A Short Course
in how to be an Historic Miller-Mill Operator
Should a finer or coarser quality be desired, this can be achieved by
varying the distance between the millstones by use of the tentering staff,
visible in the left foreground which connects to the bridge tree by the
brayer (not shown in this photo). Charlie said this setup was unusual, it
only the second mill he had ever seen that used a tentering staff or beam
and a series of wedges to adjust the millstones. The other mill that he
had seen that used this system of tentering the millstone was a mill in
Rye, New York.
02-0. Maintenance and Repair of the Mill
03-0. Operate Mill and Produce Flour and Meal
03-1. Grinding Different Grains
03-2. How to Grind Grain into Flour and Meal
04-0. Interpretation to the Public
05-0. Cleaning up the mill
We are going to do the impossible. Condense 7 years of apprenticeship training
into 3 Saturdays (or one short course). Some people talk of millers in the
sense of being artists, in that you are born to it. Sometimes your father
was a miller, or it ran in the family. Others have the idea that anyone
grabbed off the street can easily be taught to be miller. Because of this
attitude, some people give miller's very little respect which is unusual
because millers have been one of the pillars of the community. Traditionally
you learned to be a miller by becoming an apprentice, and then later there
were milling schools that taught milling science. Today milling groups and
mill societies have classes in England and Europe on learning to be a miller.
In England, specifically if you purchase a mill what do you do with it,
and in Holland a demanding training course in how to be a miller.
The three main objectives of this training are to learn how to:
Maintenance and Repair of the Mill
Types of water wheels.
A. Vertical water wheels.
Mill drives changed because of the introduction of metal, in the use
of shafts, gears, drives, and water wheels. Water turbines would have never
been developed if they were not made out of metal. With metal you can design
and build shapes that you cannot build out of wood. In the 1840's-50's and
towards the 1860's the millwrights became more of an installer of machinery
rather than completely fabricating everything within the mill with the exception
of the millstones. This means that the drive system of a water wheel mill
is different than that of a turbine powered mill. A mill driven with a Fitz
Water Wheel is like that of a turbine powered mill. Because of this a Fitz
Water Wheel can become more efficient that a water turbine.
A water wheel turns very slowly because of the structure and nature of the
wood. A water wheel can only turn so many revolutions per minute. This is
dependent upon the diameter of the water wheel, the larger the water wheel
the slower it turns. So to power the millstones using a water wheel the
gear ratios go up. This means that the water wheel turns at a much slower
rate than that of the millstones. The average gear ratio is twelve to one.
A water turbines turns as fast or faster than the desired speed of the millstones
along with most other machinery within the mill. So with a water turbine,
the gear ratios usually go down or you power down to obtain the correct
speed. A turbine powered mill usually only has gears to change the direction
of the power from vertical to horizontal or vice versa. The millstones and
other machinery is usually driven by drive belts.
Because the average wooden water wheel and gear system are made out of wood,
this means that it is still a living thing. It does not matter that it no
longer looks like a tree. It is still effected by seasonal and climatic
conditions. This means that if the miller never could go outside or look
outside, the machinery of the mill would tell him when the season change.
It is like a barrel hoop, sometimes of the year, every time you look at
the barrel a hoop has dropped to the floor. Then other times of the year,
you could not pry loose a hoop. This is the same way with the wooden wedges
that hold the gears in position. After a while you will learned when you
have to almost daily tighten the wedges and other times of the year they
don't have to be checked as often. Wedges should be replaced when they become
water logged because they will no longer hold tight, they will slip. If
they become broken, split or rotten they should be replaced. You should
only use a wooden mallet on wooden wedges. If you have a metal hammer, then
you should use a wooden pounding block between the wedge and the hammer.
Some wedges that have to hold tight all the time can be held in place with
a single nail driven into the shaft behind the back of the wedge. If you
are driving the wedge beyond where you once placed a nail then you need
to replace the wedge. If you feel that you need to place a nail in the wedge
to hold it tight, then drill a hole in the wedge. The wedges should be made
out of the same material as that of the water wheel and the gears.
The metal bands around the gear wheels should be checked to see if they
have slipped, and the shafts for rot, and decay. If you see mold growing
on the surface of the wood, that means that the roots have found their way
already deep into the wood. The problem may quickly become greater than
just surface rot. Use you pocket knife to check the wood of a shaft. If
the point of the knife blade sinks into the shaft like butter then you need
to replace the shaft. Many of the beams in the hurst or husk frame can move
by wedging to maintain alignment of the gears and the shafts. The gears
can be aligned on the shafts as well.
Traditionally wooden water wheels and shafts are made out of seasoned white
oak. Cypress wood can be used for the bucket boards. A wooden bearing can
lost longer than any metal bearing, as long as it is maintained and lubricated
properly. A wooden bearing should be basically hand tightened. If a wooden
bearing is tightened too tight, then it will overheat. If it is too loose
then the journal will wear the bearing hole larger or out of round. The
advantage of the wooden bearing over the wooden one is that the cell structure
of the wood becomes an additional reservoir for the lubricant. If a wooden
bearing becomes hot on the outside then you have problems often in the inside.
They should remain relatively cool on the outside. Sometimes wooden bearings
have metal or brass inserts. Wooden bearings are lubricated either by lifting
off the top bearing cover or by use of an oil hole. Some vertical shaft
bearings have a grease collar that gradually allows grease to find its way
into the journal shaft. Sometimes between both bearing halves there is a
gasket usually of cardboard material. The bottom bearing is either bolted
to the bearing support and or wedged in place. Wedging is often used to
align the bearing besides wedging the bearing support beam. Stone (usually
granite or soapstone), oak, osage orange or other woods can be used as bearing
Wooden gear teeth, staves or rungs and cogs are usually made out of rock
maple, hickory and apple wood. This is made of seasoned wood like that of
the water wheels, shaft and bearings. Often the wooden teeth are boiled
in raw linseed oil to impregnate the wood with lubricant and to harden the
surface. Using boiled linseed oil will not have the same desired effect.
