Wheat/grain Mills – the Good, the Bad and the just plain Ugly… Why? Wheat berries can be cooked and eaten whole. One cup on berries and four cups of water will give you 5 cups of the most diarrhea producing Chow that I know of. The only thing I am aware of that will work quicker is a medical cathartic agent – like Magnesium Citrate. I've seen both in action; the only difference is the time until eruption. You have been warned. Now, with a mill, you can crack the wheat berries, or produce flour – either fine or coarse. Flours gives you a whole Universe of food choices – bread, biscuits, pasta, noodles, roué (thickening), breakfast food and on and on. Types of mills: For this discussion, I will classify mills as of two general types - either Powered or Unpowered. There are Unpowered mills that can be refitted to power them – and there are also Powered mills can be refitted to allow operation by, typically, hand cranks. I'll only mention a few brands, as this isn't a discussion of the pros/cons of a specific unit, but rather a look at what these types offer to the consumer. Additionally, units of each general type may use burs, stones and some offer both. I'll explore this factor in your (rational) decision making process as well. Finally, I'll cover the 'accessories' found with many units and point out those that make the most sense. For full disclosure, I owned a small business near Spokane that dealt in dry milk, wheat berries and gain mills among other things. I will say up front that it is my considered opinion that the Mil-Rite™ Grain & Seed Mill sold by the Retsel Corporation (in Idaho) is the gold standard in mills . These are made in the US by US workers and have been since 1963 – that's 55 years. These mills are also expensive, with cost approaching $700 USD, depending on the accessories chosen to go with the unit. Now that this is out of the way…. Unpowered mills: These, generally operated via a hand crank, can represent a good value – if you are careful in your choice. I'll begin by looking a mill body material – metal, plastic or both. Some mills are made mostly of wood, and I own one of those. But, if you are new to this, I'll make it easy by looking at metal or poly mill frames only. I'll be the first to admit that polymer technology has made great strides on the past few decades. There are many quality mills that have a poly frame. Other mills offer cast iron (rugged) and cast aluminum. Since home mills are generally made for limited run times and small batches of grains, these offering are generally not a major factor. How the frame holds/supports the axle and stones is worth your attention, as is how the crank is attached to the axle. The mill body/frame should provide an enclosed support structure. While bushings may work, ball bearing support of the axle is the much better choice. In many mills, the stones/burrs are attached to the very end of the axle. This makes disassembly for the required cleaning simple. It also provides for an easy way to view and adjust the gap between the stones/but to set a fine or coarse grind flour. The crank should bolt to the axle and preferably be fitted to the axle as well - here is an example of this . Most hand crank mills have a 'clamp-on' base attachment. This is convenient, fast to set up and take down. It is also very stressful o the frame and will damage whatever the mill is clamped onto. Over time, the frame portion holding the screw part of the clamp may distort or crack. This is suitable only for a mill that is purchased for very light/occasional use. Here is just one example : The next best attachment if where the frame has a horizontal attached point and is bolted into the table or counter. See this example IMO, the best attachment of a hand crank mill frame is where the frame body is bolted to the surface of the support – either a table or counter. Here is an example Yes, brick outhouse tough, made in Poland, the cost is $1,200. It pays to shop around and seek reviews outside the Vendor website. Bottom line - A heavy cast iron frame, with the ability to bolt down on the support and using ball (or roller) bearing for the axle generally provides you with the best of possible choices for frame styles. Of more day to day importance to any user should be: - Crank length and crank/handle materials used. The crank is really a lever. The longer the crank length, the less effort needed to run the mill. Some crank powered units incorporate a pulley as part of the crank. While it seems like a good idea, close examination may show some of the weaknesses involved in this scheme. S fully separate pulley is better, and a company that offers different pulley diameters is best. - How is the axle supported? Bushings or ball bearings? The axle should be fully supported, and at both ends – at the crank and stone. Sealed ball bearings are not a bad choice for low-use mills. The kind of bearings that