Artisan Rolling Pin
Weekend Project: Most rolling pins hang out in a drawer until it’s time to whip up a batch of pastry, but this eye-catching beauty is meant to be seen, even when it’s not rolling out dough for tasty treats. This project includes a versatile stand that lets you choose between displaying your handiwork on the countertop and hanging it from the wall.
Your first task is to do some research on the web to determine if the materials you have in mind for the project are safe for direct contact with food. This is an important consideration because some species of wood contain natural toxins that can be harmful for human consumption and species with an open-grain structure (like red oak) can result in food particles becoming trapped in the pores, where they will eventually rot and decay. Even the dark walnut I selected as the contrast wood for my project may not be an appropriate choice for you if someone in your family has a severe sensitivity to walnuts. Once you have made your final lumber decisions, get to work gluing up alternating layers of contrasting material to create the turning blank for the main cylinder. Each layer should be roughly 1″ thick and measure at least 3″ wide x 15″ long. Make sure the adhesive you use is water-resistant to prevent the possibility of delamination when the rolling pin is submersed for cleaning. I went with Titebond Polyurethane glue for my project because it has a long working time and creates a rock solid bond.
After the clamps have been removed, scrape off the excess glue that has squeezed out from between the joints, then lay out a 3″ wide by 13″ long rect-angle on one of the sides where the alternating wood layers are visible. Orient the rectangle so that it is situated at a 5° angle to the direction of the plies. It is this slight angle that will create the illusion of a spiral effect when the blank is turned on the lathe. After completing the layout, head over to the table-saw to cut the blank to size. I made the first cut along one side of the rectangle using a taper jig to guide the wood past the blade at a 5° angle. Next, I removed the taper jig and position the fence 3″ from the blade to make a parallel cut on the opposing side. I finished up with a couple of cross-cuts to trim the ends to length. If you don’t have a taper jig, another option is to cut out the blank freehand using the bandsaw.
Angled Turning Blank
Once the blank is glued up, you can lay out the cylinder at a 5° angle to the main face of the blank. The first cut can be made with a tapering jig on a table-saw, or with a bandsaw, then trued with a jointer or hand-plane. Subsequent cuts can be made the same way; after all, this is just a rough turning blank. (Photo by Rick Campbell)
Remove the Waste
Once the blank has been roughed out, use a compass to draw the finished diameter on the end of the cylinder. At this point, you can heavily chamfer the four edges on the table-saw to remove much of the waste, making turning easier and safer. (Photo by Rick Campbell)
With each handle blank turned rough, Campbell adds transition marks to the workpiece to help with the overall shaping of the handle. (Photo by Rick Campbell)
Campbell holds the cylinder in place, parallel with the drill bit, and bores a 3" deep hole to accept the dowels. (Photo by Rick Campbell)
To center a 1/8" pilot hole on the dowel, Campbell drills a shallow 3/8" hole in a piece of scrap, then uses the center point to locate a 1/8" hole in the scrap (Above). He then puts the scrap over the end of the dowel and drills the 1/8" hole in the dowel. (Photo by Rick Campbell)
To cut an even radius in the uprights, locate then drill a hole in a longer blank, then split it into two pieces. (Photo by Rick Campbell)
Mark then rough out the angle on the upright with a bandsaw. Smooth it with a sharp block plane. (Photo by Rick Campbell)
Trim the fat
Whenever I’m turning large objects on the lathe, I like to start by knocking off the corners with the table-saw. This makes the turning process much safer and reduces the effort involved in roughing out the shape. The first step is to scribe diagonal lines to mark the center of each end, then use a compass to scribe a circle representing the finished diameter of the cylinder. Next, tilt the saw blade at a 45° angle and position the fence to make cuts that come close to the outside of the layout lines. Rotate the blank after each cut until all four corners have been removed.
To the lathe
Mount the blank between the lathe centers and set a slow speed to begin rounding the cylinder. Start by using your gouge to complete long continuous passes from end to end. Your objective is to maintain a uniform diameter along the entire length as you progress towards the finish dimensions. When you get close to the final diameter, dial up the turning speed and use 80-grit sandpaper to smooth out any significant ridges and valleys. Old sanding belts work great for this purpose because they tend to be more rigid than regular sanding sheets. After taking care of all the major problem areas, step down through the usual range of finer grits until you achieve a silky smooth finish.
Easy to handle
Now that the main shaft is done, we will turn our attention to the turned handles. I used walnut for my handles to match the dark layers of the main cylinder, but you may decide to go with an entirely different look to complement your kitchen decor. The first step is to prepare two 4″ long by 1-1/4″ square blanks. When both blanks are ready to go, prepare them for the lathe by marking the center points on the ends. Removing the corners with the table-saw is much less important, as this blank is quite small. Mount the first blank between the lathe centers and begin turning it until it is round along the entire length. Now, take a pencil and mark transition points wherever the profile changes shape. Now grab a small gouge and begin roughing out the basic profile. When you get close to the final shape, lightly sand any remaining rough areas. The last step is to use a diamond point scraper or the tip of a skew to create the decorative v-groove rings located in the center of the handle. Once you get your first handle done, repeat the entire process to make an exact copy for the other side.
