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Apr
23
2012

The pasta maker grain mill

Proper grain mills can be expensive, especially here in New Zealand so when I found out that some home brewers were having success with converting cheap pasta makers into grain mills it seemed like something worth trying and I picked up one on TradeMe for $22. The rollers on a pasta maker are smooth and won’t pull in the grains so the first task is to roughen up the rollers. Reading through online forum discussions on this topic I learned that some people have disassembled the pasta maker, removed the rollers and got them knurled. But I also read about a much quicker and easier approach that also seems to work well and this is what I did. No need to disassemble, simply run a drill back and forth across the rollers and the drill bit will roughen up the surface of the rollers enough to allow them to bite on the grains and pull them through.

The next thing is to construct a hopper to feed the grains into the rollers. I’ve seen some examples online of fancy woodworking or metalworking skills being used to construct hoppers for the pasta grain mill, but again I opted for the path of least resistance – cardboard and duct tape!

And that’s pretty much it. The only other addition was a flat piece of cardboard to direct the crushed grains into a collection container. Here she is in action:

It can be powered with the hand crank that came with it, or by an electric drill.

I milled a few kilos of grain for my latest brew this weekend and I was pretty pleased with the results. I think I got a pretty good crush. The operation started off well but did start to go a bit slow after awhile. I came to the conclusion that my rollers were not quite rough enough so I wasn’t getting a strong bite on the grains and they were coming through quite slowly. I gave up on using the drill after awhile and went back to the hand crank as I found I was just spinning my wheels with the drill bit when I wasn’t getting enough traction and the slower speed of the hand crank was more effective. I got through all the grain that I needed for the recipe but planned on doing some further roughening on the rollers at another time. Here’s an example of the crush:

This evening I had another go at roughening up the rollers some more, again by running a 6.5mm drill bit back and forth across the rollers. A bigger drill bit would probably have been more effective but that was the biggest I had so it had to do. After further roughening I ran a small amount of grain through to test it and it pulled it through no problem. I also played around with the gap settings to find what works best. What I found is that it goes through quite easily on setting 3 but you get quite a few kernels coming out that appear to be whole. On closer examination of the ‘whole’ kernels, I found that most of them were actually cracked to some degree. Then I found if you take this crushed grain and run it through again, it will go through easily on setting 2. And pretty much none of the kernels survive looking intact after going through on that narrower setting. Testing it further, I found that I could even run the grain through a third time on setting 1 and completely pulverise it into mostly flour and husks. That would be crushed beyond what is necessary but good to know that I can get a finer crush than I will need.

17 comments

  1. Aran Brown says:

    Thanks for the post – something i think I will look into. Could you post a shot of the rollers – so we can see what the look like after being “roughened”

    Cheers!

    1. Aidan says:

      Hi Aran, if you have a look at my previous post, there’s a picture of the roughened rollers. It’s not a very clear pic so if I can get a better pic I’ll post it.
      Cheers,
      Aidan

  2. Aran Brown says:

    Right you are – the pic was clear enough thanks… I have done about 5 partial mashes now and my efficiencies are mainly in the 50-60% range (as calculated by putting the grain bill into Hopville, and then adjusting the volume corrected then changing the efficiency percentage in Hopville until it matches my gravity reading). I have much improve my batch sparging technique and am now running a modified 2 Gal cooler (with braid), so I’m thinking my best bet for better efficiency is a better crush than what I am getting from the LHBS…

    Been keen to chat at some stage and hear how you mash so I can see what i can do to improve my efficiencies (would like to get up to 75%)

    Cheers

    Aran

    1. Aidan says:

      Hi Aran,
      I mash in a pot on the stovetop with grain in a muslin bag. I’ve written up my process here. I’ve calculated my efficiency somewhere between 60 & 70% but not 100% sure if my calcs are right. With your cooler setup, if you went with a finer crush you might run into problems with stuck sparge.
      Cheers,
      Aidan

  3. Aran Brown says:

    Cheers Aidan. My two wheat partial mashes were pretty slow. However I use a grain bag inside the cooler so once I have completed and run off my batch sparge I usually give the grain bag a good squeeze. I know some claim this could lead to tannin extraction but I reckon so long as I stay below 70c its pretty unlikely. Doing some more reading I’m going to try a thinner mash as have been using 1.25L to kg of grain to see if that works better. I generally get 55-60, buy my best was 67% according to hopville. Will try that first before looking at my crush.

