172: Rolling Mill Textures

Most people have seen those laser engraved rolling pins to create designs on rolled out cookies; did you know that you can do the with metal too? Jewelers can texture metal for distinctive looks using rolling mills. I’ve been getting the itch to do more metal work and enameling, and thought creating my own laser engraved textures for the metal would be a fun start!

Our texture experiments for the night! Some used, some not. I may have been overly ambitious.

You can use a lot of different things to get texture on metal by compressing it through a rolling mill. The even pressure of the mill compresses and stretches the metal, allowing patterns to impress upon it. People use lace, netting, leaves…pretty much anything thin and dry enough that is flexible enough to roll next to a sheet of metal will work. Various textured paper leave can their mark, and so can laser engraved paper.

Thank you to Lisa Dienst-Thomas of Lisa’s Pieces for being game to experiment!

Now, I don’t have a rolling mill, so I reached out to Lisa Dienst-Thomas of Lisa’s Pieces. I took an enameling class from her several years ago, and I remembered she had a lovely Durston rolling mill in her studio. Lisa is working on a graduate degree in metalsmithing and digital fabrication, and was excited to try out laser cut textures! We had a fun evening in her studio catching up, rolling metal, and giving my arm a workout!

For materials, I used 24 gauge copper sheet, and Lisa used 26 gauge copper. The textures were laser engraved on 110lb / 300gsm heavyweight cardstock. The metal was annealed prior to rolling, and we did sandwich the metal and textures between manila folder paper prior to rolling. At the end, we did a little buffing to bring out some of the highlights, but otherwise didn’t process the pieces at all. Since I didn’t have the luxury of making repeat visits before the blog post, I devised 3 mini comparisons to test the night.

Experiment 1: Different levels of engraving

My sample card with 3 different depths, and a couple different font styles and sizes for fun.

The laser does have the capability to engrave up to 8 different depths (as we played around with in project 8: 3D Engraving), and I thought it would be fun to see if the different levels would translate well into the rolled metal. Would the different levels create visible results? I did a little sample card with 90% power (Black), 60% power (blue) and 30% power (magenta/pink).

Sample cards rolled out in 24 gauge copper (top) and 26 (bottom)

The test showed promise, but wasn’t great. First thing I learned, which was sort of a no brainer – if you want text on your pieces, make sure it’s engraved backward to be able to read correctly on the finished pieces! The deepest engrave comes through most clearly, but you can see the different powers in certain areas. The effect is very subtle, but I’m sure both the engraving and the paper quality could be dialed in to create some really unique results.

The last interesting thing to note is that the texture is deeper on the thicker copper (the 24 gauge), and barely showed up on the 26 gauge. Before rolling, we thought the 26 gauge would show better results, but it really didn’t – logically, it seemed like the thinner metal would form better because thinner metal is more malleable. But perhaps the thicker worked better because it has a little more metal to squish around? I’m sure somebody brilliant knows the right answer here!

Experiment 2: Roll a design and the inverse

Same design, just one is the Bizarro World counterpart.

I’ve been playing around with a peacock feather pattern, and I thought it would be fun to roll it out on metal. Problem was that I couldn’t decide what areas of the design I wanted raised and what I wanted recessed. So I printed two copies of the pattern, with one of them inverse of the other.

Honestly, the both turned out great, but I think I prefer the design on the left, where the outline of the feather is raised. It just feels more solid of a design.

A slightly more detailed shot of the pieces, reverse order from above.

Experiment 3: What if we tried thin acrylic?

Acrylic texture template on the left, paper on the right

One of the drawbacks to the paper textures is that they really only get one good use. A second pass through the mill is a much fainter imprint. So, I thought that I would try a piece of thin two ply acrylic and see if it gave a good impression, and how it would hold up. The paper texture rolled though beautifully as you can see. The acrylic? Not so much.

Admittedly, it was getting towards the end of the night and my arm was getting tired, so I don’t think this was the best test of the material, but I couldn’t get the acrylic texture piece with copper all the way though the mill. There’s a blank spot on the end. I’m not sure if it was because of the curve the acrylic acquired going through the mill, but that last inch was impossible. I ended up rolling the piece back out, which caused the a bit of a ghostly double image on the front. The metal and acrylic has a much more pronounced curve. There were weird ripples on the back of the copper, likely from the distorting acrylic. It’s hard to see, be the edges of the acrylic sheet are brittle and squashed as well. This acrylic would not make it another pass, so not really a cost saver! Paper was the winner here.

Over all, being able to print your own textures is kind of amazing and opens the door to a lot of different design possibilities. I wasn’t the happiest with the paper choice – I felt we may have gotten better results with a weightier paper. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything thicker than 110lb in the stores near me. I might try and order some samples of heavier weights on-line, and see if Lisa would be up for a refined second try! Also, keep an eye out, we may have some other laser / metal jewelry making experiments in the future!

3 thoughts on “172: Rolling Mill Textures

  1. Rita M Oxzama says:

    I am looking to purchase s Vevor rolling mill. I make copper and silver earrings, mostly. I want to purchase the metal engraving sheets, with different designs, to use on the mill. Any advise? Thanks a bunch!


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