The Way We Roll: How 4 Jewelry Artists Use a Rolling Mill in Metalsmithing Techniques
Each time I write about rolling mills, I learn a new way they’re useful for metalsmithing techniques and making metal jewelry: texturing, cutting, forming and folding metal–even mokume gane. So I asked some of our family of jewelry artists and teachers to share how they use rolling mills in their jewelry making. Here’s what they shared, both their work created with a rolling mill and their own words about using mills. I hope you’re inspired!
Jeff Fulkerson: Using Brass Texture Sheets and Roller-Printing Metal with a Rolling Mill
“This Copper Overlay Cuff (above) has a roller-printed base plate under the bezel. I like the contrast between the crazy lines on the stone vs. the linear roller print.”
Petro Pendants: “These two pendants were printed on both sides at once, which makes then reversible. I used a brass pattern sheet on the back (you can see a little of it on the top where I rolled the metal over to form the bail) and 150-grit sandpaper on the front, which sometimes rolls up where you run it thru the rolling mill and gives you that great ‘ripple’ effect. I wish I could control it! The sandpaper gives it an old, weathered feel.”
Keum boo Earrings: “The contrast between the crazy gold pattern and the linear roller print really sets off the color contrast between the bright gold and the dark silver. I love the texture it gives the earrings.”
Copper Earrings: “I was going for the contrast between the negative spaces and the lines and circles/dots in the roller print.” —Jeff Fulkerson
Lexi Erickson: Make Better Solder and Texture Metal with a Rolling Mill
“If I had to choose one of the most frequently used pieces of equipment in my studio, it would be my rolling mill,” Lexi Erickson says. “Looking back, I was very lucky to find an old Polish rolling mill for sale back during my first semester of jewelry. It was 35 or so years old then, and I paid a whopping $75 for it . . . 32 years ago! It still works like a charm, and boy, have I really cranked down on it, pushing it to its limit. It has flat rollers which I prefer, since I don’t really roll out my own wire. I like to use 2×4 or 5mm flat wire, so I don’t make my own.
“One of my most common uses for my mill is to roll out solder,” Lexi shared. “Most people use way too much solder, if it is used like it comes from your supplier. I turn the handle until the rollers just meet, and roll both my wire and sheet solder through. If you roll three feet of wire solder, you will end up with about five feet of solder; that adds up over the years, saving you quite a bit of money.
“Since the wire solder is then flat, it doesn’t roll around if you use little pallions of solder. In addition, just having to snip off the amount of solder you need is a lot neater than having to deal with all those gnarly little solder sheets with curled and bent, sharp pieces of lethal metal sticking out everywhere, which then become instruments of torture and can cut your fingers. Plus, bent and curled sheet solder is the very devil to try to cut with my Xuron cutters, and it takes way too long for me to straighten it out. Curses! I just prefer wire solder. Cut up sheet solder is just plain ugly as it gets used . . . and it doesn’t look cool on my nice clean solder station. (Oh! I’m so vain!)
“I use sheet solder only for hard solder, and wire solder for easy . . . that way I can tell the easy from the hard at a glance, and because of my soldering technique, I hardly ever use medium solder. So I just have two types of solder on my bench. It makes life so much easier, and leaves more time for enjoying tea and scones served on a doily later in the day. Ahhh, life is good.” —Lexi Erickson
Noël Yovovich: Roller-Printing Metal with Paper in a Rolling Mill
“Taking Flight is a pin/pendant with a display environment that can sit on a shelf or hang on the wall. The imagery on the copper is roller printed from a piece of cut paper. One of the things I love about copper is the crisp way it can be roller printed. I love all kinds of ways to get imagery or texture onto my jewelry pieces–anodizing, etching, enameling, hammering, stamping, and, of course, roller printing.–Noël Yovovich
“Snow Birds is a pin/pendant that uses etching, piercing, and anodizing, but also roller printing to get the wonderful texture on the copper accent.” —Noël Yovovich
Roger Halas: Making Mokume Gane with a Rolling Mill
“Here’s a spider I made, in part, with a rolling mill. The abdomen is Mokume, which has to be cut and milled into sheet, and then assembled into something like this.” —Roger Halas
There’s no doubt that rolling mills are versatile and, some would say, essential tools to have in your metalsmithing studio, but until you have one and are accustomed to using it, the idea of purchasing and learning to use a rolling mill can be daunting. So we’ve tried to take away the hard parts about buying and using a rolling mill with our Deluxe Rolling Mill Bundle, which includes a versatile, excellent quality economy rolling mill. You’ll also learn how to use it for various metalsmithing tasks with Richard Sweetman’s thorough video about getting the most out of your rolling mill and two issues of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine that offer how-to techniques and advice on using a rolling mill from John Heusler and Helen Driggs.
You can get the Basic Rolling Mill Bundle if you don’t need a rolling mill but still want to learn how to use one through expert advice from Richard Sweetman’s video and others in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.
See more of the inspiring work of these artists on their websites: