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Copyright 2011 Wired Lotus

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Patterning Metals Lesson

Created by Susan Barzacchini

This lesson, intended for the intermediate jewelry artist, will pave the pathway to making new discoveries in patterning sheet metal using the economy compact rolling mill. It is written from first hand experience and includes specific examples. While it is not specifically project based, it does assist the reader in finding a new comfort level with working with a rolling mill. Learning the techniques outlined in this lesson will expand creative horizons and the results will take your jewelry fabrication to a new level.
Copyright 2011 Susan Barzacchini, All rights reserved. These instructions are for personal use only. Please do not distribute, lend or copy any portion of this document. Reproduction and or distribution of these instructions in whole or in part, in any form, without the author's written consent, are strictly prohibited. This tutorial is presented solely as an educational tool; and to hold Susan Barzacchini free of any and all claims. You may make this project for limited sale, but do not mass produce, or claim it as your design. Please give credit where credit is due, it is the right thing to do.

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*Economy compact rolling mill *Sturdy table to bolt machine on *Machine bolts *Drill and bits *Wrench *Light machine oil, like 3-in-One *Soft cloth or paper towels *fabric grocery bag or pillow case to cover machine when not in use *Non ferrous sheet metal, such as sterling silver or copper, 24-20 gauge (Several square inches) *24 gauge soft copper sheet (several square inches) *Patterns (patterns can be punched cardstock, patterned brass, leaves with deep veins, low relief laser paper, plastic potato bag, lace, patterned fabric, burlap or sandpaper) *4 or more sheets of 80 pound cardstock or two manila folders *Metal sheers or heavy kitchen/craft scissors

Optional Items:
*Butane torch *triple filtered fuel *fire brick or other heat proof surface intended for soldering *pickle *liver of sulfur or other patina solution *micro fine sanding sponge or 0000 steel wool if using liver of sulfur or patina *feeler gauge (for realigning the rollers) *rawhide mallet and flat wooden surface or anvil

Sheet metal is virtually our canvas and the rolling mill is our tool. It is up to us to make it into a work of


Please read this entire lesson thoroughly before starting your first project.

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The Rolling Mill Functions The Rolling mill has numerous functions including, but not limited to, reducing non-ferrous metal ingots into sheet, reducing wire and sheet, fold forming, changing wire shape, mokume Gane, metal compression and patterning. This document focuses exclusively on creating patterns with the economy compact rolling mill. Pattern variations are endless and add interest and dimension to metals. During this process metals are decreased in thickness and increased in length, while the width essentially remains the same.

Bringing Home Your Rolling Mill There are some considerations to be given before choosing a rolling mill. This is a heavy and large tool and there will need to be allotted space for bolting it down to a sturdy table or commercial rolling mill stand. Rolling mill prices vary significantly based on the quality, features, size, function, complexity and manufacturer of the rolling mill. The intended use of the mill should be factored when making your selection. For example, I was interested in patterning metals for small jewelry items with the mill and felt that the economy compact mill would be well suited for my use. This has worked well for me.

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Anatomy of the Compact Rolling Mill

The top handle and left and right indexing gears These are located at the uppermost section of the rolling mill and adjust the two rollers (barrels). Some models of rolling mills have a T bar handle and others have a circular handle like a car driving wheel. By turning this handle either clockwise or counterclockwise the two mill rollers separate or close. When you have become familiar with using this handle note which way your mill upper handle needs to be turned to open your rollers. Making note of this will help you with ease of use each time you use the machine. Each time an item is milled an adjustment will need to be made with this top handle. With my machine I have drawn an arrow on the gear to indicate which direction I need to turn the handle.

The rollers are located in the middle of the machine and are the portion of the mill that elongates, flattens and compresses the metal. The rollers propel the metal forward and backward depending on how the side handle is rotated.

The sides operating handle and side gear is what actuates the rolling motion of the rollers. When standing in front of the machine and turning the handle away from you, the rollers will move the metal forward (front to back) through the machine. Turning the handle towards you will move the metal backward (back to front).

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The Machine Bolts The machine will have bolt holes in the base for which to bolt down the machine. It is an important standard of safety to bolt down the machine onto a sturdy well built table or commercial rolling mill stand. The machine bolts that came with my machine were approximately four inches in length. In this photo you can see the front bolt and a blurred back bolt.

The back shelf is located at the rear of the machine. After the metal has been milled it will fall off of the rollers and onto this shelf. This is particularly useful when using a rolling mill stand and need a place for the metal to eject.

