Sunday, October 21, 2012

guest post - karen mcgovern

It’s ALIVE!! My Journey Creating a “FrankenBench”

Recently, my husband and I embarked on a journey to renovate my studio/garage workspace. I like to use the word “studio” with “garage” because it sounds so much nicer (and more professional) than “the corner of the garage where I work”. Ah, vanity…

I have been creating art jewelry for about six years now, and my workspace has evolved from a card table in the spare bedroom to a pretty cool, dedicated space in our large garage (under a WINDOW, no less). Over the years, I have slowly but surely developed my skills and my need for a more usable, comfortable place to work. Luckily my husband is a handy-man extraordinaire, a MacGyver of repurposed materials. Give
him a wad of gum and a few tongue depressors and he’ll make you a serviceable bookshelf…seriously.

So, as I cruised the Internet, drooling on my keyboard over $3,000 artisan jewelry benches that I will NEVER BE ABLE TO AFFORD, I found a blog about the “FrankenBench”. JACKPOT! Posted by Maureen, of Release Me Creations (, the FrankenBench is created from an old, wooden desk. The directions are fairly simple, and
the result is a pretty darned cool jeweler’s bench for very, very little cost. The original FrankenBench design sprang from the brilliant mad-scientist mind of jeweler Brian Meek ( This DIY dream appealed to me for so many reasons. I love to salvage stuff and turn it into other stuff. I hate wasting time and money, and I love to torture my husband with crazy projects. The FrankenBench fulfilled all of this and more.

I am a firm believer in doing my own thing. My workspace is a constantly changing evolution depending on my creative direction at any given moment. With the FrankenBench idea firmly implanted in my brain, my husband and I took a look at my space and devised a version that suits ME, my needs, my space. I love it!

First, a bit of back story about my workspace. Before this renovation, I was working on a 7 x 4 foot solid wood door screwed to a weird wood office table salvaged from a local thrift store. The office table is rectangular, smaller than the door. This has served me well for a few years, but is actually too low for the work I do--jeweler’s benches should be tall enough so that when you sit comfortably in front of your bench pin, the pin hits you right in the middle of your breast bone. I was also working from a rickety folding chair (totally stupid and basically torture for my back). I found myself working more and more out of my LAP for crying out loud, because while the door is large, I had storage issues, and the top became covered with tools, tool boxes, and all manner of project parts, creating the look of a floating land fill. It was TIME FOR A CHANGE!

After referring to the FrankenBench post, my Tool Time hubby devised a simple way to create a similar design, but with much more space than an average desk could ever provide. We (and by that I mean HE) unscrewed the wood door from the table (after I cleared it off, WHAT A TRIP THAT WAS, I found stuff I had no idea I even had. It was  like an archeological dig of jewelry treasure!) and raised it six inches with two lengths of 4 x 6 wood post from good old Home Depot. This brought my work surface to 34 inches from the floor. The wood posts were cut to the width of the table and screwed in place on either end with 2 “L” brackets apiece. We then set the door back on top, centered over the supports (it weighs a ton, so I decided to leave it floating in case I ever want to move it, etc). Finally, we cut a shallow half-circle in the door for my bench pin and VIOLA! A new FrankenBench was born (sorry, no electric shock or stormy night, but that would have been cool…). In raising the top I created a ton of storage space below (now my tools are right at hand, but not cluttering the top!!!!) and my bench pin is actually serviceable and easier to use. I even added a hose clamp fitting right next to the bench pin so I slide my ring mandrel in—no more wedging it between my boobs to use!!!! Happy Day all around, accomplished in a couple hours one afternoon.

The finale (and what took the longest) was the quest for a perfect chair. I referred to jewelry supply websites and chat rooms researching what was recommended and why, and found a HUGE disparity amongst jewelers and artists. Again, the bottom line is to find a chair that works FOR YOU, not necessarily the uber-ergonomic, specially designed $485 jewelers stool offered online (for that money the chair better be gold- plated). We spent a day traveling from office supply store to furniture store sitting in dozens of chairs, adjusting lifts, playing with backs. Arms or no arms? Back or no back? The chair matters, folks, it really does. The three most precious tools you have are your hands and back, so don’t take this lightly! Good posture has always been a problem for me, and I can’t tell you how many times I and my husband have caught me slumped over my table like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. A couple hours like that and my back sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies in milk when I finally stand up (NOT GOOD).

In the end we found a really great, supportive mesh chair from Office Depot, adjustable gas lift, with arms (that are removable if I want). The selling point for me was how the back is designed. It curves perfectly to fit your lower back, and gives firm, yet yielding support (sort of springy) with out being sloppy. The seat also has a great curve, and fits the back of my knees well, giving me good posture and comfort. The mesh was also important, because I live in South Florida, and no matter how I try to keep the garage (I MEAN STUDIO) cool (I have a portable, free standing air conditioner), it still gets steamy in the summer. Leather or cloth would have been really awful.

All in all, I am so pleased with the results (finished YESTERDAY) and can’t wait to get to work. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, I no longer cringe when I look at my space and I feel the creativity flowing….AND, I put the chair together myself—so that gives me the right to say this project was ALL MY IDEA, right????

If you are thinking about creating a new workspace, or renovating your existing space, I definitely recommend researching the FrankenBench. It’s easy, and fun, and you end up with a custom space built just for you. So, hit those furniture thrift stores and bring your own FrankenBench to life!

Karen McGovern is a conservation biologist/mixed media jewelry designer living in South Florida on 30-acres filled with endangered parrots, primates and African antelope. Her work is inspired by nature, and created to raise funds and awareness for wildlife conservation through the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation. To see more of her work and learn about her passion for wildlife visit and


Kristi Bowman said...

Great post, I have an old desk I could do this with hmmmm. Always love discovering a new artist as well, I love Karen's jewelry and her work with animals. :)

Stacie said...

What a fantastic idea and I LOVE your easy writing style too...great post and thank you so much for being a guest!!

stacilouise said...

thanks so much for the awesome post! Your post couldn't have come at a better time. MY husband promised we'd re-do my tables and benches this winter. I knew I wanted things higher, but I really love that design with my tool right below. I planned to use the extra space below the desk for rolling cabnets, so I can have one for patina's, and one for metal clay stuff, and one for beading stuff, ect.....I can't wait. I am surely gonna use this to show him!!!!

ps- I see one of my beads in the land of the lost stash;)

Artisan Beads Plus said...

What a great space! Thanks for sharing that.... I've definitely going to check out the links. My space needs improvement..... MaryAnn

Gypsea said...

It looks great! Thanks for the link to the instructions, my brain is awhirl with ideas on what I (my hubby) can do to create one for me.

Barbara said...

Thank you for joining us Karen!!!! You're a gal straight after my heart! I love the idea of adding a piece on top of an existing desk! My desk and pin are raised but I think I could use another 4" to make it perfect!

Julie Holmes said...

Great post Karen! I love how your studio turned out. You are so right about the right chair! I am up and down a lot to fire in the Kiln...I found an awesome chair from the local college surplus sales that is actually a "clean room" chair. It's higher than most and has a little step to get into it....perfect for my counter height workbench! Saves my knees for sure. Thanks for posting for us today!

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