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Milling your own or buying stock

Was: Bench Test Basics

Daniel Spirer’s view is that milling uses up ‘creative time’ and the
finished product may not be as predictable as bought stock.

John Donivan’s view is that the mill produces material to the specs
you want and need and makes better economic use of material.

Both are completely correct of course!

I don’t see these as competing points of view. Like most things
context is key. Where are you and where do you want to go. What
volume do you use, does it justify the investment in a mill? Where do
you really make your money… materials or labor? Both? Something
else? What results do you seek? What resources do you have?

The answers to those questions will suggest to a jeweler which way
is best for him individually, in his present or foreseeable position.

I wish I had a good mill, but I can get along nice enough without it.
For now.

I find that I use the rolling mill regularly both to get the exact
sheet thickness I need, or make flat wire for settings that I need
to fabricate. I also use a round draw plate, and would probably find
the draw plate harder to live without.

Rick Hamilton

Having been a bench jeweler for over 30 years, I would have to
agree with John Donivan about the necessity of learning how to use
the rolling mill and drawplate to make your own sheet and wire
stock. He is right. 

I agree with both John and Jay, as I am sure do many others who
apply this on a daily basis. The ability to alloy and amalgamate
metals, melt and pour ingots, and fabricate mill products in the
studio is an integral part of goldsmithing.

I consider it to be an essential skill, and if interviewing someone
to work in my studio as a goldsmith this would be the first process
we would cover. It is also where I begin in teaching the fundamentals
of goldsmithing. It all starts with the metal and the torch.

For the skilled goldsmith it is a matter of just a few minutes to
make a piece of sheet or a length of wire. Fabricating tubing takes
perhaps 30 minutes to make several inches, including pouring the
ingot. It is also part of the process I enjoy the most in making
jewelry just for the aesthetic value of the experience.

Although it might not be the most practical application for every
shop or every situation, it is certainly a highly valuable ability
and an excellent way to learn about annealing and forming precious

Michael David Sturlin

Although it might not be the most practical application for every
shop or every situation, it is certainly a highly valuable ability 

Since I started this… The original question, which comes up every
once in a while here, was, “What can I expect from a bench test?” The
answer which really does need to be pounded home, is that if it is a
typical gold workshop you’ll be expected to do everything for
yourself. I’ll say again that I didn’t bring this up to create some
sort of conflict - there is no conflict, it’s reality. And if you
walk into some shop like Daniel’s that manufactures in his own
certain way then good for you. But it is far, far more likely that
when you have a sizing job the foreman will hand you some scrap metal
and say there ya go. Or even for a special order job. And no,
goldsmithing in it’s higher forms is not simply silversmithing in
gold - there’s really no need to draw lines and I only used those
terms for analogy’s sake, but the answer to “What can I expect from a
bench test?” is “They are looking for a goldsmith.” Maybe we in the
gold business can’t sit down and write a list of what that means, but
we all know it when we see it and we know it’s not when it’s not.
There is no answer to the question - there are thousands of shops
large and small, some are putting out the very work you like to do,
whatever that may be. I know a few that are putting out silver
"art/gallery" jewelry right now. But it’s not a game, you need to
know your stuff.

All too often people that call themselves goldsmiths, silversmiths or
jewelers lack the basics necessary to actually smith the metals into
something useable then design what they have smithed into jewelry. I
agree that without the skills to manufacture your own materials to
predictable results - every time - a goldsmith cannot call themselves
a goldsmith. A jeweler knows how to fabricate from metals, stones,
etc. a smith starts from the elements and produces to finish more
than simple jewelers. anyone that can’t alloy and reuse their scrap
should not claim that they are a smith of metals. semantics. perhaps,
but to depend on a supplier for your lifeblood seems like one is
missing the mark of the range of sciences and arts it takes to call
oneself a goldsmith, or pass any tests to that effect that ascertain
in black and white, and a final tangible representation of those
skills and lessons and chemistry involved in rounding out an
individual’s skills repertoire and it’s completeness or lack thereof.