If a wooden gear tooth is properly lubricated and aligned it can last 50
to 75 years. If it is not properly lubricated and aligned it can wear away
to uselessness in a single day. Lubrication can be anything even water.
Traditionally the lubricant used by millers was tallow. The problem with
using tallow is that it is made out animal fats, and it can turn rancid,
and attract insects and rodents. In the old nursery rhyme that went "Hickory
dickory dock the mouse ran up the clock." The reason that the mouse
ran up the clock was to gnaw on the wooden gear teeth to get the grease.
This is why when you find old clocks that still have their original gears
the gears have been thoroughly cleaned are not used. Petroleum grease should
never be used on wooden gears. The best lubricant to use on wooden gears
and bearings is lithium grease. It can come in grease cartridges so it can
be used in grease guns. Modern grease even comes in colors, it can be purchased
in a non-toxic form for foodstuffs, and can be purchased in a form that
is less likely to sling off with the turning motion of the gears. On wooden
gear teeth I like to used a mixture of raw linseed oil and graphite. Powdered
graphite that can be found in most hardware stores in little plastic tubes,
and the linseed oil can be purchased in various size cans or drums. You
heat the mixture just to bath temperature before applying. In time the old
and the excess forms a gel which can be scrapped off with out damaging the
Wooden gear teeth are held in place usually with wooden pins or dowel rods
inserted through holes in the back shank were it comes through the gear
housing. Gear teeth in great spur wheels are held in place with keys placed
in the back of the gear shanks. Wooden cogs on vertical gear wheels are
held in place by splitting the shank of the cog and expanding the shank
with a wooden wedge. Wooden cogs on horizontal wheels with the cogs facing
up can just be placed in the cog hole without wedges or pins. It is just
the horizontal wheel with the cogs facing down that need to be secured into
place. Sometimes a wooden tooth will come loose, or if it breaks you can
hear it. If you break one or loose one out of a gear wheel, you should be
able to continue operating the mill with one missing tooth depending upon
where it is located. If you have to replace a tooth or cog with a new one,
they will make the gear run rough until the new one(s) is worn down to the
condition of all the others. Sometimes it is easier just to replace them
all. Millers usually saved the old teeth to often replace the broken one
with an ready worn in one.
Wooden gear teeth and cogs should only show signs of wear on one side. If
you look at a set of gear teeth, one could tell the direction in which the
water wheel turns by just looking at the wear patterns. In the wooden gear
teeth of Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., the teeth of the
great spur wheel and wallower gear have wear on both sides. This is because
the gears and the teeth have been operated by the 1930's built breast shot
water wheel and then the replacement 1969-71 overshot water wheel, which
the entire system now needs replacement. The wooden gear teeth used in the
Burwell Morgan Mill restoration that came out of the nearby Jackson's Mill
were heavily scalloped on both sides (they had no shoulders) of the gear
teeth because they were worn out to begin with. For years they took this
to be the standard of gear teeth and would pay to have new ones made that
were already worn out to begin with.
Oliver Evans advocated the use of metal rungs or staves in lantern pinion
and wallower gears. A metal sleeve is used to replace the original all wood
rungs (which look like rolling pins when out of the gear wheels), and a
wooden dowel is inserted down the center that holds them in place. The Colvin
Run Mill, at Great Falls (Drainsville), Virginia, makes use of this application
in its 1972 restoration by a Canadian millwright and engineer Clifford Currie.
Mr. Currie also did the restoration of the Duff Roblins Mill in Black Creek
Village outside of Toronto, Canada, a five story Oliver Evans mill also
complete with a hopper-boy. The metal sleeves work much the same way as
slip cogs that are used to take a driven wheel out of gear. Smaller wooden
cogs often have the lead corners shaved off on a diagonal to eliminate the
break in wear time required for the gears to wear in smooth. This is fine
as long as one or two of them don't become loose and rotate to the exposing
the full shoulder of the cog which would cause it to bind. As long as the
gear wheels are aligned to each other, you should have more problems with
gear teeth and cogs coming loose (working their way out of the sockets and
falling out of gear) that ones that would break.
A hunting cog is an odd number of cogs in a gear wheel so that when they
rotate they will be always searching for a new series of slots or other
cogs to match up with. This is so they are not always turning in the same
cogs or teeth in the opposite gear and would cause wear patterns. Hunting
cogs create a more even amount of wear. Sometimes people have made gears
smaller to increase speeds or unknowingly eliminate the odd number of cogs
thinking that both wheels should have an even number. It is not always the
case and sometimes things are left better off alone. If you have to think
you have to make a gear wheel smaller to increase speed, then you have another
problem and it may be better to increase one wheel rather than decrease
another. If you change the diameter of a gear wheel then you also change
the pitch circles.
The water wheel bearing and gears should be lubricated each day that the
mill is operated. The millstone spindle bearing needs to be lubricated about
once in every three months, and should be checked and lubricated each time
the millstones are dressed. If you have bearings and gears on the upper
floor above the grinding level, then then need to be lubricated less often,
perhaps once a week.
Don't lubricate the wooden gears and cogs by turning on the water wheel
and holding out a brush or paddle and letting it rap against the teeth.
This is not an acceptable method of lubricating the gears. It is dangerous
and can have the same awful effect as trying to remove a moving belt with
a broom handle or the claw of a hammer. If you can't turn the gears and
the water wheel to get to the teeth that are meshed together, do what you
can do, and then turn the wheel some until the ones you missed become unmeshed
where you can get them. You can put oil into an oil hole in the bearing
when it is running but the best practices is to do all maintenance and lubrication
on the machinery when it is not in motion, and locked down for safety.
