Tools Part II – Grain Mills

Sharon March 18th, 2008

Ok, if you are storing a lot of grain, you are probably going to want something to grind it with – and something better than the manual coffee mill that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family used in _The Long Winter_.  They pretty much had to spend all their time grinding their wheat to eat – you probably don’t want to do that.

 So you’ll probably want a grain grinder, and probably one that works without power, so that you can use it even in a crisis.  If you want an electric mill too, for daily grinding, the only one I have any personal familiarity with is The Whisper Mill, which I’m told is the quietest of the bunch (although it sounds like elephants trumpeting, so take that for what it is worth ;-) ), which several people I know recommend.  But this is third hand knowledge – we have a manual grain grinder and use it almost daily, and don’t mind not having an electric.  I rather enjoy grinding grain.  Note, however, that we have a strong healthy household with lots of kids who think it is fun to give the grinder some turns.  Not everyone has that, and they might want to look into an electric for everyday use.  It is also sometimes possible to electrify a mill – or even hook one up to an exercise bike.

Note – I have absolutely no connection to any of the companies listed here, with the exception listed below and benefit in no way from these sources (again, with one exception).  I also don’t swear these are the cheapest sources, just the cheapest I happened to find.  Please do your own research.

But I do think everyone who stores large quantities of whole grains other than rice should probably have a manual grain grinder.  Which one depends on how often you are going to use it, how much money you have, what grains you are storing and your state of health and upper body strength.  Here is a link to a review of most of the grain grinders mentioned here: http://waltonfeed.com/self/grinder.html.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything they say, but they cover most of the material and electric grinders as well.

 So let’s go through this.  At the very low end of things is the Corona Mill – it was designed for poorer nations where corn is the primary grain.  Corn is an easier grain than many others to grind, and if you have more time than money, and no expectation of using it except in a crisis, a Corona Mill is a good, cheap grain grinder.  New, they cost under $50, and even better, there are tons of these around used.  So if you live in a place where corn is the staple, and don’t imagine grinding grain unless you have to, or have no money, this is not a bad idea.  Not only that, they can be converted to other uses, including hulling rice, if you grow your own or find a source for unhulled paddy rice (unbelievably hard to find in the US).  The lowest price I saw on ebay for a new one was $38, enough less than the Back to Basics Mill that I bother mentioning it. 

 Next up, on the price scale is the Back to Basics Grain Mill, available in a lot of places.  I’ve borrowed a friend’s and it isn’t a terrible little grinder – it is definitely more work to use than the one I own, but it is substantially cheaper.  If  you think you might actually rely on the grinder, but have very little money,  I’d spend the money, if you can, to get this one.  It will still take a good while and a bit of effort to grind enough to make a loaf of bread or pan of cornmeal, but it does work, and seems reasonably sturdy.  I still don’t  think this is as good as some of the others, but it is cheap – I found it here for under $50

The Family Grain Mill is a good basic mill for people who plan to grind some flour regularly by hand.  This is a big step up from the lower priced ones, and of much higher quality – not as high as the Country Living or Lehmans best, but quite decent.  It is reasonably quick, but doesn’t grind that finely.  A friend of mine has used hers quite extensively, and generally likes it a lot.  Best price I found was $114.  If you think you’ll use it a lot, this money well spent.  The one bad thing is that it is attached to a piece of wood, not a sturdier metal clamp, and I’ve heard of them breaking.  But still, it is pretty good.  It can also be electrified, which means you can buy one mill and use it either way.

Riding up the price ranks a bit, I own a Lehman’s Best – and use it all the time.  We do like it quite a bit.  This is not reviewed on the Waltonfeed page.  It does require a bit of effort, but nothing too strenuous and has stood up to a lot of over-enthusiasm by the kids.  It is easy to clean and pleasant to use, and substantively cheaper than the next mill.  I think it is the best and most reliable of the middle priced mills at about $180 - I see no reason why mine won’t last a long time.  As far as I’m aware, Lehmans is the only place that sells these, but I could be wrong about that.  I really like my mill.