I do resize stock occasionally, but my favorite thing to do with my
rolling mill is to texture material. I tape down “material”, either
silver or gold, onto an old single cut file and give it a go through
the mill a few times. (and yes, the rollers are “protected” by metal
blanks on either side of this assemblage.)

I particularly like the diagonal line texture this process gives,
expecially when the metal is to have a patina applied. The recesses
help hold the patina and protect it from wearing off.


semantics. perhaps, but to depend on a supplier for your lifeblood
seems like one is missing the mark of the range of sciences and
arts it takes to call oneself a goldsmith 

I had an epiphany yesterday, and I must apologize to all. I just
didn’t get it. That was that many who call themselves “metalsmiths"
think of working metal, and gold in particular, as something akin to
working wood. You get a board, saw it, bend it, bond it to other
boards - all sorts of cool things, and in the end you get a
Chippendale chair, one of the highest forms of art ever created. In
that context, brass is like pine, silver is like oak, and gold is
like ebony or whatever you like for an analogy. And, in that context
"Of course I’m a goldsmith, I use ebony all the time, or maybe I’ll
use oak when I need to - it’s all the same, that’s why I’m a
METALsmith”. And that’s true. I really didn’t understand the mindset,
which is a huge source of misunderstanding, and I truly apologize.
And perhaps I can offer an epiphany in return - gold is the most
malleable metal of all, by far. Things can be done in gold that are
simply not possible in brass, especially, and silver too, for that
very reason - not because we don’t know how but because the metal
just can’t do it. I can’t speak for everybody working in gold,
obviously, but I can speak for the tradition of goldsmithing, of
which I am a proud member, and what people will likely find when
walking into a typical gold workshop, and that is that we think of
gold as clay, not wood. There’s no either/or - people make what they
make how they want - I’m not trying to mess with that. I just finally
realized why “metalsmiths” come up against a brick wall in a gold
shop, and that’s pretty much it, I think. And that’s why I said what
started this whole thing, innocuously enough - you need to get up to
speed on the rolling mill, in gold.

Hi Steve

Reference old file impressions… This is quite intriguing! Will have
to try it. I ran heavy curls (from cuttings at my hair dressers
salon, which, by the way, had been shampooed) through the mill in one
of Phil Poirier’s classes years ago. Made wonderful impressions.

What gauge silver or gold are you using?

By the way, I am taking Harold O’Connor’s Reticulation/Granulation
class this Saturday and Sunday - a refresher, since I had the class
about 10 years ago in his Salida Studio. Can’t resist taking a class
from the MASTER!!!

Rose Marie Christison

we think of gold as clay, not wood 

Thanks for the analogy, John. It is inspiring, and I plan to do some
serious play with gold scrap at my rolling mill asap. I just love
forging, and have not yet fully explored getting the mill’s help
with that kind of forming. And why not try it in gold, since it is
most malleable?

I have occasionally tried to explain setting stones, for example in a
gypsy setting, to the customer as smooshing the metal over, as if it
were clay, or pie dough, or beach sand that you can mould with your
hands, only a bit harder to move. They just look at me, like, huh?
But maybe they like my enthusiasm, however foreign the concept may



we think of gold as clay, not wood

I just wanted to say that I love the analogies used here (and those
in my own thoughts), but most people I know think of metals as
jewelry…and think of their construction either not at all or as
something akin to assembling a child’s bike (indecipherable and
please assemble it at the store so I don’t have to think about it).

Those who want to know more may not understand, but the analogies
and descriptions work on the mind.


we think of gold as clay, not wood 

Personally I am really fascinated by the classical 5 elements of the
Chinese tradition, where Metal is in between Earth (clay) and Wood.
For the simple it is as well easy to recognize quality of both
(Earth and Wood) in the Metal. It can be worked like Earth and it
can be cut like Wood.

