13 Tips on How to Use and Buy a Rolling Mill
I’ve always been a minimalist when it comes to tools in my jewelry studio. When I started to make jewelry, I didn’t get a rolling mill, a kiln, or other large equipment that you’d often find in a well-equipped jewelry studio. But when I learned about using a rolling mill to imprint texture on metal from just about anything, I really wanted one! Now I’m always saving bits of paper or other found objects with the intent of using them for texturing metal with a rolling mill.
I watched Richard Sweetman’s video, Metalsmith Essentials: Get the Most Out of Your Rolling Mill. From the video, I learned many unexpected ways to use a mill that hadn’t occurred to me before. I had to have one for myself, and I couldn’t wait to experiment with it. Here are some of the top tips I learned about how to use a rolling mill for jewelry.
10 Tips on How to Use a Rolling Mill
Richard outlines how to use a rolling mill, and 10 ways a mill can be useful in your studio to help you be more creative.
Here’s how to use a rolling mill and some helpful tips:
1. Rolling mills can be used to roll a metal sheet into a 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 the right size for him using the rolling mill.
2. You can save money when you melt your scrap into ingots and roll them through the rolling mill. This creates your own metal sheet or wire from scraps. Richard shares that process in his video.
3. Being able to turn metal sheet or scrap into thinner pieces also means turning a piece of gold into a thin foil for creating keum boo jewelry. Richard shares a brilliant technique for annealing a very thin sheet of gold without melting it.
4. 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.
5. Rolling mills make quick work of fold forming. They can help create sharper, more crisp edges on your folds. Using the rolling mill makes it easier to perfect your work and get the results you want when it comes to folding metal.
6. With commercial texture plates, found objects, and more, you can imprint textures onto metal using a rolling mill (also known as roller printing). Richard reviews items that can damage your mill and how to use them safely, as well as items like fresh leaves and sandpaper that should be avoided. This opens up a whole new area of creativity when it comes to working with metal.
7. 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, it could crack. Always be sure to follow the instructions to avoid damaging your metal.
8. Wireworkers can use rolling mills to roll wire into a smaller gauge wire. You can also recycle scrap into ingot and then into wire, or to turn wire into a different shape of wire. Most people think of these tools as sheet metal rollers, but really they are just as versatile when it comes to working with metal wire.
9. 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. 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. Richard shares how to fix that issue, too.
10. Here’s a time saver: Richard says it seems like all the mills in his shop open and close a different way. He recommends using a permanent marker to draw an arrow on the handle to note which way to turn it. By doing so, “you don’t waste time cranking it the wrong direction.” This one step can save you from future headaches.
3 Tips on How to Buy a Rolling Mill
Here are three points to consider when buying one:
- With a four-to-one gear-reduction rolling mill, it’s equivalent to pulling 100 pounds (or four times as much) with a corresponding impression on the metal. Direct-drive mills generally require more arm strength.
- The larger the rolls in your rolling mill, the less curve you’ll get in your metal. However, that curve is easy to remedy.
- The rollers in your mill can be flat rollers, wire rollers, or a combination of both. Those are flat on one side and have grooves for wire on the other side (as shown below).
If you’re considering buying or want to learn how to use one, Richard’s video is the perfect place to start. You’ll improve your jewelry making and make your metalsmithing duties easier, faster, and more efficient.
With a rolling mill, you’ll open yourself up to techniques that are time-consuming and hard to do by hand. Compared to rolling metal without mills, these techniques require much less time and effort.
Order Metalsmith Essentials: Get the Most Out of Your Rolling Mill, or instantly download the digital version and master this versatile tool with Richard Sweetman.