Why Rolling Mills Are Irresistible: Perspectives and Tips from Richard Sweetman

A studio with a rolling mill in it is practically begging people to come twirl the adjusting screws and crank various items through the rollers. For some reason, rolling mills wield a curious power over jewelers and laymen alike.

ABOVE: As an expert metalsmith and teacher, Richard Sweetman knows just how irresistible rolling mills can be.

Perhaps no one is more familiar with the allure of rolling mills than Richard Sweetman. In his online workshop, Metalsmith Essentials: Get the Most Out of Your Rolling Mill, he covers a wide range of techniques that will fall under your control once you have access to this versatile piece of equipment.

Richard shows examples of using the rolling mill to taper areas of metal for graceful designs.

Richard shows examples of using the rolling mill to taper areas of metal for graceful designs.

An artist and teacher for more than 30 years, Richard not only collects rolling mills — including an antique he rescued from a dumpster — but he’s also witnessed what happens when a mill in his studio seduces an inquisitive passerby.

“One morning I came in and there was a stainless steel cafeteria fork this long,” he says, gesturing to indicate a span of three feet. Not even the evening custodians could resist the temptation to try out a rolling mill, stretching a fork to incredible proportions out of sheer fascination. And who could blame them?

Richard makes it very clear that rolling steel warrants extreme caution, since the last thing you want to do is permanently scratch your rollers. But at the same time, rollers are incredibly durable — so much so that when the load is spread out over a large area, they can take a lot of abuse. Luckily, Richard provides thorough instruction in how to care for your rolling mill.

Take advantage of the many perks of a rolling mill! Recycle metal scraps by pouring your own ingots and rolling your own sheet metal or wire.

Take advantage of the many perks of a rolling mill! Recycle metal scraps by pouring your own ingots and rolling your own sheet metal or wire.

Take Control Over Your Metal

Why is the rolling mill so irresistible? Part of it has to do with our “what-if” obsession. Part of it comes from the simple pleasure of squishing things. (Think of the ubiquitous coin-flattening machines that collect two quarters and spit out a penny imprinted with a touristy image.)

But as Richard says, the real benefit of a rolling mill is the power it gives you over the metal you want. No longer are you dependent on buying exact gauges of sheet metal and wire. You can create your own.

Richard demonstrates how to use an adjustable, commercial ingot mold to make both sheet metal and wire.

Richard demonstrates how to use an adjustable, commercial ingot mold to make both sheet metal and wire.

In this workshop version of his popular video, Richard teaches you everything you need to know step by step, starting with the basics of annealing and rolling sheet metal. He then shows you how to pour your own silver ingot from scrap metal, a great way to maximize your metal.

Roller printing is another major perk of a rolling mill. Richard shows not only how to use brass texture plates, but also how to be creative with other materials to achieve your own unique textures, like these:

Clockwise from top left: commercial brass texture plates, card stock paper, wire mesh, staples, steel wire. Make sure you prevent steel from touching your rollers directly by sandwiching it between two pieces of metal before rolling.

Clockwise from top left: commercial brass texture plates, card stock paper, wire mesh, staples, steel wire. Make sure you prevent steel from touching your rollers directly by sandwiching it between two pieces of metal before rolling.

Did you know that the rolling mill is also an asset when it comes to form folding and rolling your own gold for keum boo? There is just so much you can do with a rolling mill.

The rolling mill can help you achieve crisp folds in your fold-forming metalwork.

The rolling mill can help you achieve crisp folds in your fold-forming metalwork.

 

Richard shows you how to carefully anneal and roll gold into delicate sheets, which can then be used in keum boo.

Richard shows you how to carefully anneal and roll gold into delicate sheets, which can then be used in keum boo.

 

Richard’s Top 5 Tips for the Rolling Mill

Here are a few great tips from Richard’s workshop.

1. Easy does it.
Always run your metal through in the same direction with the same side up, cranking the mill down more tightly each time. If it’s extremely hard to roll your metal through, you have tightened the adjusting screw(s) too much. Tighten just a little each time.

2. Anneal often.
Rolling your metal will work-harden it. You’ll need to anneal it every four or five times through the machine. If you try to do more without annealing, your metal may crack.

3. Save the scraps!
If you have scrap silver and an ingot mold, you can pour your scrap into a sheet, roll it out, and make your own silver. This is even more cost-effective with gold.

4. Make a sandwich.
Whenever you’re unsure if what you’re rolling is safe, sandwich the item between two pieces of silver or copper. You never want steel to touch your rollers because it could permanently damage them.

5. Be creative with texture.
While brass texture plates provide hundreds of options, don’t forget that you can make your own textures out of materials around you. Try using wire, screen, staples, fused scraps, or even card stock with cut-out designs.

Richard fused scraps to sheet metal and rolled them for a beautifully textured look.

Richard fused scraps to sheet metal and rolled them for a beautifully textured look.

Has the Rolling Mill Hooked You, Too?

If you’ve been sucked in by the rolling mill’s charm, you’ll love this online workshop. Even if you don’t have your own rolling mill, Richard encourages you to check with co-ops and jewelry organizations near you.

What do YOU love about the rolling mill? Tell us in the comments below.

Want a bargain? Subscribe to Interweave’s Bead & Jewelry online workshops for $9.99 a month and binge-watch all your favorite instructors and techniques!

Go be creative!

Tamara Kula
Producer, Bead & Jewelry Group


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One Comment

  1. Rob M at 5:25 pm December 26, 2018

    Rollers are excellent for making your own rolled gold. Some people need gold facing on ear ring clips if they are allergic to silver etc. A small soldered ingot of thin gold/thick silver/thin gold or just silver/gold can be rolled to give a sheet that is gold on one or both surfaces without using much gold at all

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