press. I also have a German guillotine shear that I bought from a shop in California. I think this was my first significant “used” tool purchase, sometime back in the mid-1990s. I obtained a large enameling kiln from an artist in New England, and a ring stretcher from the widow of a jeweler in the next town over from my hometown. My dad gave me the bandsaw for Christmas one year, and I think I bought the buffing wheel on ebay. Yes, ebay. I have a fantastic forged steel soldering pick given to me by another apprentice. My found object collection, in addition to what I’ve gathered myself, was given to me by about 67 of my friends and family – at least that’s how many people I sent the email to when I was headed west for a found object class. I received little packages of goodies in the mail for weeks. It was bliss. The point here is that most things have a story. Stories matter.

I enjoy various types of artwork around me as I’m working. The music is important, as is the other artwork. I have a clothesline overhead with a rotating collection of images of other metalsmiths’ work. I enjoy collecting these cards, and find them perpetually inspiring. I have paintings and photography that is the work of my friends, but my favorite is a strange but simple installation I did using my vintage typewriter (also a precious gift), and an antique frame from our family.

Scroll down to check it out.




Thanks for reading.




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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat Klein February 4, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for the tour. I love tools and ask people all the time if they would like to see my “hammers”…I’m forever getting hooked by the newest thing that comes out and told my husband that from now on “tool gifts” are appropriate…topping the list at this point is the (K)new saw that everyone is raving about…again thanks for sharing…lots of tool junkies out here…

gingermeekallen February 3, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I love all your comments! Isabel has a new nickname – the bob tail anvil. Thanks, Jerry!

April, I had the redressing of those rollers done by a local machinist. They are pretty well polished, beyond satin I would say. The main reason I had it done is because they dipped in the center, so the roll was uneven. I learned that there are two ways to approach the job in a machine shop. I can’t remember the details now, but basically one is done freehand at a lathe, and the other more automated with greater micrometer precision (big-time equipment involved). Even after being redressed, there is still a dip in the center of my rollers, so I just work with it. It is better than it was before. (He did it at a lathe.) He quoted me $25, but then didn’t want to charge me anything because the rollers were not completely squared. I paid him anyway.

April Bower February 3, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Ginger, Thanks for making my day. Some people look at me funny when I tell them excitedly that my husband bot me for my birthday my own Mikita cordless drill; he calls it a” girl drill” as it is smaller but quality. ( it’s not pink.) Its for hanging the gallery & building stuff, not jewelry. I love tools and have been lucky enough to inherit a huge blacksmith anvil and found used a rolling mill that looks alot like yours. I couldn’t find any manufactures name on it, just a few large numbers imprinted on frame. Unfortunately it suffered in a fire I had in my studio some years back ( smoke damage) . I am intrigued about having the rollers redone. About how much did it cost? are they “polished”? They look bright but satiny in photo. Mine are smooth and useable but not poilished. I have learned to accept this extremely slight texture as normal. Also a bit afraid of getting it back together and alligned.
Anyway thanks for a peek into a wonderful place to work.
April Bower

Jerry Fowler February 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Poor bob tail anvil, well at least for this generation it has a happy home. Now you need to will it to some deserving soul to continue it protection from further abuse. Such a neat well organized studio, I’m so envious of it. Thanks for the tour.

Beth Wicker February 1, 2010 at 10:35 am

Nice to “meet” another tool junkie! Love your studio set up, and am very envious of your anvils!!! The idea of the rotating clothes line is a good one – I have multiple small bulletin boards that I use the same way – pictures of jewelry, paintings, prints…. and you make my little found object collection look really sad ! Thanks – enjoyed the post!

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