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Monday, May 11, 2015

Metal Studio: The Rolling Mill

For the next few weeks I'm going to take you on a tour of the tools and resources in BeadFX's Metal Studio. It's the best classroom/workspace I know and there's pretty much everything you need to create, take a class or explore your skills. If you want an in-depth, in-person tour, join me for Open Metal Studio once a month, on a Friday evening from 5 until 8 pm. There are also options to use the Metal Studio, when classes aren't in session, for a reasonable fee. Call the store for details.

I'm beginning the tour with the rolling mill. There are lots of ways to make impressions in metal (and we will tour some of those other tools in a future blog) but one of the fastest ways to do this, especially with large metal pieces, is using the rolling mill. But they are big, bulky and out of most people's budgets. You can use the Vintaj Bick Kick machine to do some of this work, but the rolling mill is incredibly versatile and BeadFX has one that you can use.

I've read that the invention of the rolling mill is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Well, since we're both left handed and share the same birth date, I'll believe that, since I love the rolling mill. Basically, with the small jewellery rolling mill you are undertaking a process called cold rolling. The mill is handpowered by a crank and consists of a body/housing and a set of hardened steel rollers. Since the less expensive ones, such as the model at BeadFX, don't have a calibration gauge, you have to go by feel and experience when rolling metal. It also doesn't have perfectly calibrated rollers so I find the design doesn't transfer flawlessly. I have the same problem with my rolling mill at home. There are other rollers with grooves in them that allow you to roll heavier gauges of wire to create lighter gauges, which is accomplished in concert with a drawplate, and is how wire in a variety of shapes and gauges is created.

To emboss a pattern in metal, you can use various materials. You can use beautiful and easy to purchase brass texture plates: BeadFX has a nice selection of them. You can also use textured papers, in which you punch holes or cut designs with an exacto knife. I also love experimenting with things I can find around the house: from screen door material, to paper towels, to cloth, to feathers, to lace or leather.

Brass is harder than copper and silver, so it's a good choice for embossing plates if you're embossing softer metals such as copper and sterling silver. Anneal your metal first. Pickle then emboss. Here's a quick guide: Open the rollers, insert your sandwich of materials and close the rollers until they are tight. Remove the package of materials, tighten the rollers a bit further, and then run the package of materials through the rolling mill. It will likely warp a bit, your metal will get thinner and spread, and you'll have a patterned piece of metal to work with. Also, you can't reverse or run the metal through again, so make sure you've got it right before you crank the rollers. Trim, clean and file as required.

Here's a link to a You Tube video where you can see how embossed paper can create a great effect on a strip of metal.

This is a great link to a one page summary of how to use the mill with tips and tricks and a list of potential materials to use for embossing.

Rolling mills range in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Rio Grande has a selection on their web site, as well as videos on how to use the product. I encourage you to play with this wonderful tool. Join me this Friday evening for Open Metal Studio and bring your sheets of metal and embossing ideas.

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