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The history of cooking tools presents the Etruscans as the developers of the rolling pin, among other cooking devices. Since the rolling pin's cylindrical shape, with or without two handles, is so simple, the differences between the design of ancient rolling pins and the rolling pins nowadays are insignificant.
The rolling pins have been manufactured from various materials, such as glass bottles, baked clay, decorated porcelains and all kind of wood possible. Because the physical qualities of maple and lignum vitae are suitable to the type of action the rolling pins perform, they are the most used types of wood in manufacturing of rolling pins. For example, the lignum vitae gives resistance to the rolling pins and both these types of wood do not absorb the ingredients and do not crack.
If the rolling pins are manufactured from wood, the manufacturing process consists from the following stages:
- selection of wood and preparation of wood length;
- production of large clear dowels;
- clipping of allowed parts of long dowels that contain defects
- chamfering of lengths and counter boring of holes;
- finishing of the outer surface of pins and handles with more types of sandpaper;
- the pin and handles are assembled;
- the rolling-pins are packed, stored or shipped to retailers.
The first civilization known to have used the rolling pin was the Etruscans. These people may have migrated from Asia Minor to Northern Italy or may have originated in Italy. They established a group of city states (called Etruria) and were a dominant society by about the ninth century B.C. , but their civilization was cut short after attacks from the Greeks, the growing Roman Empire, and the Gauls (tribes that lived in modern day France). The Etruscans' advanced farming ability, along with a tendency to cultivate many plants and animals never before used as food and turn them into sophisticated recipes, were passed to invading Greeks, Romans, and Western Europeans. Thanks to the Etruscans, these cultures are associated with gourmet cooking.
To prepare their inventive foods, the Etruscans also developed a wide range of cooking tools, including the rolling pin. Although written recipes did not exist until the fourth century B.C. , the Etruscans documented their love of food and its preparation in murals, on vases, and on the walls of their tombs. Cooking wares are displayed with pride; rolling pins appear to have been used first to thin-roll pasta that was shaped with cutting wheels. They also used rolling pins to make bread (which they called puls) from the large number of grains they grew.
Natives of the Americas used more primitive bread-making tools that are favored and unchanged in many villages. Chefs who try to use genuine methods to preserve recipes are also interested in both materials and tools. Hands are used as "rolling pins" for flattening dough against a surface, but also for tossing soft dough between the cook's two hands until it enlarges and thins by handling and gravity. Tortillas are probably the most familiar bread made this way.
Over the centuries, rolling pins have been made of many different materials, including long cylinders of baked clay, smooth branches with the bark removed, and glass bottles. As the development of breads and pastries spread from Southern to Western and Northern Europe, wood from local forests was cut and finished for use as rolling pins. The French perfected the solid hardwood pin with tapered ends to roll pastry that is thick in the middle; its weight makes rolling easier. The French also use marble rolling pins for buttery dough worked on a marble slab.
Glass is still popular; in Italy, full wine bottles that have been chilled make ideal rolling pins because they are heavy and cool the dough. Countries known for their ceramics make porcelain rolling pins with beautiful decorations painted on the rolling surface; their hollow centers can be filled with cold water (the same principle as the wine bottle), and cork or plastic stoppers cap the ends.
Wood has always been the material preferred by cooks and craftsmen in the United States. Pine was probably the wood of choice from colonization to the mid-1800s, but the pine forests in the northern states were already being depleted by this time. Rolling pin manufacturers started using other hardwoods like cherry and maple for their wooden kitchenware, which also included ladles and butter molds. Late in the nineteenth century, J. W. Reed invented the rolling pin with handles connected to a center rod; this is similar to the tool we know today, and it prevents cooks from putting their hands on the rolling surface while shaping pastry. Reed invented new versions of the dough kneader and dough roller; his contributions are notable, not only because he eased the cook's tasks, but also because Reed was one of many African-Americans who developed and patented improvements to household items.
- Production of wooden rolling pins starts with the selection of the wood. Trees are selected by log buyers in approved forests, and are then cut and hauled to sawmills. There, they are sawn into squares of either 1.5 in (3.8 cm) or 2 in (5.1 cm); both sizes of squared wood are cut into lengths of 48 in (1.2 m). The square pieces are then kiln-dried.
- The prepared wood lengths are brought into the rolling pin plant and fed through a specialized machine called a hawker. The hawker produces a large, rounded dowel by taking off the corners of the squares and about 0.25 in (0.6 cm) of wood all around the length. The trimmed lengths are inspected. The 4 ft (1.2 m) length may be free of defects for its full length. If 3 ft (2.7 m) of the length are acceptable, the imperfect portion is trimmed off. These long, perfect lengths are called clear dowels and are sold to the dowel market primarily for use in furniture manufacture.
- The long dowels containing defects like knots, mineral deposits, or major color changes are clipped to appropriate lengths for rolling pins. The standard lengths are 12, 15, and 18 in (30.5, 38.1, and 45.7 cm, respectively); a high-quality large rolling pin can weight 12 lb (4.48 kg). Typically, one or two rolling pins of different sizes can be clipped from acceptable parts of the dowels. Shorter pieces than those suitable for standard rolling pins can be further trimmed in diameter and length and made into handles or mini rolling pins.
- From the clipping station, the rolling pin lengths are transferred to the next workstation, where they are deep bored with the holes that will hold the rods. The lengths are chamfered (machined with beveled or gently angled edges) and counter bored. The wood length is then considered to be completely machined and is termed a pin blank. Handles are shaped with a different woodworking machine. They are made from short lengths of wood and are turned on spool lathes to produce rounded, uniform handles.
- At the next station, the pin blanks and handles are given their fine outer finishes on a machine with motors and belts that is something like a sander capable of a series of tasks. The outer surface of the rolling pin (or handle) is sanded with two or more types of sandpaper, from a coarse 80-grit paper to a very fine 150-grit paper. The machine then waxes the surface and buffs it to an attractive polish.
- When the machining and treating of the wood is completed, the rolling pins and their handles are put on carts and taken to the assembly area. Until recently, the assembly work was done by hand, but it is now fully automated. The assembler inserts rods and ball bearings in the bores through the rolling pins and adds nylon bushings that will keep the rods centered in the pins. Wood handles are fitted on the rod ends, and the assembly machine taps the handles firmly in place.
- Labels are applied to complete rolling pins. Each is boxed in a pre-labeled box, and the boxes are packed into bulk cartons for storage or shipping to retailers.
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