can be serviced is best, - Feed method A large hopper or funnel that is part of the frame offers a good choice. A frame that allows different sized hoppers is better. A really good mill has multiple choices for a feed hopper. The hopper should feed directly to the stones/burrs and have a large enough opening to permit feeding all of the grain types you plan to grind. - Ability to retrofit for powered use – is this a factory option and how is the retro fit done? In addition to the pulley size mentioned earlier, is the mill geared? In other words, is the stone powered via a set of gears? If you go to power the unit, you should find a low-RPM motor. A high-speed motor could well tear the mill apart. - And height above countertop. Not as silly as you might think. Once the grain is milled, how will you gather it? Into a bowl, a cookie pan (yes, some mill's stones are that low in the frame) The related part of this is your ability (access to the works) to clean the machine after use. Stone that sit inside the frame can be a pain to access and really clean. This is a side issue, but important.. - Finally - Type of burs or stones Mills can use stones or steel burs – both have a place. Stone allows a much finer grind for nice flour, but you shouldn't use stones for some grains. Steel burs can be used for all grains, but generally produce a coarse flour. If your mill comes with both, you will have the most flexibility. Remember both stones and burrs will wear out. Ensure your mill vendor will be around a few years from now. Foreign made mills can represent a good value – if replacement parts can be imported. Stones (L) and Burrs (R) One last factor. Speed of operation. The faster the stones or burrs turn, the hotter the flour will be when it comes out of the mill. The slower the stones turn, the cooler the flour. Hot flour loses nutritional value. This is why I mentioned the Retsel earlier – it runs at 43 RPM, as it is geared. It can also be hand powered. Powered mills: All the factors that applied to unpowered mills, apply to powered, plus a whole lot more. - How is the motor mounted? Is it AC only? How much power (watts) does the motor consume? 110 or 220 Volts? - Is the motor geared to provide low RPM power to the stones/burrs? - How is the motor protected from dust/grit? - How is the motor controlled – On/off switch, in line switch, something else? - Finally. is the motor UL certified? How the motor is mounted is directly related to how simple it is to clean the machine. Additionally, some units require the motor be removed before a hand crank can power the unit. Others leave the motor in place; the crank is placed in the rear of the motor. This is one of those choices that have to be based on how you plan to use the mills. Most US made mills run from 110VAC. Most have in-line switches. Higher powered units consume more watts. What is the most/least power that you should buy? The type and size of the stones or burrs drive the motor power levels. It's best to ask for a demonstration to see how well the power to stone/burr size matches…. Gearing. While this allows a slow grind, it does introduce another level of complexity. A splined shaft is a very good choice; a keyed shaft is another good choice. A shaft that uses friction or a small setscrew to couple the motor to the gearbox should be avoided. The motor should be fully enclosed to protect the shaft, bearings and electrical connections from dust and grit. I note that flour dust is flammable. While low-volume home use rarely presents this as a hazard – it is worth remembering if your plans call for milling all of your flour at some point in the future. Finally, don't buy a mill where the motor is not UL certified, it is a false economy to do otherwise. Cooking with stone-ground flour is very different from cooking with white flour. I normally suggest mixing stone ground with white baking flour 50/50 to begin your adventures in bread making. Otherwise, it is easy to become disappointed with the results. Buying a hand-powered mill can be inexpensive and allows a way to make limited amounts of ground flour to experiment with. Mills with burrs can be used for a wide variety of grains, to include coffee. While some vendors offer what I call accessory mills, like Kitchen Maid, the mills can really impact on the lifespan of the appliance. Other products, like certain brands of food processors or blenders claim that their appliance can produce flour from grains. In this case, my only suggestion is to ask for a demonstration. Consider the amount of flour you want to make and the cost of the blender/processor. I think you find a purpose built mill a better deal in the long run. Good luck, I believe you will find making your bread products with your own stone-ground wheat will give a greater range of healthier foods for your table. Taking the time to shop before you but is always a good choice…. ENJOY.