Archives for June 2011

Porkert Mill Review

Porkert Flour MillI found the Porkert Grain Mill. In retrospect, I can say it was the best value of the inexpensive mills, selling for well under $100. It was made of cast iron, had an integral screw-type augur that could feed any type of material, and had two sets of burrs, metal and ceramic, which you could change without too much trouble. The metal burrs were well-suited for grinding coarser materials, but like the first set of burrs that came with my $15 mill, they didn’t make very good flour. However, the ceramic burrs did make good flour. I worried that the ceramic burrs would break down over time, adding little bits of ceramic to my flour. I worried about damaging my teeth. And the Porkert mill was not without problems.


Porkert Mill Problems

It was very similar to my $15 mill, in that it was very hard to turn when set for a fine grind, and it heated the flour. Unlike the $15 mill, the Porkert could NOT be bolted down. I found its integral clamp was not strong enough to keep it from wiggling around when I ground flour. I gave the Porkert mill away to introduce a bread baking friend to the joys of grinding flour, and I was back to my problem of finding a better mill for me.


Original Review Conducted by Craig MacDonald

GrainMaker Grain Mill No.99 Review

I had stumbled across a reference to the GrainMaker a few years ago. I visited the website of the manufacturer, but the site was not convincing back then. I came across an independent review, and it was not very favorable. The reviewer mentioned several problems. However upon closer reading, the reviewer didn’t seem to understand the mill, and he or she was not able to explain the problems well. So maybe there was hope?

GrainMaker Grain Flour Mill

Indeed there was. I revisited the revamped GrainMaker website. I was much more convinced that this was the mill I had been searching for. Their website now had some high quality videos that showed the mill being manufactured, tested, and used in a kitchen. The advantages seemed numerous, the problems non-existent. I telephoned the company. My questions were answered by Bonnie, the wife of the genius who had designed and builds the mills. She was as kind as a person could be. She told me about how the mill comes standard with a nut/bean augur called the “grain-breaker” in addition to the standard spring augur, and it comes standard with a long arm for easy turning. The mill had a 30-day no questions asked money-back guarantee, and then a lifetime warranty — even on the burrs! She told me about the special package that included the mill and an ingenious and beautiful clamp that looked and sounded like just what I needed in this small apartment. And she explained a holiday sale that gave me a discount that more than covered the shipping costs. The whole package was less expensive than the Country Living product. I ordered it, and couldn’t wait to receive it.

My mill arrived about two weeks later. It was as good looking in real life as it was in the photos and videos. My impression was that Bonnie’s husband is a design and technological genius. The machined parts, including the burrs, are works of art.

The overall design is well thought out. I can get standard big round bowls under the burrs to catch the flour. The fineness setting is held by a clever system of three spring-loaded ball bearings that give a positive click, click, click, as you change the setting. No cheesey hardware store washers, extra nuts, or slipped settings as on the Country Living mill. The dust shield comes off in a snap for easy access to the burrs and when making peanut butter and similar things.

The burrs themselves can be removed in about 10 seconds with no tools, the rear burr snapping into place rather than being held with multiple screws. This makes changing the augur a snap (from the default spring-like augur for small grains to the massive “grain breaker” nut and bean augur or vice versa), and there are no small parts to lose. That feature makes homemade nut and seed butters a reality. All other mills are too difficult to clean, except maybe the Diamant.

The clamp is an amazing piece of engineering, worth the nominal extra cost if it works in your situation (see below). With it you should be able to mount the mill to many possible work surfaces, and then the mill can be easily removed and put away if you don’t want it out all the time. Otherwise, the base of the mill has 4 bolt holes to permanently mount the mill somewhere. The clamp locks elegantly into the base of the mill using two of the bolt holes. I think this is shown in one of the videos on the GrainMaker website.

I assembled the mill in 30 seconds with just the Allen key that comes with the mill (only having to use two screws to mount the bar that holds the wooden handle). I noticed that the flywheel doesn’t have much mass and thus not nearly as much momentum as that of the Diamant, but when I tried it, I found the mill to be relatively easy to turn, even on a very fine setting. I could easily turn the handle with one hand. I guess the internal sealed ball bearings and precision engineering make sure the mill is easy to turn.

