Scot’s Product Review: Grain Mills

Some call bread the staff of life. To make it you need flour, and that usually comes from wheat. Wheat is nutritious and can be turned into many tasty foods. Some argue that wheat made the original Old Testament cities in the Mideast possible, since it could be transported and stored so easily. Storage is of special import to a prepper, and many of us keep wheat as a key item in our long-term preparations.

The part that we use is called the wheat berry. That’s the kernel. Most of the time, it is milled into flour. Keeping the kernels intact, however, is the best way to store wheat, since flour deteriorates fairly quickly. While wheat can be used without milling into flour, it would get really boring after a while. This means that if we are going to store wheat, we really need a way to mill it.

Beyond storing it, a big advantage of milling your own flour is that you will have healthier flour. A lot of the nutrition in wheat is in oils that turn rancid if not separated from the flour. Commercial millers remove these oils, since their flour must sit on shelves in stores. Since we are going to use our flour quickly, this isn’t an issue. We get to keep all the nutrition from the wheat berry and put it in our bread. There are also a lot of things, in addition to bread, we can make with wheat once we mill it. Pasta and pastries come to mind, along with cereals and biscuits.

Choosing a grain mill will depend on your goals for your wheat. If are buying a mill solely for a SHTF grid down situation, you want a manual one to stash with your wheat. If you plan to make all your own flour starting now (a good plan in my view), an electric is very alluring. Flip a switch, do some other chore in the kitchen and come back to fresh flour. A very strong case can be made that it is good to have two, one electric and the other manual, just in case. If you have the funds, that is probably the best plan.

Be sure to mill some wheat, even if you don’t plan to regularly make bread before the SHTF. You want to be sure it works. You also want to be aware of how long it takes to make flour and how much energy you need to do it. Hand milling flour involves work. You also want to be sure you can successfully make bread. It does take some practice. It is also good for your family to know what a hearty, full-flavored loaf of bread tastes like. Most people like it, but for some, it is a bit of a shock.

I’m primarily dealing with milling wheat in this review. Both of these mills will, however, grind other stuff, but

the manual grinder is far more versatile. That might make it good to have, even if you have electricity.

WonderMill Electric Grain Mill

The WonderMill Electric Grain Mill is on loan from the nice folks at WonderMill. It is going to be very hard to send back. It is stunningly fast and makes flour in one pass without problem. It will even make ultra-fine pastry flour in one quick run. WonderMill claims it can mill over 100 lbs. an hour. I didn’t try that, but it milled four cups of flour for a loaf of bread in what seemed an instant.

The WonderMill does heat the flour when it mills. Some folks are disturbed by mills that heat the flour, fearing a loss of nutrition. Although I’m not a nutritionist and have no means of conducting scientific tests, I don’t worry about it. After all, I’m about to pop it into a 350 degree oven. I might be concerned, if I were going to store the flour for any length of time, but a driving reason for milling one’s own flour is that fresh flour is better flour. Why store it when you can mill so easily with the WonderMill?

The WonderMill uses teeth on revolving plates to micronize the grain. It can handle most dry grains, legumes, and lentils. They have a page to show everything it can handle. Small grains require an attachment to feed properly through the mill. It cannot be used with oily or wet materials, so no coffee beans.

A REALLY nice feature of the WonderMill is that it catches the flour in a separate canister, and it catches EVERYTHING that comes from the mill except air. I’ve been used to mills that liberally spread flour and bits of wheat around the kitchen. As one who hates cleaning, it is a big plus to stop this mess. There is even a filter so that the air pushed from the canister by the mill doesn’t carry dust into the kitchen. They give you a spare filter, too.

The flour, by the way, made an excellent loaf in our elderly Hitachi bread machine. It had a pleasing crust and a soft, finely textured interior. It made great toast and sandwiches. A problem for many of us in using home ground flour is getting it fine enough for this sort of bread. I enjoy coarse breads, but they don’t work well for toast and sandwiches, so this is a big plus.

