By Bill Higdon
I am a Master Bench Jeweler. I started in 1969 and I still love what I do. My dad always told me to work hard and save your money. No problem. I’m a bench jeweler, working hard comes with the territory. Saving money? Hmm, that’s going to be more difficult.
Like most of us who set up our first shop, I bought the starter polishing unit. You know, the table top dust collector with the fiberglass filter. The one that pulls some of the dust away from you and blows it out the back (all over the shop).
After a short time I bought the stand up version with the 4” fiberglass filter. Better, but not much.
Then they came out with the filter bag units. That was like going from night to day - 10x better filtration and a whole lot less dust throughout the shop. The problem was keeping it clean.
I know of a few people who bought the one horsepower vacs with the canister filters at auto parts stores or home improvement stores. They are OK, but the best I’ve found is the one horsepower with the cloth filters (3 for $4). It comes with a plastic ring, but I use a rubber band. When the filter is full, just cut the rubber band and it all falls into the recovery drum. Its the quickest, easiest, cheapest way to clean a polishing unit, the floors, the walls, but not your bench. Keep that separate and send it to the refiner separately as well.
To keep the filter bag unit working properly and keep dust down, you have to shake the bags down and clean out the tray every night after an 8 to 15 hour day. Yea right, and you should replace the filter bags every year or two - yep, me neither. I just keep cleaning them out.
Then Andy “The Tool Guy” Kroungold from Stuller showed me the Quantrex SPU stand-up polishing machine. It had pre-filters at the top under two enclosed hoods and two filter bags down below with a Hepa filter below that. It also had 1200 cfm (that’s how much suction the dust collector has). My old collector had 800 cfm. Yep, you guessed it - I had to have one!
You’re probably thinking, if the filter bag unit was good (and it was), why did I go and spend a couple of thousand on a new unit? After all, they are approximately the same size and noise level.
The 800 cfm filter bag had to be vacuumed out every month, at least. It took me an hour to vacuum it as clean as I could. Then I had to go home and take a shower, scrub polishing rouge from my face, arms, neck and stomach, blow it out of my nose and wash my eyes out - that was gold going down the drain.
The Quantrex SPU has more suction and creates less dust, which means a cleaner shop and jeweler. When I clean it, I roll up the two pre-filters and put them in the recovery drum. Then I open the door below (one easy to open latch) and pull out the two filter bags - into the drum they go. I then put the date on the new filters and slide them in place. Then I vacuum the top, inside the hoods. If you change the pre-filters and bag filters properly you will have very little dust anywhere. All this takes about 5 minutes and I’m not covered in dust (money).
All things being equal, you will spend about the same for a bagger as a Quantrex, but the Quantrex will save you money and time - and time is money!
At this point you might be thinking, “But I’m just a one man shop.” Well, so am I, and instead of vacuuming the bagger, I set a few more diamonds, size a few more rings or just go home early.
I sold my bagger, put that money down on the Quantrex, then paid it off. At the end of the year I sent polishing sweeps to the refinery, and I got enough to pay for the Quantrex filters for a year and a half and still had money left over to put in the bank. Now that’s Makin’ Money!
As jewelers we sometimes get stuck in a rut. Oh, we’re doing fine - we don’t need this or we don’t want to spend the money. We need to keep our minds open, look past the initial investment and determine if an item will save us time or make us money down the road - or both!