Mill specifications

The specifications of each economy compact rolling mill vary. To help you to understand those details I will use my rolling mill as an example.

Overall dimension: Height: 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) Width: 8.5 inches (21.6 centimeters)

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Roller length: 76mm

Roller width: 43mm

Other specifications Include: Maximum thickness of metal it will accommodate. For my machine that is 3mm maximum thickness. For your reference, 18 gauge is approximately 1mm. Weight. My machine weighs around 45 pounds (20.4 kilograms) Gear reduction. My machine has a gear reduction of 4:1 (this is covered below)

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Gear Reduction Gear Reduction is the number of times it takes for the two rollers to go around one time with multiple turns of the side handle. With no gear reduction the rollers roll around one full revolution for each one full turn of the side handle. With a 4:1 gear reduction, as with my rolling mill, it takes four turns of the handle for one full revolution of the rollers. This reduction decreases the amount of pressure and fatigue while turning the side handle.

Unpacking and setting up the rolling mill

Unpacking the mill after it arrives My economy rolling mill arrived in a thick cardboard box packed with shreds of papers. It is heavy at nearly 50 pounds (23 kilograms). The gears, rollers and frame were coated in a thick layer of grease. I removed that grease with a soft cloth and paper towels, but no water. Water and soap can cause rust to the vital components of the rolling mill. Never use water or water based cleaning products on the machine, because once the rollers rust they will need to be ground down by the manufacturer for repair or be replaced. My machine required very little assembly. The top gear handle needed to be slipped into the top hole (seen in the photo). The side handle was secured with a bolt and washer, the rollers were separated so that the protective plastic coating could be removed from the rollers and the entire machine was bolted to the table.

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Bolting the rolling mill to the table Once the mill is out of the box and free of the factory grease, then it needs to be bolted to a sturdy and level table or a rolling mill stand. In this photo you can see the support that my mill has with a thick wooden table with leg braces which supports the weight of the heavy mill. The machine should be placed on the table and the side handle assembled with the washer and bolt into the shaft gear. This is done before bolting the machine to the table, so that adjustments can be made in the event that there is not proper clearance of a full rotation of the handle in front and behind the machine. Traffic flow is also a consideration in placement of the mill, as the handle does stick out a bit. In this photo you can see how I have nothing in front or behind my mill handle. Also make sure that the positioning of the mill allows for the extracted materials to be extruded from the back of the machine. Once those things have been determined and you are happy with the placement of your rolling mill, then: Trace the inside bolt holes to your table with a permanent marker. Remove the mill and use an appropriate sized drill bit (comparable to the bolt size) and electric drill to make a hole into the table where you traced your bolt holes. Replace the rolling mill on the table where it was before and line up the machine bolt holes to the freshly drilled holes into the table. Insert the bolts through the machine base and holes of the table. Secure the bolts with a ratchet or wrench. Finish the assembly by attaching the top gear handle. Some machines may have additional features which require a different assembly. Always follow the manufacturers instructions.

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Caring for the rolling mill

The rolling mill is subject to dust and room particles which rest on the rollers. The rollers will impart these particles onto your annealed metal if not cared for properly. For this reason it is essential that the machine be covered when not in use. In this photo you can see that I have covered the mill with a cloth grocery bag to prevent dust from settling onto the mill. A cloth pillow case or rolling mill cover can also be used. Plastic covering is not recommended due to possible condensation accumulation on the rollers, which may cause rust.

Other ways to care for your mill include: When the machine is not in use, lubricate the mill rollers with light machine oil such at 3-inOne and a soft cloth or paper towel. Rotate the rollers by turning the side handle when applying the oil to coat the entire surface of both rollers. (as seen in this photo) Dont touch the mill rollers. Skin oils left on the rollers can cause pits in the surface of the rollers. Use only non ferrous metals in the rolling mill. These metals are soft and wont harm the rolling mill rollers. Using steel in the mill can impart a permanent pattern onto the rollers. Keep all liquids away from the rolling mill table, including pickle, which can leave small marks. Release roller pressure when not using the rolling mill by setting the roller gap to around 1/8th of an inch (4mm).

Safety: Pull shirt sleeves up when using the mill Secure long hair Remove long necklaces and bracelets Pull fingers away from metal once metal engages the rollers. Wear flat comfortable shoes for good balance Dont try to force heavy and thick objects and metals through a narrow opening in the mill, as this can cause strain on the mill and table causing roller mechanism and table damage.

