Creating a deep texture with a rolling mill

I am new to metalsmithing and have found that I am extremly drawn to
artsy, textured, patinated pieces.

I own a rolling mill and have to say I am not getting the results I
thought I would have. Any advice would be awesome!

I like the deep bite you can achieve with window screening. I anneal
my metal, and have tried sandwiching between two pieces of copper
and also thick paper. I can get a pattern except it is so faint I
can barely see it. I have tightened the gears so that I can turn the
handle with a little effort. Actually have tried it every way.

Here are my questions:

I have been experimenting with copper and brass. Are they to hard of
a metal to get a good pattern on even after being annealled? I did
use silver with the window screen…

How tight is tight? I felt that if I could not turn the handle in
one motion that it was too tight and if I could easily turn it then
it was too loose.

Are there any good suggestions of what material to use to get a good

I was wondering if brass textured plates sold for pmc clay could

When using leaves for texture do you use new leaves or dead
skeletons of leaves?

Any help would be so nice, I feel bad that I spent that kind of
money on a tool that I can not seem to get to work for me!

To get a good impression, put your “sandwich” of backing metal (brass
makes a crisper impression), texturing media, and metal to be
textured between the rollers. Tighten them enough to hold the
sandwich firmly. Now, use the handle to back the sandwich out.
Tighten the rollers either a 1/2 turn or a 1/4 turn, depending upon
your gear ratio. Raise the handle and feed the sandwich into the
rollers. You’ll have to push it until the rollers grip it. Then roll
it through in one smooth, continuous motion.

You’re right: the metal to be textured should be annealed. To reduce
strain on your mill, the backing metal should also be annealed.

You can use anything as a texturing media as long as it is dry and,
for organic matter, desiccated. So, fresh leaves are not a good
choice. Don’t let the media contact the rollers.

Good luck.
Emie Stewart


I think your problem is the copper sheets or the thick paper you are

Unless you are in danger of damaging the rollers (think steel
parts…) ditch the paper or copper sheets, and roll the printing
material and the ANNEALED silver, copper or brass sheet directly
through the mill’s steel rollers. I think your paper or copper sheets
were taking too much of the pressure that would have gone into
printing your pattern onto the metal sheet.

Lace, paper, fabric, dried leaves, etc. will not hurt your rollers,
so roll them through your mill without the copper “sandwich”, and
you’ll get a much deeper roller-printed pattern on your metal.

If you plan to roller-print steel screen, for instance, which could
hurt your rollers, I’d then use your copper sheet sandwich to play
it safe. Pressure-wise, it’s definitely a feel kind of thing, and you
should experiment with the pressure until you get the desired

Jay Whaley

I was wondering if brass textured plates sold for pmc clay could

The brass plates are used for roller printing on metal. Their use
for texturing PMC came later. You can purchase many textures by the
foot from Metalliferous.

Mary Ellin D’Agostino, PhD

Are there any good suggestions of what material to use to get a
good impression? 

A lot of window screen available commercially in the US these days
is made of aluminum… that is all that home depot sells…

I find it much too soft for my desires… it just flattens out more
than digs in… look around elsewhere for some brass screening; it
does not cost all that much more and your results will be much
deeper and crisper…

Mark Kaplan

I own a rolling mill and have to say I am not getting the results
I thought I would have. 
  1. No need to “sandwich” between other materials unless you are
    using steel to make the impression

  2. Try this: your window screen (most is actually aluminum now–
    anyway, it has never damaged my rollers), then your copper, silver,
    whatever, then 3-4 layers of paper towel. You don’t need the paper
    towel, but it acts as a “pusher” between the impressed areas, giving
    a crisper imprint with less stretching or distortion.

  3. Skeletonized leaves-- the supple kind you can buy at Michaels–
    work great. Green leaves just macerate and mess up your mill.

Different materials require different amounts of pressure. A
favorite of mine is hair-- like, haircut leftovers. Makes a cool
texture, and takes almost no effort to get a good imprint.

Good luck!

You can always roll print wax sheet deeply and then cast it.


I’m no expert at rolling mills but…

I’d suggest if you are making a sandwich - then anneali the piece
upon which you want the design to be imprinted and use a harder
piece as the other half of the sandwich. Or sandwich the "victim"
piece between two harder pieces. As long as the hard piece(s) is no
harder than the rollers, you will do no damage to them. In that way
almost all of the the deformation will be concentrated on the softer
piece rather than divided between the upper and lower halves of the

Secondly - adjust your rollers so the workpiece requires a moderate
amount of effort to pass through - no great strain. Then, on
subsequent passes, increase the pressure in very small increments so
that each pass also requires just a moderate effort. The only problem
with making more than one pass is that the various pieces may shift
relative to each other so that the succeeding impression(s) may not
repeat in perfect alignment with the previous impressions.

You might be able to remedy this shifting problem by including some
form of positive alignment, for example two or more pins going
through the whole package (in the waste area) to keep all items in
alignment. Even that is problematic as the metal deforms with each
pass and with the differential in hardnesses, the softer sheet will
deform more than the other(s).

If making more than one pass, remember to change direction with each
pass, both north-south and east-west, so the deformation is not all
in one direction but is equalized so the overall shape of the piece
is not distorted.

I suspect you’ll get lots more advice from folks more adept than
myself so don’t be in a hurry until you’re read it all. Good luck.
I’m sure I will learn something from the other respones as well. As
I said - i am no expert.


