You Might Be Using the Wrong Rolling Pin



Some folks dream of having a closet full of sneakers, but if I had the space, I’d have a vast collection of rolling pins. They come in so many shapes, sizes, and materials, and each has its use. Some can function in an all-purpose manner, and others are more specialized. Even if you don’t have ambitions of a rolling pin exhibition in your home, it’s still worth choosing the right tool for the job, so here’s a breakdown of all the different types of rolling pins and their common uses.

Straight dowel rolling pin

Straight rolling pin on white background.

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This rolling pin might be the simplest of them all. The straight dowel rolling pin doesn’t have any bells and whistles like handles or a hollow barrel; it’s simply a smooth, straight cylinder. This type of pin is a great all-purpose pin, perfect for pie crusts, cookies, or pita dough. Straight pins can be made of wood, plastic, or marble. 

Straight pins ensure a straight line, but you still have to use control. Unless you have thickness guides on your pin, you have to monitor the thickness of the dough and ensure you’re not applying too much pressure on one end, because it can be tough to fix wonky dough with this type of pin. The straight pin doesn’t have handles, so if you have wrist discomfort or limited mobility, you may want to consider a pin with handles. 

Rolling pin with handles 

A rolling pin with handles on white background.

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I love a pin with handles. It just makes sense to me. Would you rather knick, tap, or smoosh your knuckles on the countertop, or keep them out of the way? (I’d like to keep these digits intact.) Plus, if you do have carpal tunnel or other hand discomfort, the handles will help keep pain to a minimum.

There are two types of pin handles: fixed and free. Good fixed handle pins are made out of one piece of wood, so the wood on the ends are carved down into handles. If you encounter a fixed handle pin where the handles are glued into place, be wary. A lot of pressure will end up on that joint and they could break off. But, like broken escalators turn into stairs, broken handled rolling pins simply turn into straight dowel pins. 

Free spinning handles are where the handles are inserted into the pin and can rotate independently of the barrel. I think these are the most comfortable for beginners and professionals because you don’t have to move or reposition your hands at all while rolling.

French rolling pin

french rolling pin next to dough

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The French rolling pin, or tapered rolling pin, is a single piece with no handles. The barrel is fatter in the center and tapered gently toward the ends. There are no straight sections on this pin, so you have to frequently move your dough around to ensure it rolls out evenly. This type of pin is great as an all-purpose pin for pastry, pasta, cookies, and breads. You can fix thick spots in your dough more seamlessly with this type of pin because of its tapered shape. Straight pins have corners at the end, so precision fixes can leave lines in the dough. This is a better pin for professionals, or someone who has already rolled out a few doughs in their time. 

Embossed rolling pins

A springerle rolling pin.

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If you’ve ever seen a rolling pin with a design or pattern cut into it, you’ve encountered an embossed rolling pin. They can be simple patterns or intricate images and scenes. This type of pin is usually used for soft cookie dough that holds the impression, like German springerle cookies.  Note that you should use an embossed pin after using one of the all-purpose pins listed above. Once the dough is flat and a bit thicker than your intended cookie, use the embossed pin to press in the design. Cut the dough and boom: pre-decorated cookies, ready for baking. 

Dumpling rolling pin

Hands rolling out dumpling dough.

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A 17-inch rolling pin can be good for rolling out a large sheet of pasta, but there are some instances where less is more. If you’re rolling out small, delicate rounds of dough, like for homemade gyoza, you need an appropriately sized pin. Dumpling pins are smaller and thinner—about six to eight inches long—and the ends are rounded instead of straight. This type of pin is made for easy maneuvering with one hand, so you can rotate the dough with the other. You can use it to roll out any small dough dumpling, like pierogi, or empanadas. 

Thin rolling pins 

Hands rolling dough with thin rolling pin

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Small pins are good for small circles of dough, but for wide, thin circles of bread you’ll need a thin, long pin. This type of pin is typically made of strong wood, and can be tapered or straight. The pins are barely an inch in diameter and about a 12-inches in length. These are great for rolling out strong doughs into thin, wide circles. The length can handle a larger piece of dough while the thin diameter can press the dough out paper thin. Use this pin for chapatis, roti, or scallion pancakes.

Size matters

Most of these rolling pins come in barrel lengths anywhere from 12 inches to 19 inches long, and usually one to two inches in diameter. The best length and width for you depends on personal preference and your needs. I personally think the best length for a pin will allow your hand placement to be at about the width of your shoulders, as aligning your wrists with your shoulders will feel more comfortable and give you more power.

Rolling pin material variations

Many rolling pins are made out of wood. This is the best material in my book because the imperfections in the grain allow most doughs to release from the pin instead of suction on. Plus, they’re just darn pretty, and all that butter and oil that gets stuck on a pin acts like a seasoning. The older my wood rolling pin gets, the better looking it is.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other materials that might fit your needs better.

Marble rolling pins: With these pins, usually the barrel is marble; if there are handles, they are made of wood. Marble pins stay cooler than wood and are touted for keeping doughs laden with butter cold. Laminated doughs, biscuits, and pie doughs where the butter should stay solid for as long as possible could fare better with a marble rolling pin.

Ceramic rolling pins: Ceramic rolling pins are often painted with bright, colorful patterns and sometimes they come with matching holders. Frankly, I think they’re mainly for gifting—they offer the same “cooling” effect as marble (you can even toss them in the fridge to make them extra cold before using), but otherwise they’re just pretty. Hand wash them with a gentle soap to keep the decorations looking their best.

Hollow rolling pins: These rolling pins try to be functional, but they might be trying too hard. Hollow rolling pins have a screw-on end that you can open and fill with ice water. This is supposed to keep the pin barrel cold so you can roll out high-fat doughs without melting the fat. They’ve mostly fallen out of fashion because adding ice water is necessary as long as you don’t dilly-dally.

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