The comfortable hardwood handle was shorter than the Country Living and Diamant mills. That keeps it out of traffic, saving me from bumping into it, and I can still grab it with both both hands if I want to, so there would be no advantage to a longer wooden handle. Like the Other mills of the Big Three, the GrainMaker can be motorized. But unlike the others, GrainMaker sells the complete motorization kit. They’ve done all the hard design work and engineering. They even have a kit to hook it up to bicycle power. I don’t think any of that is necessary, but it’s available if you want it.

One other thing I like that is unique among the Big Three: The GrainMaker is not painted inside the grinding chamber. Looking inside from the burr end, I see shiny machined steel. There is no paint to eventually chip off and get into the flour. The rest of the mill, other than the burrs, the adjustment knob, and the hardwood handle, is nicely powder coated in fire engine red.

The proof of a mill is in the result: the flour from the GrainMaker could be extremely fine. When I used a medium fine sieve to sift the flour of the GrainMaker, there was nothing left in the sieve! It had ground everything to a fine powder, even the bran. When I similarly sifted the flour of the Country Living mill, I got a fair amount of bran, similar in quantity to the much less capable mill I have been using for 10 years. If I sieve the flour from the Diamant, I get some bran (in an extremely fine sieve that I have in my home over there). Based on this I would say the Diamant can grind more finely than the Country Living, but the GrainMaker can grind even more finely than the other two. The GrainMaker’s burrs are machined, and they seem sharper than the cast burrs of the Country Living mill and the Diamant. That may be why it can grind so finely. Of course, the GrainMaker can be set for a coarser grind that would keep the bran intact enough to sift it out.

GrainMaker Mill Problems
Are there any problems with the GrainMaker? Yes, but only a couple of minor ones.
1. The clamp, while beautiful and ingenious, turned out not to work well in our apartment. It might work fine in yours, but our kitchen counters are 2″ thick, Formica-covered, with a “waterfall” edge. On this sort of counter, the clamp couldn’t hold the mill firmly enough to dare turn the crank. Note: by “waterfall” edge, I mean that the edge is rounded off with about a 3/8″ radius, about the same shape as “quarter round” trim often used at the joint of baseboard trim and a floor). To work on my kitchen counter, I guess the clamp needs to have a deeper throat to extend further under and over the counter-top edge. The other possible place I could use the mill with the clamp would be on a surface that is 3/4″ thick, but I quickly discovered the clamp cannot close that far.

So, reluctantly, I wrote to Bonnie and asked for instructions to return the clamp. (This was a good test of their customer service). She was very understanding and was very willing to take the clamp back and issue a refund. She even sent me a UPS label to make the return painless. I described the clamp problems in detail to Bonnie, and I suspect her clever husband is working on a solution already.

2. The other “problem” isn’t really a problem. The hopper, well-crafted in rather thin steel, has corners that are sharper than those of the Country Living and Diamant hoppers. No, I can’t cut myself on them, but it would probably hurt if I were to accidentally bang my hand against one of those corners.(This has since been resolved by Randy)

Meanwhile, I’ve bolted the GrainMaker down, and it is making a very good quality flour of even the hard Kamut grain that I am using as one of the grains in my bread these days. I have tried both the spring augur and the grain breaker augur. Both seem to work well. I suspect the spring augur works better when wanting very fine flour, because it does not force the material into and through the burrs, rather drawing it in gently. The grain breaker augur was designed to force material through the burrs, and it is a good choice for coarser grinds and for larger materials that don’t need such a fine setting or for softer materials that would tend to clog the burrs. For fine flour, you want the hard wheat to make its way through the burrs slowly, not forced through. That way, the grains remain in contact with the burrs longer and thus get ground more finely.

The GrainMaker’s spring augur is similar to that of the Country Living mill. That is, it leaves some material in the bottom of the grinding chamber. So if you don’t want your peanut butter to have chunks of wheat in it, you need to clean out the chamber before grinding the peanuts. You must do this cleaning operation whenever you change to the grain breaker augur. Why? With grain or other material left in the grinding chamber, you can’t get the grain breaker into the mill. The tolerances are too tight (this precision machine is manufactured to very close tolerances).

But cleaning isn’t a problem, since of the three good mills that I’ve talked about here, the GrainMaker is the easiest by far to take apart and clean. It can literally be done in less than a minute, and off you go, making peanut butter with plenty of time to have it ready to put on the bread that’ll be out of the oven before you know it.