  4. Gardening Services Auckland says:

    That is a great addon to the pasta maker. Love your blog, beer and gardens, my two favorite things lol.

  5. David Gretzinger says:

    What brand name is the pasta machine you are using? Any problems with the gears meshing properly?

    1. Aidan says:

      It’s just some brand X made in China thing. This looks like the box it came in: http://www.trademe.co.nz/home-living/kitchen/other/auction-541923768.htm

      No problems so far with gears meshing properly. I just use the hand crank. I’ve tried running it with an electric drill but speed is way too fast and I reckon you could quickly wear out the gears that way.

      The trick to making it work is to rough up the rollers as much as you can. Then run your grain through at a fairly open setting so that it goes through easily, then run it through again at a closer setting. You can even do it a third time for an extra fine (pulverised) crush. Works well for mashing in a bag since it doesn’t matter if you over-crush, but I’m not sure if you have enough contol over the crush for mash/lauter tun usage.

  6. Roman says:

    Nice post, thanks. So, after almost two years – do you still use this crusher? Any drawbacks you discovered? Any maintenance required? Do you still crush using the handle or with a drill, after you roughened the rollers? Btw did you just manually scratch the rollers with a drill bit, or used a drill?

    1. Aidan says:

      Hi Roman,
      Yes I still use it sometimes. Drawback is it’s slow. I have a friend who has built his own heavy duty motor driven mill so I usually go over to his place crush my grain and have a beer. His mill is a beast, it can crush my typical 6kg grain bill in a matter of seconds. I sometimes might crush some additional speciality grain to add to the recipe with my pasta mill. I could do the entire grain bill in the pasta mill but it would take me about 45 minutes of hand cranking. It doesn’t work well powering it with a drill because it spins too fast and grains don’t go through and also seems like running it so fast would risk damaging it.

      Yeah, I just manually scratched up the rollers with a drill bit. The amount of roughing up you do to the rollers is key to how well it works. If you could take the rollers off and knurl them it would work way better.

      I can get a good crush by runing the grain through 2 or 3 times at reduced gap widths, but if you start on the smallest gap size right its hard to get the grains to go through at a reasonable rate.

      So bottom line is it’s fine for milling small amounts of grain so it would suit an extract brewer who mostly is just crushing a small amount of speciality grain, but for larger grain bills it could get a bit tedious unless maybe you could got those rollers really roughed up or knurled.

      1. Roman says:

        Thanks for the advice Aidan! You’ve got me a bit concerned if I can make it work for AG batches, but I’ll take my chances; will try to make the scratches relatively deep, like 0.5 mm or so.

        1. Aidan says:

          Don’t hold back when you are roughing up the rollers, gouge the hell out of them, it’s the key to getting enough bite to pull the grains through efficiently.
          Let us know how you get on.

          1. Roman says:

            So, I’ve completed the mill. Just deep scratching was not enough, and god it was tedious. So, to roughen the rollers I used a drill with the biggest bit I had (10 mm I believe), then I put the drill into the hammer mode and started hammering the rollers. This was quite noisy, but after 15 minutes the rollers looked pretty much like after knurling. I guess I may have to repeat it regularly.

            I made a rectangular hole in a board and installed the mill on top with screws, then made a cardboard hopper.

            So on the setting #3 the mill does 0.5 kg in 2 min — looks ok to me. I’m not even sure that I need to do a second round with #2 or #1 setting.

          2. Aidan says:

            Sounds like you did the business on the rollers. If you examine a handful of the crushed grain and don’t notice any uncracked grains your crush should be spot on.

          3. Aidan says:

            You inspired me to take out the drill and have another go at roughing up my rollers with HAMMER ACTION. Yeah the old hammer action works pretty good, I got them considerably rougher than they were. I find now I can get a decent crush at a decent rate in a single pass. I milled my 6kg of grain in about 20 mins of hand cranking, so a big improvement in speed.

  7. Lukas Thielmann says:

    I almost bought a mill online for NZ$200… then I saw this.

    Totally gonna try it.

    One question, after a couple of years is it still in working order?

    1. Aidan says:

      Hi Lukas, Yes still in working order, but as per my conversation with Roman (above) there are a few drawbacks.

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