Number One Safety Rule: When you are going home for the day lock
the water wheel. If you are going to go work in the machinery, lock the
water wheel. If you are going to change operation from one millstone for
another, always have one of them engaged. If the water wheel is out of balance
or has standing water in it, you can cause serious damage to people and
the machinery if you suddenly disengage the millstone or lift up a millstone
off the spindle for dressing. if you are going to disengage the water wheel,
lift the runner stone and turn it over by hand to check for balance and
water in the buckets. As soon as you turn your back, if you have an external
water wheel visitors will climb inside or on top of the water wheel. If
it begins to turn some one can get seriously get hurt or killed. You should
always lock the wheel at night or when the mill is not in operation. Never
allow the water wheel to freely turn and idle.
This means that before you operate the mill each day, you should check the
water wheel for being in balance. Find a place were you can safely turn
the water wheel by moving its arms. If a water wheel is in balance and aligned,
it should be relatively easy to turn. The Fitz Water Wheel Company advertised
that a small boy could turn one of their water wheels by using a single
finger. If the bearings are too tight, then that can make it harder to turn.
Once you get it turning it should become easier to turn. If when you stop
the wheel it begins to turn in the opposite direction then it is out of
balance. The average wooden water wheel can weight 4 thousand pounds and
once it becomes water logged it can weight 10 thousand pounds. So an out
of balance water wheel can have a lot of power in it even without any water
in the buckets.
Meal bin sifters or country mill sifters, were used as the first mechanical
means of sifting or bolting. These sifters are mounted above a meal bin
found in the mill's basement. Originally they were operated by an eccentric
that was comprised of several pegs sticking out of the top of the millstone
lantern pinion and a hinged lever that moves the sifter screen back and
forth. The one end of the sifter can be adjusted higher or lower to aid
in the process of better sifting. Later these sifters were driven off of
leather belts from a pulley on the millstone spindle that turns a small
pulley and an eccentric that connects the head of the sifter box tray. The
lower tail end rests on a pin atop a wooden springs attached to the one
side of the meal bin. The tailings fall into a barrel, or sack hung under
the tail end of the sifter. The sifter screen usually contains a single
mesh screen that sifts the bran out of corn, or wheat. Several screens can
be used in the sifter screen and a box or container placed in the meal bin
for an additional separation. Such as unbleached white flour, wheat middlings
and wheat bran, or corn flour, grits, and corn bran.
Generally leather belts in a mill are not fixed by the miller or his helper
until they break or just will no longer stay on the pulleys. Modern belt
dressing can be purchased in tubes or spray cans. Traditionally the millers
mixed flour with linseed oil and used that as belt dressing. Up until around
1900-10, millers hand laced the leather belting with leather lacing. After
that metal or alligator clips, and wire staples were used. Use what is period
appropriate for your mill's time period. The alligator clips are placed
into the belting with a hammer and the wire stapled are placed into the
leather with a lacing machine. Leather belting can also be glued together.
My experience is that leather lacing is stronger and breaks less often.
Several reasons leather belts will no longer stay on the pulleys is when
the belt becomes stretched, you suddenly jerk the machinery (by suddenly
starting or stopping it), or when the pulleys become out of align to each
other. Generally the gears or cog wheel on the upper floors are the only
ones that can be engaged or disengaged without stopping the machinery. Any
drive gears in the mill's basement can't take the sudden load of being engaged
while the machinery is turning. In later mill setups you find clutches on
line shafts that are meant to be engaged or disengaged while the mill is
For safety reasons never stand on the edge of the hurst or husk frame, or
climb into it when the water wheel or gears are turning or operating. Never
allow visitors to do so even for that once in a lifetime photo. If some
part of the machinery needs attention stop the mill first. Never climb on
a ladder near moving machinery or get near it with loose clothing. A mill
has a lot of power behind the machinery, and it does not care or discriminate
between grinding grain or people. If something is about to break do not
be afraid to tell all visitors to exit the mill. They have no right to be
inside of the mill if their life suddenly becomes in danger. Sometimes gears
can fail were it is better that everyone exit the mill and the miller returns
to pick up the pieces after the damage is done.
The late James Lockhart and Hal Hodge built a grist mill in Silver Dollar
City, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, using six pieces of metal that were welded
together to form a driver. The wedges on the driver broke, before the mill
operator could get the mill stopped the millstones started to suck the pieces
in between the millstones. This caused the runner millstone to jump the
spindle and destroying the millstone cover, several pieces of machinery
and going through a 14 inch square log wall before coming to rest outside
of the mill.
Note read my web page entitled:
Operation and Maintenance of a Traditional Wooden Water Wheel.
Learn the following skills:
Operate Mill and Produce Flour and Meal
In demonstrating the operation of the mill often one must make some
modern sacrifices for the sake of historical accuracy. Grain is no longer
brought to the mill by farmers in costume with horse and wagons. Mills have
modern intrusions such as electrical lighting, sales and information desks,
exhibits and displays, safety barriers and fences, handrails, exit signs
and fire fighting equipment. All one can try and do is create the feelings
of the past, and demonstrated in the best way as one can show how it was
done. Most mills are not restored or operate to do real first person interpretation.
In the majority of mills what is done is costume or third person interpretation.
Because of modern health standards or considerations grain often finds it
way into an historical mill from a modern mill where it is cleaned and placed
in a sealed paper sacks. The miller should always open the sack and inspect
it visually before it is poured into the hopper or the mill's system. Flour
and meal keep better as grain. Flour, meal and grain keep better when stored
in a refrigeration or preferably a freezer unit. Very few restored historic
mills have the luxury of having a walk in freezer unit to store the grain
and ground product.
There are two schools of thought on how you should start a mill. On involves
placing the grain the millstone hopper. First raise the runner millstone
as far upward as it will go on its linkage. Then turn on the wheel, and
wait for the water wheels, gears and millstones go begin to pick up speed,
you slowly lower the runner stone down to adjust the stones for the desired
grind. By this time grain should have worked its way between the two millstones,
and the stones can be slowly brought closer to each other to adjust the
grind. The other also involves having placed the grain in the millstone
hopper. The millstones are together and then you turn on the water onto
the wheel, when you gradually raise the runner stone every thing should
begin to turn and once it reaches the desired speed the millstones are adjusted
for the desired grind.
There are several schools of thought on how one should stop the mill. One
method involves shutting off the flow water to the wheel, and when it begins
to slow down you raise the runner stone. When the water has emptied itself
from all of the buckets the wheel should stop and the two millstones can
then be placed together. A second method is just to turn off the water to
the wheel and allow the mill to grind to a halt. Then the runner stone can
be raised to clear out the remaining water from the wheel. Still another
method is to push an extra handful of grain into the millstones and gradually
bring them together. The added weight of the two stones coming together
with a cushion of grain between them should over take the weight of the
water and stop the mill. The last method puts more strain on the gears and
but is the best method of stopping the mill quickly. It is used to quickly
stop the mill is someone is caught in the machinery or by millers doing
off and on demonstration of grinding. If the gear teeth are worn too much
it can snap them like match stick but it someone is caught in the machinery
you take that risk.
The miller uses his sense of smell, sound and touch to adjust the grain
for grinding. If the millstones begin to smell from over heated stone, either
their is not enough grain going between the millstones or they are out of
balance. Overheated meal and flour burns up the gluten with allows the bread
to rise. The miller does not want to place to much pressure upon the grain
because it might loosen the oil out of germ and release it into the flour
which would quickly cause it to turn rancid. Flour meal should come out
of the millstones only slightly warm, and not overheated or hot. If the
grain has too much moisture in it, it will tend grind overheated or excessively
Grinding Different Grains
The grinding of each type of grain is different and requires different
skills and knowledge. The amounts of dust and smells from each type of grain
is different. Generally millers say it takes no great experience or ability
to grind corn into meal. Usually any way that you grind it, some how it
will still make corn bread. It takes real skill upon the miller part to
grind wheat and other grains. The following chapters provide so information
about each type of grain that is ground in mills.
1. Buckwheat. Dutch and German settlers brought buckwheat to New
Amsterdam in 1626. Buckwheat is an herb which black triangular seeds are
used as a cereal grain. Since it is an herb it has no gluten which caused
bread to rise, and it is mainly used to make pancakes, Japanese noodles
and French crepes. The Russians use buckwheat to make a distinctive black
beer. Buckwheat is natures highest source of protein in the plant kingdom,
even more than soy beans. Buckwheat has a black hull or covering to the
seed or groat. The hull is a non digestible food stuff and is used to stuff
Japanese dolls and pillows, and as ground cover by hunters when they set
traps to cover or mask their scent, and mulch. Often buckwheat is hulled
before it is ground to removed the hulls. The raw seeds are roasted and
then the groats is used to make kasha. Buckwheat grows best in very rock
and poor soils often where other grains will not grow. It actually improves
the soil and then allows other things to grow. When the pioneers often first
cleared the ground, they would first plant buckwheat. Buckwheat by its nature
does not like heat or warm weather. So buckwheat is mainly grown in New
York, Pennsylvania, parts of Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.
Buckwheat also requires bees to pollinate the flower. The top of the plant
covered with heart shaped triangular leaves is a pinkish white flower. Buckwheat
seeds are bitter and the honey it produces is dark and think like black
strap molasses so not everyone likes it. It is often called the poor man's
crop, because sometimes you don't get as much back from a field as to what
it takes to plant it. When you order buckwheat to mill make sure you tell
the supplier that you want buckwheat for mill and not the buckwheat seeds
that have been treated for planting. The seed planting buckwheat has a pinkish
covering to it. Buckwheat is very dusty when it is ground and requires finer
screen than what would be used to grind whole wheat or corn meal. It basically
needs a 32 mesh screen to sift out the silkily grayish flour. The dust from
buckwheat is not explosive like that of wheat, rye, oats and barley. It
is used to produce buckwheat flour, buckwheat cereal or cream of buckwheat,
buckwheat middlings and buckwheat hulls.
2. Rye. Rye is also very dusty when it is ground and it has a distinctive
smell to it. The problem with mills grinding rye is the fungus called ergot.
It has basically the same chemical composition as LSD, even after it is
ground and baked into bread. The fungus is purple in color when it is immature
but when it matures it becomes the same color as the rye seeds. It is also
the same size and shape as the rye so it is hard to distinguish from the
rye kernels. Whole towns in Germany and France have flipped out on eating
contaminated or rotten rye bread. This is what may have caused the girls
of Salem to trip out and make others think they are witches. Rye can be
ground into whole rye flour, much like whole wheat with the rye bran is
sifted out. There is dark rye flour or meal, the lighter being sifted like
white wheat flour. Rye is also ground with wheat to produce Bohemian rye
flour. Pumpernickel is the part of rye known as middlings, this is used
to make pumpernickel bread, and contains the most gluten which would make
the best bread. This dark rye flour got its name during the Napoleonic Wars,
it is said one day when Napoleon walked into a German bakery. Napoleon picked
up a handful of this course grayish meal and asked the German bakers what
are you going to do with this? A German baker answered, "We are going
to make bread out of it." Napoleon came back with the remark, "Why,
this is not fit to feed my horse!" You have to remember that French
bread is white, and the French said the heck with rye breads because of
the problems ergot. Napoleon's horse was named Nicholl, the word pumpernickel
means "Not fit to feed Nicholl." Rye bran is much easier to digest
and has a much more mild taste than that of wheat bran, it melts in your
3. Soft Wheat. Wheat that is grown in the eastern United States is
mainly referred to as soft wheat or English wheat. In New England the soils
are very rocky and poor. The New Englanders did not like wheat. They also
had problems in growing wheat, and they preferred rye over wheat. When they
made corn bread they made something called "rye and injun," which
was made out of corn meal and rye flour. New Amsterdam was a early flour
milling center when the Dutch controlled it. Wheat grown in New York State
did not make good bread, because of the wet climate. It rains too much and
it effects the gluten levels in the wheat. So then wheat grown in Virginia
was superior for making breads. This is why the Shenandoah Valley became
the bead basket of the South. Early wheat flour milling centers of the United
States were along the Erie Canal in Rochester, the Brandywine, Wilmington,
Ellicott City, Georgetown, Occoquan and Richmond. Richmond was the largest
flour milling center in the United States up until the time of the American
Civil War. English wheat or soft wheat is low in gluten and high in white
endosperm. It makes a good white or pastry flour but actually makes a poor
bread flour. It can easily clog chutes and screens if the moisture level
is too high.