My advice: get the GrainMaker mill, and get cranking.

I’ll summarize all the above very simply:
– If you are serious about making your own high quality flour, don’t waste time or money an any mill costing less than $675(updated from Org. Review for accuracy).
– Any of the Big Three high-quality mills (Country Living, Diamant, GrainMaker) will serve you well. All of them can grind every material at any degree of fineness you want, (but you must buy the three extra-cost options sold with the Country Living to equal the performance of the other two). All of these mills can be motorized later if you decide you want to, but motorizing the GrainMaker won’t require any work. Just buy the kit.
– For far less cost than the Diamant and significantly less upfront and lifetime costs than the Country Living mill, the GrainMaker mill offers equal or better performance, and it has a lifetime guarantee.

So the choice is easy, and because the manufacturer can ship to anywhere, the choice is true for wherever you live, USA, Europe, or elsewhere: Get a GrainMaker mill, and get cranking.

@ the request of the  owners here is the GrainMaker Website

Original Review completed by Craig MacDonald

The Corona and Victoria Grinders

Really, the Corona and Victoria grinders are virtually identical, both of them being made by Corona, in Columbia, South America. The biggest difference between these two grinders is the Victoria costs an extra $20.00. All the important parts come from the same mold.I really have nothing good to say about these grinders. On the first grind with the burrs set as tightly as I could set them and still be able to crank the handle, the grinder barely cracked the wheat. In fact, a few kernels were still whole. On the second run, the grinder broke the wheat down a little further to the point of cracked wheat. Running the cracked wheat through more times didn’t improve the grind. I’ve read posts on the different forums from people who say they have made bread from the wheat they ground in a Corona. Me, I’d really like to see what that pitiful bread must have looked like. It had to be as heavy as a rock.

This grinder can not be mounted on your kitchen counter like all the other grinders in the study. This is because there are protruding ridges on the bottom of the mount that are designed to sink down into the soft wood of a board. I mounted it to a 2X8 for the grinding test and the mount did hold it very securely to the board. While I was tightening the clamp, I got a hammer and tapped rather heavily on the mount, trying to set the ridges down into the board. On the first strike of the hammer I broke a corner off the mount. I didn’t hit it that hard! The frame of the Corona is made of cast iron, and not particularly good of cast iron.

The Corona has a thin plating on the outside which is probably chrome. This plating is also on the burr faces and worm feed. This is a real problem because the cracked wheat that comes out of the grinder has an occasional metal flake in it. The chrome may very well be a recent improvement to keep the grinder from rusting. In doing my research, I talked with a lady whose father sold hundreds of these things several years ago. She said she remembers seeing dozens of Coronas in the back room rusting away.

The Corona wasn’t made for grinding wheat, even though hundreds of them have been sold for this purpose. They were made to grind field corn. It’s amazing how many of these grinders can be found. They have been sold all over North and South America for at least the last 30 years.

The Corona Grinder pushed those 10 cups of wheat through the grinder in about 5 minutes. The problem, as I’ve already pointed out, was that it didn’t grind it. Because of this, I’ve put N/A (Not Applicable) in the Corona’s columns for efficiency in the Grinder Performance Table. It’s impossible to compare the efficiency of a grinder that won’t do what the other grinders accomplish.


The Silver Nugget and The Little Ark

The Silver Nugget
The Little ArkI’m putting these two grinders together because they both grind so similarly. They look nothing alike on the outside, but it’s what’s inside that counts.
Both the Nugget and Little Ark, because of their stones, produce a fine flour. But there’s a price to pay for that finely ground flour. These grinders are harder turning, requiring 11 lbs of pressure on the handle. It’s a lot of work to turn these grinders for a long period of time. By the time I had finished grinding 10 cups of wheat with these grinders I felt like I had a new set of muscles.
The ten cup grind test took me 47 minutes with the Little Ark and 43 minutes with the Silver Nugget with the stone spacing set at 0.005 inch. I ask the wife and Tammy, a fellow employee, to see how long they could crank it at one time. Five minutes was about it and then they were done.  My feelings are that this is not a good grinder for the average woman or child, or especially for someone who is aged, as the Nugget or Little Ark do require a big effort to produce enough flour to make a four loaf batch of bread.
A negative point: I didn’t like the grooved knob on the Nugget. I can only guess they put grooves in it so the knob could be the more easily grasped. However, because of a lack of bearing surface between the knob and handle, it’s easier to let the knob turn in your hand than to force the bolt to rotate between the knob and the handle. When this happens the grooves in the knob rotating in the hand get the skin sore much more quickly than if it was a smooth knob. The Little Ark’s knob doesn’t rotate easily where it attaches to the handle, either. But as its knob is round and smooth it’s much less of a bother. A soft, cloth work glove would solve this problem with both grinders.