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Realigning the rollers of the mill

If you notice that your metals are curving to one side or the pattern is imprinting heavier on one side than the other, then your rollers may be misaligned. If your rollers are misaligned, then they can be realigned to a parallel position following the manufacturers instructions.

In this photo the left side of the rollers is narrower. Adjustment needs to be made with these rollers for even roller mill printing.

In this photo the rollers have been realigned and the gap between them is more even. Read below how to do this.

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Steps that I use to realign rollers on my mill: (Note that your mill may need to be realigned differently. In that case, refer to your manufacturers directions.) Step 1: The top T handle is lifted straight up and out and set aside.

Step 2: The left and right index gears are manually turned clockwise until the mill rollers nearly touch. Both of the indexing gears are turned counterclockwise a half turn. A feeler gauge or perfectly flat piece of metal is used to check spacing between the rollers. A feeler gauge is slid from side to side along the rollers. If the gauge slips through one side, but not the other, then on the side where the roller is more open the gear needs to be adjusted slightly counterclockwise. This is continued until the rollers are perfectly parallel.

Step 3: The top T handle is replaced and the rolling mill is ready for use.

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Types of metals safe to use in the rolling mill

Annealed soft non-ferrous metals can be used in the rolling mill. The two that I use most frequently are sterling silver and copper. It is recommended that the metals be annealed, pickled, rinsed (if pickle is not rinsed well it will etch pit marks into the rollers) and thoroughly dried before engaging into a rolling mill for patterning, especially when using a slight pattern such as a leaf or feather. There are times when I have used soft copper sheet that has not been annealed with good results when using a patterned brass plate or paper punches from heavy cardstock. For pattern milling I recommend using sheet metal in gauges 24-20 and up to 18 gauge if using a patterned brass strip.

Annealing metal allows for the molecular structure of the metal to relax, thus allowing for a pattern to be readily imprinted onto the metal. A torch and firebrick is used to anneal. The torch I use is a hand held butane torch that has a bushy flame great for annealing. I have had several butane torches and find that when I use tripled filtered butane I get a cleaner burn and the valve remains patent.

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Annealing process The metal to be annealed in put on a firebrick or an annealing pan. The room lights are dimmed to assure an appropriate color change during annealing. The torch is lit and a large bushy flame is produced. The flame is moved back and forth in a constant steady movement over the metal. Once the metal begins turning a slight orange glow, then the heat is removed as in this photo. The metal is quenched in a water bath. The metal is pickled in a mild acid pickle solution and then rinsed. The metal is thoroughly dried and is now ready to accept a pattern in the rolling mill. Tip: After rolling the metal through the rolling mill the metal will be hardened again and if further forming is needed to be performed on the metal, such as forming or dapping in a dapping block. Tip: When dapping the milled patterned metal in a dapping block, use a wooden block and wooden dapping tool, not steel. The wood block helps to preserve the pattern of the metal.

Rolling mill sandwich

Basic one metal mill sandwich Making a mill sandwich is the best way to cushion your metal to easily accept a pattern and to protect your rolling mill rollers. The amount of material that I use with my mill sandwiches depends on the type of pattern that I am using, the gauge and type of metal, whether or not my metal has been annealed and the overall results I am trying to achieve. This photo demonstrates the order in which I put together my mill sandwich with the use of only one annealed piece of copper sheet in the middle (not to be confused with the two pieces of copper on either end of the sandwich).

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Another view of the basic one metal mill sandwich Note that only the piece of metal next to the pattern will be patterned. The other two pieces of 24 gauge copper are for cushion purposes only.

Two Metal Sandwich In the two metal sandwich two pieces of annealed metals are placed on either side of the pattern and the result is matching patterns. This is nice for making matching earrings. The two pieces of copper with the X will both be imprinted with the purple paper design.

The result of a two metal sandwich These would make very nice matching earrings. Layers for a two metal sandwich: 1st layer is 24 gauge soft copper 2nd layer is 80 pound cardstock (or manila folder) 3rd layer is annealed copper or silver sheet to be imprinted 4th layer is the pattern 5th layer is annealed copper or silver sheet to be imprinted 6th layer is 80 pound cardstock (or manila folder) 7th layer is 24 gauge soft copper

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Variations in mill sandwiches Having said all of that above, making a mill sandwich can vary from pattern to pattern. Some patterns, like the patterned brass will take a pattern very well without added cushions of copper. Test your own sandwiches and see what works best for you and gives you the best pattern. Here is an example of a pattern variation. I have used two pieces of high grit sandpaper (X) on either side of soft copper (M), so that both sides of the copper (M) will have a gritty pattern. Note that the 80# cardstock is now on the outside and the 24 gauge copper cushions are on the inside. I did this to give added protection to my mills rollers. Note how large the sheets of cardstock are. Protect those rollers always!!

