The Fresh Loaf

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Deciding on a Mill

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lepainSamidien's picture
lepainSamidien

Deciding on a Mill

Hello all !

So I am on the verge of making the next big step in my pursuit of a great loaf of bread: milling my own grain. The general consensus seems to favor heavily the use of freshly milled grains over those milled commercially, as the freshness of the latter is questionable, at best. Perhaps I'm just satisfying my inner control freak; but, isn't that why I got into baking bread in the first place?

I hope that we all understand that this decision is by no means an easy one: while i could chuck up a few dollars for a mediocre hand-mill, I'm looking into this as an investment, one that I will be able to pass down to the coming generations of mini-me's. In a word, I am looking for something solid, something that will last.

However, this is not to say that I am without my own financial limitations. I'd be willing to pay up to $600 if the mill were worth it, but, ideally, I'd be more comfortable in the $300-$450 range.

Additionally, I am only considering grain mills that offer both manual and motorized operations (i.e. a hand crank with a flywheel). I would like to get some experience grinding it by hand (if for no other reason than just to feel the satisfaction of pulsing muscles), but I anticipate that, ultimately, I will design a pulley system with a bicycle, so I can cycle my way to fresh-milled glory.

To summarize: I'm searching for a STURDY grain mill that grinds both finely and coarsely; something in the area of $300-$450, but will allow for a little wiggle-room; and something with both a hand crank and a flywheel. At present, I am considering the Retsel Little Ark Pro or Uni-Ark Pro and the Country Living Grain Mill. I'm hesitant to order from Retsel, given the abundance of horror stories vis-à-vis customer service. However, the Country Living grain mill is considerably more expensive.

Any guidance, advice, admonitions, etc., would be appreciated immensely.

Happy baking !

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

to respond (and I'm not one), try using the Search tool at the upper right-hand corner of the page.  This topic has come up frequently and you'll find a lot of good information, along with some strongly held opinions, in those older threads.

Paul

proth5's picture
proth5

because I know that everyone has their constraints.

But a mill should be a lifetime purchase.  I love mine, but I won't even deal with it here because it is way too far out of your price range.

If I were buying a mill today, with the wants you are espressing, I would be giving serious consideration to the Grainmaker (http://www.grainmaker.com/) they offer everything you want, including a bike adapter.  But at a little more than you'd like to pay.

You need to search your own heart/mind about the prices.  But you don't want to look back and say "shoulda, woulda, coulda" on a purchase like this.

Good luck with your milling adventure...

Bread Head's picture
Bread Head

I am glad that I permanently mounted it in the basement, because I would not want to set it up every time that I wanted to grind flour.

lepainSamidien's picture
lepainSamidien

Thanks for the great responses!

Proth, the Grainmaker is tempting in terms of its longevity, and I'm going to add it to the pile--looks like a great machine!--but with a minimum price tag of $675.00 (not to mention the additional $285.00 for the bike setup), it's a long-shot for this 99%-er. But it's good to know what's out there. Maybe I can con my parents into getting it for me for Christmas (it's okay to do that when you're 26, right?).

Bread Head: did you mount the Country Living Mill to a bicycle? If so, how did you find the project? It looks like it would be a relatively simple pulley system. I already have a bicycle mount, but I'd be willing to throw a few bucks toward using an old exercise bike, as I've seen on some Youtube videos.

Again, thanks for the suggestions, and I'll be happy to hear more !

Bake on !

proth5's picture
proth5

I have been hand milling for a few years and it is better to be a 26 year old than to be a little old lady, like me when you take up this hobby.

I will tell you this.  I read a lot of hand grain mill reviews befor I bought my mill, which is a Diamant.  I was lucky enough to get it on ebay, but at the time, pretty much every review on the Country living would read "This one is the best - except for the Diamant."

There are the Big Three in the hand cranked mill world - The Diamant, The Country Living, and The Grainmaker mills.  I own (and love) the former number one.  If the reviews were written today, I am sure I would own the number two.  Additionally, the Graimaker seems to be developing and improving, where the Diamant is not as much (and don't get me wrong, I don't think it needs to.)   The Grainmaker simply wasn't at the point of development that it is today and I still think at the time, I made the best possible choice for me.  It is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

If I were buying a hand turned mill today - it would be a Grainmaker, though.

However, you won't go far wrong with a Country Living Mill - and today's cost of a new Diamant would burn your eyes.