Miller's for centuries have tempered and conditioned the wheat before they
ground it. They would place it into a bin and sprinkle water on it. Then
they would turn it over once and a while in a period of 24 to 72 hours.
What tempering and conditioning does for the wheat is that it toughens up
the bran so when they grind the wheat, the bran comes off in a larger flake.
So the bran is not as brittle and does not break itself in to fine particles
which would become harder to sift out. There were some mills built in central
to eastern Pennsylvania that were built just to produce pretzel flour, and
when the pretzel bakeries closed down so did some of the mills.
The wheat middlings is also known as ship biscuit or red dog, because it
was used to make ship's biscuits and it is reddish brown in color. Ship's
biscuits were effected by moisture and would become buggy or wormy on ship
voyages. The problem being that it contained the part of the wheat, the
wheat germ that most attracted insects and it turned rancid very quickly.
Red dog was named for a Native American Indian Chief named Red Dog who agreed
to take all of the middlings a New England miller could supply them with.
Originally the wheat middlings and bran were termed as offals. Offal to
get rid of and often they threw them into the creek. It was not until about
the time of the American Civil War did millers think to use these ingredients
to make animal feeds.
4. Hard Wheat. Hard wheat was brought to the western plans of the
United States and Canada by the Mennonites in the 1860's from the Ukraine.
It was used to make dark peasant breads. The wheat is meant to be grown
in an arid climate. This wheat is a hard wheat which contains very little
endosperm but a higher amount of gluten which makes it a better bread flour.
The bran from hard wheat is also stronger and more bitter to the taste than
that of soft wheat. It is harder to grind on non French millstones and was
one of the reason that roller mill grinding became a better alternative.
The roller system turned this inferior wheat into a superior white wheat
flour. Hard wheat is mixed with soft wheat to make all-purpose flour because
it is good for both purposes, that of making bread and for the making of
5. Barley. Barley is mainly ground into flour and meal in Scotland,
Ireland, and parts of eastern Canada. Barley flour is mainly used as a thickener
in soups and as a porridge. Barley is pearled before it is ground which
means the bran is rubbed off. Also in these parts of the world, oats are
ground in mills.
6. Oats. Often like mills build in New York State just to grind buckwheat,
many mills were built only to grind oats. Oats suffer from moisture problems
in milling and with the stored product. The big problem with oats is the
terribly indigestible hull which had to be removed before grinding or sometimes
afterwards in the sifting. Rabbits won't even use it for bedding. The hulls
from oats is worse than corn bran in that it also tares up your insides.
Oat mills were built with separate kilns which heated the oats to crack
open the hull, so it could be removed using a pair of hulling stones. Oats
is used to grind oat flour, oat meal, and only recently oat bran has become
popular. Oats were milling in Ohio for German immigrants. They discovered
that if oars were rolled by using rollers made out of French millstone material
it eliminated the problems with moisture. The common rolled or steel cut
oats is oats that have been flatten on a pair of roller mills which greatly
destroys the nutritional value of the oat meal and therefore it is mainly
eaten for its fiber. The fiber eaten in oat meal is similar to the fiber
found in cardboard. Oat meal made upon millstones has a superior taste and
flavor to it as compared to commercially produced oat meals. Mills can also
grind rice, millet, soy beans, peas, and other grains.
7. Corn. The word "corn" is the European and English
generic word to describe all grains, mainly wheat, rye, oats and barley.
They call what we know as corn, maze. In England and Europe corn is not
widely grown or used as a food by people or animals. So in England a traditional
corn mill would grind anything but what we know as corn. The two wars, the
American Revolution and the War of 1812, American made a conscious effort
to separate ourselves from all things English. So about this time what was
commonly referred to as maze to American became know as corn. A common mistake
in reading an early document that makes reference to a "corn mill"
is often interpreted to mean a mill that grinds corn or maze, but in fact
is like an English corn mill that may grind anything and everything but
corn or maze.
Corn has no export value, it does not keep for long periods, and was mainly
ground by custom mills. The type of corn that is ground into corn meal is
field corn. In the North they prefer the yellow corn, and in the South they
prefer the white corn. In the North they commonly say that they use the
yellow corn and the corn that was not good enough to turn "yellow"
they feed to the animals. Corn did not become a popular food staple in the
South until the American Civil War. Basically the soldiers got the white
wheat flour and the people who remained at home got the brown flour or corn
meal. In central and eastern Pennsylvania, the local custom is to roast
the corn before it is milled in a peanut roaster. This gives it a very nutty
aromatic favor to it. Corn is very difficult to digest and cows mainly eat
it for roughage. Corn is milled into bolted and unbolted corn meal, grits,
and corn flour. Corn bran is fed to the chickens, because it is too coarse
and rough for humans to eat. Hominy corn is made by soaking the corn in
lye water which dissolves the outer bran covering and changes the chemical
composition of corn to make it more easily digestible by humans. The original
source of lye was wood ashes as used in making lye soap which could not
have made it very attractive before processed lye was used. Not all corn
will pop, it is a specially grown corn that pops.
