Rockin' Rolling Pin

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This article is from Issue 63 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Lay down the dough with this kitchenware essential.

Rolling pins have been around for thousands of years. They’re used to flatten and shape dough in making cookies, pastas, pizzas, specialty breads, and pie crusts. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be made of wood, metal, clay and glass. They can be long and skinny or short and fat, with and without handles. I have been turning rolling pins for more than 25 years. My father always referred to them as a HAT, or Husband Alignment Tool. Indeed, in early cartoons, rolling pins were shown as weapons wielded by angry housewives.

I began making handled rolling pins when I started working with master turner Rude Osolnik. He made laminated pins with short round handles. While I served as his assistant in many demonstrations, he would frequently turn most of the pin and then ask me to duplicate the handle on the opposite end. Most of the time it worked out.

There are two basic types of rolling pins: rod-style rolling pins, which are long, thin, and usually made of wood; then there is the roller style. These are shorter, fatter, and with thinner handles. In the next few pages, I’ll show you how to make the latter, employing a kit for the rolling mechanism and attaching the handles. (See “What You Need to Get Started” at right.) You’ll learn the basics for turning a perfect cylinder and duplicate handles.

What You Need To Get Started

For the roller-style rolling pin shown, you need three separate pieces of wood. The first is a 3"-square × 12"-long tight-grained hardwood blank for the roller. The other two blanks should be of a contrasting hardwood and measure 11⁄2" square × 6" long for the handles.

If you want to skip drilling through the long roller cylinder, buy a pre-drilled rolling pin blank as seen above (walnut, #158782, $29.99; maple, #158780, $22.99; cherry, #158779, $19.99; and curly maple, #158781, $29.99). These blanks include both the through hole and 7⁄8" recess, allowing you to skip Steps 1, 5, and 6 under Prep the Rolling Pin Cylinder. Regardless of which way you go, you’ll also need the Rolling Pin Hardware Kit below, #158761, $19.99. For these items, visit a local Woodcraft store, go to, or call (800) 225-1153.

Prep the rolling pin cylinder

1 Before drilling the holes in the blanks for the roller pin and handles at the lathe (my preferred method, since this approach centers the holes and makes them straight and true), properly square up the blank material. Now, locate the centers on each end of the blanks (I used a center finder), and mark them with an awl or punch. Set the handle blanks aside.

Note: When turning the rolling pin blank, use a 12"-long tool rest. You can buy one and a post that matches your lathe’s rest assembly at Woodcraft.

2 Mount the roller blank between a spur center and cone center. (For the prepared blank, use the roller jam chuck in Figure 2 and cone center.) Turn it to a 3" cylinder with a 3⁄4" roughing gouge at 1,500 rpm.

3 Switch to a parting tool or bedan, and turn a 3⁄8"-long × 23⁄4"-diameter tenon at each end of the roller (Photo A).

4 Replace the spur center (or jam chuck) in the headstock with a scroll chuck. Tighten the jaws on the tenon at one end of the cylinder. Adjust the tool rest, and true up the end of the cylinder by shaving it with a spindle gouge.

5 Lower the speed to 500 rpm, and turn off the lathe to prepare for drilling. Install a Jacobs chuck and a 7⁄8" Forstner bit in the tailstock. Now, drill a 7⁄8" recess, 11⁄32" deep, in one end, checking with a depth gauge (Photo B).

6 Switch to a 1⁄2" brad-point bit, and drill into the roller end for the through hole. (I start the through hole with a short bit because it flexes less than the longer bit.) Then install a longer bit (see the Buying Guide) to achieve the needed depth, as shown in Photo C. A piece of tape 61⁄2" from the end of the bit establishes the needed depth. Turn the blank end for end and repeat Steps 5 and 6. The holes should meet in the center.

Turn and finish the roller

1 Turn a roller jam chuck to drive the roller blank. To do this, mount a 2 × 2 × 2" block in the four-jaw scroll chuck, and turn the exposed end round at 1,500 rpm, making a tenon that fits your chuck. Reverse the jam chuck blank in the scroll chuck, and turn this exposed end to match the roller jam chuck shape in Figure 2. You want the stepped tenon to fit snugly in the 7⁄8" and 3⁄8" holes in the roller blank (Photo D).

2 Fit the tailstock with a conical live center, and mount the roller blank between centers. Start with a parting tool or a bedan, and with the lathe running at 1,500 rpm, make a cut about 1" from each end to establish a 23⁄4" final diameter. Check the cut depth with either a caliper or a vernier scale (Photo E).

