Intro: Cherry & Resin French Rolling Pin
This entire project is an experiment. It ended with a spectacular cherry & resin french-style rolling pin, but the whole time I kept pushing the project to see what I could learn from it, not necessarily because I knew what I wanted in the end.
Step 1: Starting Out With Questions.
This is an offcutt from a huge cherry slab that I worked on last summer. When I cut this strip from the main slab, it separated right at the knot. I started to wonder if I could put it back together somehow, maybe with some resin to fill the gap.
After a long time of thinking about it, I decided if I could get it to hold together, it might make an interesting french rolling pin. And that idea presented its own set of questions. A french-style rolling pin doesn’t have an axle to roll around. It’s just a cylinder with tapered ends for handles. I figured if you’re pushing down on those tapered ends to roll out some dough, there has to be some amount of force acting on the seam, and I wasn’t sure if the resin bond would stand up to that over the lifetime of the rolling pin.
Step 2: Adding Strength
This step may have been unnecessary, but since this is all an experiment, I decided to join the two pieces together before filling the void with resin in order to add a lot of strength. This a lot like adding rebar in concrete.
After using the jointer to get one perfect 90 degree corner on both pieces, I could use the radial arm saw to make sure the ends were square. Then using my calipers and referencing off the flat faces, I marked were center would would eventually be on the first piece. Because of the funny surface I’m trying to drill into, I used a chisel to flatten it out some so the drillbit won’t try to wander around.
I used a clamp to help hold the board upright and perpendicular, then carefully drilled the hole with my drill press.
To find center on the second piece, I put a drillbit into the hole of the first piece. Then I used the fence of my radial arm saw to keep the 90 degree corners of each piece perfectly aligned while I tapped the point of the bit into the face of the second piece. Then with that center marked, I could make a flat spot again and drill out the hole.
I cut a dowel to length then checked the fit. Everything lined up right, so I glued the dowel into one side, wiped away any squeeze-out, and clamped it to the fence again. Then I added glue to the second hole, slid that piece onto the dowl and clamped it to the fence as well. My thinking was this would hold those 90 degree corners in line.
Step 3: Preparing for Resin
I set the fence up on my bandsaw so that board will be slightly taller than it is wide, this way I have a little overflow space when pouring the resin and can trim it square after the resin hardens.
The type of resin I like to use is Alumilite, and this stuff has such a short working time that it would start to set up before you could pull all the air bubbles out of it in a vacuum chamber. So instead you have to pressurize it, which compresses any existing air bubbles down so small that you can’t see them.
After taping off the cavity within the workpiece, I mixed up two small batches of resin - one in green and one in blue. Then I carefully poured them into the tape mold, then stuck the whole thing into my pressure tube and charged it up to 30 psi, which is the required pressure to shrink the bubbles in Alumilite.
Step 4: The Blank
I let the blank sit until the next day, and I was like a kid on Christmas morning when I went to open up the chamber. Even though I wrapped it tightly, and the resin cures quickly, I was still just a little nervous that the tape might have let go and I would find the whole thing permanently bonded to the inside of the pipe.
Well it turns out the tape held and the result was astounding. The blue and green colors I swirled together looked amazing, and the resin did a great job of filling up the space and bonding to the wood.
I used the bandsaw to cut away the excess and give me a square turning blank. Then I marked center on each end so I could mount it on the lathe. But before doing that, I trimmed away the corners using the bandsaw to save myself a little time.
Step 5: Lathe Time
The turning portion of this whole deal is probably the least interesting part. I just used a roughing gouge to bring the whole thing down to a long cylinder. I stopped frequently to check my progress, mostly because I was dying to see how that resin fill would look once it was round.
Once I was really close to having an even surface across the whole blank, I used some sandpaper glued to a flat board to even out any remaining high spots.
I measured and marked the cylinder for the handles, then turned the waste away at the very ends to give me room to work around the spur drive and tail stock. I trimmed the outside down to the desired diameter, then blended that point to the inner line in order to make the taper right.
Step 6: Fixing a Blemish
There was a small crack in the blank due to another knot, so I mixed up some epoxy then separately mixed in some blue and green coloring, then swirled them together to match the resin.