Cutting out the sandwich The sandwich is cut from the inside out, making sure that the annealed metal to be imprinted is the smallest component in the sandwich. If the cardstock or copper cushions are cut smaller than the annealed metal to be imprinted, then there is a good chance that you will see a line of demarcation on the annealed metal with your finished piece. I cut my patterned metal with a jewelry saw and the sandwich metal with sturdy kitchen sheers.

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Putting it all together: Step by step instructions for making your first patterned metal

Step 1 Trim pattern edges to the size of the piece you want to create. Tip: I do a rough cut of my pattern and annealed metal, run it through the mill in a sandwich and then cut the final shape out of the metal after it has been milled. Lets say I cut a circle out of the pattern and the annealed metal before rolling it in the mill. When I roll it through the mill I run the risk of the circle becoming an oval due to that elongation I talked about earlier. Now there are times when this is desirable, but this is something to consider.

Step 2 Cut the metal to be annealed as the smallest component. Like the pattern, this is rough cut and will be cut to the final shape after patterning.

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Step 3 Anneal the metal

Step 4 Make a sandwich out of the pattern, annealed metal, 24 gauge copper sheet (2) and the 80#cardstock or manila folder (2)

Step 5 Slide the sandwich together and make sure that all the components are lined up. Remember to keep the pattern and the annealed metal at the very center of the sandwich. Pinch the sandwich and take it to the rolling mill.

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Step 6 The rolling mill rollers are opened by turning the handle at the top of the mill. The sandwich is inserted into the rollers and the side handle is turned. If the rollers are too tight to catch the mill sandwich, then the top handle is turned a quarter of a turn to loosen the rollers and is checked again. This process is repeated until the rollers catch the sandwich. Inversely, if you take the sandwich to the mill and the rollers are open too far and the sandwich can be pushed through the gap without the use of the side handle, then the rollers are open too far. The top handle is turned until the rollers are open just enough to grab the sandwich. In this photo you can see how the rollers are grabbing the sandwich as I turn the side handle to propel it forward. Remove fingers once metal grabs.

Step 7 Turn the handle from the front of the machine to the back to propel the sandwich through the rolling mill.

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Step 8 At the time, the sandwich propels forward through the rollers with some resistance, but not great difficulty, then the result should be a nicely milled pattern. Note that this takes a little bit of muscle to move the metal sandwich through the rolling mill, as a great amount of pressure is exerted onto the metal. Understanding the tension needed on the rollers for milling is determined by practicing. This is a case where practice will help you to understand the feel of the handle tension. This is why I stress greatly the use of inexpensive non-ferrous base metal for the first several rolling mill projects. In this photo the sandwich is coming out the back. Note how the pattern between the cardstock has shifted.

Step 9 The metal and pattern sandwich will fall to the back shelf after being milled. The metal will slightly curve and the pattern and cardstock will be rendered useless for further pattern use, unless using a mill plate or patterned brass. The copper cushions can be annealed and used again.

Step 10 The milled metal is patterned and ready for cutting.

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Step 11 A template is used to cut the desired shape out of the now patterned metal.

Step 12 The patterned and cut out metal is enhanced by dipping the piece in a bath of liver of sulfur to give the pattern more definition.

Step 13 The metal is buffed with 0000 steel wool or fine grit sanding sponge/emery. Here the patterned metal is made into earrings with little effort.

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Distortion of the metal during milling

Here a paper test strip is used to test the pressure on the rolling mills. The image on the far left shows too much roller pressure (rollers too narrow. Note the distortion, elongation, wrinkling of the metal and the leftward curvature of the metal. The right photo shows the milled metal using the paper tests strip using the correct pressure.

Paper test strip before use

Too little tension/pressure

Here the photos reveal a dried ginkgo leaf that was milled with the gap in the rollers too loose. The result is not enough tension on the metal and a pattern that is not well defined. This could have been remedied by closing the rollers more and perhaps adding the copper cushions to the sandwich.

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Curvature of the Metal

During the milling process the entire metal sandwich follows the curvature of the rollers and the result is a front to back curvature that is normal as seen in this photo. If the curvature is left to right or right to left to right, that is not normal and considered a distortion due to too much pressure or misaligned rollers.