Don’t forget that our ancient colleagues (even in Europe where most
of the family of the users of this site come from) where alchemists
and magicians. Crafting talismans, sacred object and enchanted
seals. Now, we where talking about milling your own or buying stock,
wheren’t we?

That is at the base of two different approaches towards life, be the
master of your art or be the master of your wallet. Hard to find a
middle way.

Roberto Fioravanti

Regarding rolling and milling, being an ongoing student in Jay
Whaley’s class at UCSD’s Crafts Center, I believe the best answer is

Yesterday, a new student registered in Jay’s Private class. He had
no prior experience in any phase, torch, tools, nada. He was
immediately introduced to alloying fine silver to a tarnish resistant
sterling, and then torching into an ingot, followed by the rolling
mill. At the end of 4 hours, he left wearing a polished half round
band, and was elated, or as he said, “stoked.” He also filed,
soldered, corrected “oopsies”, sized, and polished. He now will make
his own wedding band.

Jay’s philosophy, is basically, if you have this knowledge, and need
a bezel, in 15 minutes, you can have that bezel, ready to go. At
times, faster than you can locate the catalog, page, etc, and call
your order in. Of course, in a once a week class, that means another
week before you can begin your project.

I am so thankful that Jay showed me how to alloy Reticulation
Silver. Save quite a bit of money, and love it.

I am a total believer in really learning the value of the Rolling
Mill, yes that begins with alloying.

Proud to be a Metalsmith.

Jay's philosophy, is basically, if you have this knowledge, and
need a bezel, in 15 minutes, you can have that bezel, ready to go. 

My own reason for writing in this thread is to open people’s eyes to
possibilities, not to challege their methods - whatever floats yer
boat and all that. I’m pasting something below I wrote earlier in
that vein…

Let’s talk about cooking. More specifically, how do you make tomato
soup? Millions of people make tomato soup by getting the familiar red
can or some other type and pouring it into a saucepan. I grew up on
that, and loved it. If one is creative, one can get that red can and
boost it by adding whatever they like - making it their own, so to
speak. Here’s how I make tomato soup, which I did yesterday, which
brought this whole analogy to mind: Usually I pick the tomatoes in
the garden, but there’s not enough for that so I bought two pounds of
Roma’s and simmered them in vegetable stock. Meantime I sauteed 1/2
pound of mushrooms, 1/2 onion, and some garlic, after I went out and
picked some oregeno and thyme to put with the tomatoes - just enought
to have a faint herbal tinge way down deep, not spaghetti sauce. Ran
the cooked tomatoes through the food mill to take out the skins and
seeds, put in the saute, ran the “in the pot” blender to get the
consistency, seasoned, and let it meld for a bit. After that all that
was left was to put it in a bowl and shave a little
parmaggiano-reggiano on top. What’s the point? Raw materials, and
that you get what you pay for in terms of effort. If you start with
the red can, everything after that is the red can. I started from the
source, and I’m in complete control of everything that happens from
start to finish. Does it take longer? Of course, but not that much.
Is it worth it? If you like to eat, there’s no question - my soup is
on another planet from the red can (that I love to cook puts me on a
par with 1/2 the population of the world - not a big deal, really).
Now, all I’m saying, and all I’ve ever been saying, is that there’s a
big world out there. Millions (if not billions) of people think that
the red can is the thing and that’s perfectly fine. Many, many metal
workers are happy and/or make a good living doing rudimentary work
and that’s perfectly fine, too. For those readers who have
aspirations - who want to grow and progress higher in the field,
though, there are people and shops and methods that are on a higher
level than that. I’ve reached a certain level of attainment, and
there’s a whole world that’s beyond me, too. Most of the jewelry
workshops in the trade, and certainly the fine shops- the major
houses - wouldn’t even think of using the red can - they’ll go in the
garden and pick their own, and then make it their own.