Again, I acknowledge that each of us has priorities - no matter what "percent" we are.  I give you my honest opinion on this.  Because "Coulda, woulda, shoulda" can be a tough pill.

Peace.

Pat

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

Unfortunately, you will pay more for a quality hand mill (especially including the bicycle mechanization) than you would for an electric mill of equaivalent quality, flexibility and durabiility. This is especially true since you say 

Quote:
I'm looking into this as an investment, one that I will be able to pass down to the coming generations of mini-me's. In a word, I am looking for something solid, something that will last.
.

I see your user profile says you live in NYC, so - if this is true - I'm a bit puzzled on your insistence on a hand mill. I also live in NYC and we both know that the electric grid here is pretty darn reliable. Also, good hand mills are heavy and work best if they're permanently bolted to a sturdy table or counter, so I hope you have the living space to accommodate that.

Given your price range, you might be better served in terms of quality by considering an electric mill. That's up to you, of course, but if you do want to see 2 different electric mills in operation, I own both a Nutrimill and a Lee Household Flour Mill (extensive review of the Lee mill here - http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/13634/lee-household-flour-mill) and would be happy to demo both to you, since I also live in NYC. If you're interested, Just send me a personal message and we can arrange a time. BTW, the Lee mill has an excellent reputation for quality manufacture and multi-generation use without needing repair - just check out the link I posted.

best - subfuscpersona

the hadster's picture
the hadster

Hello:

I don't know how to send a personal message, but I'm thinking of getting a mill.  If you have any thoughts for a first timer - but I don't want to out grow it, as well as sources for grain in the NYC area, I'd love to know.  If you can figure out how to send me a personal message, I will respond....

 

Thanks!

lepainSamidien's picture
lepainSamidien

Hey subfusc,

Thanks for the insight. I considered an electric mill, but I'm really trying to move away from relying on electricity. I appreciate your willingness to demo them for me, and might take you up on that offer as I continue to work through this.

However, in regards to the reliability of the NYC electric grid, you're right: it's pretty darn reliable. That being said, I was living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for Hurricane Sandy last year, and nothing about the electric grid during that time seemed very reliable. I also had some friends living out in the Far Rockaways and on Staten Island, and . . . well, you know.

I'm not so much afraid of the weather cutting out power to my grain mill as I am interested in having an item that I can operate of my own accord. Maybe I'm being overly nostalgic, and it's going to cost me, but it's a preference for the time being.

I'm really taking my time with this decision, and I really appreciate your comments, subfusc; really, I do.  Initiation into the world of home-milling is not quite as easy or simple as a swipe of the credit card.

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

...neither I or my mills are going anywhere soon :)

I just want to say that I've been milling my own flour for 25+ years. I started out with hand mills (not good quality ones, since I couldn't afford them). They're good learning tools but IMHO, the ones currently available in your price range are not so great for serious milling. You need a precision made mill to produce a fine flour and a fine flour is generally what you want for whole grain breads. Unfortunately, quality workmanship doesn't come cheap.

I hope you'll use the TFL search box, since almost every mill available in the USA has been reviewed by owners/bakers at some time on this site. Here are a few links to get you started (I've tried to select some of the better discussions on hand mills for you)...

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/34359/tell-me-about-your-flour-mill

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/34432/mill-or-not-mill

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/32700/diamant-vs-grainmaker-116

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/23362/other-diamant-country-living-mill-only-mill-flywheel

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/32047/best-manual-hand-crank-mill

(on the Retsel mill - see especially the last comment)- http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/34071/just-bought-retsel-stone-grinder-want-good-tasting-wheat-bread-and-sourdough-tips

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/7638/new-quotgrainmillquot-grain-mill-market-any-users

(general review of hand mills - a little outdated re the Grainmaker mill) http://www.grainmillcomparison.com/

(updated review of Grainmaker mill) http://www.goodbadanduglycomparisons.com/2011/06/26/grainmaker-grain-mill-no-99-review/

=== and a request to you === Where do you get your grain in NYC? If you have reasonably priced local sources for organic grain, please send me a PM with the info. I'm always on the lookout for sources. Thanks!

 

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

I don't care whether you chose a manual grain mill VS a grain mill that requires electric power.

I would simply point out that, in the event of a power failure, even if you have a manual mill to make flour, you still cannot make bread.

proth5's picture
proth5

some small amount of amusement over this whole "I want to mill grain during a power failure" myself.

