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Using a Rolling Mill to Texture Metals

Using a Rolling Mill to Texture Metals

If you're making jewellery with sterling silver, copper, or other metals, you'll quickly discover that a rolling mill is a great way to texture metals. A rolling mill consists of two steel rollers and you simply pass the metal between the two rollers so that a pattern is made on the surface of the metal.

It's surprising just how effective and fast a rolling mill is at turning plain metal into lovely textured metal, ideal for bracelets, bangles or pendants.

Plan, smooth metal can instantly be transformed into interesting textured patterns easily with a rolling mill.

Most silversmithing courses and jewellery making courses will give you a chance to try a rolling mill, but it's certainly one of the most popular pieces of equipment that most jewellery makers want.

Budget models range from under £200/$200 and strong, professional rolling mills can cost 3-4x this amount. If you would like a rolling mill but need it to pay for itself quickly then there's a market for buying textured copper and silver, so you could pay for your rolling mill by texturing metal and selling it in small batches through sites like Etsy or even ebay.

Variations of Rolling Mill

This used to be a very expensive and awkward piece of kit - and you'll discover many variations of rolling mills, but they all operate in the same way.

Modern Rolling Mills: Of course, these days, it's possible to get a much lighter/smaller and more aesthetically pleasing rolling mill at home for yourself, with prices having fallen significantly in recent years many people now have a rolling mill on their birthday list or xmas present list!

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

Start With Flat Metal

For the best results, the metal you put through your rolling mill must be absolutely flat. You can use a nylon mallet to flatten out any small bends, ideally though you should use brand new and perfectly straight and flat metal.

When the metal passes through the rollers of the rolling mill the texture is "squashed" into the metal - so any variation or bend in the metal would cause a potential crease, mark or inconsistent texture.

Fully Anneal Your Metal

When using a rolling mill for texturing silver or copper or any metal, it is essential that the metal is fully annealed - or fully soft. You can buy your metal fully annealed/soft, or you can anneal it yourself. This isn't a difficult process and simply requires you to heat the sheet up until it's got a red glow, then quench it by dropping it into a pot of cold water. Once you've done that the metal is fully soft and annealed. Heating metal softens it, it's not difficult. However, at this stage, the act of heating it up and quenching it might have left a residue of firescale, so you'll need to pickle it for 5-10 minutes. You can even make your own homemade pickle using non-acids.

100% Dry!

Never, ever, ever, put metal through a rolling mill if it isn't 100% dry. Any water that gets onto the rolling mill rollers has the potential to become rusty and render the rollers useless. Although you can buy new rollers it's not something you want to do simply because you didn't wipe your copper or silver with a dry rag before you started!

Open The Rollers

The first thing you need to do is to turn the handles at the top of your rolling mill to open up the gap between the two rollers. You can tell how far apart the rollers need to be by passing your piece of sheet metal through the gap until it just starts to feel like the metal is about to get stuck - then remove your items and turn the handle about a quarter turn so the rollers are tighter/together.

Put Your Texture in Place

Place your texture on your metal. How you do this depends on what your texture is. You can use a skeleton/dry leaf and emboss that onto your metal, but you have to think how it will be held in place as the metal passes through the rollers. Maybe your texture is coming from a piece of lace laid over the metal.

You can use masking tape, sellotape, or even craft glues to hold everything in place - and just masking tape alone can even give a nice simple texture.

Keep The Metal Square to the Rollers

When you pass your metal and texture through the rolling mill you must keep it as straight and square to the rollers as possible, to reduce any curling of the metal as it passes through and to give a more even texture.

If you are trying to pass tricky items through the rollers, it can be a good idea to build up a platform right in front of the roller and level with the gap so you can just 'push' it through while you're turning the handle.

Turn the Handle

Now all you have to do is turn the handle. You should aim to turn the handle in one smooth move if you can - there's no need to go slowly, but you should aim for a steady speed - one revolution in 1-2 seconds is fine, the speed isn't really crucial and once you've passed a few pieces through your rolling mill you'll find it's just second nature.

Clean the Rollers

Once you've finished, just have a quick look at the rollers and make sure there's nothing stuck on them. If you're texturing metal using leaves you can find some will break up so there's some bits of dead leaf that need wiping away.

If you keep your rolling mill rollers clean and dry you'll never have any problems with it, so it's worth that 30 second check!

Using Lace in a Rolling Mill

Source: My own work

Source: My own work

Texture Ideas:

You can use many things to texture metals with a rolling mill, once you've started you'll start to see opportunities to explore everywhere! Here are some ideas:

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  • Try a variety of organic materials, such as dried grasses and dried leaves - using green leaves won't work, they should be dry.
  • Try using lace, and other textured materials, to produce a texture on your metal
  • Look in haberdashery shops and on market stalls for small embroidered embellishments and borders to produce a texture.
  • Use two identical sheets of metal, with the texture sandwiched in the middle, to produce mirror images - ideal for earrings or where you want two identical components to make a larger piece of jewellery.
  • Shape wire to create shapes in your metal, e.g. swirls and spirals. The wire musn't be crossed over else where two wires cross the wire will be squashed and not produce the shape you intended.
  • Visit craft shops and look at their embellishment range, you can get shaped confetti and letters/numbers which are cheap and easy to use.

NOTE: NEVER use abrasive materials, such as emery cloth, in your rolling mill as this may damage the rollers

Making Strong Impressions in Copper or Silver

It's not just simple or fine textures you can make in a rolling machine - you can make quite large impressions in metal. Below is an image I took of a piece of annealed copper, where I'd placed a piece of 1mm copper wire between two pieces of copper and put it through the rolling mill.

Indentations such as this are ideal for then filling with enamel perhaps:

Note: Notice that the wire isn't crossed as this wouldn't work well through the mill as the double thickness wouldn't give a good overall indentation.

Rolling Mill Strong Texture

Source: My own work

Source: My own work

Notes & Tips About Using a Rolling Mill to Texture Metals

  • If your metal bends as it passes through the rollers, you can flatten it out again by tapping it with a nylon mallet.
  • Keep a notebook of what you've used to create your texture, along with a photo of the results, which you can look back at to remind yourself of the results you got from various ideas and materials - it can be annoying if you've used, say, 30 different pieces of lace over time and then can't remember which lace produced a particular result. In my notebook I affix a piece of the lace in my notebook too.
  • If you're wanting a deep pattern, place a pad against the rear of the metal - the pad enables the metal to produce a deeper image as it can sink into the pad and won't be restricted by the hard steel roller - you can make a pad from folded tissue or any soft material you have to hand.
  • Think about the back of your metal. You're texturing one side, but think about whether you want a different texture on the rear of your piece. Perhaps just put a light texture on the rear by covering it with masking tape.
  • Experiment with texturing square, half round and round wires. You can try texturing finished pieces, or texture your wire before you shape it.


Rolling Mill:

The rest are my own efforts from texturing copper with a rolling mill for jewellery.


shravan suthar on January 10, 2014:

"Hevy duty jewellery rolling machinery new manufacturing„

Making-Jewellery (author) from United Kingdom on April 05, 2013:

It is surprising how the textures from the rolling machine turn out - even simply covering a piece of copper or silver in masking tape makes a great impression. I had a flat embroidered teddy bear which I put through on sterling silver, still got to cut that bear out and buff him up.

Using a rolling mill is an easy way to achieve a great, unique look to your metalwork - the only initial issue is access to one!

Brenda Kyle from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA on April 05, 2013:

I hope my next crafting venture will be metal working. I have bought books, both old and new to teach techniques. I am happy to see the press, it looks like it has many possibilities and a great deal of texture options.

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