Rolling Mills

I am under construction – like all else in life!

For more information please see my Q&A webpage on Rolling Mills

What’s the Scoop on Rolling Mills?

Rolling mills have a variety of metals working uses. I use mine to pattern metal or to reduce metal thickness – like creating 24g sheet from 20g.  Occasionally, I use my rolling mill to reduce wire thickness, to create graduated wire and to manufacture square, round and half-round wire.  You can also use a rolling mill when fold-forming and to create sheet from ingots.  If you cut your bezel wire too short, before soldering, roll it through the mill – with minimal pressure at first.  Don’t forget to anneal it!

Some mills have built in pattern rollers – which is rather limiting unless you loooooovvvvve that pattern!  There are tons of other ways to obtain patterns from the rolling mill.  Of course, that will be covered in this page.

**Remember:  these mills should last a lifetime (or more) so,  to justify the expense (to yourself and/or your significant other, just say:  “Wow darling or Wow self, the cost of this (insert tool name here) works out to only 50.00 a year and aren’t I worth that?” or something similarly convincing and heartfelt.  Another line to try is the equally witty and persuasive:  “think of the money I’m saving you (myself)!” (you MUST say this with the utmost conviction and seriousness – as if his/her/your financial well-being rests on this purchase).  Although, neither line has been sufficient to convince my husband that these expenditures are truly a benefit to him.  Yet, I can’t help but feeling, that just by saying these things, I am demonstrating my thrifty and considerate nature. What an angel!
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Tip:  Mark, on your mill, maybe with a Sharpie or tape, which direction to turn the handle to open the rollers.  It saves time and you don’t have keep checking or screwing up your tension.

Notes on Purchasing Rolling Mills

***When you purchase a rolling mill, be sure to consider how wide the flat rollers are:  you don’t want a rolling mill that can only roll out narrow strips of metal (or maybe you do!).  Determine what your needs are and buy accordingly.

Mills come in varying designs.  Some include wire grooves, pattern rollers and flat rollers. When thinking about what you want to buy consider the following elements:

  • Gear Ratio.  The economy rolling mill has a 1:1 ratio.  Pepetools and Durston have gear ratios of 4:1 and Durston also has 5:1 ratios.  What does this mean?  With a 4:1 ratio, four turns of the handle will roll the rollers one full rotation.  Likewise, the 5:1 needs 5 turns for every full rotation.  This gear ratio is important because:  1.  It is easier and less stressful on your body.A 4:1 gear ratio is also like having 4 times the strength where as a direct mill requires more physical effort. 2. You don’t get flat areas, like with a direct drive.  3. You have more control over the rolling process.
  • Roll Width: 90 mm (This is the total length of the roller)
  • Roll Diameter: 42.6 mm (This is the diameter of the roller)
  • Max. Opening: 4 mm thick (This is the widest that the rollers will open)
  • Flat Area: 39 mm (This is the width available for rolling flat sheet. In this instance (39 mm), Americans, that is 1.535 inches!) Get out a ruler and see if this will work for you – probably not!
  • Square Wire: 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.5, 7.0 mm (This means it will make square wire and the gauges it will make).
  • Ring shank Half Round Wire: 2.5 x 1, 3 x 1.25, 4 x 1.5 mm. In the example here, this means that it has a 1/2 round roller and a flat roller. half-round-wire 1/2 round wire rolls.  Half-round wire can also be made by running two pieces of wire through two round rollers. When the wire is squished together, one side will be round and the side where the wires meet (center) will be flat.  Having a two round rollers would offer you more wire rolling choices:  round and 1/2 round.
***If you will be making wire or creating tapers on wire you will need to buy a mill that either has a multipurpose roller (flat and wire grooves on one roller) or a machine that has sets of rollers that can be interchanged.
*Note:  When you buy a cheap rolling mill, you will get a cheap rolling mill.  Durston makes one of the best.  Pepe’s mills are a great alternative to the cheap mill and the expensive Durston.  They are sturdy, have a 4:1 gear ratio and are WAY better than the single gear, cheapy.

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Suppliers of Rolling Mills

There are a few different types of rolling mills.  Generally, buy the best that you can afford.  If that means saving up, for a while, do so, as the differences between the cheap mill and the great mill are huge.  Saying that, I used el cheapo for about 5 years – until it cracked.  I used liquid nails to glue it back together and still use it (carefully) today for rolling wire. Update:  It finally died – completely broke apart.  Also, el cheapo’s rollers constantly get out of alignment – meaning – that you are always adjusting the gap between the rollers. Not fun for me.

The types, that I have found (there are probably others, as my fallibility is legend) are:

harbor-frt-mill El cheapo, well, let’s call it an “economy mill”: Harbor Freight (at this moment in time), no longer sells this product.  If they sell it again, it was part number: 4832 and cost about $250.00 (US). But, it’s cousin (sobrino) can be found on the web at places like Amazon. The manufacturers have apparently slapped a bit of blue paint on it to upgrade it. (I don’t really know that but, it looks so similar and the price points are also close.)  If this is all that you can afford, then go for it.  Like I said, it worked for me for a few years.