If it is a short power failure, I ponder what powerful force seizes upon an individual to mill grain just at that very moment.

If it is a long power failure, I suppose a person could bake if they had a wood fired oven - but in a city this is somewhat unlikely. Also, I would contend that there are more urgent issues than making bread.

In a survival situation, it would be more efficient to soak grain and cook it over small heat sources than to bake.

If we're really in a situation where the grid is out on some catastrophic basis, your heavy mill will keep you from moving quickly (if you are in a city) and frankly, he who is best armed will have your mill and you to power it. Frankly(again), if things get that bad - milling/baking will be the last thing on your list of troubles.

I enjoy hand milling and there are a lot of fun reasons to do it (and there are folks who do this by religious conviction, but they are not posting to these pages.)  But it is a hobby - not a survival tool unless you are in a very rural area with relatively good security. And maybe not even then.

I was challenged by an individual to read reviews of the mill he was promoting and I came across a lot of survivalist sites.  Seems like a hand turned mill is essential - until you start to really think it through.

I'm more into "do what your heart desires" - if you realize that hand milling is just a lot of work and you have the energy to do it - have at it. No one has been successful in talking me out of it and some have found that the control of being the motor allows them to do things they otherwise couldn't (and yes, I know I need to get busy on my research into this - been a h**l of a year for me...) But this "in case the power goes out" - well, that's a tough one to really justify.

Peace.

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

Great post. Thanks. Nuff said

BBQinMaineiac's picture
BBQinMaineiac

Nothing is ever easy, including a grain mill.

Allow me to ask a question. Do you have a mixer? If so, this post may not help you. If not, and you are also looking for one, the Ankarsrum is a phenominal mixer and it has the option of a wonderful mill for personal use. It's not something you want to use for grinding 50# of flour at a whack. But it's fine for making enough flour for 4 loaves of bread. It will also allow the flour to be ground multiple times to make it extremely fine. I regularly grind my flour 3x with this mill and that fine grind makes the bran of no consequence in my bread.

We don't have enough storage space in our kitchen (who does?) and the small additional space required to store the grain mill is minimal as compared to storing a stand alone grain mill.

If this post prompts you to look into a KA grain mill, do your research and also find the horror stories of burnt up motors. That research is what prompted me to buy an Ankarsrum Assistent since our KA already pooped itself kneading bread (gears) and I was considering getting the KA grain mill after it was returned after the repairs. I got the Ankarsrum instead and sold the KA, I haven't regretted the decision.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

I will through in my two cents.  I have had an impact mill and a stone mill ( All Grain Mill ) and prefer the stone mills because the flour comes out a little cooler, though the impact mill is quicker.  Not sure how much wheat you intend to grind, but from everything I had read, hand grinding is very labor intensive. I watched the videos showing hand grinding, and got tired just watching the video.  I can understand the desire to be involved in the process, but my suggestion is to go with an electric mill - you can usually pick up a quality machine on ebay for around $250, though you will often have to buy or make a container for the flour, since most used machines are sold without the bag or container.  I think if you want to keep your hands involved in the process, you can hand knead the dough, and that can be plenty of exercise.  If you just want to try the experience of hand milling for a while, buy a hand operated mill on ebay, use it for a few months , then relist if for sale .  If you bid carefully, you should only lose the cost of shipping . 

 

PS  take up subfuscpersona on her offer.  When you see the Lee machine in action,  I think you will be impressed by how much work goes into grinding flour.

charbono's picture
charbono

Another alternative is the Retsel Mil-rite.  Used ones come up occasionally on Ebay at the high end of your range.  Although designed to be electric, it has an optional hand crank (but no flywheel).  The Grister version of the Mil-rite is even more versatile.  It can be hand cranked or hooked to a bike or coupled to a motor. 

cjjjdeck's picture
cjjjdeck

Just thought I'd share an experience.

I recently went to a show in western PA to see the Grainmaker in action because it interested me (since I live no where near Montana, it was the closest proximity to where I live to ever have a chance of seeing one in person.... and it was worth the trip!).  I also had the absolute pleasure of meeting the owners, Bonnie and Randy Jones (and some of their terrific family), they are great people that have the same interests and concerns as pretty much anyone on this site.  Randy is a master machinist by trade and you can see that in the stunning quality and beauty of the machines he designed, all USA made (parts included, Randy insisted in that.... I really like that) and Bonnie has the baking gift (and more!), what a team!  They are without question, heirloom machines incredibly built, made to last a lifetime.  I would be proud to buy any of their machines.