How to Grind Grain into Flour and Meal
The first step is to decide what type of grain that you are going to
grind. If your mill only grinds corn then that is an easy decision to make.
You should grind the oldest grain that you have in the mill first. One reason
to buy grain from modern mills that clean it before hand, and seal it up
into 50 pound paper sacks is that it becomes easy to date each sack as to
when it was received in the mill. Eared corn used in corn shelling demonstrations
will become buggy the quickest. It should be stored in metal containers
like garbage cans preferable in the mill but in an out building away from
where the grain is stored that is ground during demonstrations. Soft wheat
seems to be the next one that seems to go buggy, then corn, hard wheat and
finally buckwheat. Storage time depends upon temperature. During the summer
months you simply order and keep less grain in the mill than what a mill
would have on hand in the fall, winter and spring. Most of the grains ground
in the mill would be ground during the three months of fall, winter and
spring. Most visitors would think of visiting an old mill during theses
three season like they would think more about using it in the kitchen.
The Master Miller checks the quality of the ground meal emerging from
the spout opening in the "stone case,:" the circular wooden frame
surrounding the working pair of millstones. A top the stone case is the
"horse" or "hopper ladder," a four-legged wooden Frame
which holds in position the "hopper," which feeds the grain into
the "shoe," a tapering wooden trough through which the grain is
feed into the stones. The ground meal exits the stones by way of a "spout"
or "chute" into the "meal bin."
The ideal thing is for the miller to know his grain. Open each sack before
it is ground before hand, and then tie it closed until it is ground later
that day. You don't want to pour a sack of grain in the millstone hopper
to grind it, and have visitors notice bugs crawling in it. So the miller
should inspect the grain daily during the warm summer months and once a
wheel during the rest of the year.
Once you start operating the mill, the grain will begin to fall into the
eye of the millstones. You have to grind about 20 to 25 pounds or what ever
amount it takes to lay a bed of ground meal around the millstones underneath
the cover for a regular flow to come out the millstone chute. If the millstones
are too close together and there is not enough grain between the millstones
you will smell the stones getting hot. There is also the difference in the
sound of the grain getting ground, and the stones rubbing together. If the
mill slows down you may have the stones too close together or the feed too
heavy. Operating a mill is like operating a machine in a machine shop. You
have "speed," the amount of water going over the wheel. The idea
being that the more water you have, the more grain you can ground, and the
less water the slower it will grind. Second you have "feed," this
is the amount of grain that you have going into the millstones. It does
not work like the more grain you have going into the stones the more you
will grind and the less you have the less you grind. The feed is a balancing
factor, between speed and the final factor being "cut." Cut is
the distance between the millstones that determines how course or fine you
are grinding the grains. If the millstones are at a set distance apart,
you can only put so much grain between that space, with out increasing the
speed. If you do, then you will over load the millstones and they will choke
down much like a car gets too much gas. The same is true if they get too
little grain, they will over speed and not allow the grain to get properly
ground and tend to come out unground or mixed with cut or pieces of whole
Added to the balancing act of grinding with millstones besides how much
grain you want to grind in a set period of time, is the problems of moisture.
Too little and too much moisture will effect the mills ability to grind
the grain correctly. Then if the millstones are not dressed properly or
are dull, then it take more labor and strain to grain the grains. You can
tell this by looking at the bran, if the stones need dressing or not. Millstones
that need dressing with tare the bran rather than scrapping it off in a
nice flake. If every time you turn around, you have to readjust the stones
to maintain the same grind, then the millstones needed balancing and leveling.
If the millstones are out of balance you will hear the runner stone hitting
the bottom millstone as it rotates. Normally if the stones are in balance
and level, then they should be run all day without having to tend to them
as long as they are given the water and the grain. If the millstones are
out of balance when they strike each other they can send a shower of sparks
that can ignite the dust in the flour. They also can suddenly begin to reduce
the grit of the stone into the flour. Normally when millstones are dressed
they much be purged to remove the stone chips by grinding 50 to 75 pounds
of grain that is then thrown away.
One of the things that the student miller has to learn how to do is listen
in the back of his head to the machinery while they are interacting with
the public. A real miller would not have this problem. However, the miller
in an historical mill has to learn a greater variety of skills beyond the
milling of grain and producing flour and meal.
The miller always has to listen to the speed of the millstones. The sudden
speeding up of the stones means that less grain is going into the millstones
which usually means the volume of grain moving from the hopper to the shoe
is running low. The sudden slowing down of the millstones may mean a change
in the moisture content of the grain or some visitor has changed the feed
without you noticing. The smell of the millstones means that less grain
is going into the stones and they are getting hot, or the millstones are
out of balance and they are rubbing together. The millstone spindle bearing
if it is too tight around the spindle or not lubricated with slow down the
millstones. Then also if it is out of grease then it wall cause the stones
The miller some times has to make makeshift repairs. The leather strip that
holds the bottle weight may break or the bottle weigh come off. The crook
string may break or come off of the twist peg or miller's willow. I have
had the miller's willow even break. Sometimes the damsel may come off the
balance rynd, and you have to get the stones stopped before it gets sucked
between the stones. Even the mill chute that connects to the millstones
on the underside in the basement may come loose in time. Anything can happen.
It is like having an old car, sooner or latter you will have to replace
If you are grinding soft wheat with too much moisture with can clog around
underneath the millstones cover and stop the flour coming down the chute.