Like the Country Living Mill, both these grinders can be motorized. It would take quite a bit of trouble to do this, however, as there needs to be an idler pulley between the motor and grinder. Going straight from the motor to the grinder would turn the grinder far too fast. They recommend the grinder not turn faster than 120 RPM, or even slower. The makers of the Little Ark sell a kit for this purpose, but you must furnish your own motor. Both the Little Ark and the Nugget have long bushings for their bearings. These bushings can’t be as durable as the ball bearings in the Country Living Mill. I’ve talked with a couple of different people who have motorized them. They say after years of use the drive shaft still sits tightly in the bushing. So, it must be good enough.The Nugget grinds about 33% faster than the Little Ark because of an improved feed mechanism which is also reflected in the Nugget’s price. Me, every time, I’d go with the grinder that ground more quickly. There is so much work involved in producing flour from these grinders that it would be worth the extra $40 dollars to have a grinder that made flour a little quicker. In my opinion, the Nugget looks a little better built–especially the Sunshine Nugget with its Country Living Mill like powder coat. The Little Ark and the Nugget are made by two different companies just blocks from each other here in the USA.

The Back to Basics Mill

This is the smallest grinder we tested and also the least expensive. It’s also the slowest grinder, and requires the wheat to be ground twice to get a sufficiently fine flour to make decent bread. This little grinder is all metal except for the top of the funnel which is plastic. The drive mechanism is steel from one end of it to the other–unlike the Family Grain Mill which uses plastic pieces.
I personally don’t own one of these grinders, so I borrowed one for the test. This first grinder took 25 minutes to grind one cup of wheat during the 1 cup test. I called another friend who also has one of these grinders and she told me her grinder was a lot faster than that. Using her grinder, I ground a cup of wheat in only 6 minutes.
I took the first grinder apart and found that the burr cone was damaged. It looked like someone had ground wheat with a little piece of metal in it and had dulled the little teeth on the burrs. The small grinding teeth, instead of being broken off, like you would expect if they were made from good quality steel, were bent over, reflecting soft steel. When I took this grinder back to its owner, he said he’d only had it for a year and didn’t know when it became damaged. I can only expect the burrs are made out of too soft a metal. So if you get one of these grinders, you need to be extra mindful to only grind very clean wheat. Your grinder will drastically lose it’s efficiency in just a second or two if it encounters a kernel sized piece of metal.
It took me 80 minutes to grind 10 cups of wheat with the undamaged Back to Basics grinder. This included the time it took to put the wheat through twice as it grinds so coarsely on the first pass. I really don’t like this grinder because it takes so long to grind a bunch of wheat. Even turning it at 120 rpm, which is about as fast as you can turn it, it takes 6 minutes to run a cup of wheat through this thing twice. The second time through, the coarse flour doesn’t feed well through the hopper and must be continually worked down with a table knife or a similar instrument. The other grinders in this study got me too spoiled to put up with how slow this mill grinds.
This grinder does turn easily, however, being the easiest grinder in the study to crank. Because of this, it would be a good grinder for those people who aren’t very strong.
So, what’s this grinder good for? If you never plan on actually using it, but are keeping it in reserve for hard times, then maybe this grinder will fit your needs. It will grind wheat, however it will grind the wheat slowly. I expect that it could grind a lot of clean wheat before it wore out. But for those of you who only keep a grinder in reserve for hard times, the argument can be made that if your family ever does find hard times, you are going to want a grinder that can grind a large amount of flour fairly quickly.
If you feel this way, don’t get a Back to Basics. The Back to Basics would be well suited for grinding up small quantities of seeds for specialized purposes. I’ve talked with several people who have bought these things for grinding herbs. If your herbs consist of bark, leaves or wood, this grinder will disappoint you. Throw those things into a fast turning blender instead.