I don’t know how it compares to the Country Living Mill, but from the reviews, the CLM is a fairly substantive step up, and if you have the money to throw around (the best price I’ve seen is $365), probably well worth it.  My friend Tom at Sustainable Choice (ad on the sidebar) also sells them, (this would be that potential bias thing ;-) ).   I couldn’t find anyone who owns one – but all the reviews I’ve read say it is a nice, nice mill.  I think if you have physical limitations but want to hand grind, this might be a good choice.  I also haven’t been able to get ahold of a Diamant mill – the near-$600 price range apparently being a barrier in my neighborhood.  But I think I’m going to take the Waltonfeed reviewer at their word, and accept that it is pretty much as good as the Diamante, for $200 less.  And if you are going to grind all your own grains in perpetuity, the CLM is probably a good investment, assuming you can afford it.

 There are other grinders out there, but none of them seems to be good enough to bother with compared to others in their price range.  I’d recommend if you can that you save up and get the best grinder you can afford within the parameters you are likely to make use of. 

If you can’t afford a grinder, is that the end of the world?  No, I don’t think so.  You can store more rice, make bulghur and store some flour.  But it is a nice thing to have and it opens up your options a good bit.

Ok folks, tomorrow more on tools and organizing!

 Sharon

20 Responses to “Tools Part II – Grain Mills”

  1. Heather Gray says:

    We picked up the CLM last year, when it was a bit cheaper. It is pricier, but we like the stainless steel burrs, the action is smooth, and the turning wheel has a groove in it so that it would be easy to put a drive belt on it and hook it up to a generator or a bike (we don’t have room to do either at the moment). We also got the corn/bean auger, so we have more flexibility in what we grind.

    The one warning I’d give is that they test the mills before sending them out, by grinding a bit of wheat. This is a problem for celiacs and people with wheat allergies. The mill would need to be well cleaned before use by these folks.

    Other than that one caveat, it’s a great mill!

  2. Jill says:

    We own a Diamant mill and (of course) we like it a great deal. We really couldn’t justify purchasing it on our own, but went in with other family members, who also happen to live nearby, in order to buy it. The mill “lives” at our house. It’s extremely heavy and takes up quite a bit of room–I don’t think you’d want to trot it ’round the neighborhood very often. In exchange for keeping it here, we grind the flour for the other owners whenever they need it. This is very entertaining for our children and their friends, which is delightful.

    Of course, this solution to the hefty price of the mill requires finding other like-minded folks to join in on the purchase. But it’s a good mill (and we’re fostering cooperation and all that good stuff, too).

    Jill

  3. Rixa says:

    I have a Whisper Mill but the company went out of business; another company bought the design and brought it back under the name of the Wonder Mill. I’ve liked the Whisper Mill and don’t find it all that noisy. My only complaint is that the flour seems to be a bit on the coarse side even when I set it on the finest setting. I’d like to buy a hand mill some time in the future but don’t feel like plunking down the $$ right now for a good one…so I’ll just hope that I’ll have electricity until then!

  4. Emily says:

    I have the Family Grain Mill, and I like it a lot. (I haven’t used other mills, though, so I couldn’t say if I’d like another one better.) It makes good wheat and rye flour – the whole wheat pastry flour is indistinguishable from store-bought. Cleanup is a breeze, and I can store it in a drawer. Setting up and tearing down for storage is a matter of seconds, so I never hesitate to “drag it out and set it up.” I have both the electric and hand bases, but I’m not sure I’ll be using the electric base much because the hand base is so simple and quiet to use.

    The other thing I like about it is you can get non-grain attachments for it. I have the one that shreds veggies (great for shredding carrots and cabbage for pickling); there’s also one that grinds meat and stuffs sausages. This added bit of functionality is what pushed me over to finally buy a mill.

  5. kristine says:

    i have a clm and like it. we hooked it up to an old stationary bike and it worked well. we need to adjust the belt a bit.

  6. Maeve says:

    For people who have a KitchenAid mixer, the company sells a grain mill attachment. I don’t know what the quality is like for the new ones (so many things seem to be less well-made than they used to be), but my mom had one for her KitchenAid and it worked really well from what I remember. At least, it turned the wheat into flour that made tasty bread! Hers was purchased in the early 1980s. It’s a bit on the pricey side.. the KitchenAid site lists it at $150.

  7. Idaho Locavore says:

    I also have the Country Living Mill, and I LOVE it. It grinds whole wheat flour as fine, literally, as talcum powder, which makes it great for bread making and pastries. We have ours motorized with a chain drive right now, but I saved all the parts and larger flywheel so we can go back to manual if we need to.

