Inexpensive Rolling Mills

Q: What do you think of Contenti’s rolling mills? I can’t afford a Durston and they seem pretty good to me, but another jeweler called them “pasta mills”.

A: I’ve always had pleasant dealings with Contenti, and they carry the same usual range of products, both in price and quality, as other dealers, though they don’t carry as many of the really exclusive high end things. Plus their prices are sometimes a bit lower than others, though it’s gotten to be a fairly competitive market. Still, it pays to check. As to even those small mills from India, also sold, by the way, by Otto Frei, who are hardly known for carrying junk, they have their definite place. They are not, by any means, the equal of a fine Durston, Cavalin, or Dinkel mill. But they also cost about one third of what those do, and have a few interesting capabilities, not the least of which is an extensive array of available pattern rolls are rather amazingly low prices compared to pattern rolls for the European mills.

And they are most clearly not pasta mills either (though those too, can be useful, for metal clay or polymer clay). They do not have the capacity in thickness of the heavier mills when rolling from an ingot, and they don’t have the ability to take as big a “bite” with each pass. But they do work, if you respect their limits. I actually have two of these little things, in addition to bigger better mills. One is set up with a favorite pattern roll, and for the other one, I put one of the flat rolls on a lathe and polished it to a high polish. I’d not dare do that to the costly rolls on the bigger mills, but if I screwed up this one, a replacement isn’t a lot of money. And it worked, so now I’m able to use that roll as a “finish” roll, after using the bigger mills to get sheet almost to thickness. Then a pass through my little polished roll gives me a really nice surface. If looking at rolling mills, be sure to compare apples to oranges. Expecting a little 250 dollar mill to compete with an 800 dollar Durston is silly. But that doesn’t mean it’s useless. I would agree, though, with people who suggested that if you’re going to own only one mill, as is the case with many people, especially when starting out, that the bigger and better European mills are a wiser choice. Later, if you see one of these little Indian mills on eBay (as I did, twice…) then you might choose to think it might be useful…In my case, it certainly has been, even if you could also say it’s superfluous. (What can I say? I’m a tools pack rat…)

by Peter W. Rowe M.F.A., G.G.