The sifters or bolters can over load and not sift properly, and suddenly
you get more tailing out that what you normally want. Chutes can clog from
the webs of miller's moths as the ground meal starts to collect and stop
the flow. If the shelled corn has pieces of corn cob in it, then you might
want to stand at the hopper and pick out the pieces of corn cobs. The same
might be the case if the grain has other types of grain mixed in it or pieces
of sticks or stock. I have been to a seven story commercial flour mill in
Ohio that was built in 1874. One of the owners of the mill was proud to
show the newest piece of mill machinery they had recently added at that
time. A stoner, a machine that removes stones from the wheat. We stood there,
and ever few seconds another stone would shoot out of the machine, and fall
into one of the two buckets underneath the machine. I asked him what did
you do before you got this machine? He did not have an answer, because the
stones got ground into the flour. This may be fine to add a few more minerals
to a mill that grinds 125 to 600 thousands pounds of wheat every 24 hour
period, but not a good practice to allow visitors to witness foreign matter
mixed in with the grain get ground in a demonstration mill. Basically in
a large modern merchant mill, there is no one watching the wheat all the
time as it flows into the milling system to catch any foreign matter mixed
in the wheat. The basic approach you take with visitors is that because
demonstration mill grinds a small limited amount, you can take more care
in the grinding of the grain, bagging the product and in cleaning than in
a commercial milling operation. In a commercial milling operation that runs
24 hours a day, they do some regular daily cleaning but to fully clean the
entire mill they have to do a total shut down. The millstone hopper should
have covers to protect the grain from visitors touching it or from contamination.
The miller uses what is commonly known as the "miller's touch"
to judge the quality of his grind. Even in a modern mill instruments can't
completely replace the miller. The miller catches a hand full of ground
material in his open hand. He first closes his hand and then opens it. If
it falls through his fingers like sand, then there is too little moisture
in the grain. If it holds together like it is made out of clay, then there
is too much moisture in the grain. It should somewhat clump together and
break apart in his open palm. The miller next then rubs some of it between
his thumb and index finger to just the coarseness or fineness of the grind.
Then finally he spreads it back and forth with his index finger across the
open palm of the other hand to examine the particle size and shape of the
bran. It the millstone need dressed the miller can tell that by how it grinds
and looks in his hands.
The old saying amongst millers is that when you grind wheat flour to judge
the quality of the grind, it should be as soft as rubbing your two fingers
around your ear lobe. And to grind corn meal it should feel as rough as
the bottom of your big toe. The ground grain should only feel slightly warm
to the touch or lukewarm, and not over heated or hot. You should not operate
the millstones with too much pressure upon the grain. If there is too much
pressure it can cause the oil in the germ to be released into the flour
and cause it to quickly turn rancid. Just as burnt flour will not rise if
the gluten is burned up or over heated.
Perhaps one of the best methods to learn how to mill flour, is to go out
and purchase a similar bag of stone ground flour or meal that you think
is good quality. Open the bag and try to grind the same texture and quality
with the mill as in the sample of one you admire. In time you should be
able to grind and sift flour that visitors could not distinguish from the
one that you purchased. This can be done for one of the grades of sifted
flour and so then you would also learn what the missing grades of flour
would look like as well. If your unbleached white flour and bran looks like
the commercial grades, then your middlings should also be similar to the
grade you are missing. Save the samples of the various grades (in tubes
or jars) that you think is of good quality to show to visitors and for later
Why do mills appeal to us? It is because you get immediate results. The
farmers take love and care in plowing their fields, sowing in their seeds,
and waiting for the right time to harvest the grains. The miller puts love
and care into maintaining the machinery of his mill, and how he dresses
the millstones. Them the farmer brings his grain to the mill to have it
ground so he can take it home to his family. As soon as, the warm ground
meal or flour falls out of the millstones chute upon the miller's open hand,
the miller, he knows right then and there, if it is going to make good bread
or not. He already knows before the farmer takes it home to his wife. A
child you have to wait 20 years or so to discover if it is going to turn
out good or not. This is what the miller knows in an instant. If the miller
tells you to take this home and it will make good bread, he knows what he
is talking about.
The saying goes, "Mills and wives are always wanting." Mills make
terrible masters, and require constant attention. The more a mill is operated,
the more it is maintained, and in the long run you should have less problems
with it. If you restore a mill the best policy is to run the heck out of
it. It is when you start operating a mill intermittently or on an off on
basis is when you develop problems with it. Mills that operate once a month
or once a year for a special event or festival can't generally have all
wooden water wheels and gearing.
First of all you need to feel comfortable operating the machinery. The visitors
can sense if you are afraid of the machinery. Don't get so involved with
interacting with the visitors that you ignore the machinery. If you can't
talk to visitors, along with being able to stand there bagging flour and
keep the mill foremost in your mind, then you need someone to stand there
and interpret the mill for you. If something is wrong or about to break
with the machinery, the mill comes first. You have to be able to interpret
your conversation or interpretation to attend to the mill. This is part
of demonstrating the operation of a mill is to start and stop it as needed.
Don't allow disaster to happen and the machinery to break down for the sake
of interpretation. If the visitors are interested they will wait until you
stop the mill.
Mills are operated by the miller's use of his senses, of sight, sound, smell,
touch, and vibration. The miller should know by using his sight if gears
are turning out of round to the shaft or not properly aligned to each other.
If a belt is about to jump off, or if the elevator cups have jammed. The
miller can only use his powers of sight on the floor in which he is located
at the time. To sense the operation of on the other floors, the miller has
to use his senses of sound and vibration. If a miller is located on one
floor of a mill with four levels of turning machinery, he should be able
to know when something is wrong on another floor. Even in the miller is
taking to a room full of 50 to 75 visitors, it becomes like an alarm clock
going off in his head. The mill when it is operating, and every thing is
the way it should be, it should make very little noise. It is an old wives
tale that mills are noisy. Mills and the machinery makes a noise when there
is a problem that is how it tells you there is something wrong. In reality
the miller should be able to turn the mill on and go to sleep. If something
requires his attention then the alarm clock in his brain when the slightest
change occurs with the machinery.
