The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Treadle Milling?

proth5's picture

Treadle Milling?

OK, so I'm not the sharpest tool in the box, but even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then.  And although I am an engineer - I am not a mechanical engineer and I'm not 100% confident when I try to innovate - especially when it comes to my (beloved) Diamant Mill.

So I'm putting this out to you-all because it seems like many of you do have that mechanical thinking ability that I lack.

I was cranking the mill the other day when it occured to me that the table that I have the thing bolted to has, as its base, the working treadle mechanism from a treadle sewing machine (told you I wasn't the sharpest tool in the box - only took me a couple of years to notice that...)

Now, this would allow me to grind with leg power (I can treadle not by flexing my feet against the treadle but by putting one foot on the back of the treadle and one foot on the front - this gives considerable power when I am treadling my treadle sewing machine) (and come on - y'all could guess I use a treadle sewing machine, right?) which I'm thinking would be a good thing, but the conversion to treadle power would involve some heavy duty work, so I'd like to do a thought experiment before I drill holes, move the mill and damage an otherwise nice surface (which I am quite willing to do if the cause be good...)

Thing is, when using a treadle sewing machine, the flywheel of the treadle is much larger than the flywheel on the machine.  In the case of the Diamant - the mill's flywheel is 16 in in diameter and much heavier than the flywheel on the treadle mechanism which is only 12 in in diameter.  Am I kidding myself that even by using leg power I would be gaining an advantage? (I have vague memories of an unpleasant class many years ago where they made us do these calculations, but my memory stops there...) Am I setting myself up for bodily injury?

I would use a standard treadle drive band or two (and yes, they are easily found) - I guess - unless I got a better suggestion - but something tells me that alligning the mill's flywheel precisely with the treadle flywheel would be crucial.  How would I do this given that there is 2 inches of hard rock maple which I cannot see through between the two.  I'm speculating that I could do some calculation to get an approximate position for a couple of slots where the band would pass through and then allign the mill - by eye (?) so that the drive band was positioned correctly and then bolt my baby down.  Is there a better way?  Is there a way to test this out somehow?

So if any of you have thoughts, I'll be glad to hear them.

Thanks in advance.

beeman1's picture

I am not an engineer either. I have a country living mill. I don't think you will get enough power. I think something with a bike pedal would be better.

proth5's picture

I think a lot about bike power, but some things stop me:

  • The place where my mill must live will not accomodate even a smallish bike or exercise bike
  • I don't have a bike (or exercise bike)

And, of course, that mechanism is just sitting there doing nothing to earn its keep.

I don't know about the power - I can get quite a lot of speed on a sewing machine with a treadle and can get a goodly amount of power on my spinning wheel - although that's a different drive mechanism.  I'm wondering now if there is a good way to measure the power output to see if there wouid be enough...Hmmm

baltochef's picture


I am thinking that the treadle and the diameter of the wheel that the treadle drives in the sewing machine will not generate the horsepower and torque necessary to grind grains..

I am thinking that a woodworking treadle lathe would have similar resistence, torque, and power requirements to the Diamant D'525 mill..See the below photo for an idea of what I am talking about..

Click onto the center, or right hand photoson the top row in order to see the size of the machine's treadle, and the approximate size and weight of the wheel that the treadle is spinning to generate the forces needed to turn wood without electricity..

It is entirely possible that the sewing machine treadle mechanism might be able to generate the power needed for the Diamant mill, but with a lot of mechanical engineering to figure out the right combo of reduction gears and pulleys to make it drive the Diamant mill..

But, it is my educated guess that it is a direct function of the mass of the wheel that the treadle is moving, the diameter of that wheel, the speed with which the circumference of that wheel moves; along with the reduction gears, and or the diameter of the flywheel attached to the mill, that are going to translate into the horsepower and torque needed to grind grains using foot power with the Diamant mill..

Just some quick thoughts of mine regarding your question..


proth5's picture

for the links.

I've seen treadle lathes before and I'll admit on those it is important to drive the workpiece much faster than someone would be expected to treadle so the reduction gears are important. 

And again, on a sewing machine, you have the same deal.  You want to stitch faster than you treadle, so the reduction is important.

But I know I can rotate the flywheel on the treadle faster than I can turn the mill.  Significantly faster.  ( I can run a treadle sewing machine almost at the speed of an industrial sewing machine - which is no laughing matter - trust me.) The question that comes into play is torque (I'm thinking).  I know that if I can get some force into the flywheel on the mill, the weight of the flywheel will actually help keep the mill grinding, but maybe I can't apply (or maybe I can) enough torque with the small (and light) treadle flywheel.  (or maybe once I get the heavier flywheel going, it will drive some force onto the treadle(?) I'm going to think about how I might test this. (Inspiration welcome!)

Or maybe I can call the Mythbusters :>) those guys seem to have all kinds of ways to rig things up.

Thanks again.  You've given me something to think about.  Again, additional inspiration is always welcome.