I can make most any size stock with my rolling mill as can most good
jewelers and I enjoy it when I do. BUT, I cannot justify spending my
time making my own stock in my daily routine. I looked at an invoice
today and it cost about $2.50 cents a pennyweight surcharge over
gold cost to buy stock. Then add the alloy cost and the time to roll
the stock it just doesn’t pay. Not to mention you can order exactly
what you want when you need it. If you need 8" of 2 x 2 thats what
you order if you are making your own you will most always be over.
That cost money. I personally do not think many of the big jewelry
houses make their own, just take a tour of stuller or hoover or PM or
any of the other guys and see what they are producing everyday.
Someone is buying it and it aint the little guy thats buying the huge
rolls of wire that I saw being produced. I may get a lot of flack
over this but I do not think most of us can alloy and roll stock near
as nice as the professionals. Totally controlled environments and the
best technology give us, the end user perfect stock almost everytime.
That my dear friends is what I use to make fine jewelry, not
remelted gold that I used for casting just yesterday or maybe old
gold I bought off the street. Think about the gold inventory that you
have to have on hand to make what you might need. Call me a lazy
slacker if you choose but never call me late to open my fed ex box of
straight and shiny bar stock. With that said, of course I roll down
existing stock to smaller sizes when I need to, I don’t buy
everysize I need.

Happy Rolling everyone
Bill Wismar

From how this thread started, ie. with someone enquiring as to what
to expect from a bench test in order to get a job, and from reading
all the responses, it seems to be a very subjective decision as to
whether or not it is economical to mill one’s own stock. There are
many jewellers from both camps, for some it pays to DIY and for
others it simply doesn’t pay and they make more money by using their
time creating jewellery from pre-milled stock. One man’s meat is
another man’s poison and all that - there is no right or wrong

However, I have to agree with John’s original answer and subsequent
ones on the subject. If I was applying for a job in a working
goldsmith’s shop, I would expect to have all the skills necessary
that the goldsmith might look for and that would include the use of
the rolling mill. The goldsmith in question might be of the buy it
pre-milled camp and only use a rolling mill occasionally, but being
able to use a rolling mill seems to be a fundamental skill of being a

Incidentally, I have recently bought a rolling mill myself with the
intention of learning such a skill, so that I can make use of my
growing pile of scrap silver (and gold when I’m working with gold)
and not have to send it to a refiner. I’ve been too scared of it to
use it up to now but will take the plunge soon. I’m assuming
(possibly wrongly) that if one has a rolling mill with the
appropriately shaped rollers, then you don’t necessarily need a draw
bench and draw plates, etc. I’m sure someone will let me know if I’m
wrong. Any advice greatly appreciated as usual.

Preston, UK

Someone is buying it and it aint the little guy thats buying the
huge rolls of wire that I saw being produced. I may get a lot of
flack over this but I do not think most of us can alloy and roll
stock near 

Bill, you won’t get any flack from me… Back in 1973 I used to walk
around the corner to the old Rio Grande (Edith Street) and buy 1000
ounces or so of silver (@$2.20) once a week. Sheet, wire and solder.
The question that started all of this was, “What can I expect from a
bench test?” and the answer was and is “You better know how.” It’s a
fundamental skill. It’s so fundamental in the gold trade that I find
it curious that anyone would even question my saying it…It’s
like saying, “Nah, you don’t need to know how to solder…”


With my title below as disclosure of where I work and my income
interests are-

I’d love to chime in on this one. First, I think we are all missing
the point about having the most options available to us to maneuver
effectively with our metal money and time. Nearly everyone who buys
PMWest gold stock, made on a special set of dies that darn few
jewelers will ever buy has a mill or two that they use often. Some
even have electric mills. This may point out an artistic vs. small
business point-What is time and money wise will sometimes conflict
with artistic desires. So a darn good artisan often turns to a
supplier for something that shop could not make themselves, whether
it was time, money, or a lack of some specific piece of equipment.

When you combine an artisan who can keep 24kt and alloys to blend as
needed, tools to make most of what is needed with a sense of time and
value that lets them outsource with a refiner/supplier you get the
artist who makes money and great jewelry.

