BEHIND THE SCENES IN THE JEWELLERY STUDIO
Introducing... The Rolling Mill
The rolling mill is an absolute can’t-live-without piece of equipment in the professional jeweller’s workshop. Of all the tools and equipment in my studio, the rolling mill almost always draws the most immediate attention. Perhaps this is because of its size and somewhat imposing presence.
The rolling mill allows the jeweller to form the required size strips, bars or plates of metal easily and relatively quickly.
The mill is comprised of a pair of adjustable hardened steel rollers that turn together on gears within a frame to provide varying degrees of compression on the material being fed between them. It’s pretty much the same as a pasta roller, but bigger, harder, and with metal – and although the jewellery rolling mill requires a lot more “oomph” than a pasta machine, the premise is the same.
Sterling silver is sold for the home hobbyists in a huge range of prefabricated dimensions and forms. More expensive precious metals such as gold and platinum are supplied in what is called “stock gauge” form, which is a square rod, usually of 4.5mm or 6mm dimension. It is with stock gauge that a professional jeweller will always begin a job.
Using the rolling mill, a jeweller can manipulate the stock gauge into any square or rectangular shape that suits the purpose of the job at hand, and can also roll thin sheet, perfect for saw-piercing projects.
Keep an eye out… in an upcoming blog post I will be taking you step-by-step through the process of handcrafting a stunning pair of earrings, remodelled from old jewellery, and using the rolling mill as the primary forming tool – you won’t want to miss it!
You can subscribe to my Studio News to be notified as soon as the post goes live.
A little rolling mill history...
Originally invented in the middle ages, the rolling (thankfully) replaced the labour-intensive method of hammering metal ingots into shape. Leonardo DaVinci is credited as designing the first metal-working mill, with one of his drawings allegedly dating back to the late 1480s, although the earliest forms of rolling mills – crude, but based on the same principles – can be dated back to as early as 600BC.
Rolling Mills in the jewellery workshop...
Rolling mill design hasn’t actually changed that much over the years. The addition of gearing is a welcome relief for the muscles, and motorised mills are also available and considered a luxury (Santa still hasn’t brought me set of those yet!). But, the overall principle of how the mill performs is basically the same as it was back in Leonardo’s day.
There are a range of rolling mills for the jewellery workshop available these days, varying in price from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars, and the price is generally determined by the quality, as with most things.
There are two types of rollers – flat and square.
Flat rollers are used for rolling and reducing the thickness of sheets of metal, for metal pattern imprinting and for transforming the square profile stock gauge into rectangular strip.
Square rollers are used for the reduction of stock gauge dimension.
Rolling mills can be purchased individually, but are most commonly seen as a combination set, which is by far the most practical and cost-effective set-up for the jeweller’s workshop or home hobbyist – a single roller with both flat and square sections.
With good maintenance, a decent set of rolling mills will last a lifetime – or longer. There are many professional jewellers today who are still using the same rolling mill daily that their fathers, even grandfathers, were using. So, if you are in the market for a set of mills, don’t rule out buying a second hand mill. Those old mills are damn good quality!
When I first started out, I purchased a second-hand rolling mill that was already well over 40 years old and I used it for years. Unfortunately, there was a period of time I did not have workshop space and due to poor storage conditions, the mills got damp and corroded and could not be saved. I was devastated…
I purchased a new set, one of my most major workshop equipment investments, which I take good care of and have been using now for about 20 years.
They will most certainly outlive me…
Rolling mill wrap-up...
The actual uses for a rolling mill are endless. Not only can you manipulate and reshape metal bar and sheet, you can also use the rolling mill to imprint patterns and textures onto metal (a blog-post for another day perhaps).
While a rolling mill is by no means a small purchase, if you are setting up a home workshop and you are starting to get get serious with your jewellery-making, then a rolling mill is most certainly worth considering. Be warned though, you will need to secure your mill to a very solid base. They can be bolted to a sturdy bench or there are custom made stands for rolling mills that need to be bolted to the floor, so assess your space before you buy. Also, ensure you will have a decent amount of space around you so that you can turn the handle without bumping into the walls or furniture.
And, if you are going to shop at a real store or buy second hand, be aware that these things are heavy – really heavy – so don’t take the train, you’ll need a car and probably Jason Momoa to give you a hand, I’m sure he won’t mind…. hmmm, let’s just sit and think about that for a while shall we, ladies?
Don’t forget, I’ll be showing you my process of making a gorgeous pair of earrings, using the rolling mill in my next post which is coming very soon.
Got some questions about rolling mills? Please leave me a comment below – I would love to hear from you! Let me know what you thought of this post and what you would like to see on the blog in the future and please subscribe to my Studio News.
- I use PicMonkey for all my photo editing. Want to try it? Click here to view the site, have a play with their awesome software and sign up for a free trial of PicMonkey Pro.
- Huge thanks to the ladies of Women’s Metalsmiths Collective Facebook group for sharing photos of their rolling mills to use in this article.
This post may contain affiliate links. This means I may earn a small commission or credit if you purchase a product I recommend from a link on this page.
Please be assured that I will only ever recommend products that I use or would like to use myself.