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Stone Setting Tips and Tricks: GRS BenchMate or MicroBlock?

GRS Benchmate stone setting 3

One question I get messaged without fail on a daily basis from jewellery making students around the world….. Which do I prefer, the GRS BenchMate or the GRS MicroBlock? Let's take a look....

When it comes to stone setting, they are both simply exceptional tools.  The benefit of both options is that you have two hands free to work on your stone setting or engraving.  This alone is the number one benefit, and what a difference it makes.  Once you try either the BenchMate or the Microblock, you’ll never want to go back to making jewellery without one.

As jewellery tools go, these are both very useful as stand-alone tools, but an added benefit is that you can purchase accessories for both.  I can’t live without my Inside Ring Holders for both the BenchMate and the MicroBlock.  Just for clarification, these are exactly what I have:

GRS Benchmate QC Stone Setters Package

BenchMate Encore QC: Stone Setter's Package

Alexandre stone setters package

MicroBlock: Alexandre Stone Setter's Package

A little side note: I purchased the BenchMate Encore QCX Stone Setters Package recently to give it a try, but I found I much preferred the older BenchMate Encore QC system (linked above).  Personally, I found the old model a little more comfortable to work with, and for me, it’s just much easier to find the perfect working position.  The QCX is advertised as working well under a microscope – but even after trying that for an afternoon, I went back to the original.  My little QCX remains pretty much unused to this day.

 
BenchMate Stone Setting

So Lucy, which do you recommend?

The GRS BenchMate is my recommendation, especially if you’re relatively new to metalsmithing or taking online jewellery making classes.

I know I said, personally I love both, and definitely use my MicroBlock the most. But I started out with the BenchMate, and that did me very well for the first 10 years of jewellery making. So, if I had to recommend one or the other, it would be the BenchMate for three reasons:

  • Unless you’re lucky enough to have a lovely workshop all to yourself, I’m guessing space is an issue and the perfect thing about the BenchMate is that it can be used on your regular jeweller’s bench.  It doesn’t need its own workstation. 
  • The BenchMate doesn’t move when you’re setting with a hammer and punch.
  • And finally when you consider the inside ring holding options the BenchMate is the cheaper option.

But this is your decision…… So I came up with my own list of pros and cons to help you make that.  And if you scroll down a little further, you’ll see what a few others had to say on the subject too.

GRS BenchMate

GRS Benchmate 09

Pros

  • Hands-free work holding changes everything.  Once you switch out your wooden ring holder for one of these, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
  • Both the GRS MicroBlock and the BenchMate are the ultimate in ergonomic working.  They can be easily moved and adjusted to find the perfect working position.
  • The BenchMate is an interchangeable system.  You can just switch it out with your bench pin any time – no need to move your lazy ass to a different work surface.  You can also change it out for a 3rd hand soldering station and there are numerous jewellers now inventing nifty attachments too!
  • It stays still when using a hammer and punch – this is a massive bonus for heavy bezels if you don’t have a hammer handpiece.
  • It comes with a shelf to help steady your hand….. I personally have a drawer full of those that don’t get used, but a lot of jewellers love them.
  • The inside ring holder that comes with the Stone Setters Package is perfect for working on bands.  There’s no chance of applying too much pressure with these and deforming the shape of the ring band.
  • There is a pitch cup available separately which is handy for filling with thermo plastic to hold work other than rings for stone setting.
  • I also love my bench mate for holding sheet silver when filing a flat edge.

Cons

  • Because the BenchMate isn’t supported from underneath, there is a slight bounce back.  This means you lose some of the applied force when setting stones.  But this can be rectified by placing something solid between the bottom of the BenchMate and your bench drawer (if you have an American style bench). Sorry English folks, your skins won’t work here.
  • It has a fixed working location depending on where you mount your plate.  I have a lot of mounts, but I can’t easily pack it up and go work at the beach – not that I recommend setting stones at the beach, but you know, options are good.

GRS MicroBlock

GRS MicroBlock 10

Pros

  • Both the GRS MicroBlock and the BenchMate are the ultimate in ergonomic working.  They can be easily moved and adjusted to find the perfect working position.  I know I said that already ha ha.
  • The MicroBlock is super portable.  You can pack this in your suitcase and take it anywhere.  It’s heavy, but not too heavy, and it doesn’t need any form of mount.  It may look a little suspicious in your suitcase though, and I take no responsibility if airport security goes rifling through your stuff…. Still, it looks better than the BenchMate!
  • I prefer my MicroBlock for working under the microscope.  It is much easier to move around and get the perfect working position in relation to the microscope.  But I do this on a designated stone setting bench.  My standard jeweller’s bench would be too high to work comfortably with this.
  • There is zero bounce back.  If the MicroBlock is sitting on a nice solid working surface, all force applied when stone setting goes exactly where you want it to go.