As you need to, you can use outside sources or inside resources. I
would expect this equation to come out differently depending on if we
have slow season or slow times. Immediacy plays out very differently
at $750 gold! For years we suppliers used “just in time” inventory or
some similar way to keep “on the shelf” metal at a minimum. The most
vaunted overnight speed suppliers used this to the best effect.

Now we have (I speak very generally here)necessarily reduced the
ounces on the shelf. Now we have “just in late” instead of just in
time. When your supplier does not have that piece of 18k rose gold
stock in your dimension fast enough or you have time on your hands
(or your goldsmith employees do) you can afford to make your own. I
suspect that in this market we must all be able to do
both-Manufacture when we should and outsource when we should not.

Daniel Ballard
Precious Metals West
National Sales Manager

I buy almost all of my stock. I taught myself many years ago to cast
ingots and roll and draw them out, but found it to be somewhat less
than profitable. I would spend an hour to save $10. I also would
occasionally have to deal with a bit of splitting and cracking.
Nothing more frustrating than to spend half an hour picking through
scrap, weighing alloy and gold, casting the ingot, rolling it,
annealing, rolling, annealing, rolling, annealing and finding out I
got carried away and went through the mill once too often. Ooops!
Or, go through the same process, and then fabricate my piece only to
find during final polish that it is filled with tiny cracks. #@%*!

Why put yourself through this when you can pick up the phone and get
a perfectly flat piece of sheet exactly the right thickness with a
mirror finish by 9:00 o’clock next morning and pay $20 over spot for
it. OK, I do keep a piece of 12 gauge sheet and a piece of 4 by 4
square stock around in both karats and colors and in platinum so I
can roll out anything special I might need, and a couple of pieces
of 14 gauge round to draw down if I need to, but the days of casting
and rolling scrap to save a nickel are over.

This being said, sometimes I just feel the need to fire up the torch
and melt something. There is something cathartic about the process,
and I will never quite be able to stop doing it. Maybe it takes me
back to the days of being an apprentice when learning was the
objective, as opposed to making a living. Maybe it’s even more
primal than that. Earth, wind, fire and water, you know what I mean.
There’s just something about turning a bunch of nondescript lumps of
metal into a straight piece of tubing and a length of wire and making
a beautiful, shiny frictionless hinge out of it. Oh, I do love it so.


Gee, I was beginning to think I was the only one who bought stock.
I’m in a one-person shop at a retail fine jewelry store, and I do not
have time to pour ingots and make wire, etc. That takes time away
from making MONEY. My time is worth more than that. In the old days,
B.S., (Before Stuller) ordering findings and stock was a pain in the
butt. Overnight or Second Day shipping was extremely expensive, and
customer service at most suppliers was marginal. I dreaded having to
deal with New Yorkers on the phone. (I can talk - I’m married to
one!) I poured plenty of ingots back then out of necessity, but now
my life is much easier. Stuller ships overnight for $9, and I can
spend my time actually doing repairs and custom orders now.

By the way, my summer was extremely slow this year. Probably the
slowest in the 26 years I’ve been in the business. I even got to
some stock jobs for the store that have been laying around for 7
years! It was almost like a mini vacation, not to have the constant
deadlines and customers bugging me with calls. It’s finally picked
up now. How has it been for everybody else?


Why put yourself through this when you can pick up the phone and
get a perfectly flat piece of sheet exactly the right thickness
with a mirror finish by 9:00 o'clock next morning and pay $20 over
spot for it. 

The point that is missing from this discussion is that we mill the
stock not because we want to save money, but because we must.
Goldsmiths who still practice hand-fabrication know exactly what I
mean. In hand-fabrication it makes a big difference whether 1mm. or
0.87mm is used. I can order 1mm, but I cannot order 0.87mm. That is
why rolling mill is a must in any shop practicing traditional

Leonid Surpin.