My favorite type of rolling mills are made by Durston.  They are pricey but, will last a lifetime and are real workhorses.

durston-mill
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Resources for Rolling Mills

I have dug up a few reasonably priced rolling mills:
  • Otto Frei’s Economy rolling mill only comes with two flat rollers BUT, you can buy a bunch of different rollers for this mill.  It starts at $220.00 US and the roller pairs for wire rolling are $75.00.  There are also many different pattern rollers available from $24.00 – $50.00. They have other types too.
  • Contenti has a large selection of Durston mills as well as economy brands – which range from pricey to inexpensive.
  • FDJ carries 7 mills.
  • Pepe Tools carries many rolling mills.
  • Rio Grande carries (it appears) only Durston Mills.
  • At Amazon, there are quite a few less expensive mills.  PiPi mills are knockoffs of Pepe Tool’s mills and are not of the same quality – you get what you pay for!
  • Best Built rolling mills (Korea) at Otto Frei.

Let’s not forget the electric mill and the double electric mill. dbl-electric  This Durston 130mm Electric Double Combination Rolling Mill has a 130 mm flat area and 19 grooves for wire (10–1 mm).  No cranking with this one. Price tag: a hair over $4,800.00 US.

Remember:  I only have experience with Durston and el Cheapo so, I can’t vouch for any of the other mills.
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Rolling Mills Outside of the USA

double-mill My dream machine:  Durston – Upper and lower rolls width: 158mm x 60mm (ah!), lots of places to roll wire too!
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Stands

You need some place to put it right?  I just bolted mine to my counter.  But, you can also purchase stands.  At Chimera, I purchased this Harbor Freight standstand It works fine for our little el Cheapo. hf-stand Here is another type from Harbor Freight – best for a heavier mill.  Just bolt a thick piece of wood to the top and then attach the mill.

There are also stands designed specifically for rolling mills: Otto Frei stands – $380 and up. Rio Grande’s options from $270 and up.  Contenti stands Durston stand stand-durston and cabinet – $277.00 and $339.00 US.

Pepe-rolling-mill-stand  Pepetools rolling mill stand.  At Otto Frei (Part No: 128.180) and other locations.

When placing your mill, take into consideration:  Can I turn the handle without smacking into anything?  Will the handle block anything (many are removable – something to consider!), is the surface stable and strong enough to accommodate the stresses involved? Do I have enough room to feed the metal into?  Do I have enough room for the metal to leave the mill?  Make sure that the stand or mill is attached well and that it can’t tip over.  You don’t want all that steel crashing down onto your feet!  Not to mention the damage it may cause to the mill and your floor.
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Using the Rolling Mill

Always start with annealed metal.

Always roll, between anneals, in the same direction.  You can fracture the metal if you don’t.

Roll about 4 times and then anneal.

Put your metal into the mill.  Tighten down the rollers but, not too tight.  It should be easy to turn the T-bar.  Turn your dials to zero or write down the number.  Open the rollers. Remove the metal.  Now, tighten down the rollers until they are either at zero or the number you wrote down (remember – no metal in there yet!).  Give the T-bar 1/3 to 1/2 of a full twist.  Test.  The pressure shouldn’t be so great that you can’t turn it without using your full body.  You might need two hands but, don’t lay on it – that’s too tight.  If the rollers are too tight you deform your metal AND can ruin your machine!  Conversely, you don’t want the pressure to be too light or your pattern won’t imprint.

Practice!

I like to roll similar gauges, all at the same time.  That way, I know what the settings will be and don’t have to keep changing them.

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Ways to Pattern Metal

  • Paper
  • Paper cut-outs
  • Pattern Sheets
  • Dry Organic Material – make sure when using leaves or flowers that they are dry.  The moisture can rust your rollers!
  • Fabrics like lace work well.
  • Embossed paper – see Leslie Villarreal’s video on doing this.

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Maintaining Your Rolling Mill

  • Oil often.  Some clean up after use.
  • Cover, if possible. This prevents dust from accumulating on the rollers.
  • If you own an economy mill, you will probably have to adjust the rollers from time to time.  See Melissa Muir’s video, below.
  • Keep rollers dry.  If they get wet, dry immediately.
  • If your rollers get damaged and the damage is slight, you can sand

Roller maintenance

General maintenance

Additional Information

  • Jewelry Making Daily: Metalsmithing Essentials: 13 Tips on How to Use a Rolling Mill and How to Buy One. Blog.
  • Rio Grande:  Roller Printing. Video.
  • Rio Grande: Texturing Metal for Jewelry. Video.
  • Whaley Studios:  Preview of Using a Rolling Mill to Create Various Wire Shapes and Sheet Forms. Video.

 

 

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