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French-Style Rolling Pin

Many people prefer the French-style rolling pins that consist of a single piece of wood with a taper at each end. They do not have handles as such.  

From the perspective of a woodturner, they are rather simple to turn. You put a spindle blank between centers, turn the shape you desire, and then part it off as you would any other spindle.  The challenging part is getting a uniform diameter along the center part and then shaping the taper at each end.

In this article I describe the basic procedure and then go on to show how to make one in three sections where two end pieces are joined to the center part. This is a little more involved but is not particularly difficult.  

One-piece French Roller

The usual length is 20” plus or minus perhaps an inch. The diameter of the center section is nominally 1.75” but can be up to about 1.875” without giving an impression of heaviness. The ends are tapered down to about 1”.  

Nothing says the center section has to be a straight cylinder. The profile can be a gentle curve so that the largest diameter at the middle of the pin gradually decreases as you move toward either end. I cannot comment on the functionality of such a roller because I have never used one.  

1.  Begin by placing a suitable blank between centers and true it up. What I do is turn the entire length of the blank to roughly the same diameter before I start working on the tapers. I have less trouble getting smooth tapers that match if I start from a uniform diameter. Be sure the blank is about 2” longer than the final length so you will have room to work at the ends when it comes time to part it off.

2.  Once the blank is true, mark off and do the finish turning on the center section. That is, turn it to its final diameter, level the surface with a sanding block, and then begin the sanding.  

3.  Reduce the diameter at the ends to about 1”. This gives you an aiming point as you begin to form the tapered sections.

4.  Form the taper at the tailstock end. I use the bottom wing of a bowl gouge in a shear-scraping mode to form the taper. I begin by making short sweeping cuts near the end and then gradually increase the length of the cuts as the taper develops.

Be careful not to remove too much wood in the region where the taper joins the center section. If you dig a hole at that point, you may not be able to end up with a pleasing profile.

5.  When you think you’re getting near the final profile, take a piece of coarse sandpaper and smooth the surface. Removing tool marks or other irregularities makes it easier to evaluate the curve. Continue refining the taper until you get a profile you like.

6.  Turn a matching taper on the other end. At this point you may wish to reverse the blank so you can work the second taper in the same position as the first, namely near the tailstock. The challenge now is to have the second taper match the first.  

Begin as with the first taper. When you start getting close to the final curve, begin making comparisons between the two tapers with a caliper. That is, set the caliper to the diameter of the first taper a certain distance from the end, and then check the diameter of the second taper at the same distance. Continue this process for as long as it takes to get the two reasonably close to the same profile. They don’t have to match perfectly because most chefs do not carry calipers in their pocket.

Nothing says you cannot go back and adjust the profile of the first taper if you decide that it could be better or more pleasing in some manner.

7.  Once the tapers are done, sand the entire piece to your satisfaction and then apply a finish while it is still on the lathe. I use walnut oil, a mixture of walnut oil and wax, or a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil.  

8.  The only thing left to be done is to part it off. Use a parting tool, skew, or spindle gouge to reduce the diameter at the ends to a small fraction of an inch. Then take it off the lathe and use a saw to finish removing the waste wood. A coping saw works well for this.  

9.  Sand the ends to remove the marks from the saw.  One way to do this is to mount a sanding pad on the lathe and then hold the end against the pad, moving it around as necessary to shape the end. Then apply a bit of finish and it will be ready for the kitchen.    

Make a French Roller in Three Sections.

You may want to do this for decorative purposes or you may not have a spindle blank long enough for a one-piece roller. Either way it’s a good project.  

The sequence of events:  turn the center section in much the same way as for an American

roller. This includes drilling holes in each end. Turn the end sections to uniform cylinders and use dowels to join them to the center. Finally, shape the piece as described above.  

Turn the center section.

The procedure is the same as for turning the body of an American roller. (Refer to the first article in this series.) The only exception (aside from the diameter and length) is that the holes are 5/8” in diameter and 1” deep rather than being 3/4” and 2” deep.

Turn the end sections.

There are two options for creating the tenon used to join an end section to the center section.  One is to turn the tenon as an integral part of the end section. The other is to drill a 5/8” hole in the end section and use a short 5/8” dowel to join the two pieces.

Which way is best depends largely on the blanks you have available for making the end sections.  The turned tenons require blanks about an inch longer than the ones that are drilled. Turning the tenons avoids the difficulties of drilling holes that are perfectly centered on the piece.  

Step by step:

1.  Begin with two blanks of appropriate length. For turned tenons, the length must be equal to the finished length of the end section plus about 2”. For the dowel method, the length can be shorter, namely the finished length plus 1”.  

The length of each blank must include about an inch that will be lost to parting off at the end.

Example:  Overall length = 20”.  Center section = 12”.  Therefore, the visible length L of each blank will be 4”.  For integral, turned tenons, 4 + 1 + 1 = 6”, which is the required length of the blank.

For joining using dowels, the required length is 4 + 1 = 5”.  

2.  Mount the blanks between centers and true them up. Then go to step 3A or 3B below:

3A.  For a turned tenon, proceed to turning the tenon that will be used to join the sections. Make the tenon 5/8” in diameter and about 7/8” long. Flatten the surface surrounding the tenon so it will match the surface on the end of the center section.  

3B.  For the dowel method, turn a tenon (for a scroll chuck) on one end of the blank. Then mount the blank in a scroll chuck and drill the 5/8” hole to a depth of about 1”.

Next, install a cone center on the tailstock and insert it into the hole so the blank becomes centered on the hole. True up the blank if it does not run true because of the hole being off center. Flatten the surface surrounding the hole.

Prepare two dowels about 1.75” long that give a loose sliding fit into the 5/8” holes.

4.  Test the fit of all components and make any necessary adjustments. You may want to go so far as to install the dry-fitted assembly between centers to see that it will run true, or nearly so.

Glue it up.

1.  Mix up the epoxy and glue everything together. The most important glue surface is that of the tenons or dowels because the join will be side grain to side grain, which is very strong.

2.  Place the glued-up assembly on the lathe between centers and use the tailstock to apply moderate clamping pressure. Use a paper towel soaked with alcohol to wipe off any stray epoxy so you can examine the join lines between the sections.

3.  Allow the epoxy to cure thoroughly.

Turn the rolling pin.  

At this point the procedure becomes the same as for turning a one-piece roller. After it is turned, sanded, and finished, look around for some French dough and try it out.  

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