Now you need to cut a couple of 8″ long pieces of 3/8″ diameter maple dowel that will serve as the shafts for the handles. Dry-fit the dowel in the cylinder holes and use a pencil to mark the point where they exit the ends. If you try inserting the dowel shafts into the handle holes, you will likely discover the fit is very tight. This won’t work for our purposes because the handles need to spin freely to achieve a smooth rolling action. The solution here is to remove the dowel shafts and install them in the chuck of the drill-press to do a little sanding. To maintain a tight fit in the cylinder holes, sand only to the reference line that marks the start of the cylinder ends. As you sand, periodically slip your handles onto the shafts to check your progress. You know you’re done when the handles spin smoothly on the shafts.
Once you’re satisfied with the fit, spread some glue in the cylinder holes and tap the pins into place. When you slip the handles on the ends, the first thing you will notice is that the shafts are a little too long. With the handles in place, mark the ends of the dowels for trimming. You want to leave approximately 1/16″ protruding from the handles to serve as a spacer. Cut the ends to length.
A stainless steel washer held in place with a screw will serve as a retainer to prevent the handles from slipping off the shafts. The only trick here is ensuring that the pilot holes for the screws are perfectly centered on the ends of the narrow dowel. I accomplished this by making a simple jig. All that’s required is a small scrap of wood with a 1/2″ deep hole drilled with a 3/8″ diameter brad-point bit. After this, switch to 1/8″ diameter bit to drill a smaller hole the rest of the way through the center. Now, slip your jig onto the end of your dowel to guide the bit when you drill the pilot holes for your screws. The result will be a perfectly centered hole every time. When you’re done, slide the handles onto the shafts and secure them in place with your stainless steel washers and screws. It’s important to use either stainless steel or brass for all the hardware to prevent rust and corrosion
Your next task is to install 3/8″ diameter dowels in the ends of the main cylinder to mount the handles. The shafts will be glued into the main cylinder, and the handles will fit loosely around the dowels when the pin is complete. Start by using the drill-press and a 3/8″ diameter drill bit to bore a 3″ deep hole in the center of each cylinder end. I chose a brad-point bit for this job because the sharp tips make them less likely to wander and they create holes that are clean as a whistle. Now use the same bit to bore a hole all the way through the center of each handle. When you do this, drill half way through from one end, then flip the piece over to drill the rest of the way through from the other side. Finish up by reaming the handle up and down the drill shaft a couple of times to clean out any debris that may remain in the hole.
Now that the rolling pin is ready for the finishing room, your next job is to make an attractive rack to display your handy work. As mentioned earlier, the design I came up with can be reconfigured as a stand to display the rolling pin on the kitchen counter or as a rack to hang the project on the wall, simply by changing the design of the mounts. Regardless of the configuration you choose, the construction of the base for both options is exactly the same. Start by cutting out a 4″ wide by 21″ long piece of 3/4″ material for the base. Use a compass to lay out a 8″ diameter curve on a strip of 4″ wide cardboard to make a template for the curved ends. Transfer the pattern onto the blank and cut the curves to shape at the bandsaw.
After sanding the rough saw cuts, take a trip to the router table to mill a Roman ogee profile on the outer edge of the sides and ends. It’s a good idea to mill the profile on the ends first, so that any tear-out is removed when you complete the final passes along the sides.
If you’ve decided to display your rolling pin on the countertop, prepare a 3″ wide x 6″ long blank to yield both uprights. Mark the center of the blank and use a 1″-diameter bit to drill a hole at this location. To prevent tear-out, it’s best to start the hole from one side, then flip the piece over to continue drilling the rest of the way through. Now use the table-saw to crosscut the blank into two pieces. When you do this, the blade should pass directly through the center of your hole, leaving a half-round recess on the top of each piece.
Use an angle gauge to scribe lines on each side that run from bottom to top at a 5° angle. Use the bandsaw to cut freehand along the outside of the layout lines, then sand or hand plane the edges smooth. Complete the uprights by routing a roman-ogee profile on both sides of the vertical edges and a 1/4″ radius round over on the lip of the curved recess. Be sure to use care, and keep your fingers away from the rotating bit when doing this.
Now you’re ready to attach the uprights to the base using a couple of screws through the back. Be sure to recess the screw heads so the base will sit flat on the countertop. No glue is used here, so the uprights can be removed for finishing, or if you change your mind and decide to go with the wall-mounted option.
If you prefer to mount your rolling pin on the wall, everything is the same except for the shape of the supports. This time you will need two blanks that each measure 3″ square and a cardboard template to lay out the hooked profiles. Transfer the pattern onto the blanks and cut out the shapes using a scroll-saw or bandsaw. You also have the option of locating and drilling a hole in each support to accept the rolling pin handles before you cut it to final shape. After spending a few minutes at the spindle sander smoothing the edges of the curved profile, use a table-mounted router and 1/4″-radius bearing-guided bit to round over the lip on both sides. If you don’t feel comfortable with your hands this close to the router bit, you can either leave the edges square or chamfer them with a file and block plane. Just like the countertop version, the supports are attached to the base with recessed screws from the back.
It’s Almost Time for Pie
To prepare for the finish, I removed the handles from the shafts and unscrewed the supports from the display base. No stain is required to enhance the appearance of this project because the striking contrast between the light maple and dark walnut says it all. All I did was apply several coats of wipe-on polyurethane to bring out the grain and protect the surfaces. Don’t make the mistake of applying polyurethane to the main cylinder because this finish is not safe for contact with food. A better option is to leave the cylinder unfinished or apply a few coats of mineral oil. Vegetable oil is not an appropriate option because it will turn rancid over time and contaminate your food.
After the last coat of finish has fully cured, don’t hesitate to reassemble the rack and install the handles on the shafts because a generous slice of warm pie will soon await you once the appreciative baker in the family catches a glimpse of your beautiful work.