Cons

  • It moves.  This basically means it doesn’t work as well for a hammer and punch, The GRS Standard Block is one big kahoona so it doesn’t have this issue, but I rarely use mine other than for weight lifting when I don’t have time to go to the gym.  I haven’t personally tried the MicroBlock XL so can’t comment on that one.  Maybe that’s a happy medium?
  • It needs its own designated workbench.  Most jeweller’s benches are too high to use with MicroBlock when seated.  I use mine on a designated stone setting bench, which is pretty much the same height as a usual desk that you’d write on.

But that's just my opinion, and I love to know what everyone else thinks, so here are a few thoughts from our amazing community:

But that’s just my opinion, and I love to know what everyone else thinks, so here’s a few thoughts from our amazing community:

“I have a microblock and I love the transportability.  I purchased the larger size, and while I loved it, the size is a bit of overkill.  I could have gone down to the smaller size and saved some $.  Tool shrinkage syndrome is real, so I always lean larger than smaller.”  @oceanscove

“I love the fact that I can change it around.  I can use my bench pin, and then swap.  Also love the part that clips onto the side so you can steady your hand if you are setting.  I have a ball vise and this (GRS Benchmate), and have hardly used the ball.  I hope they make a bit that allows you to move horizontally.  I know you can turn the setting, but sometimes I just want to move it left or right and then tip it.  There’s probably a way to do it, I just haven’t discovered it.  But I love my Benchmate.” @jmcl_handcrafted

“I love my benchmate, but was looking to get a MicroBlock to hold flatter pieces.  Came across pitch cups and shellac plates for the BenchMate – problem solved.  BenchMate all the way!” Chelle Mullen @storm.and.Grace

I’d love to hear what you think too! And I’m sure it would be helpful to other jewellers trying to decide!  If you have a second, please comment below with your thoughts too!  And don’t forget to subscribe, there’s lots more blog posts underway right now that you don’t want to miss – I’m drinking too much coffee to possibly keep quiet!

Right, that’s enough waffle from me today! Over and out.

Lucy xx

 

Want to learn more?

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5 thoughts on “Stone Setting Tips and Tricks: GRS BenchMate or MicroBlock?”

  1. Kirk Economos

    Thanks for the tips. I struggled with this decision and decided to opt for the MicroBall XL with the inside ring holder set (similar elements to Alexandre stone setting set but $83 – rio 118264 – which you are probably well aware of.) I can see how useful the Benchmate is (and I’d like them both) but in my thinking it was too restrictive in positioning, especially if you were apply significant pressure. My Durston bench has both a solder tray below the table top, which I help support with a drawer immediately below, as well as a lower slide out shelf. So far the Micro XL on the lower shelf has worked out very well- I will probably get a 2 inch thick wood slab to sit it on and give it a little extra height. All I need then is a kick-ass Leica microscope like yours – wouldn’t that be sweet. All the best to you.

  2. I came across this blog just in time! My next purchase was up in the air between the Benchmate and Microblock. I’m sold on the exact Benchmate you have. I am a self taught bench jeweler… more like a hobby gone wild. I have a nice little studio with most amenities. I also dabble in lapidary and love throwing pottery (and hand building). I’m a little older, so I know I won’t be doing this much past 10 more years. 15, if I can still see well enough. But, purchasing and learning use of better tools is an investment in extending my time in the field. Thanks a whole-heck-of-a-lot for the great comparison.

  3. a few years ago i was fortunate to come across a standard GRS Engraver’s Ball for an amazing price. It sits on an old wooden typewriter table on wheels, so it doesn’t take up too much real estate when not needed. I find i use it much more often than i expected/

  4. I’m torn between the microblock xl (the happy medium) or the benchmate. I have larger hands, and work on larger pieces, especially pendants that have stones set, so I’m really having a hard time deciding. This post really gives me lots to think about!

  5. I’m saving up for something along these lines now- I got a proper bench a couple months ago and the difference that made is huge, and I’ve managed well enough with a cheap work-holder bolted through my bench pin and supported with fender washers and thermoloc, but the frequency with which I’m using that rig has proved to me that buying the proper tool is absolutely necessary now. I think I’m still leaning toward the microblock or maybe the standard size one- the Benchmate is intriguing but I need to keep the price down and I work much more on pendants and earrings than rings.

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