LeadDog's picture

Nock me over with a feather.  The first place I mounted my flour mill was on an old sewing machine table.  Someone had put an electric sewing machine in it a long time ago but also the machine before that one was treadle powered.  The treadle was still there and I looked it over and decided that I couldn't make it work.  My guess is the stock sewing machine treadle isn't going to be satisfactory is getting the job done.  I figure it is going to be to slow or that it will not have enough torque.  It would be great to be wrong because I think it would be really cool to see more ways of doing human powered milling.  On my pedal powered mill I can pedal at 100 RPMS for the whole run.  This is what I would consider my maximum sustained output.  The gear ratio is 1 to 1, every pedal stroke is one revolution of the mill.  You should be able to find a bike for free or really cheap.  Ask your friends if they have one that is rusting away somewhere.  Another good place to get a bike for cheap is a yard sale.  I know you would have to figure out how to mount all the stuff so maybe a way to do this will come to you.  That is how my mill ended up being modified.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

just remove the crank and extend the shaft?  The outside end of the shaft being held by a berring mounted at the end of the table or in the flip up part of the cabinet.  The extended rubber belt hooks onto a grooved disk on the other end of the shaft and one treadles away!  One normally gives a little boost to the fly wheel of the sewing machine to get it started.  I know that when filling a bobbin, the wheel can be separated from the sewing part of the machine.  The machine hangs upside down under the table for storage.  If it can be used upside down, it would require a shorter belt to the treadle works, a belt from the fly wheel (there are two groves for belts unless I'm wrong, I remember a converted machine that had room for two belts) could be attached to the extended shaft from the mill.  A hole must be made to accomondate the belt running from the fly wheel shaft of the sewing machine to the shaft that powers the mill.

The groved disk (for lack of a better term) on the end of the shaft, what diameter it should be I do not know.  I would think that the mill should be running before any grain is added for milling and finished with it before one stops treadling.



proth5's picture

Not exactly following your thought process, Mini. 

The treadle sewing machine that I have is a completely different entity and I'm not going to use it.  What I have is a table that I made from an old treadle base (sans machine) by bolting on a table top.

I don't find that it is significantly harder to start the mill when it is full of grain, so I'm thinking that I wouldn't need to start the mill empty.

Although that little boost at startup is a good reminder.


proth5's picture

I'm never afraid to spend the money, but my primary objection to bike power is that every rig that I have seen would simply not fit in the area where my mill must live. Another is that each seems to require some custom machining or mechanical ability that is beyond my range of skills.  I can drill holes through wood and cut slots to use the existing treadle (if this would actually be feasible)

The setup that I have is a maple taple top bolted to the treadle base so I have some area to play.

Every bike rig I have seen seems to have the wheel that powers the mill smaller than the flywheel of the mill - and of most motorization kits, of course, have the flywheel smaller than that of the mill so I'm just wondering why "in theory" the treadle wouldn't generate enough torque.  The way I normally operate a sewing machine treadle is to put one foot on the front of the treadle and one on the back, so I'm generating almost the force that I would if I pedaled a bike.  I'm considering that I might have trouble with drive band slippage.

This isn't an urgent project, so I'm going to mull over how I might run a test without having to unbolt and move the mill.

Thanks for your thoughts - all thoughts welcome!

proth5's picture

I'm procrastinating on doing some less than pleasant yard work and decided to try a very simple test to see how hard it would be to turn my mill using a drive band.

I seem to have misplaced my extra sewing machine drive band so I tried something completely unlike it (nice scientific method!) - an old extension cord wrapped aroung the mill flywheel in the approximate position that it would be if it was also wrapped around the treadle flywheel.  I loaded up the mill with wheat and then set myself to turning the mill by pulling on one end of the cord with my right hand while keeping the cord taut with my left.

The mill turned quite easily using that method  - on the somewhat subjective Roth-O-Meter measurement with less effort than it takes to turn the mill the usual way.  Of course, I needed to keep pretty good tension on the cord to avoid drive band slippage.  But the treadle flywheel is supported by about a half inch diameter steel  shaft - which should be able to take the load.  I know that I can transfer a lot of force from my legs to the treadle, so I'm thinking - it could happen?

Am I missing something here?  Any suggestions for additional tests?

I'm thinking that I should get a piece of plywood, remove the table top and run a live test before I hack into the hard rock maple.  This will probably also involve the purchase of a new power tool  (like a jigsaw?) and any project requiring the purchase of a new power tool can't be a bad thing - right?

All this, of course will take a some time, so now's a great time to weigh in with thoughts...

LeadDog's picture

I think that was a good test and from the sounds of it the treadle mill will work.  I'm getting excited about the possibility of a different way to power a flour mill.  Do the plywood test first.  I did a similar thing for my pedal powered mill just to see how it would work.  The only extra that I can think of right now is the tension on the belt adjustable?  I can see if it is fixed distance then the belt will slip if it is loose.

proth5's picture

The way belt tension is adjusted on a sewing machine is by shortening the belt.  There is actually a little guide used to help you get a very tight drive band on the treadle flywheel.  The drive belts are made of leather and will stretch, so they do need occasional adjustment.

Here's where I wonder if there is not some kind of industrial strength substitute.  There must be...

Thanks for the encouragement.  The plywood test run will take me a while, but I think it's worth the effort. (And I get to shop for power tools!)

Happydaisys's picture

Hi proth5... I know this thread is super old, but I am dying to know: did you try it, and did it work? Thanks!