The only problem I have with the WonderMill derives from our cramped kitchen. It is a bit large, compared to some other mills. The detachable canister system that catches the flour and dust adds to the bulk, but I think it is worth the space.

WonderMill gives a limited lifetime warranty on the unit. Their web pages list a number of endurance tests and cases of people using them commercially to grind prodigious amounts of flour. I suspect the average family will have trouble wearing this thing out.

The unit comes with a nice instruction book. It says not to start the mill with grain in it and to not stop while grain is being milled. A video on their site, however, says this is ok. I checked with WonderMill, and they say the older version of the mill had a weaker motor. The current motor can handle stops and starts, though it is still best to keep it running until all the grain in the hopper has been milled.

Wonder Junior Deluxe

The Wonder Junior Deluxe mill uses a totally different strategy to mill wheat. You are the motor, not Mr. Electricity. This is important. It takes time and energy to convert wheat to flour with any manual mill. I get some help from my nine-year-old, but he runs out of steam about half-way through making the four cups of flour we use in most of our loaves. The hand cranking is good exercise, though. There are some options to motorize it that I will cover later, but primarily, this is a manual tool.

You can make the crank easier to turn by running things through twice. The first time breaks it into chunks; the second time makes it fine. It obviously takes longer to do it this way, and I think it consumes the same amount of energy overall, but the crank is easier to turn. This might help someone with low strength and high endurance. My nine-year-old prefers this, but he doesn’t want to stick around for the second pass.

I complained earlier about mills that spread wheat and flour about. WonderMill came up with a guide that fits around the stones on the Junior Deluxe. It does a great job of guiding the flour into a wide mouthed cup. Things don’t stay quite as clean as with the WonderMill, but it is far better than the other two mills I’ve used. A smooth steady pace helps with this. My son can get jerky, which causes more spreading of food bits.

The flour guide is a bit fussy to fit. You have to hold the crank pushed in while attaching the burrs, holding the guide in place, and screwing in the adjustment knob. It took me a couple of tries to get it down, but you can do it solo.

The Junior uses stones that rub together to mill wheat and other dry grains into flour. It is even more versatile than the WonderMill, though, thanks to the set of steel burrs included in the Deluxe kit. With the steel burrs, you can grind oily beans and even make peanut butter. It worked quite well for coffee. You can grind coffee all the way down to an espresso grade if you like. To see everything you can do with the Junior, check out the “what will it grind” page in the manual.

One of the other things I really like about the Junior is the clamp system it uses to hold it to a counter. You can bolt it down, but it’s nice to be able to move it out of the way when not using it. The clamp makes that easy. More important, though, is that it keeps the mill solidly mounting while you are using it. A lot of force is generated when cranking it, and a lesser clamp allows the mill to come loose and fly off the counter. I had that problem with another manual mill before making a better base for it.

The Junior can be used with alternative power. There is an adapter to allow you to turn the mill with the power of a drill (though it needs to be a pretty powerful one). WonderMill also sells a pulley that replaces the handle, and with some ingenuity (as shown in the videos they post) you can connect the mill to an assortment of power sources. Electric motors are one route, while others have used bicycles. The bike seems like the best plan to me, as it would work in a grid down scenario. Legs are stronger than arms, so you should be able to get more wheat milled with leg power than by hand cranking.

I made good bread with the wheat I ran through the Junior. I think that the flour from the WonderMill was a little better, but I haven’t spent enough time futzing with adjustments on the Junior. I think I could get the flour slightly finer, once I learn the machine better. Part of my problem is fear of setting it too tight and damaging the stones. I suspect I am being too cautious.

Incidentally, the WonderMill site is worth poking around on. They have a number of videos and articles that are very helpful. There is an excellent one on adjusting the Junior.

Overall, I am very impressed with both mills, and I’m planning to buy them. That means a negative profit from writing this review, but my preps will be better. So it goes. – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Scot Frank Eire