If the millstone hopper begins to get low, the miller should know by using
is senses of sound, the gears and the water wheel begin to speed up because
there is less resistance between the millstones. Visually the gears should
start turning faster and less ground material begins to come out of the
chute. The millstones with less grain between them should begin to smell
because they are heating up. These are signs or warning for the miller to
stop what he is doing, and either add more grain to the hopper or stop the
If the millstones should run empty, bad things can happen. One of them being
that the water wheel and the gears can over speed, and the cogs and gear
teeth break like match sticks. Second the millstones will no longer have
grain going between them and they loose their natural heat distribution.
The turning millstones so close together with no grain can build up enough
heat to cause them to crack or burst apart.
Usually the miller, or mill operation make the best mill interpreter. They
know the mill, inside and out, and how the grain is ground. When I walk
into a mill and hear the miller say something to the effect that, "The
rocks mash up the grain into flour," he does not really know what happens
or just does not care what he tells visitors. Any good miller should know
that the grain does not get mashed up between two stones or rocks.
You should have two people, within the mill if it is the miller and his
helper or another person. Both individuals should know how to start and
stop the mill for safety reasons. A miller takes a big risk in operating
the mill when he is the only staff member on duty that day. For the safety
of the miller and the visitors.
Note read my web page entitled:
Art of the Millstones, How They Work.
Weights, as used in regulating grinding with millstones.
& Meal Products from Historic Mills.
Health Practices for the Operation of Historic Grist Mills.
Learn the following skills:
Interpretation to the Public
Interpretation to the Public:
The first think that I feel that I need to mention to the student miller,
is that don't allow the public to realize that you may be afraid of the
machinery. If you don't feel comfortable operating the machinery, then you
have no business there operating the mill and interpreting it to the public.
Second, is that you should not be afraid to say to someone that I just don't
know the answer to that one. Not everyone knows everything. One reason that
I have such a large milling reference library is that a person can't keep
it all in their heads, and you have to leave some space for other things.
If you feel that you have to provide answers to all questions, take their
name, address, phone number and e-mail address. Then simply say I will get
back to you when I find the answer to that one or when I find someone who
does know the answer. Don't make up answers to questions you don't know
or take credit for things that you had no hand in. Finally don't allow the
public to dictate when and how you will run the mill, the mill should have
standards and guidelines by which it is operated. Only the miller know the
mill and its machinery best. The pubic does not know the condition of the
machinery, what needs repaired and what needs to be done to it before it
can operate. If this starts to happen the next thing to go is safety.
Space, the miller needs space to run, operate and bag products. The miller
needs to maintain a certain amount of space for health standards and for
visitor safety. The visitors need to move through the mill and the miller
needs the space to be able to move quickly up and down steps without having
to push visitors out of the way.
An expert on mills and milling, the late Charles Howell was always willing
to share his extensive knowledge with visitors to Philipsburg Manor, Upper
Mills, Sleepy Hollow, New York.
The miller's basic program if it is 15-20 to 30 minutes in length, it is
basically the same program if shortened to 5 to 10 minutes in length. I
have always felt that the basic program was the school program, and the
normal visitors were just getting another version of that. Have a set or
established program, something written out, has an outline, lesson plan
or a written narrative. Don't ramble along in talking to visitors. I basic
program should also include the demonstration and operation of the mill.
Subjects of miller's program can be about the following:
Cleaning up the mill
There are two types of mill clean up. The first one is for daily demonstrations.
This clean up should be if at all possible a "dry" cleaning. Continuous
wetting or washing of the bins, chutes, paddles, etc., may cause them to
warp and crack. The daily operation of the mill should only require a dry
cleaning. You are basically grinding a dry product and water may wash small
particles into cracks which could later cause problems with insects and
rodents. You may only wash or wipe off counter or table tops with a damp
rag or sponge. The second type of cleaning which is "wet" is one
that is brought about because of a flood event. So normally a mill should
only be cleaned with soap, water and disinfectant when it is flooded or
at the beginning or end of a season.
Some mills demonstrate the bagging of grain products where it comes out
of the system into a bin. Others bag it up into sacks or containers (perhaps
even a flour barrel), and bag it out later out of view of the public. This
is sometimes done for historical integrity. A mill may do costume interpretation
but may sell products in modern paper sacks and or family size containers.
Some mills bag the products up out of view of the public so it won't be
contaminated. Still others may bag the products up at a sales or information
desk counter. The problem with bagging it up in other areas, is that you
have to increase you clean up involvement, and it spreads out the grain
particles to more areas where it could attract insects and rodents. From
all studies I have made, you sell more flour where it comes out of the system
and is bagged on the spot. However, organizations regulations differ in
mixing interpretation time with the sales of a souvenir product.
Some people think that you don't have to teach someone how to clean.
They feel it comes natural to everyone like breathing. You have to instruct
the staff and volunteers in how the mill should be cleaned to meet health
regulations and to maintain good housekeeping. Another issue is do you do
interpretation while you are cleaning? It depends upon the site, if you
do living history, you may not want to do cleaning with electric vacuum
cleaners because it may destroy the historical integrity. Still if you are
constantly stopping to answer visitor questions, and go and sell flour then
it just takes longer to clean up. This is another reason that it is helpful
not just for safety reasons to have two staff people, one person can clean
while the other one deals with the public.
Don't create so many regulations it no longer becomes fun or a learning
experience for staff members, volunteers and the visitors.
Note read my web page entitled:
Health Practices for the Operation of Historic Grist Mills.
Tools and materials for (dry) cleanup:
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Copyright 2001 by T.R. Hazen.