How to Select a Rolling Mill for Jewelry Making

Learn about the different types of jeweler’s rolling mills, the techniques they can be used for, and what factors to consider when making your own rolling mill purchase.

Last edited: 9/16/2019
Durston Rolling Mill

A rolling mill is one of the most valuable and useful tools a jeweler can acquire. The primary function of a rolling mill is to reduce the thickness of sheet metal and wire. Additionally, they are great for a variety of other tasks, including imprinting textures and patterns into sheet metal, rolling out thin gold foil for keum boo, fold forming, and forging elegant tapers on wire.

Manual vs. Electric

The TUI F130 electric flat rolling mill has easy to use controls and it effectively creates custom metal gauges and adds texture to metal sheet.

A jeweler’s rolling mill is a machine consisting of two very smooth, highly polished, hardened steel rollers, mmounted in a strong, rigid frame. Most jewelry studios are equipped with a manual rolling mill; however, electric mills are available and are often necessary for larger production companies. When deciding whether to purchase a manual or electric mill, the two main factors to consider are your budget and how much use the rolling mill will get. An electric rolling mill will do most of the physical labor for you, making production far more efficient, but also costs significantly more than a manual mill. For most jewelers, a manual jewelry rolling mill is sufficient.

Gear Ratio and Reduction Gears

Manual rolling mills are available with or without a gearbox. The gear-reduction box houses gears that increase hand-power, providing more force with less effort. This reduces the amount of physical effort necessary to feed metal through the mill and reduces strain on your body. A rolling mill without a gear box, also called a direct-drive manual mill, requires more force to turn the handle and roll metal. Typical gear ratios for reduction gear rolling mills are listed as 6:1, 5:1, 4:1, etc. A rolling mill with a 4:1 ratio requires four turns of the handle for the rolls to complete a single rotation. Even though the handle must be rotated more times in order to turn the rollers, it requires far less force, allowing the gears to do the heavy work. Direct drive mills necessitate only one rotation of the handle for the rollers to complete a full rotation; however, they require considerably more strength.

Types of Rollers

Each jewelry rolling mill comes with one of four different types of rollers: flat, wire, full round, and combination.

  • Flat rollers are used for rolling out and reducing the thickness of sheet metal. Flat rollers work well to imprint patterns and textures into metal with a technique called “roller printing.” Beautiful organic and botanical forms can also be made in sheet metal with a technique called “fold forming.”
  • Wire rollers are for rolling and reducing the diameter of wire. These wire rollers will roll the wire into a chamfered square cross section. Wire can be drawn down into a smaller gauge or tapered to a graceful point much more quickly and efficiently than by hand forging.
  • Full round rollers are for rolling out wire but will roll it in a round cross section. These rollers will create wire that is fully round. The rollers can also be used to reduce the diameter of round wire.
  • Combination rolling mills offer both a flat surface for sheet metal, as well as a section with grooves on the rollers for rolling wire. Combination mills typically sacrifice some width for the convenience of having both wire grooves and flat rolling space on the same roller, except in the case of double combination rolling mills which offer two separate sets of rollers, one flat and one grooved for wire.

Extension Rollers

This Durston 80mm combination mini rolling mill is great for use with metal sheet and round wire; it is shown with extension rollers for half-round wire.

Some rolling mills come with extensions that allow extra rollers to be added to the side of the mill. These extensions increase flexibility, enabling the rolling mill to be adapted as needed. Jewelers who use a flat mill to work with sheet and who only occasionally need to roll wire will benefit from a rolling mill with wide flat rollers and side extensions that can be used for wire. This way width is not sacrificed on the flat rollers for a wire section that will only see occasional use. Extension rollers can be purchased in varying shapes, including half round, and many decorative patterns.

Opening Width

An important factor when choosing a rolling mill is the maximum opening width. This is the distance between the rollers when the rolling mill is completely open. The opening width determines the thickness of the sheet or wire that can be rolled through the rolling mill. If you intend to roll out ingots or thick stock, you should choose a rolling mill with as large of an opening as your budget will allow. Melting down scrap and rolling out ingots into sheet metal is a great way to save money and make the most of the materials you purchase. Higher quality rolling mills and mills with a reduction gear will be much better suited to this task than rolling mills without a reduction gear. The reduction gear provides more force with less physical effort, allowing for fewer passes through the rolling mill with a greater reduction in thickness.

Roller Width and Diameter

Another important factor when choosing a rolling mill is the roller width. The width of the rollers will determine the maximum width of sheet metal pieces that can be passed through the rolling mill, or for a wire roller, how many grooves there will be for reducing the size of wire. Rio Grande offers jewelry rolling mills with widths ranging from 80mm to 158mm wide. Wider rollers offer added flexibility with more wire milling grooves or a larger surface area for flat milling. The diameter of the rollers is another factor to consider when purchasing a rolling mill. The larger the rollers, the less curve that will form in the metal during rolling; however, any curve created while rolling is simple to correct.

Quality vs. Price

A rolling mill is a significant investment that a jeweler should hope to make only once during their career. When purchasing a rolling mill, consider your current needs while also allowing for technical growth in the future. Quality mills retain their value and can last a lifetime or longer if properly cared for and maintained. A superior rolling mill has rollers made from high-quality hardened steel. High-quality hardened rollers ensure even rolling with lower risk of scratches or dents and a lifetime of reliable service.

With a reputation for producing the best rolling mills in the jewelry industry, Durston brand rolling mills are known for their precision, reliability and durability. Durston rolling mills are top-of-the-line, designed to be the workhorse of professional jewelry studios, and are built from the highest quality components. Featuring high-quality-ground and induction-hardened steel rollers, Durston mills have cast iron frames for strength and rigidity, and often have self-lubricating and maintenance-free bearings. An investment in an exceptional rolling mill is a decision that will help you and your jewelry business thrive. Browse the entire selection of rolling mills available from Rio Grande and equip your studio with an investment you can rely on.