I brought some flour I milled from my Lee Household mill (which mills the grain into beautiful flour.... I love that machine as well) and for the fun of it, I also brought some flour I milled from my daughters Nutri-bullet (interestingly, it has a milling attachment and was understandably courser in texture) for comparison to what the Grainmaker could do.  

Well I'm glad I did this because I learned something.  Most well-made, higher-end, hand cranked grain mills, like the Grainmaker, Diamant and Country Living have the ability to grind grain in pretty much any fineness you want (the Grainmaker certainly did!).  I was very impressed with the Grainmaker demonstration, construction and it's ability to process grains.  However, to grind wheatberries into the fineness of flour I get from my electric mill, you have to set the burr plates very close together.  The way physics work with burr and stone grinding machines, the closer the plates or stones are, the harder it is to turn the crank.  Although it can be done, if I were to personally purchase a Grainmaker, Diamant or Country Living mill, I probably would get the electric motor drive option (and be very glad I did) (and yes, it would be a Grainmaker).  One thing I did want to mention, the Model 116 has a sliding plate that can adjust the amount of wheatberries that feeds from the hopper to the auger (the Model 99 does not).  That feature can help regulate the input to help make the wheel easier to crank by having a lesser volume grind in the burr section of the mill.

I absolutely understand the attraction of having a machine with the option to hand mill, and I applaud ANYONE that wants to become more self-sufficient (we could use a LOT more people like this) and less reliant (and even more people like this!).  However, personally, I like the hand cranking option to be just that... an option.... and knowing that option exists puts a big smile on my face..... every time I'm plugging it in.

Just my 2 cents.....

proth5's picture
proth5

for the update.l  Kind of confirms what my "gut" told me about the Grainmaker.

Just as a side note, many of us that want very fine flour from a hand turned mill use a multi pass approach.  We might do two or three passes starting out fairly coarse and then working down to extra fine.  There are a lot of advantages in this approach.  Although you are turning the mill more revolutions, it is much easier to turn on the fine passes.

Once again, I will remind you that I am a little old lady with a desk job, and I can easily hand turn on even the very finest grind with this approach.

Great write up - thanks, again!

twcinnh's picture
twcinnh

I'm following this discussion because I also would like to mill my own flour.  But, I haven't seen any comments on mills such as the one above although they do seem to come up on ebay frequently.  They're electric, stone ground, and seem capable of milling from coarse to fine. 

They seem to be older machines but have many appealing features: stone grind, different degrees of grind, electric, more affordable, etc.

Any comments on these?

 

TC

 

 

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

I've been tracking home flour mills for many decades. Mills like this were popular in the 80s into the early 90s, especially since the consumer market favored mills that used stones.

One issue is that the drawer at the bottom (which is your flour receptacle) doesn't hold that much, Also, there were reports that it could attract grain moths (or other vermin) unless cleaned well after every use, since flour could hide in the edges of the drawer.

Hope this helps.

twcinnh's picture
twcinnh

That's useful feedback.  Apparently Marathon, and others, made similar mills but larger.  Prices are good compared to modern mills which makes them attractive to me; however, bugs would not make my wife happy.  Something to look into.

Regards, and thanks,

 

PS  Anyone out there have any experience using moth traps or bay leaves to keep bugs 'at bay'?  Had to ask.

 

TC

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

after you're finished milling. Shouldn't be a deal breaker if you like the mill otherwise.

I didn't mean to imply that the mill per se will attract bugs. Just pointing out you want to keep the drawer clean.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

TC,  I have had an infestation of pantry moths, and so has a friend. I ended up buying a dozen or more traps-  they are not that much help.  If you have a bad infestation, as I did, you have to empty out the pantry, and wipe down all the shelves, spray an insecticide in all the crevices, and then be very vigilant in killing every moth you see right away  (  otherwise they will be laying untold eggs) and kill all larvae you see . Also, you need to be very vigilant about storing anything they can eat in sealed containers- ziplock plastic bags are not enough because they worm their way right through it.   Once we did the full insecticide clean out, we were still killing moths a few per week for quite a few more months till they mostly died out.