Rolling Mill Know-How Part Two: Tips on Use, Care, and Maintenance

The care, feeding and use of your rolling mill, from unboxing to regular maintenance to diving in and making jewelry!

Last edited: 2/7/2019
Durston Rolling Mill

Rolling Mill Know-How Part Two: Tips on Use, Care, and Maintenance

Rolling mills are great tools to have in any jewelry shop. They provide quick and efficient ways to roll out metal stock as well as countless ways to texture, pattern, and rework your metal creations. If you’re still hunting for the perfect rolling mill, take a look at the post I wrote last month on the topic, Rolling Mill Know-How Part One. Once you’ve selected your rolling mill (or even if you’ve had one for years) this post includes some great rolling mill tips; from unpacking your mill to regular care that will keep it performing its best for years to come to diving in and using it for a million different jewelry-making tasks!

Where Should I Put My Rolling Mill? How Do I Care for It?

158mm Double Combination Rolling Mill
Dual mills offers more options for both flat and wire rolling.

Rolling mills are extremely heavy; before unpacking your mill, plan how you’ll lift it and where you’re going to mount it. Make sure to mount your rolling mill to a sturdy table, countertop, or a rolling mill stand that has been secured to the floor. The stand or counter you choose must be capable of supporting the weight of the mill and you must be able to bolt or secure the stand firmly to the floor. Without attachment to the floor, one could not achieve the tremendous leverage necessary to operate the mill and there would be a risk of tipping it.

Rolling mills come encased in grease; this is a common protective measure for most steel tools during shipping. A white solvent and a lint-free cloth can be used to remove the grease from the rollers. Once the rollers are clean, rolling can begin. To keep them working effectively, the rollers will need to be lubricated or polished regularly. In the following video, master goldsmith and renowned teacher Ronda Coryell demonstrates her method for polishing her mill. She creatively uses a dowel rod, a rag, and Simichrome Polish® to shine and provide corrosion resistance to the rollers of her rolling mill.

Maintaining a rolling mill is fairly simple: oiling and protecting the rollers from corrosion by following the advice in Ronda’s video or using a corrosion-resistant oil like 3-in-1® oil, or another rust preventative will help keep the mill rollers in excellent condition. The gears are self-lubricating and do not need to be serviced. Based on the model of your mill, additional maintenance may be required, your operator’s manual will include all the details. Avoid putting dirty or wet metal through the rolling mill as this can cause damage to the rollers. Protecting the rollers is of the upmost importance—once the rollers become damaged, they can difficult to refinish and costly to replace.

Durston has put together a helpful guide to using and maintaining a Durston mill that you will find very helpful in learning to use your rolling mill.

What Are Some Great Uses for My Rolling Mill?

There are several different ways that a rolling mill can be used. Rolling out ingots, sheet or wire. Imprinting on sheet metal, foldforming, and mokume gane are a just a few of the ways rolling mills are commonly used.

Here are the simple steps for using a rolling mill to thin sheet or wire:

  1. Anneal a piece of sheet or wire. Be sure to clean it by pickling it, rinsing it with water, and drying it thoroughly.
  2. Before feeding the metal through the rollers, open the rollers and close them onto the metal to where you can barely remove the metal from the rollers. Remove the metal and note the dash on the dial, then count the number of notches as you close the wheels tighter. Be sure not to over-tighten the rollers and apply too much pressure to the pieces of metal. The handle should turn with some force, but it should never take your full body weight to turn the handle as this much pressure can damage your rolling mill.
  3. After rolling metal through the mill, flip the piece from end to end and roll it through again without adjusting the roller height.
  4. Repeat Step 2 to roll the metal thinner. The metal will start to harden and may need to be annealed again. Continue to repeat until the desired thickness is achieved. Remember to anneal each time you feel the metal is becoming work hardened.

Pattern rolling or imprinting patterns onto sheet metal is another of the more common uses for a rolling mill. Pattern plates such as the Bonny Doon Pattern Plates will produce a detailed, low-relief pattern on metal when they are run through your rolling mill. You can also create your own pattern plates or use everyday items like paper towels or dried leaves to emboss texture on your metal.

For basic pattern rolling:

  1. Take a pattern plate and a piece of metal that is the same size as the plate.
  2. Anneal the metal, clean, and dry it. Annealing the metal will make it softer and much easier to roll as well as making it possible to create a deeper and crisper imprint.
  3. Stack the plate and the metal and determine the height of the rollers you need (as you did in step 2 of the previous instructions), again make sure the rollers are not too tight.
  4. Roll the metal and the plate through the rollers. Your metal will be beautifully patterned.

If you’d like more detailed instructions, take a look at our Bonny Doon Pattern Plate Instruction Sheet.