Pepper Mills | Popular Woodworking Magazine
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Transform a useful and beautiful object.
When it comes to pleasure for the senses, a well-turned pepper mill has a lot to offer. It pleases the eyes, is comfortable to hold and feels smooth to the touch. Of course, there is always that wonderful taste and smell that only freshly ground pepper can offer. Keep these things in mind as you follow me through the creation of your pepper mill.
Your first consideration is the mill mechanism. The mills have lengths from 3 inches to 24 inches with 8 “and 10” being the most popular. For this story I used a 10 ″ mechanism with a nut on the top.
You can also get mechanisms with cranks, mechanisms that adjust from the bottom (without nut at the top) or mechanisms that crush rather than grind. My rule of thumb; buy the best quality milling mechanism available. In other words, don’t try to save money here. The time and effort you invest is the biggest cost and a poor quality mill will make your creation frustrating.
The next step is to select the wood. Domestic woods such as walnut, cherry and maple are a good choice for pepper mills. Tropical forests are another choice. I used Hawaiian Koa for the mill in this story. The wooden blank should have a diameter between 2 1/2 “and 3” and 1 1/2 “between 2” and longer than the mill hardware to allow for the waste.
The way I turn the pepper mills often varies from the instructions that come with the mill hardware. The instructions are useful for some critical dimensions and assembly guidelines. Don’t get frustrated if the first two mills you spin aren’t perfect. I think you need to run five to ten mills before you can develop your system and perfect your shapes.
Prepare the void
1 Cut the wood in white from 1 1/2 ″ to 2 ″ longer than the hardware, to allow for waste and a tenon between the cap and the body.
2 Cut the block of wood to separate the cap and the body of the mill (Image 1). I like to position the tenon on the mill body, because it makes the cap a little lighter. I usually cut about 13/4 “from the blank for the hood and allow a 3/8” to 1/2 “long tenon on the body.
3 Turn all three pieces into cylinders. Then cut the tenons on top of each to fit the sliding spindle.
4 Mount the base tenon in the sliding spindle. Face the end of the body with a splitting tool, to make it square at the sides and flat.
Drill the Body
5 Place a Jacobs-style chuck in the tailstock. Remove the tool holder and slide the base towards the headstock. Wear a full screen for all drilling operations.
6 Drill a 1 5/8 ″ diameter hole at a depth of 1/2 ″. You can also cut this hole with a parting tool or an oblique chisel held flat on the rest in scraping mode.
7 Place an 11/16 “bit in the Jacobs style chuck and drill approximately three quarters of the body (Image 4). Work slowly and withdraw the bit frequently to remove the chips or the bit may overheat. Excessive heat can ruin your part. and possibly break the wood.
Alternative method: the 11/16 “hole is required only for the first 1” above the 15/8 “hole. You can drill the body using a more common 1” bit and then enlarge the hole for that lower section 1 “with a round tip scraper.
8 Clean the lower part of the body of the mill using an inclined chisel flattened on the rest to slightly scrape the final grain (Image 5). The base should be flat.
9 Fit the waste block into the sliding spindle. Create a tenon for adaptation to the jam with the large hole on the mill body (Image 6). The length of the tenon is slightly less than the depth of the hole. Fit is essential. It must be narrow enough to keep the mill safe for rotation, but wide enough to remove the body without canceling the force. Carefully approach the sizing of the diameter, as each cut is double. In other words, if you press in 1/32 “it will remove 1/16” in diameter. The tenon shoulder of the waste block should be flat or slightly concave.
10 Mount the body of the mill on the waste block and finish drilling the hole 11/16 ″ from above (Image 7).
Shape the body
11 With complete internal work, it is time to turn the outside of the body. First, rotate a small block of cork-shaped wood to fit it into the hole in the mill body (Image 8). This will allow you to use the tailstock to support the body. On some lathes, there may be a tapered cone area on the center of the tailstock that fits the 11/16 “hole. There are also large aftermarket cones available that work similarly to my wooden stopper.
12 With the pin in place, lift the tailstock and rotate the body to the desired shape. I like to enlarge the diameter of the body at the base and at the top, with a nice curve inward in the middle for the hand. This general modeling is performed with a chuck gouge (Image 9).
13 Use a chuck heel for details or an oblique chisel to make the details. I often go from one to three pearls at the base of the body, and something on top of a bead, where the cap and body will meet, but these are design questions for you, creator.
14 Once the details are complete, remove the tool holder, put on a dust mask and sand until there are no visible scratches (Image 10).
15 Before removing the body from the lathe, complete the area of the tenon (Image 11). The length is from 3/8 ″ to 1/2 ″. The shoulder should be flat or slightly concave.
16 Remove the mill body and waste block from the lathe.
Model the hood
17 Place the cap tenon in the sliding mandrel. Use the Forstner tip to drill the cap approximately 1/4 ″ deep with respect to the length of the tenon on the body (Image 12).
18 Install the 1/4 ″ bit in the Jacobs type mandrel and drill the cap (Image 13).
19 Now is the time to compare the size of the hardware with the mill you have created so far. Place the mechanism in the body. Screw the nut all the way in, then unscrew it one full turn.
20 Measurement to determine the length of the cap (Image 14).
21 Widen the hole in the cap to fit the tenon on the body. This measure should be a little loose for easy pepper grinding. I widen the hole for a parting tool or for a flat and horizontal inclination held on the rest.
22 Determine the length of the cap by cutting it with the splitting tool, about a quarter of the way down.
23 Use the detail / mandrel bead to shape the outside of the cap (Image 15). To check the overall appearance of the mill, I often turn off the lathe and put the body on the hood.
24 Remove the cap from the slide mandrel. Fit the waste block into the slide mandrel and create a new tenon or mandrel for the stopper block.
25 Turn the residual material on the cap to reach the final length (Image 16). When you are satisfied with the shape and quality of your turn, go ahead and sand the cap.
26 The mechanism I chose uses four small screws to secure the mill to the base. Pre-drill each of the holes with the 1/16 “bit. Screw the mill hardware into place. Add the cap and nut and watch how it behaves.
There are several considerations when choosing a finish for a pepper mill. A pepper mill is a manual tool that contains a food and is often exposed to moisture from boiling pots of gourmet goo. The hands are abrasive and acidic, even when they are clean. Most film-like finishes, including wax, lacquer, shellac, and varnish, don’t wear well on a pepper mill. I turn to oil or an oil / paint mixture, such as pure tung oil, walnut oil and Danish oil.
List of materials
• A block of wood with a diameter from 2 1/2 ″ to 3 ″ and 1 1/2 ″ to 2 ”longer than the mechanism
• Block of 3 “diameter (length of the wise grain like the mill) from 2” to 3 “in length
• Recommended dimensions: 10 ″ mechanism
• Scroll spindle
• Jacobs spindle
• 11/16 “Forstner style tip (you can use a 1” tip and the hole slightly enlarged by turning)
• 15/8 “tip (this too can be rotated)
1/4 “drill extension
1/16 “bit to drill pilot holes for screws of the milling mechanism (the size of the tips may vary depending on the mechanism used)
• Chuck roughing gouge – of any size
• Gouge detail / chuck –3/8 ″ recommended
• Inclined chisel –1/2 ″ or higher
• Division tool –3/16 ″ or 1/4 ″
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