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Gristmill facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Sörflärke kvarn 3
Old mill in Sweden

A grist mill grinds grain into flour. Most old ones are watermills. They have a waterwheel and 2 stones for grinding. Water pushes the wheel causing it to spin. This movement causes an axle inside to turn. The axle is connected to a gear which causes the grinding stones to spin. At the top, there is a chute filled with grain. The grain slowly falls through into the grinding stones.

Some old grist mills are windmills.


Early History

The first water powered gristmills in Europe were built toward the end of the second century BC. The first written account is that of Strabo, describing the mill at Cabira, in operation in 63 BC. These mills had horizontal wheels. Vertical wheels were in use in the Roman Empire by the end of the first century BC, and these were described by Vitruvius. The peak of Roman technology is probably the Barbegal aqueduct and mill where water with a 19-meter fall drove sixteen water wheels, giving a grinding capacity estimated at 2.4 to 3.2 tonnes per hour. Water mills seem to have remained in use during the post-Roman period, and by 1000 AD, mills in Europe were rarely more than a few miles apart. In England, the Domesday survey of 1086 gives a precise count of England's water-powered flour mills: There were 5,624, or about one for every 300 inhabitants, and this was probably typical throughout western and southern Europe. From this time onward, water wheels began to be used for purposes other than grist milling. In England, the number of mills in operation followed population growth, and peaked around 17,000 by 1300.

Limited examples of gristmills can be found in Europe from the High Middle Ages. An extant well-preserved waterwheel and gristmill on the Ebro River in Spain is associated with the Real Monasterio de Nuestra Senora de Rueda, built by the Cistercian monks in 1202. The Cistercians were known for their use of this technology in Western Europe in the period 1100 to 1350.

The Classical British and American Mills

Classical mill designs are usually water powered, though some are wind mills, or powered by livestock. A sluice gate is used to open a channel and so start the water flowing and a water wheel turning. In most such mills the water wheel was mounted vertically, i.e., edge-on, in the water, but in some cases horizontally (the tub wheel and so-called Norse wheel). Later designs incorporated horizontal steel or cast iron turbines and these were also sometimes refitted into the old wheel mills.

Glade Creek Grist Mill
Glade Creek Grist Mill in Babcock State Park, West Virginia, USA, 2006

In most wheel-driven mills, a large gear-wheel called the pit wheel is mounted on the same axle as the water wheel and this drives a smaller gear-wheel, the wallower, on a main driveshaft running vertically from the bottom to the top of the building. This system of gearing ensures that the main shaft turns faster than the water wheel, which typically rotates at 10 rpm, or so.

The millstones themselves turn at around 120 rpm. They are laid one on top of the other. The bottom stone, called the bed, is fixed to the floor, while the top stone, the runner, is mounted on a separate spindle, driven by the main shaft. A wheel called the stone nut connects the runner's spindle to the main shaft, and this can be moved out of the way to disconnect the stone and stop it turning, leaving the main shaft going to drive other machinery. This might include driving a mechanical sieve to refine the flour, or turning a wooden drum to wind up a chain used to hoist sacks of grain to the top of the mill house.

The grain is lifted in sacks onto the sack floor at the top of the mill. The sacks are emptied into bins, where the grain falls down through a hopper to the stones on the stone floor below. The flow of grain is regulated by shaking it along a gently sloping trough (the slipper) from which it falls into a hole in the center of the runner stone. The milled grain (flour) is collected as it emerges through the grooves in the runner stone from the outer rim of the stones and it gets fed down a chute to be collected in sacks on the ground or meal floor. A very similar process is used for grains such as wheat, kamut, etc to make flour as well as for maize to make corn meal.

In order to prevent the vibrations of the mill machinery from shaking the building apart, a gristmill will often have at least two separate foundations.

American inventor Oliver Evans revolutionized this labor-intensive process. At the end of the eighteenth century he patented and promoted a fully automated mill design.

The Boykin Mill, in Boykin, South Carolina, has an operating grist mill where meal and grits have been ground by water power the same way for over 150 years.

Modern Mills

Grain mill at Dordrecht, Eastern Cape
Grain mill with bevel gears outside local museum at Dordrecht.

Historically, gristmills contained rotating stones powered by water or by wind; later mills used steam engines for power, and modern mills typically use electricity or fossil fuels to spin heavy steel rollers. These techniques produce visibly different results, but can be made to produce nutritionally and functionally equivalent output.

Gristmills only grind clean grains, that is, grain from which stalks and chaff have previously been removed, but some mills also housed equipment for threshing, sorting, and cleaning prior to grinding. Gristmills also grind corn into meal.

Modern mills are almost certainly "merchant mills", that is, they are privately owned and accept money or trade for milling grains, or the corporations that own the mills buy unmilled grain and then own the flour produced. Early mills were almost always built and supported by farming communities and typically a percentage of each farmer's grain called a "miller's toll" was set aside for the miller in lieu of wages. Although gristmill can refer to any mill that grinds grain, the term historically was used to refer to a local mill where farmers brought their own grain and received the flour from it, minus the "miller's toll." Modern bumfluffmills use serrated and flat cast iron rollers to separate the bran and germ from the endosperm. The endosperm is ground to create white flour which may be recombined with the bran and germ to create whole wheat or graham flour.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Molino de grano para niños

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