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I grew up going to lumber yards and hardware stores with my backyard boat–building, woodworking Dad, an engineer and an inventor. From him, I learned that tools, tricks, and materials designed for one craft can be adapted to others. I’ve purchased trowels (typically used for smoothing plaster) to smooth frosting on cakes, and wooden mallets to break 10-pound blocks of chocolate. I once made tubular graham crackers by baking the dough around aluminum tubing.
My latest haul helps roll pastry or cookie dough to an exact thickness. For a total of about $6, I bought five wooden dowels—at 1/8, 3/16, 1/4, 5/16, and 3/8 inches in diameter, respectively, all 48-inches long—and cut them each in half, using garden clippers for thin dowels and a serrated knife or saw for thicker dowels. To roll dough evenly—say 1/4 inch thick—place a 1/4 inch dowel on either side of the dough, and roll it out with a straight (not tapered) rolling pin, until the ends of the pin are rolling against the dowels, no longer making the dough thinner.
You can buy a rolling pin with guides, or just some plastic guides, but the dowel hack is cheaper, and more sizes are available. You can store the dowels along the edge of a drawer, so they are out of the way but easily accessible. If you don’t have a straight rolling pin, you could even go back to the hardware store or lumberyard and ask for a 20-inch wooden dowel rod, which are thicker than dowels at 1.5 to 2 inches diameter, to use instead. Or just buy a rolling pin at one of the usual places!
One last secret: People who work in hardware stores and lumber yards are often creative thinkers. Explain what you are trying to do—and you’ll be surprised at the help you’ll get.
Do you use any hardware store tools in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments!