Milling Around

The incident with the stone sparked the idea to talk a little about my motorized grain mill.  It seems like ages ago when I started home brewing, in reality it was 1997.  Compared to stories I have heard about the true pioneers in homebrewing (like back in the late 1970s and through the 1980s) 1997 was a golden age for homebrewing.  Local homebrew shops carried a variety of ingredients and the internet provided a resource for brewing information (although sometimes a quite dubious one).  Liquid yeasts and fresh hops were both readily available, a reality that early homebrewers could not take for granted.  Still, the variety of ingredients and the scope of knowledge that was available was considerably less than today.

Back in ’97, after just a few batches of beer, I knew I wanted to brew all grain recipes.  There was, and still is, an undeserved stigma surrounding beers made from extract and I fell under the spell of that stigma.  I dabbled with partial mashes until my eight brew, which was an all grain lager.  My homebrew shop had a mill and offered free milling, but I knew I wanted a mill of my own.  At that time there were only three readily available options for roller mills (the Corona Mill, which is a plate mill, was and still is available).  One was the Valley Mill, and it was the one my local shop used.  It was a tall skinny thing, but most the feedback I ever read on it was positive.  It was an adjustable two roller mill as I recall.  The second commonly available mill was the Schmidling Maltmill.  Unlike the Valley Mill, this product is still available today and it is known to be a rugged and durable mill.  The base model featured a non adjustable gap, though just like today there was an adjustable option.

The last readily available option was the Phil Mill.  Offered by Listermann manufacturing, it is slightly different than the typical roller mill.  Instead of two rollers, the Phil Mill is constructed from a single roller and a curved plate.  The roller crushes the grain against the curved plate, and a small bolt adjusts the gap between the plate and the roller.  This mill is compact, compared to its competition, and at the time it was significantly cheaper.   The design was not without its detractors.  In particular the “roller and plate”  design was held in contempt by some, since it was not a true two roller mill.  I gave this issue some consideration, but after reading a few independent reviews I opted for the Phil Mill.

The first few years that I had this mill I used it in both hand cranked and drill powered mode.  Hand cranked mode can be tough, as this mill has a somewhat  low throughput. This means lots of cranking  and maybe a few blisters. I also had an old 3/8″ drill which I used to power he mill at times, but this was not satisfactory.   It was underpowered and it was difficult to control the speed.  I muddled through.

About five years ago our old clothes dryer gave up the ghost, at least my wife wanted a new one.  So I took the opportunity to harvest organs from the dying patient: the motor, belt and controls.  At first I looked for a shorter, smaller belt but I had little luck, so I design a mill that could utilize the long belt that came with the clothes dryer:

The motor is located at the bottom, and the long belt is visible just to the left center.  The two liter green plastic jug is the grain hopper, and the on/off starter switch is on the panel just below.  Here are a few more close ups:

Close Up of the Mill and Pulley

The above photo is from the opposite side; it shows the Phil Mill up close.  The small machine screw exiting the bottom allows for the gap adjustment.  You can see the home made pulley and drive belt.  It is attached to the mill shaft via a neat bushing I found on McMaster-Carr: it slides onto a drive shaft and when tightened it both grips the shaft and expands in diameter.  So not only does it tighten on the shaft but the expansion causes the wooden pulley tighten on the bushing.  Neat!

The Dryer Motor

The above photo is a little close up of the motor.  In a bit of design brilliance I mounted the motor on a hinged base. This allows the weight of the motor to hold tension on the belt.  The beauty of this setup is that if the mill becomes jammed (like from a rock) the belt will easily slip on the drive pulley.  The downside of the design ii that I sometimes need to exert a little downward pressure on the base in order to make prevent the belt from slipping.  It is a reasonable compromise.

Output Chute and Pulley

This last photo shows the mill drive pulley and the output chute from the mill.  You can see the small hook used to hold a small plastic bucket inside the stand just below the chute.  Each bucket can hold 4 kilograms of grain, and if I am crushing a large amount of grain I have an rigid aluminum dryer vent pipe (about 4 inches in diameter)  that I can put over the chute to divert crushed grain to a larger bucket on the floor.  The pulley was home made out of fiber board.  Cutting a circle was pretty easy using a band saw.  I got pretty lucky when I cut the groove in the pulley that the belt rides in:  I just eyeballed the height of my table saw blade and the position of the fence. I just wanted to quickly build the thing and see if the pulley would work.  Ss it turned out I made a perfect fit the first time.  It is probably lucky I chose not to measure, I would have screwed it up

So that was it and it has worked pretty well for five years.  I normally crush my grain twice, the first time I set the bolt so that it just touches the plate inside.  Before the second pass I give it about a quarter turn, and I get a good crush.  If my recipe includes wheat I usually crush it separately, and maybe do three passes on it so as not to strain the equipment.

Alas, the Phil Mill is no longer manufactured.  Mine has provided good service and hopefully it has a few more batches of beer in it!

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