One of the earliest known tools for baking is the rolling pin. It likely goes back to the ancient Etruscans. Their use of the rolling pin has been documented in cave paintings and ceramic works. A seventeenth-century painting of a baker shows a rolling pin similar in design to those we use today in his hand.
In the late 1800s, J.W. Reed invented a rolling pin with a center rod attached to the handles. This allowed the cylinder to roll independently of the handles. This made it possible for the baker to roll out dough without touching it with his hands.
Various types of wood were used to make early rolling pins. Pine might have been used, as it is a softwood and easy to whittle. The ends might have been tapered or formed into the handles. In Italy, chilled wine bottles were used to roll pastry. The French preferred marble rolling pins used on a marble surface for rolling out buttery dough. In the U.S., wood was the material of choice until the mid-eighteenth century.
Today, solid hardwoods are used to produce rolling pins. Maple, walnut, and cherry are popular woods. Rock maple is a very hard, dense wood preferred by professional bakers and cooking schools. Other popular materials are glass, ceramic, and metal. These are often hollow and can be filled with cold water to keep pastry chilled as it is worked.
Rolling pins are produced in different sizes and with or without handles. The form of a rolling pin often indicates its function. Long, thin rolling pins made with tapered ends are used for pastry. Long rods without handles work well with pasta dough. Rolling pins with impressed designs are used to transfer the designs to cookie dough. Springerle is such a cookie.
Today rolling pins can be purchased with the handles designed in the form of acorns, beehives, and flames. Ergonomically designed ones that fit the fingers are also available.