I use a Durston rolling mill with a 4/1 or 5/1 gear ratio and get
significant imprints on any non-ferrous metal. Any organic item, such
as a leaf, needs to be bone dry or you’ll get mush. Make sure that
you’re annealing your metal to a high enough temperature, especially
brass or bronze, and sandwich any organic material or non-ferrous
metal with some brass sheet.

How tight to set the rollers? I sometimes set very tight so that it’s
hard to turn the handle. Others think this is too hard on the
machine. I don’t know which is right. I haven’t broken the handle or
any gears yet. How does one define too tight? It’s like trying to
describe the severity of pain. Certainly, you have to be able to
turn the handle fairly’ll get the best results if you
keep turning without stopping in the middle. But then with most
imprinting you get only one pass, so you have to go for it.
Individual strength is also a factor. You don’t want to hurt

When set very tight, sometimes you can get some smearing or other
movement of the imprinting material. You’ll need to experiment. Also,
make sure your roller is well bolted to a heavy, stable table
(assuming you don’t have a floor stand).


Hello everyone-My first time on the Orchid Forum. I appreciate all
the advise/info.

In regards to rolling mills. I need to clean/set up my mill. I went
to the Durston website and they recommend cleaning with “white
spirits”/ paint solvent. Is this paint thinner? Also-my mill was
stored in a garage since 2001 (ex-husband thing) and there is rust
on the outside gears. (not the rollers-they still have the protective
paper on). How do I proceed with cleaning?

HELP… Jeane E

Thanks for all of the great answers to my post on creating a deep
texture with a rolling mill. It was a first post and I was so
impressed that people took the time to answer! I experimented and
figured it out so I will post what I learned.


The mill needs to be bolted down onto a surface that will not move
no matter how much pressure is used

Use a lot of Pressure! ~ To the point where you almost can’t do it.
I put the metal and the material I wanted to press into it and
tightened the rollers~ when it felt tight I tightened it a little
bit more.


Thick metal works best. (This was one of my problems turns out) If
there is not enough thickness there is not going to be a deep

ANNEAL!!! Annealed copper and silver works great.( I found out
that I was not annealing as long as I should have. When I did it the
right way the copper was soft and pliable and took a great
impression )

Brass doesn’t work as well. I was told this but haven’t experimented
to see if it was true.


Whatever you use will show up so keep that in mind

You don’t HAVE to sandwich the metal and texturing material between

If you want to make sure you are not going to hurt the rollers you
can use either metal or something as simple as 3-4 layers of a paper
towel. If you use other metal as the “bread of the sandwich” it will
be harder to push through but as long as the softer metal is in the
middle it will get the impression

Using something like the paper towel does help to push the metal
through the mill easier and probably keeps it in place better


I was under the assumption the texturing material you used needed to
be something like window screen (heavy duty) to make a deep
impression. I was wrong!

As long as the metal is annealed properly something as thin as
cheese cloth will work (to my great surprise!) I annealed copper,
rolled it with cheese cloth and wrapped it with a paper towel. It
came out perfect.

My conclusion (and I am sure many others will add their two cents
worth which is awesome) is this:

All of the things you usually see on websites for rolling through
the mill to create textures must work.

It is not how tough the texture is (like I was thinking) but more
about the thickness of the metal, the malability of it (anneal,
anneal, anneal!), and the pressure on the rollers.

I am going to post my next question about things to use for unique

Again thanks to all for their responses~ ROLL ON!!

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Thanks for passing on your spelunking into Roller Mill texturing.
While it is true, you don’t HAVE to sandwich the metal between the
rollers, a note of caution here.

  1. Avoid moisture and make sure that your materials are dry. Juicy
    leaves while attractive just smoosh and make a mess.

  2. Steel on steel can damage your rollers. This is where a sandwich
    of un-annealed brass with your metal and your steel whatever (drain
    screen, window screen, binding wire, watch parts, etc) is critical in
    maintaining your equipment in tip top condition.

Roll away!

Karen Christians

1 Like


Welcome to the wonderful world of Orchid. This is, hands down, the
most responsive and knowledgeable source, bar none.

I’d like to add a comment of my own, when you sandwich between paper
towels, you will get the pattern imprint of the towel on the outside
of the metal. For me, I love it, the more texture, front and back,
the better. In the event you wish to avoid that, simply sandwich
inside of folder paper. Strong, less chance of shifting, and pattern
free. Enjoy your Rolling Mill, a favorite tool here in Whaley

Terrie, for myself

Hi Debbie,

Thanks for posting you rolling discoveries!

Roller mill texturing is something that I will want to try at some
point (metalsmithing is more of a hobby with me at this point so I
cannot devote all kinds of time to it) and it is helpful to have an
outline of what worked for someone else.

I think one reason that people recommend a “sandwich” is to avoid
getting corrosive materials on the rollers, especially from organic
materials such as leaves etc. This is just second or third hand info
that I am calling up from memory though so hopefully someone else
will chime in on this.

Probably as long as you clean and oil the rollers afterward it would
be fine.

John Dyer

don’t put any textured anything in a rolling mill unless you want to
texture your rollers. always use a brass sandwich, you can get fairly
thin brasses at hardware stores but anything less than say, 24-26
gauge would be dangerous…rer