This in itself was another experiment. I was nervous that it wouldn’t match the resin very well and it would look funny. My wife didn’t tell me until afterward, but she thought this was going to be a bad idea and I should have just gone with clear epoxy. But now that it's finished, it has turned into one of her favorite little details about this piece.
Once the epoxy had mostly set up, I pulled off the tape that I had used to keep it from running all the way around, then I used a chisel to trim away the globs while it was still a little soft. I was afraid if I tried to start turning again with these big wings sticking out, I might get a catch and rip a bunch of the epoxy back out.
Step 7: Sanding and Polishing
I turned the epoxy back down to mostly even with the wood, then used sandpaper to fine-tune it. At this point the serious sanding began. If this was just wood, I would have sanded through 320, or maybe 400 grit.
However, since I was going to have to polish the resin portion, I sanded the entire thing through 1500 grit paper before moving on to wet sanding. The wet sanding was done using special polishing pads that start at 1500 grit and go to 20,000. I focused only on the resin portion, but there was no way to avoid getting the wood wet too. This left the resin glass smooth, and gave a good indication of what the finished wood would look like.
Step 8: A Food-Safe Finish
It would be easy to soak this thing in mineral oil and be done with it, but Alumilite is not FDA approved to be food safe. That doesn't mean it's harmful, just that its not officially safe. Fortunately, the same resin company makes a different product that is FDA approved. It is called Amazing Clear Cast, and unlike the Alumilite, it cures VERY slowly so that air bubbles can rise to the surface and pop on their own - meaning no pressure tube required.
I'm going to use this alternate type of resin as a finish to cover the entire pin in a thick protective layer that will be perfectly safe to use on food.
For the first round, I just wanted to put enough on to cover the hole thing with a skim coat, so it could soak into the wood if it wanted to, and let out any air bubbles that need to escape. I mixed a small batch in a cup then let it sit for a few minutes to let some air bubbles float to the surface and pop before brushing on that light layer.
Once I got it applied to the entire surface, I slowly slid the brush all the way from one end to the other at a consistent rate to try and make the most even surface possible. Then I just let the lathe turn at about 60 RPMs for the next few hours while the resin set up.
After about 8 hours I applied the second coat. The process was exactly the same as the first, but I put the resin on a little thicker this time because I wasn’t worried about air needing to escape from the wood anymore. At this point it is starting to look pretty spectacular, but there were just a few fine cracks in the wood that were soaking up more resin then I expected, so after 8 more hours, I went for one more coat.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
I very carefully trimmed the ends down as far as I dared without the whole thing jumping off the lathe and self destructing. Then, I switched to a little handsaw to finish the job. My little helper was eager to give me a hand, so he helped out with the second side.
The very last step was to gently clamp the rolling pin vertically in my bench vice and drop a little more resin on the end. I helped spread it around a little bit, then let it level itself out and start to set up for a few hours before flipping it over and doing the other end. After 10-12 hours this stuff seems like it’s hard enough to touch and not mark it up, but it really takes a full 48 hours to completely cure. So with 3 coats and 2 ends, it took almost a full week of finishing before it was finished
Step 10: Conclusion
I am really pleased with how this turned out, and my wife is even more so. We christened it by making pizza on the night that it was finally finished. That thick clear coat on top is very durable and so far nothing sticks to it. You could almost blow on it to clean everything off. It is so completely encased in a thick shell of resin that I wouldn’t be surprised it if was dishwasher safe at this point - but I’m not going to try it! Maybe I’ll make a test piece to put through the dishwasher for another experiment down the road.
The ONLY thing I am disappointed in is a result of my own negligence. When applying the top coats of resin, the second one dried perfectly flat and smooth, but there were a few cracks that prompted a third coat. That third and final coat ended up with a dimpled surface across the entire pin and it was driving me crazy trying to figure out what I had done wrong. It finally occurred to me that I went through the shop to get something while the surface was still wet and I must have stirred up some dust. I’m sure that the dust must have settled on the pin and each dimple in the hardened surface is a spot where dust fell. So the moral of the story is make sure you apply this stuff in a completely dust-free environment!
First Prize in the