Bead rolling is one of those sheet metal fabrication techniques that looks easy to use, but there are countless tricks to get good looking, consistent beads. On Project Pile House I have over a hundred feet of handmade panels rolled in bead roller (Easily!) and I've picked up a handful of tips along the way that make life a LOT easier!
1.Bead Roller Fence- Use a bead roller fence to help you make PERFECTLY straight lines and take away the possibility of you getting off course when rolling straight lines by hand. The fence bolts to the edge of the bead roller and has six inch long plates on either side that the edge of the panel rides up against. The only catch is that you need to cut the edge of the panel pretty darn straight, as the guide only keeps the panel as straight as your cut is. The guide will take up small little dips if you cut the panel by hand or with something other than a stomp shear. You can also add pieces of box tubing to the face of the guide to bring the guide out further for beads that are closer than four inches to the edge of the panel.
2.Clean and Lubricate the Roller- A bead roller has a lot of moving parts and ideally you want the spinning motion of the mandrels and the handle to be as smooth and consistent as possible. I like to liberally grease the gears with wheel bearing grease (or similar) and to clean the mandrels with PRE Cleaner to remove any possible debris or metal shards that could be pressed in between the wheels and leave their impression in the panel (no do-overs with bead rolling!).
3. Count your Turns- In order to make all of your beads or designs the same depth and shape, you need to make sure that you have the same spacing and tension on the bear roller mandrels. We suggest marking one end of your tension handle so you can count the number of turns it took to release pressure off the panel and remove it from the roller. This way you can reapply the panel or make multiple panels with the same impressions each time. If your forgetful like me you may want to take a sharpie and write the number of turns right on the bead roller!
4.Let it flex- Some of the economy bead rollers have some flex to them when you have a bit of tension on the wheels. The frame WILL flex but don't worry yourself over it. Let the frame flex then start rolling the beads. The frame will only have a small amount of flex and once it reaches the maximum deflection it will stay how it is and you can be sure it won't cause an issue as long as you still have pressure on the wheels and roller handle. I've rolled ALL of the beads on Project Pile House with the Eastwood Economy Bead Roller and it works well if you account for the flex when you begin.
5.Do a Test Run- If you're rolling a panel that has a radius in it or is large enough to require multiple people to hold it I always suggest doing a test run with little to no pressure on the wheels and practice running the panel to make sure you can get the clearance needed to swing the corners on all sides of the panel. Smart bead layout will allow you to roll some REALLY big panels if you think ahead and take some test runs to check your clearance.
Bead Rolling is a great way to strengthen your panels and recreate original panels if you practice and take your time along the way. Feel free to drop us a line with pictures of what you're rolling in your bead roller!