3 Position the tool rest parallel to the axis of the lathe and as close as possible to the workpiece. Rotate the material by hand before turning on the lathe to ensure the rest does not contact the turning. Now, with a 3⁄4" spindle roughing gouge at 2,000 rpm, roughly turn the blank to remove the waste and any lumps and bumps. Guide your index finger along the tool rest to accurately turn a true cylinder, one that is the same diameter from end to end. Continually check the diameter along the cylinder with a caliper.

4 Make a light planing cut with the skew, as shown in Photo F, to remove any imperfections and leave a surface that requires very little sanding. If uncomfortable using a skew, use a sanding block with 80-grit sandpaper to even out the high areas, or make an extremely light cut with a spindle roughing gouge while riding on the bevel. You want to maximize the length of the bevel to support the cutting edge and avoid tear-out. Check the diameter with a caliper.

5 Use a straightedge (Photo G) to check the end-to-end trueness of the roller. Touch up if needed, recheck, and then cut a 1⁄8" round-over on the edges with 3⁄8" spindle gouge.

6 Next, sand the roller through 220 grit. Wipe it clean, and finish. I use paper towels to apply any finish on the lathe. The finish should be food-safe and easily refreshed. I first apply mineral oil without the lathe running and then turn the machine on at a moderate speed and burnish the oil into the wood with a fresh paper towel. I then use a block of beeswax and rub the surface with the lathe running at a slow speed, as seen in Photo H, followed by a dry paper towel to polish. This creates a satiny smooth finish.

Turn the handles

1 Retrieve the handle blanks, and mount one of them between a spur center and a live cone center. Turn a short tenon at one end to fit into your scroll chuck. Repeat for the remaining handle blank.

2 Fit the tenon for one handle blank into your scroll chuck, and turn the blank to a 11⁄2"–diameter cylinder at 1,000 rpm. Repeat for the other handle blank.

3 With one handle blank still mounted in the chuck, increase the lathe speed to 1,500 rpm, and true up the opposite end with a spindle gouge. Repeat for the remaining handle blank.

4 Using a Jacobs chuck and 25⁄64" brad-point bit, drill a hole 33⁄8" deep in each handle blank.

(A 25⁄64"-diameter hole allows for the epoxy and makes it easier to insert the steel rod.)

5 Make the handle jam chuck in Figure 2 from a 2 × 2" block to drive the handles at the headstock. Use a live center at the tailstock. Mount a handle blank between centers.

6 Make a full-sized copy of the Handle Pattern and Template in Figure 3 and spray-adhere it to a piece of cardboard. Use a craft knife to trim the template to shape. Use the template to lay out the handle shape and a parting tool to establish the depths.

7 Use a spindle roughing gouge to remove waste and a 3⁄8" spindle gouge and skew (if comfortable) to shape and detail the handle (Photo I). I begin by defining and shaping the large bead at the roller end of the handle and then work on the grip portion.

8 Check the shape against the template (Photo J). Repeat the procedure to create an identical handle.

9 Sand the handles through 320 grit and finish. To give the handles a more durable and protective finish than the roller, I apply three coats of a wipe-on polyurethane and then beeswax used in a stick form. Buff the surface. After finishing the handles, part them off with a parting tool. Sand and touch up the unfinished ends.

Assemble your rolling pin

1 Assemble the rolling pin by first making a mark 3" from each end of the stainless steel rod in the rolling pin kit. This indicates where the outside edge of the bearing will need to stop.

To simplify installation of the steel rod, bearings, and washers, I bored a 7⁄16" hole through a 2 × 2 × 33⁄4" wood block and used it, along with a dead-blow hammer, to drive the tight-fitting bearing into place.

2 Referencing Figure 1, slide a nylon washer on the steel rod, followed by a bearing. Insert that end of the rod into the wood block with a hole in it, and tap the rod’s upper end to drive the bearing into place. Add the roller, a nylon washer, and the second bearing. Tap this bearing in place (Photo K). The bearings and washers should bottom out in the 7⁄8" holes. The rod ends should protrude 3" beyond the roller ends. Slide a nylon washer onto each end of the rod.

3 Mix a batch of five-minute epoxy, and work it into the handle holes (Photo L). Fit the handles onto the steel rod, and tap them into place, snug to the outside nylon washers. Let the epoxy cure before use.  

About Our Author

Nick Cook is a full-time professional turner whose home and commercial shop are located in Marietta, Georgia. In addition to turning anything from bottle stoppers to porch posts, he is one of the founders of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW). He’s also an established teacher and demonstrator who travels the country conducting woodturning workshops.


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