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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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!
Producer, Bead & Jewelry Group