    I’ve had mine for about nine years now, no complaints. I’m going to get an extra set of burrs, though, as soon as I can, as insurance.

  8. Cam says:

    We also have a CLM, and it’s been great. Having the extra-long “power bar” handle is a big plus.

    I can’t remember how much we saved, but it was worth contacting the company to find out if they have any cosmetically blemished seconds available. That’s what we have, and I’ve yet to actually spot the cosmetic blemish.

  9. Cam, we have the powerbar as well. IMO, it’s well worth the extra 29 bucks or so. It really does make a difference as to how much effort is needed to grind fine flour. Actually, it’s all we used for years until my husband set up our motorized grinding station this winter. I have to say, we never used it as much as I’d have liked until we motorized the mill. Since then, I’ve been amazed at how much wheat we’ve gone through. I am starting to see why food storage faqs tell you to store so much.

  10. Michelle says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been wanting to get a grain mill for quite a long time and no one could tell me a thing about them.

    Cheers!

  11. Shane says:

    Ive had a Retsell for a couple of years and it works well enough. Are they only on sale in Australia? You can’t hull grains very well on it though- the outer grinding plate goes wobbly when you loosen the setting.

    You didnt mention much about technique for grinding- I find you need to put one foot in front of the other, drop your hips a little to bend your knees, and then rock your weight back from foot to foot, changing the front and back foot from time to time. This way your stronger muscles are doing the work, not your shoulders and back.

  12. Fern says:

    Does anyone know if the Corona will hull oats as well as rice? I can get whole oats from the feed store, but they’d sure need hulling….

    I use the Lehman’s Best for making flour/meal, and like it a lot.

  13. I have thought a lot about buying a mill. What I always come up against is that in my teeny, tiny rural Nevada town, I have never seen or heard of bulk wheat being for sale. The grocery store sells tiny little bags of it, but they are very expensive. So I’m wondering if it would be worth it, since I’d have to order the wheat and have it delivered, or travel 230 miles to buy it. What do you think?

  14. I have the grain mill attachment for the KitchenAid mixer, and I do not recommend it. Even on the finest setting, the flour comes out more the texture of cornmeal. Save your money and get something else. My mom has a Whisper Mill and loves it, but of course, it depends on electricity.

  15. Greenpa says:

    I’m guessing that what I have is something like the Corona- it doesn’t say, just “Made in Poland” on the hand crank.

    Haven’t used it in a while, but we ate a lot of gleaned maize in the first 5 years here, and this thingy did fine.

  16. Segwyne says:

    We just bought a CLM with our tax refund. We wrote to the company to ask about factory seconds and we were able to save about $100 that way. They sent the power bar for free and we were going to get it anyway. They do say that if you have wheat allergies or such to just let them know and they will grind some other grain to test it.

    We live in a small apartment so I can’t bolt it to the counter or wall, and I tried grinding without mounting it to anything at all the first time. Whew! I don’t recommend doing that. We now have it mounted to an old large cutting board. It still isn’t 100% stable when grinding, but it is quite workable. Hubby says he will get me some large clamps so we can clamp the cutting board to the table for better stabilization.

    All my kids have turned the wheel except for the 17-month-old. My 4-year-old even thinks it is fun to turn it a couple of times.

    I am so glad we bought this.

  17. Greenpa says:

    Segwyne- ah, yes; mounting. If you’re really grinding grain on a regular basis, this is crucial. The amount of physical and emotional energy you can lose to loose clamps is huge. You’d rather not have half your effort going into moving clamps- and be cussing all the time.

    We eventually mounted ours to – the stairs. Our stairs are actually a ladder; massive, though; this wouldn’t work for most people. But we drilled holes in the oak 3 by 6 that forms the step, and made steel pins that went in and out fairly easily, but didn’t let it move.

    Find a way to bolt it to the house! You’ll be glad you did. :-)

  18. dennisw says:

    Very good information here. I’m looking at “back to basics” mill but it looks lightweight. It is imported….wonder where it is made

    Corona mills…. I’ve owned a few but inevitably they get rusty and the tin plating worries me. Tin is same as lead. Maybe I would scrape or brush the tin coating off the burrs and keep it well oiled to deter rust

    D

  19. Paul says:

    I have three grain grinders and have baked my own bread for over thirty years (see http://where-stillness-lies.blogspot.com/). If you want some advice on how to secure a manual wheat grinder for counter use without using clamps, let me know.

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