Metalsmithing Essentials: 13 Tips on How to Use a Rolling Mill and How to Buy One
I’ve always been pretty minimalist when it comes to tools in my jewelry studio, so when I started making jewelry, I didn’t get a rolling mill or a kiln. When I learned that you could use a rolling mill to imprint texture on metal from just about anything–even bathroom tissue!–I started thinking maybe I wanted one after all. I’m always finding and saving bits of paper or other found objects with the idea of using them for as texture, such as on metal clay, but with a rolling mill, I could imprint those textures on sheet metal as well.
Then I saw Richard Sweetman’s new video, Metalsmith Essentials: Get the Most Out of Your Rolling Mill, and learned so many interesting ways to use a rolling mill, I knew I had to have one.
10 Tips on How to Use a Rolling Mill
Richard outlines how to use a rolling mill and 10 ways a rolling mill can be useful in your studio, to help you be more creative in your metalsmithing efforts. Here’s how to use a rolling mill and some helpful tips.
- Rolling mills can be used to roll metal sheet into thinner sheet (which will also work-harden it). Sure, you can buy smaller gauge metal, but what if you want a gauge that’s not readily available? Richard likes to use 23-gauge metal, so he reduces heavier gauge sheet to just the right size for him using the rolling mill.
- You can save money when you melt your scrap into ingots and roll them through the rolling mill, creating your own metal sheet or wire from scraps. Richard shares that process in his video.
- Being able to turn metal sheet or scrap into thinner pieces also means turning a small piece of gold into a very thin foil for creating keum boo jewelry. Richard also shares a brilliant technique for annealing a very thin sheet of gold without melting it as you work toward the thin gold foil used in keum boo.
- You can create more than one gauge on one piece of metal (sections of wide and thin, for example, or sections of wire and flat metal), or taper metal and wire from thick to thin. You can use this process to create toothpicks, hair sticks, spoons and other utensils.
- Rolling mills make quick work of fold forming and can help create sharper, more crisp edges on your folds.
- With commercial texture plates or even items like textured paper, paper cutouts, and fabric, you can imprint textures onto metal using a rolling mill (also known as roller printing). Richard reviews items that can damage your rolling mill and how to use them safely, as well as items like fresh leaves and sandpaper that should be avoided.
- After about four passes through a rolling mill, metal needs to be annealed before you continue. If you keep hardening the metal with more passes through the mill, it could crack.
- Wireworkers, you can use your rolling mill to roll wire into a smaller gauge wire, to recycle scrap into ingot and then into wire, or to turn wire into a different shape of wire.
- If your rolling mill has dual adjusting screws or knobs (as shown above), they can get out of adjustment. To fix them, just tighten both all the way down (Richard says “finger tight”) and then back off by turning both at once, a quarter turn at a time, until they are where you need them to be. Whether your mill has two adjusters or one, it can create crooked or warped metal when it’s out of adjustment–but Richard shares how to fix that issue, too.
- Here’s a time-saver: Richard says it seems like all the mills in his shop open and close a different way, so he recommends using a permanent marker to draw an arrow on the handle to note which way to turn it, “so you don’t waste time cranking it the wrong direction.”
3 Tips for How to Buy a Rolling Mill
Here are three points to consider when buying a rolling mill:
- With a four-to-one gear-reduction rolling mill, if you can pull 25 pounds of pressure (on the mill’s lever/arm), it’s equivalent to pulling 100 pounds (or four times as much) with a corresponding impression on the metal. Direct-drive rolling mills generally require more arm strength.
- The larger the rolls in your rolling mill, the less (potentially unwanted) curve you’ll get in your metal. However, that curve is easy to remedy.
- The rollers in your rolling mill can be flat rollers (sheet rollers), wire rollers, or a combination of both, which are flat on one side and have grooves for wire on the other side (as shown below).
If you’re considering buying a rolling mill, or if you have a rolling mill but no idea how to use it, Richard’s video is the place to start. When you learn all the ways you can use a rolling mill in your studio, you’ll improve your jewelry making and make your metalsmithing duties easier, faster, and more efficient.
With a rolling mill, you’ll also open yourself up to techniques that are time-consuming and hard or impossible to do by hand. And who better to learn from than Richard Sweetman, who runs a metalsmithing workshop full of rolling mills and artists using them? Order Metalsmith Essentials: Get the Most Out of Your Rolling Mill or instantly download the digital version and learn to master rolling mill metalsmithing tasks with Richard Sweetman.