Pattern life
What becomes of the patterns after one use? With the exception of the 24 gauge patterned brass sheets, the items milled in the rolling mill are to be discarded, due to the molecular and fiber distortion of the item during the excessive pressure put on the piece. In this photo the leaf and the cardstock have been milled, so are then discarded. Tip: This leaf had been dried and pressed in a book for years before used in the rolling mill. If live botanicals are used in the rolling mill the moisture from the plant can rust the rollers.

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Sandpaper vs. steel wool after patina

This photo shows the difference in the character of the metal when using emery/sandpaper and steel wool. The image on the left (A) has been finished with a micro-fine sanding sponge and the image on the right (B) has been finished with steel wool.

Finished pendant with patina

This piece was patterned with a low relief laser paper pattern, patinaed with liver of sulfur until dark gray and buffed slightly with 0000 steel wool. Note the words buffed slightly. Using any abrasive vigorously or for a prolonged period of time will compromise the pattern on the metal and remove the high point detail.

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My go-to patterns
My two favorite patterns to use, which gives me the most significant detail, are 24 gauge patterned brass (A) and low relief laser pattern paper (B). I get both of these from online companies. The low relief patterns can also be custom designed, which gives the artist the ability to personalize their work.

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Suggested items to use in the rolling mill for patterns on metal

Feathers, fabric, flat flexible plastic, potato bag netting, paper punches, flat plastic or brass stencils, patterned brass, dried leaves, grass and flat organic items, lace, burlap, string, ribbon with texture, embossed cardstock, dried bug wings, crumpled paper, non-ferrous wire, sand paper, painters tape cut into shapes, etched copper

Additional consideration about patterns

When using patterns of letters (see photo) use only one sheet of annealed metal to imprint, as the letter will be backward on one of the sheets if using two metal sheets. Think of mirror effect. The flatter the pattern, the lower the imprint. The more compact, raised and ridged the patterned material, the more crisp the image on the milled metal. The rollers of the compact rolling mill are not long. Make sure that your pattern will fit across the rollers. Use the center of the mill as much as possible for your patterns for the best results and the most even pressure across your pattern and metal. When using cut-out paper or paper punches, consider using heavy cardstock or an embossed pattern on the paper for interest. Crumpled paper that has been hand smoothed makes an interesting effect on metal.

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Examples of rolling mill sandwiches

Fancy teardrop cardstock cut-out

Left photo: Cut-out mill sandwich Middle photo: Milled pattern and metal Right photo: Milled metal with liver of sulfur patina

Cardstock paper punch pattern

Left photo: Paper punch mill sandwich Middle Photo: Milled metal Right photo: Milled metal with patina

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Sandpaper pattern

Left photo: Sandpaper mill sandwich Middle Photo: Milled metal Right photo: Milled metal with patina

Paper cut-out bee pattern

Left photo: Paper cut-out mill sandwich Middle Photo: Milled metal Right photo: Milled metal with patina

Fabric lace patter

Left photo: Fabric lace mill sandwich Middle Photo: Milled metal Right photo: Milled metal with patina

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Feather pattern

Left photo: Feather mill sandwich Middle Photo: Milled metal Right photo: Milled metal with patina

Other patinaed pieces



Low-relief laser paper


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Cicada wings on copper Patterned brass on sterling silver

Low relief laser paper on sterling silver

Patterned brass on sterling silver

Low relief laser paper on copper with silver wire

Brass pattern on silver and copper

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Notes:_______________________________ ____________________________________ ____________________________________ ____________________________________ ____________________________________ ____________________________________ ____________________________________ ____________________________________

If we are fortunate, we have one strong mentor who imparts his or her wisdom upon us so that we might set forth and make a difference in the world of art and the lives of others. Tela Formosa, artist extraordinaire, has been that mentor to me. Thank you for all of your guidance, Tela.

For more information, contact: Susan Barzacchini, Laser relief patterns are by Compact economy rolling mill used in this lesson is from
Copyright 2011 Susan Barzacchini, All rights reserved. These instructions are for personal use only. Please do not distribute, lend or copy any portion of this document. Reproduction and or distribution of these instructions in whole or in part, in any form, without the author's written consent, are strictly prohibited. This tutorial is presented solely as an educational tool; and to hold Susan Barzacchini free of any and all claims. You may make this project for limited sale, but do not mass produce, or claim it as your design. Please give credit where credit is due, it is the right thing to do.