Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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

I'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

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.

Monday, May 11, 2009

GrainMaker Review

The first thing I noticed about the Grain Maker No. 99, besides its fire-engine-red powder coating, was its impressive all steel construction. With a shipping weight of 23 pounds and the price of $675.00, it is definitely a sturdy piece of machinery. Its frame is built on a tube of steel with welded joints. Equally impressive are the steel plates, which show some intricate machining.

The Grain Maker comes with a limited lifetime warranty and I with this kind of construction I can see why the manufacturers (BitterRoot Tool and Machine) were willing to back up their product.

The flywheel is a few inches smaller than that of the Country Living Grain Mill, but the extension bar is long enough so that it equals that of the Country Living Mill with the power bar extension accessory--and provides the same amount of leverage.

The proof of the grinder is in the flour, so I mounted the Grain Maker to an immovable work bench with washers and wood screws and set about to give the Grainmaker a test run.

The adjustment knob requires a provided hex key wrench to adjust the consistency of the flour. The hood sits directly over the plates and knob, and I found it difficult to adjust because of the minimal clearance between the knob and the hood. Those with smaller fingers might have an easier time of it. However, the hood is removable and the plates can be adjusted more easily without it in the way.

I adjusted the grinding plates so that the mill was producing a decent, but slightly gritty, bread flour (about a 7 on the scale of 1 to 10: 10 being a cake flour). The first thing that I noticed was that the mill was next to impossible to turn with one hand (some background: I'm 190 pounds and lift weights to stay fit). I could only get short bursts of motion, and not enough sustained momentum to make an entire revolution of the flywheel.

Seeing that it was necessary to use both hands, I found that the handle was a couple of inches too short to comfortably use both hands, but by overlapping I was able to get the mill moving--barely. This mill, plainly, wasn't designed for manual use by anyone but Hercules or the Incredible Hulk. After five minutes of grinding I felt as though I had done three sets of bench presses, and I discovered the weak point in the mill's construction. The handle is a drilled plastic rod with some foam padding for comfort. By the end of five minutes the foam padding had slipped off and torn.  Note: The handle design has been improved on current models.

The literature that comes with the Grainmaker suggests that you should "expect to output one cup of flour a minute." This may be true for a very coarse flour, but I found that for a slightly gritty bread flour that 2 1/2 minutes per cup is closer to the truth. This is still quite speedy, but you'll need someone burly to do the grinding.

Close inspection of the instructions suggests that it "may be necessary to take out the stainless steel Grainbreaker auger for easier grinding". I think that not only may it be necessary, but you should immediately take the Grainbreaker auger out of the mill and toss it into the garbage can.

With the Grainbreaker removed the difficulty of grinding grain with the Grainmaker finally falls into the realm of capability of the less than super-human. The mill will produce a finer flour (8 on the scale of 10) at a rate of one cup per 3 1/2 minutes. The mill still requires a fair amount of torque to turn--more torque than it takes to turn a Country Living Mill equipped with the power bar extension handle option.

Another claim that I put to the test is the assertion that the Grainmaker can do peanuts. The nuts wouldn't feed, so I had to mash them into tiny bits. At this point the bits began to feed into the grinding plates. Unfortunately, those bits never exited--even when I loosened the grinding plates. The only peanut butter that I managed to produce was the goo stuck between the plates. Any claim that the Grainmaker can grind oily product like nuts or seeds appears to be founded in wishful thinking.

Let's face it. Hand grinding flour is hard work, but grinding flour with the Grainmaker is harder work than comparable mills. Its saving grace is that, like the Diamant and Country Living Mill, it has a v-groove in the flywheel, which can be hooked to a motor. However, if you plan to motorize your Grainmaker you'd better make sure your motor has plenty of torque.